Mobile gaming comes full circle with ‘Clawee’

After enjoying an unprecedented boom during two years of pandemic-enforced lockdowns, the mobile gaming industry is having a rough 2022. In the US, consumer spending on mobile games fell nearly 10% in the first half of the year, according to a recent report from app researcher Sensor Tower.

I was intrigued to learn from the report that a game I had never heard of was one of the few that was growing right now. Clawee it’s not from one of the top mobile game studios like Supercell or King. It doesn’t have impressive graphics or familiar characters. However, it generated $16.5 million in revenue from US gamers in the first half of the year, according to Sensor Tower estimates, making it the top mobile title in the “arcade” genre.

I quickly discovered that Clawee it’s really a genre in itself. There are countless retro-style “arcade” games that invoke nostalgia for slot machines from the 1970s and 1980s. Clawee brings a real life arcade to your phone.

The game’s developer, Israel-based Gigantic, operates a warehouse filled with hundreds of claw-grabbing machines, each with a mechanical arm that reaches into a jumble of stuffed animals, key chains and other prizes. These are connected to high-speed internet connections that allow users to control the claws remotely. A live video feed shows you what, if anything, it manages to pull off. if you win, Clawee will even deliver the physical item to your home. If you don’t want to play yourself, you can watch other people do it, just like you’re in the arcade.

Is this a happy return to the end of the dock game? Or a sign of the end times for innovation? Curious about the appeal of the game, I gave it a try. On my second try, I won a cute “lucky cat” keychain. Lucky! Or not. A couple of friends also won their first Clawee suspiciously easy prize, which is not a feeling that anyone who has played the fiendishly difficult grappling games in an arcade is likely to recognize.

Despite the promise of “free shipping”, claiming my prize meant paying £3.49 a week to “send as many prizes as you like”, or joining the Clawee Club for £7.99 a month for a stack of the necessary virtual coins. to play and the possibility of winning “exclusive prizes”. Giant insists Clawee is not gambling, arguing that there is skill involved in the two buttons allowed on each grab attempt. Sensor Tower estimates that gamers have spent nearly $100 million on the app globally to date.

Investors seem to believe in its long-term potential: Gigantic raised $7 million in venture funding this summer, while ClaweeThe creators of argue that they have invented a new genre of “connected reality” games that merge bits and atoms. “It bridges the gap between reality and virtual reality,” Gigantic CEO Ron Brightman told Israeli business publication Calcalist.

The complexity of building this type of system is not in doubt. Making a mechanical arm move immediately when it touches a touch screen thousands of miles away, thousands of times a day, is not trivial. But after the most frenetic decade of tech investment in history, with hundreds of billions of dollars pouring into startups around the world, it’s hard not to look Clawee And I wonder, is that all there is?

Many of the most lucrative “free-to-play” mobile games borrow their business model from Japanese “gacha” machines that dispense capsules with toys inside. Apps have gotten creative by pushing players to purchase “loot boxes” containing mysterious items to help them progress through the game. Critics say they are barely distinguishable from gambling. An app combining digital loot boxes with real-world gacha machines is as inevitable as it is, well, depressing.

Tim Bradshaw is the FT’s Global Technology Correspondent

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