Hey Buddy, Can You Spare a Token?

TL;DR: Surprise! 5 reasons the token had more value than the almighty quarter!

by | Nov 5, 2020 | 0 comments

If you regularly visited arcade establishments throughout the 80s and 90s you probably saw something small and shiny rolling around inside. No, it wasn’t a crackpipe laying on the ground nor was it the innovative games or the flashing displays of the neon lights. It was the token. If you took the city bus as often as I did when I was a kid, tokens were nothing new. But to players visiting the arcades for the first time, having a dollar converted into four or five tokens was a little surprising.

So why then were tokens so popular and why would arcade owners offer to give you five tokens for a dollar when it should be four? Read up on the rest of this article as we list the 5 Biggest Reasons -and advantages- the diminutive little token had over the almighty quarter in the arcades.

1. Less Work, More Play

Unlike quarters, tokens had no value outside of the establishment that issued it. By the late 1980s arcades were popping up everywhere and owners were doing their best to figure out how to gain new customers while keeping them entertained so that they could keep coming back. For one, owners realized that by converting dollar bills to quarters, customers were able to use those coins outside of the arcades. After all, if the arcade owner goes to the trouble of breaking a dollar for you, he obviously wants those quarters -all of them- in his machines.

Unfortunately, there wasn’t anything that forced the customer to spend them at the arcades. If, however, you receive tokens that could only be used in a specific location, then those tokens had no value anywhere else. In those cases, the customer would feel obligated to use them right there and then. Besides, who wants these no value coins jingly around in your pocket?

Another perception of the token was that it represents ‘play money’ which makes parting with them less painful. Regardless of how you felt about tokens back in the day, arcade owners were undoubtedly raking in the money.

2. It Takes Guts

Arcade machines for the most part didn’t come out of the manufacturer ready to accept tokens; they had to be converted, which cost money to do. One of the benefits of these new token conversion devices is that it looked much better than the steel metal plate used to house the coin mechanism. This made the arcade cabinet look aesthetically pleasing which increased the chances gamers would put money into it.

3. Ready to Jam

One of the biggest risks that can strike an arcade machine is a jammed coin mechanism. Obviously, if a machine can’t accept quarters, it can’t be profitable. Because a coin mechanism is designed to recognize a set value, a chipped quarter, for example, may trigger the apparatus to freeze or lock-up. It didn’t happen often, at least not in the arcades spots I visited, but when it did, it caused nightmares for the store owner – especially if it happened on a popular machine. Token mechanisms did not suffer those imperfections since they were designed solely to function when a token was inserted. And because tokens were less likely to jam machines, players and owners found more machines in working order.

4. Keeping an Eye on Things

Because tokens don’t have any real value, arcade owners didn’t have to worry about theft or someone tampering with the coin mechanism, especially from employees. Most hiring managers agree that it’s challenging to find trustworthy employees, particularly for a job that required handling cash. This is especially true in an era where closed-circuit monitoring was nearly non-existent. If the coin holder was filled with tokens, instead of quarters for example, it decreased the chance of theft considerably since a machine full of tokens was less attractive to steal.

5. Something for Nothing

Tokens are so inexpensive to the manufacturer, arcade owners often distributed them in raffles, giveaways, or during special events. I remember going to my favorite arcade and seeing a banner that read, “100 tokens for $5 this weekend only!’ Believe you me, I was there all weekend. Tokens also offered free advertising with slogans and quotes printed on them. I remember receiving a token that said ‘CHAMP’ on it after having the highest score on a game of Moon Patrol. Kind of cheesy but cool nonetheless.

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