1. You will probably not be able to pick up the prize and lift it out of the machine like a UFO does on the first go. Sometimes you can use both UFO catcher arms to lift the prize out, but only if (a) the prize is light enough and (b) it fits between the two arms. This can be difficult. Your chances of winning depends on the strength of the arms, the weight and size of the prize, and distance from the hole. It is usually easier to use the arms to push the prize towards the hole, or to lift the prize up slightly and drop it closer and closer to the hole multiple times.
2. Be patient. It is probably going to take some work to win. While it can certainly happen, it’s not likely that you’ll be able to win a prize on the first try. Your strategy is to gradually scoot the prize over the edge. Expect about 5-10 tries on average.
3. Go for the prizes that are “gettable”. In other words, go for prizes towards the front of the machine. You don’t want something that is buried under other prizes. You don’t want the prize to have to travel too far.
4. The plastic loop trick. The plastic loop I’m referencing is the loop attaching a tag to the plush toy. If there is a plastic loop sticking out, one winning tactic is to hook one of the UFO prongs in the plastic loop. This doesn’t always work if the prize is too heavy. But sometimes it works.
5. Ask the worker to set out your preferred prize. Sometimes there are multiple prizes in a machine and you’re bound to like one more than the other. If your prize is sitting somewhere in the back, ask the worker to set it out. Typically, once you have won a prize, you will not be allowed to trade it for a different one.
6. Watch for the twist at the end. Many UFO catchers make a slight twist at the end before they drop – to the left or right. Watch which way it turns on your initial go. Try to account for this twist when positioning your UFO catcher on subsequent tries.
7. Look at the prize from all angles. For more accuracy, try to look at the prize from all angles when positioning the claw. This may require you to look through the side of the machine. You will not be able to do this with all machines, as some are sandwiched between 2 machines.
8. How far do the prongs spread? Try to gauge how far the arms open up and remember that for future tries. Not all UFO catcher prongs open up to the same width.
9. Ask the worker to reset the prize. You can always ask the worker to reset the prize. Try to do this if you’ve gotten the prize stuck in a very difficult position. Sometimes the worker will help you by resetting the prize in a more advantageous position.
10. Hanging prizes. Watch out for tons of prizes hanging on the edge of the machine. The hanging prizes result in you having to move your prize much further than anticipated to win. When a prize tumbles down, it may get caught on the suspended prizes. It may take a few more tries than anticipated to win.
11. Plastic on plastic. Beware of plastic on plastic. For instance, If your prize is wrapped in plastic cellophane and placed on a bed of plastic, just walk away. It’s a scam. The plastic on plastic will prevent the prize from moving. This setup is nearly impossible to win.
12. Watch out for spikes. Beware if clear plastic spikes! These are easy to miss if you are distracted by the cuteness of the prizes, but you should definitely watch out for these. The spikes will catch on to you prize as you try to scoot it over the edge of the platform, making it difficult to win.
13. Know when to walk away. Sometimes the claw is too weak and the prize is nearly impossible to win. If this is the case, it’s best to walk away and go for something else.
14. Be flexible. Try not to get your heart set on a certain prize. Be open to various prizes and you will have a better chance of winning something.
15. Not all arcades are equal. Larger arcades tend to have a higher payout than smaller arcades. On average you’ll have a better chance of winning at an establishment solely dedicated to UFO catchers compared to the one-off UFO catcher in the movie theater, for instance. But this is not a hard and fast rule. There are always exceptions and your mission is to find them!
16. Watch out for machines that overcharge. Avoid machines that charge 200 yen per play. It doesn’t matter how big the prize is. These machines tend to be super rigged, and your chances of winning are probably better at a 100 yen per play machine.
17. Look for deals and free plays. Some machines offer 6 plays for 500 yen – you are essentially getting a free play! However don’t just slip your 500 yen coin in there. Test out the machine with a couple of 100 yen coins to see what the strength of the machine is. Also, if you win the prize before using up your 6 plays, many arcades will allow you to transfer your credits to another machine.
18. Watch other players play. Don’t just stand right up next to them, but you can still watch discreetly from a distance. See how strong the UFO catcher is. Based on the other players’ success or failure, you might determine whether or not you want to play at a particular machine. Who knows, they might even leave the prize in a favorable position for you to win it! However make sure they are absolutely done playing before you swoop in. It’s poor etiquette to steal another person’s machine.
19. You can hold your spot. If you run out of coins and have to get more change, some machines have an option where you can put a hold on the machine to prevent other people from swooping in and stealing your prize. It doesn’t completely lock the machine, but it’s just an alert button that notifies other players you are still using the machine. (Not all machines have this option).
20. Have fun! Don’t take it too seriously and have fun! Set a budget and stick to it, but at the same time, try not to count how many times it takes you to win a prize – it can take the fun out of the game.