5 Easy Tips to Help you Stay on Budget at Japan’s Game Centers
Japan’s game centers (arcades) are the best of the best: an endless selection of games, great prizes, and a super fun time! I will say though that for some, these game centers are notorious money eaters! With 100 yen (roughly $1) being a coin instead of paper, spending definitely becomes 10 times easier. Before we delve into the tips on how to save money at game centers--
First off, a quick reminder: Know your budget!
I know this sounds obvious, but it really does help to know when to stop! You can say to yourself, “I’ve had enough fun when I’ve spent this much…” or “I’ll try to get that prize with this much money, if I don’t, then I’ll stop…” Or, have a friend with you so that you can both talk each other out of spending too much!
Moving on--let’s start with a basic walkthrough of what a game center has in store.
Game centers come in different sizes. Smaller game centers may only have a certain type of game, like UFO Catch, while bigger centers have more variety. Bigger centers may have UFO catch, music & rhythm games, puri kura (photobooths), and more!
Game centers are also noted by the company. SEGA and Taito Station are some game center names you’ll see often in Japan. Prices for games are usually the same between most game centers, though I noticed that the prices for certain machines depend on which center you’re at! Thus, leading us to our first tip---
Tip 1: Play at the game center with the same brand name as your favorite game!
I’ve noticed that some Taito game centers charge about 100 yen more to play popular SEGA games, and SEGA does the same with Taito games, just vice versa. For example, a Taito Station could charge 200 yen per play for a SEGA MaiMai Murasaki machine. Meanwhile a SEGA center could charge 200 yen per play for a Taito Groove Coaster machine. But! If you play a SEGA game at SEGA, and a Taito game at Taito, then it’s highly likely the price per play will stay at 100 yen.
So, if you already know what kind of game you lean more towards, remember “Same name same game!”
Let’s say you’re already at a game station, and you see someone win at UFO catch. “That’s so easy!” But wait, don't put that coin in just yet! Some of these people have been playing UFO catch for forever and have spent a lot of money to get that good and make it look that easy!
Tip 2: Ask staff how to play the game!
Although this tip mostly applies to UFO catch, it can definitely save you some yen! Instead of diving in, trying it a couple times, and moving your prize into some really weird (and harder to get) position, you can ask the staff on how it works! The staff are trained to set up and play the games, so, giving players advice is part of their job too. Simply find a staff member and ask “Dou shitara ii?” or 「どうしたらいい？」, which means “What should I do?” Don’t worry too much about the possible language barrier, as most of them open up the machine and show you in detail what technique to use and how it works. Sometimes, the staff member will even change the position of your prize so that it’s easier to get!
Now, you’ve tried some games, you’re a little more confident with your skill and technique. You know you can get that prize, but you’re not quite sure how many tries it will take.
Tip 3: Use a 500 yen coin, WISELY, and bundle them up with coupons!
This is another tip regarding UFO catch. Once you’ve gotten the hang of things, you can start to feel comfortable using a 500 yen coin. Using a 500 yen coin normally gives you an extra [free] try. So if you feel confident enough in your skill, go ahead and use a 500 yen coin and use the extra try to your advantage.
Speaking of “free tries”, game centers occasionally have a special coupon raffle at the entrance. You can either score a coupon for one or two free tries (used after inserting the coin), a free play, etc. Use these coupons along with your 500 yen coin to help secure your win, for less!
Finally, you’re starting to run low on coins, and you don’t have any coupons. You see a sign above the coin slot that says, “Pay with IC!”
Tip 4: Don’t use your IC Card!
Some game centers allow machines to accept payment via IC card! For those of you traveling in Japan by train, avoid using your IC card especially if you put a lot of money in it! Using your IC card can definitely bite your budget, you don’t see where your money is going, and it’s gone in a single tap! Not to mention, you wouldn’t want to be stuck at the station wondering where all your transportation money went.
Ok, so maybe you’ve stopped by a game center and realized it wasn’t exactly your thing. Or maybe you think you’ll still end up spending too much. Good news, here’s an alternative option!
Tip 5: Pay [a little] more but play just as much at Round 1!
Round 1 is your all-in-one game/sport/entertainment center, easily found in bigger cities like Ikebukuro and Odaiba. Aside from the arcade game portion of it, you can play indoor/outdoor sports, sing karaoke, play bowling, billiards, and more! At Round 1, all you have to do is pay a set price for a certain amount of time and activity. They have multiple money saving deals, though these deals are heavily dependent on time of entrance, drink bar and food access. For example, karaoke during the day is cheaper than karaoke during evenings and late nights. There’s also an additional fee for those who want access to a drink bar.
If you want to try it all and get more bang for your buck, there’s also something called the “megapack” deal. This deal includes use of most of the Round 1 facilities for roughly 2,500 – 2,800 yen. I think this deal great for bigger groups who plan to play for longer periods of time!
Things to keep in mind about game centers:
Once it passes curfew (8pm-10pm), game centers will start checking IDs! Those who are under 18 are not allowed in game centers once it passes these times. Enforcement of this rule depends on the game center, as some strongly enforce it and some don’t. However, if you are carded and do not have any identification on you or refuse to show it, you run the risk of the staff asking you to leave, and in the worst case scenario, having them call the police to walk you out.
Watch out for stealers! Although I’ve never had any experience related to stealing in Japan, I’ve constantly had times when the staff politely told me that my bag was open, or not to keep my wallet out in the open and tuck it away safe in my bag. The game center is also not responsible for any theft that happens on the premises.
Sega VR located in Akihabara is another good find that features a first person shooter alien game called Mortal Blitz which gives you 30 minutes of in-game action. Their 2 versus 2 game links the player up using cables and their other games like Western Cowboy and Tiger Knight, requires the player to sit on the saddles in a shooter game. Their games offer variety and a fun arcade like experience. Keep in mind that you need to purchase each game that you play separately.