Arbitraging Playdium

by Joseph Ryan Glover

This afternoon the family went to the Playdium in Mississauga. For those not in the know, the Playdium is a big arcade, go-cart, batting cage and redemption game complex that takes your money and offers entertainment in return. I had a good time at Playdium this afternoon because my son and I discovered how to arbitrage a particular redemption game and secure some decent prizes. While we didn’t push our insights to the limit, in the following analysis I’m going to demonstrate how it would be possible to take home a Minecraft-themed Xbox One S with several hours’ worth of work and for under a hundred bucks.

First, do you know what a redemption game is? They are the games that you find at places like Dave and Buster’s (which Playdium very closely resembles) where you put credits into the game, perform an action and are rewarded with tickets. You get enough tickets and you can cash them out for prizes, usually really lousy prizes, and they are usually a  disappointment. But not today.

Second, the game we arbitraged is a redemption game themed around the Madagascar license. It involves four stations positioned around the game with a central chute that spouts little plastic balls. Each player has a net and is supposed to catch as many little balls in the net as possible in specified time frame. The important thing to understand is that the nets have very little range of motion and the movement of the balls is practically random. There is very little skill involved in playing and in performing some tests on the machine, if one doesn’t touch the net at all, you still manage to collect around 20 balls just through chance. At Playdium you get one ticket for every ball collected and given that the game costs 5 credits to play, that’s a fairly decent ticket return on credit spent.

Here’s an extremely long video of a fellow extolling the virtues of the machine.

So far this sounds like a typical money-eating redemption game. You pay credits, you get some tickets. But, the Madagascar game has a strange wrinkle: if you beat the current high score you earn a 1000 bonus tickets.

A thousand tickets is quite a payoff, so you’d think it would be rare and difficult to achieve. Not so, my son and I combined for nine instances of the 1000 ticket payout in about an hour’s play.

Look at the screen shot below and you’ll see an example of the high score for the machine, it’s 39, which is a much larger number of balls than I was ever able to gather. However, and this is the kicker, every time someone plays the game and loses, that number drops by one. Since there are four positions on the game, often you have four players working away, failing to beat the high score, and the high score drops by four. I found that if I played when the score was in the 30-32 point range, I could gather enough balls to beat it and score the 1000 tickets. Best of all, when you win, the high score resets … to 40. And then you do it all over again.

With the heart of the arbitrage detailed, let’s break down the numbers to reveal how to profit from this woefully calibrated machine.

To start, the machine costs 5 credits to play. What is a credit? They are an internal Playdium currency purchased with real dollars. For my visit I purchased 175 credits for $20 Canadian dollars. That means that a credit is worth 11.4 cents and the Madagascar game costs 5 x 11.4 = 57.2 cents to play.

Next, what is it that we are aiming to buy with our tickets? The most expensive item in the redemption store when I visited was a Minecraft-themed Xbox One S and it was priced at 70,000 tickets., at the time of this writing, was listing this Xbox for approximately $400 Canadian dollars, so that tells us how much it would cost to just go out and buy the machine.

Consider, for a moment, if we were just playing the Madagascar game straight, getting 1 ticket for every ball we captured and never achieving the 1000 ticket payout, which should be rare. Of the games I played, I averaged around 30 balls which means I averaged 30 tickets. Since the game cost 5 credits to play, and I purchased 175 credits, I would be able to play the game 35 times for my $20. During those 35 plays, if I earned the average number of tickets per play, I would earn 1050 tickets. If I wanted 70,000 tickets to get the Xbox I’d need to burn through 175 credits 67 more times but to buy that many credits, at the $20/175 rate, would cost me $1340 Canadian dollars. Since $1340 is much larger than $400, this is an impractical way to secure an Xbox.

Let’s consider an alternate scenario, one where I only win the 1000 ticket jackpot every time I play. If I was going to score 1000 tickets at a time I would only need to play the game 70 times. Playing the game 70 times would cost 70*5 = 350 credits which, at the $20/175 rate, is $40 Canadian dollars. Since $40 is much smaller than $400, this is a very good way to secure an Xbox.

There is a third strategy to consider, and that’s playing the game straight but every tenth game, when the high score is down to a manageable level, securing the 1000 ticket payoff. Playing this way would, over the course of 10 games, net you 1000 + 9*30 = 1270 tickets. This would cost 50 credits. To earn 70,000 tickets in this manner would require 2756 credits, which at the 11.4 cents/credit rate would cost you about $315 Canadian dollars. Still cheaper than the actual Xbox, but not by that much.

The key to keeping one’s costs down is to let others play the game when the jackpot is not winnable and to only step into a player position when the high score is achievable. I had a confirmation of this strategy when, as the score was getting lower, an employee of Playdium sidled up to the machine, furtively glanced about, and swiped in to play at a high score of 32. This guy knew what was up and I knew I wasn’t going to let him scoop my jackpot. I swiped in and captured 34 balls, snagging the prize.

One disadvantage of the waiting for other players strategy is that it has a time cost. It takes time for enough players to come through and lower the high score to a manageable level. After I developed my strategy I found that I was waiting about 5 minutes on average for the score to drop. If I had adopted the “only play when you can win the jackpot” strategy from the get-go I calculate that I would have had to wait 5*70 = 350 minutes to play through 70 jackpots. That’s 5.8 hours, which is an awfully long time to be seen to be creeping around a game at an arcade.

Of course, this is an ideal outcome, it may take more than 70 plays to get 70 jackpots (hopefully not that many more) and that’s going to add time and dollars to the endeavor. Thankfully, Playdium tickets are not perishable and you can store them on your card for when you return another time. This suggests a strategy of making several visits, with shorter time frames, and racking up tickets across multiple days. This might also help in case Playdium has their own version of a pit boss, who might notice that the Madagascar game is paying out an absurd number of tickets.

One thing this analysis doesn’t factor in is the value of your time. If your time is worth $100/hour then waiting around for 6 hours to secure a $400 videogame console is dumb. That’s why I’m leaking this secret to the world, I won’t be putting this strategy to use, but I did enjoy finding this arbitrage opportunity and cashing out some not-Xbox prizes for my kids. Hopefully some time-rich, cash-poor individuals looking for an Xbox will read this and capitalize. Or maybe Playdium will hire me to help balance their games better. Good luck!