MINERAL WELLS, TX - Now available from Wallace Distributing Co. Inc. is "E-Token," a PC-based smart key payment system for arcades and street locations. Designed by operators for operators, the "E-Token" System can be used for amusement and vending applications. The stored-value payment medium mates with a stand alone interface that can be installed in a game or vender in about 15 minutes; no cabling, modem nor other network connection is required.
In use, the patron purchases credits that are loaded into a solid-state memory device designed for attachment to a keyring. This "E-Token" then is used to pay for play time or vended merchandise, instead of cash.
Advantages are said to include enhanced security, since all the cash is kept in one place (typically a cashier station); greater flexibility in play pricing and/or vend pricing; greater convenience in adjusting prices (for example, changing all pool tables in a location to $1.25 play); greater ease of collection (again, cash may be collected from one central point, not multiple machines); and greater flexibility in operation , "E-Token" can run with or without PC support, and with or without an attendant.
The full system, with PC and attendant, provides automatic software accounting for each cash-to-key transaction. Stores that have installed "E-Token" systems eliminated employee cash pilfering overnight, while simultaneously reducing the number of targets for cashbox break-ins, Wallace Distributing officials said.
The system is straightforward. A patron pays cash to the attendant, who uses a sort of electronic cash register to "write" an equivalent number of credits onto the "E-Token" and hands it to the customer. To make a purchase, the customer inserts the "E-Token" into an interface plate on the game or vending machine. The interface reads the value of the "E-Token" key, deducts the price of the purchase, writes the balance back to the key, and records the transaction.
Factory settings are four credits for a dollar, equivalent to quarter play. Machines can be set to require one, two, three, four or more credits to play. A simple wiring harness connects the interface plate to the machine's credit mechanism.
The location attendant "writes" value to the key by mans of a proprietary token holder device connected to a personal computer through a serial port. The attendant plugs the key into the holder and uses a keypad to program the dollar value in credits onto the key. The transaction can be reversed if customers want to redeem credits; the key can be "read" and its total value printed out as a receipt redeemable for credit or points.
The complete "E-Token" system includes software for the PC that allows it to communicate with the token holder device. Each time the device adds or subtracts credits to a customer's key, this program simultaneously creates or updates a log that puts a "handle" (name or initials) on each key. The software log also records which attendant is on duty, how much was collected, how many credits were assigned to each key, and the time of each transaction. The software is supplied on CD-ROM, and installs and runs easily on any "Windows"-based computer.
Also available is a standalone "E-Token" recharging station, the "Auto Attendant," fitted with a bill validator for unattended use. The "Auto Attendant" revalues "E-Token" keys without requiring any action by store personnel, and is a convenient enhancement in an environment frequented by customers who already have purchased "E-Tokens." Prototypes of the "Auto Attendant" register transactions through a "hard" meter; the production models will be equipped to transmit transaction data to the central station computer and record it in the software log.
The "Auto Attendant" was originally developed for small locations that lack full-time attendants. It makes it possible for busy street locations , convenience stores, gas stations, and the like , to run "E-Token" systems without a PC. In this scenario, the clerk would issue keys without stored value; the customer would use the "Auto Attendant" to purchase the desired amount of credit.
"E-Token" has been under development for 10 years. This year Wallace Distributing, owned by the Ringo family of Mineral Wells, Texas (west of Fort Worth), has installed the system in several arcades and on street routes in Texas, and in a family entertainment center in Maryland. The technology, officials explained, can be adapted for the specific needs of each site and each operator, with or without attendants.
Wallace Distributing is a family venture for AMOA past-president Dock Ringo, who developed the "E-Token" system with his sons Joe (All Amusement Co.) and Danny, Danny's wife Sandra, and daughter Amy Lane Ringo. The original concept came from Dock; the software was developed by Danny, a professional computer programmer for the past two decades. Joe contributed the technical expertise gained in long experience with games: circuitry and connection know-how, hardware design, and informed advice about setup procedures for installation. Sandra is supervising the Wallace website, as well as advertising and art. Amy ran test locations and collected detailed customer feedback.
"Our objective was to build something lean, mean and flexible," said Dock. Added Sandra: "We pride ourselves on the strength and ease of use of our software. 'E-Token's' management software was developed with input from Joe and Dock, based on their many years' experience in amusements; it reflects operator's needs and thinking."
According to Joe, "E-Token" is clean, intuitive and tailored to the way operators work. "Convenience is a big advantage of 'E-Token,'" he said. "The system enables players to move from machine to machine, and play more easily without constantly having to get more coins or tokens, or to fumble with their money. Security is enhanced because all the cash is stored in a single central location rather than spread through the facility. Going to an electronic payment system encourages more spending, too." And it eliminates the need for keeping track of tickets, counting, sorting, and performing reconciliation procedures, he added.
Using proven, off-the-shelf components maximizes system reliability, Dock emphasized. Beyond amusement machines, "E-Token" also works with vending machines and even bowling center lane rentals.
The system has proven a valuable merchandising aid in a family fun center. For example, a location promotion package deal for parties can provide a certain number of credits on the "E-Token" key of each party guest. And it can simplify promotional time-of-day pricing. For example, the operator can program a special price for happy hour.
Values coded into the keys are encoded to be location-specific; players can't use one store's credits in another facility unless both are run by the same operator, and are set up for this compatibility. The management software includes a routine for modifying the code of the interface plate, permitting easy transfer of "E-Token"-modified machines from one location to another. This is a convenience feature for chain operations in which the games in each store have a unique interface code.
Security is further enhanced because the only way that credit can be written to or erased at the central station is by the responsible attendant's use of a special button. Each transaction is automatically recorded, and those logs can only be accessed by an encoded "E-Token" kept by the owner or manager. The elder Ringo reported that the system has been used successfully to eliminate shortages, in one case amounting to about $1,000 a week. This does not always please location personnel, he added, but it is a great relief to operators.More information on "E-Token" may obtained by calling (940) 325-1005 or e-mailing email@example.com. Details are also available online at www.wdcetoken.com.