ELK GROVE VILLAGE, IL -- Sega Amusements believed it had something special when it unveiled the Key Master prize-dispensing game in fall 2010, but the market wanted proof. "Like everything else in this business, you have to show them it works," said Sega's Pete Gustafson. "You have to show them how much it can earn."
The proof did not take long. Initial testing in movie theaters yielded nearly unprecedented earnings that approached thousand-dollar-a-week cashboxes, and orders for Key Master started rolling in. The game is manufactured by Korea's Komuse, or Korean Amusement, and is among the plethora of products distributed by Sega Amusements, which no longer relies exclusively on Sega's Japanese factory for coin-op products.
The appeal is easy to analyze, Gustafson reported; new players make an immediate connection to Key Master's "intuitive play" that shortens the learning curve, while experienced players appreciate the added control.
KEY MASTER COLORS: Sega's Pete Gustafson (left) shows off original Key Master, today's top-earning amusement vending machine in the U.S. coin-op market. New in the Key Master lineup, at right, are five vibrant cabinet colors. Sega is hoping that operators will take advantage of the game's popularity by placing one of the new machines alongside existing models, or banking some or all of the new cabinets to create a visually distinct installation. Merchandise and machine can be harmonized: Coral Pink for Coach purses and spa coupons, for example, or Ice Blue for sports tickets and team apparel. Sega can finish machines in customer colors for orders of 26 or more.
The player must maneuver a remotely controlled arm carrying a key into place, then insert it into one of a number of vertical lock-shaped cutouts. If the aim is true, the key rotates like a cam to snag the "lock" and pull it forward, dropping the prize into a bin for retrieval. A standard joystick controls horizontal movement, while a large button actuates vertical travel. There are three prize levels: minor, medium and major. Prizes hang on horizontal rods behind the "locks," for fast and easy restocking.
"The player really has a level of control not available in other games," Gustafson explained. "Our game has X, Y and Z axes too, but where it differs is that it allows left-to-right control with the joystick, to precisely line up the key. Our competitors' games allow you just one push of the button. There's greater suspense built up, because they can move that key mechanism left and right for a period of time." Gustafson added that the prizes also are presented well, hanging in a way that displays them in their best light.
KEEPING IT SIMPLE
Player appeal is only part of the success when it comes to Key Master. Gustafson explained that the game's design also makes it a perfect transitional piece for veteran street operators hesitant to take the leap into prize redemption equipment. "There are still operators out there who just recently got their first Key Master," he said. "It's the perfect crossover game for the street guy who operates pool tables, jukeboxes and dart machines, traditional tavern sports, to get started in prize merchandising."
These operators have witnessed the Key Master's success, Gustafson continued, and they want to jump on board. Many of them knew that they would have to get into prize merchandising sooner or later, and Key Master presented an irresistible opportunity.
"Let's face it: if you look at the street business, it's tough right now," he said. "They need another product. This gives them an opportunity to segue into a different category of game. It's because of that broad location relevance. They can use this game as a vehicle to get there."
Why Key Master? Like players, operators new to merchandiser technology don't confront much of a learning curve when they place the game. It is built for reliability and is easy to set up.
"It's built like a tank, so there are few service issues, and the settings are easy," Gustafson said. "There are not a lot of moving parts, which is much appreciated by the operating community. For instance, there are no electronics with the prize arms themselves; it's a spring-loaded arm, about as basic as you can get. So servicing the machine is extremely easy." The size also is attractive, the Sega executive continued. Measuring a slim 38.8" wide x 37.2" deep and standing 72.8" high, the game can be placed easily in a wide variety of locations.
If Key Master was not an overnight sensation, its rapidly growing acceptance certainly has been worth the wait. Nearly two years after the game's rollout, sales remain brisk. "I've been in this business for 32 years," Gustafson said. "And I've only been associated with a game this good four or five times in my career."