Located just off highway 85 near Camden Avenue, Nickel City is the place to go for super cheap (and even free) arcade and redemption games. For those not familiar with the term, “redemption games” are games of chance and skill that spit out tickets based upon you score. These tickets can then be redeemed for prizes. So you get the enjoyment of play plus a prize to take home.
Whether a redemption games feel like a good deal or not depends on how the pay outs are structured. Games that give out ample tickets, and a redemption counter that has lots of attractive prizes for a low number of tickets, feel really good to play. Those that are miserly with expensive prizes feel like a rip-off. Nickel City’s it tops on both accounts with games that have generous payouts with a very low investment (one to three nickels) and a redemption counter with a respectable variety of low priced landfill and sugar, uh, I mean toys and candy.
Psychologically, a smartly configured redemption games system should pay out at a 1:1 ratio. Meaning that ten dollars worth of play should net ten bucks worth of junk, uh, I mean toys.
Now of course, the arcade is getting these prizes at ridiculously low prices from companies that specialize in selling redemption game prizes. So a little trinket that feels like it would cost you a buck to buy in a store, may only have cost twenty-five cents to purchase wholesale. But the public doesn’t think wholesale, they think retail. Plus you can’t find this crap, uh, I mean merchandise in stores so you tend to over estimate the actual value of the items.
Then there is also the entertainment value of the game and length of game play. Games, like Skee ball, that have a high entertainment value and a long duration of play can pay out less tickets than one that is short and low on entertainment. Once again, Nickel City “feels right” in this department as well.
So that’s your lesson on redemption games. However, even with the knowledge of how redemption games work, the economic model for this place is a real head scratcher. It’s only two bucks to get in, many of the classic video games are free to play, and the rest of the games fall into the two to five nickles per play price range. What? Free games? Yes, free.
Even hosting a birthday party there is really affordable so that’s not a huge money maker though I’m sure it help the bottom line quite a bit.
The electric bill alone to keep all these machines running must be in the thousands. Plus there’s staff, rent, insurance – the usual overhead to run a business.
Plus, the redemption game payouts are generous and the the redemption prizes moderately priced. We’ve only been there five times and I think we’ve won just about everything they have. We have the sword and shield, several dart guns, four stuffed animals, the Samuri sword, the light sabre thing and a big pile of miscellaneous doo-dads in bright colors.
The place is almost always feels empty unless there is a party booked and even then there is no problem getting ample playtime on your favorite machines. The staff is really nice and they fix machines quickly when they jam.
At only two nickels per play I can throw as much skee ball as I’m physically able. I only stop because all that hunching and throwing gives me a headache after a while.
The single nickel redemption games of chance are really addictive but it’s an affordable addiction.
The free game wall is filled with classics like Frogger, Centipede, Street Fighter, Tetris, and Pac-Man. Just walk up and press start.
I don’t know if it’s a tax shelter, a money laundry operation or the owner just has a personal commitment to providing really cheap family fun. Whatever the reason, I’m glad it exists.
Nickle City is funky, fun and cheap. How can you go wrong with that?
Official Website: www.nickelcitysanjose.com
File Under: Nickle Arcade Game Center San Jose