operated machines have many attractions but perhaps the most obvious is
simply that they are good at keeping peoples' attention. Once someone
has inserted a coin, they will read all the instructions diligently and
concentrate fully on the machine until it has finished – they have
‘invested’ and so are keen ‘to get their money’s worth’.
Compare this to art galleries or museums, where most people wander
around in a daze most of the time and rarely read any of the
instructions on interactive exhibits.
an engineering perspective, coin-operation makes machines more reliable
and easier to maintain. Compared to interactive museum exhibits and art
gallery installations, where buttons are constantly pushed and things
run continuously, coin-ops get much lighter usage as they only work when
a coin is inserted. The reduced maintenance makes it practical for
coin-op machines to have much more exciting, more elaborate mechanisms,
and to dispense things.
an inventor's perspective, coin-op machines are equally attractive. Few
inventors manage to make a living from patents, and those that do have
to spend most of their time marketing their inventions and protecting
them - working as salesmen or lawyers. Inventing machines with coin
slots eliminates all this boring work – the prototype machine starts
taking money and leaves the inventor free to start the next machine.
a film makers perspective coin operation is brilliant way of getting
short films seen and generating an income from them. The films in my
simulators are watched by thousands of people every year and they each
pay £1 to view them!
a general artistic perspective, the idea of people paying to be
entertained rather than to own ‘art’ is appealing. It is much less
elitist - accessible to many more people – and avoids any need to play
the bizarre fine art game (using the right language and impressing the
right people). A coin operated machine can have just as much grace
and subtlety as any conventional art, but the volume of the laughter it
provokes and weight of the coins it takes are satisfying simple measures
of its success. The difficult idea of artistic value (often a subject of
great angst) doesn't have to be so important.
final attraction is that compared to the whims of the fine art world or
the labyrinthine public funding of museums, the cash is satisfyingly
real. The weight of a bag full of coins is more satisfying than any
a bunch of unique coin operated machines together on a seaside pier has
even greater attractions. A single machine in isolation, however
brilliant, is often regarded as a bit of an oddity. However, a critical
mass of machines together creates an infectious atmosphere of people
enjoying themselves, and a pier is the perfect location.
Place the same machines in an art gallery, a museum and a seaside
pier and people will react completely differently to them. People
express reverence, bafflement, or are sometimes provoked by the exhibits
in an art gallery. In a museum or science centre, people will struggle
to understand the exhibits. On a pier people are simply expecting
to be entertained and have a laugh. I’ve made things for all three and the
pier is my favorite. People express more obvious delight in the pier
arcade than in a museum or art gallery. An arcade also has none of the
worthiness of a museum or the hype of an art gallery.
asked what I do for a living, I can say I’m an inventor, and engineer
and cartoonist, a science communicator or lots of other things but I now
just say ‘I run an amusement arcade’. Partly I enjoy the
disapproving reaction it can provoke – people change the subject or
end the conversation. Mainly though I say it because I am really proud
of The Under the Pier Show. Its wonderfully satisfying hearing the
shrieks of laughter and watching people enjoy my handiwork. Its
satisfying emptying the cash out of the machines and counting it all up.
It’s satisfying because it is genuinely unique – there really
isn’t anything else like it. Its satisfying because its so completely
straightforward - people paying to be entertained, the profits (split
50/50 between me and the pier owner) funding new machines. So the arcade
provides the motivation and the cash to invent stuff, which is what I
enjoy doing most.
whole enterprise is ridiculously fragile – the machines are only just
robust enough, people only just behave well enough, and its all only
just above high tide level. At any moment the whole enterprise could be
closed by the ever increasing regulations, bankrupted by some personal
injury claim or most likely simply flooded. I do sometimes have
sleepless nights about it all, but the fragility is partly attractive
– living dangerously makes me feel very alive.
OPERATED MACHINES AND MUSEUM EXHIBITS
have tried to persuade museums to make some of their interactive
exhibits coin operated, but the usual obstacle is that visitors can’t
be expected to pay if they have already paid an entrance fee. However,
visitors could be given a number of token coins on entry, or the
entrance ticket itself could be a strip of perforated card ‘tokens’. Visitors
would then have to chose which exhibits to use and, once they had
inserted a token, be much more likely to ‘invest’ more time in it.
This would be particularly useful for subtle exhibits which need time to
get absorbed in.
OPERATED MACHINES AND THE ART WORLD
guess the art world has never embraced coin operation partly due to
conservatism and partly snobbery. Conservatism - because fine
art has traditionally been created to be purchased by rich individuals,
not for public spectacle. Snobbery - because fine art is regarded as
somehow exclusive, and coin operation would reduce it to the level of
however, much ‘installation’ art is in practice created for public
spectacle, and could gain a lot from coin slots. For example, a
characteristic of ‘art’ video is that it is slow and takes a while
to get absorbed in – investing a coin to start watching would provide
the motivation to persevere, not to wander away after a few seconds.
limited experience of the art world is that galleries are pretty
clueless about maintenance – most exhibitions of automata and
mechanical sculptures I’ve ever visited have been full of broken,
non-functioning pieces - coin operation would help with this too!
OPERATED MACHINES AND CURRENCY
UK and Europe are fortunate in having relatively high value coins
but the US only has quarters in wide circulation. However, note
acceptors are today a practical alternative to coin acceptors. My
experience is that note acceptors are reliable and surprisingly cheap.
(I use an Innovative Technologies NV10 which cost about £90). An
alternative for an arcade is to operate on tokens. Change machines
simply exchange notes for token coins. Tokens can be bought from various
coin suppliers and are usually stamped with a unique logo for the
arcade. Advantages of tokens are that the cost of the tokens can be
easily changed to keep up with inflation and that people often keep a
few as souvenirs, which provides an additional income.