‘Grand Theft Claw Crane’: Big Win at the Claw Machine Leads to Police Investigation in South-Korea

The art of claw craning recently made headlines when an all-too-successful attempt at a claw machine arcade led to a formal police investigation in Daejeon, South Korea. The story’s popularity on Chinese social media shows how South Korea’s ‘claw crane hype’ has also sprung up in China.

Local police in the South Korean city of Daejeon recently had to deal with a remarkable ‘theft case’ when they received a report from the owner of a claw machine shop that all 210 plush toys out of his arcade’s five claw machines had disappeared.

The case made it to the news in South Korea and was also reported by various Chinese media (e.g. Sina News) on Weibo, where it soon triggered thousands of reactions.


“The two men had “a fixed method to operate the joystick.””


According to the police report over the claw machine mystery, the toys had an estimated total value of 2.1 million won (±1820US$). The incident happened at a time when no shop assistant was present at the claw machine arcade.

South Korean News on the Grand Theft Claw Game case.

After police investigated the case by looking at security camera footage, they discovered that the plush toys were not stolen, but were legitimately grabbed by two skillful 20-year-old South-Korean men. They succeeded in grabbing all toys within a time frame of 2 hours.

The claw machine hall has a fee of around 8US$ which allows players to operate the claw a total of 12 times. If the men would have succeeded in grabbing all toys within 1 attempt, it would have cost them approximately 140$.

According to Sina News, most people usually need around 20-30 attempts before succeeding in grabbing a toy with the claw. But the local police investigation pointed out that the two men from Daejeon only needed 1 or 2 attempts to win a toy.

In a police interview, the two men declared that they had found “a fixed method to operate the joystick.” Because they paid money for all of their attempts, did not damage any arcade material, and legitimately won their prices, they cannot be held accountable for the arcade hall losses.

On Weibo the incident triggered thousands of comments, also of netizens who feel frustrated with Chinese claw cranes: “This boss was actually sincere, but if you come and play the sh*tty claw crane here, you never win. I’ve spent 20 RMB (±3$) and nothing even moved.”

“I’ve spent 200 RMB (±30$) on claw cranes today,” another person comments: “I’ve only won 1 toy.”

“Maybe the claws in South Korea are less loose than here,” some wonder.

Although claw cranes are popular all around the world, South Korea has recently seen a claw machine ‘hype’, with claw game halls popping up everywhere.

In 2015, a Taiwan newspaper also reported that there was a ‘claw hype’ going on. The game is especially popular among people born in the 1980s and 1990s.


“The kids whose parents never gave them money for the claw machine have now grown up and finally have their own money to play the game.”


The countless responses on Weibo show that the game is also very popular (again) in mainland China. Some netizens share pictures of the toys they have recently ‘won’ and collected.

A collection of claw crane toys, shared on Weibo.

“The toys I’ve won last month,” one Weibo user says.

“I’ve grabbed them all” (Sina Weibo).

Some think they know why claw cranes have become so popular again. One Weibo user (@叶远远叶) says: “I suddenly realized that the recent growing popularity of the claw machine is because the kids whose parents never gave them money for the claw machine – thinking it was fraudulent – have now grown up and finally have their own money to play the game.”

The popularity of the game also might have to do with it being a typical ‘date activity’, where boys win toys for their girlfriends. “I am so good at grabbing plush toys from the claw machine, why am I still single?” one young man wonders.

A video showing techniques on how to grab toys from claw cranes is also widely shared Sina Weibo. In February, one Chinese man became known as the “Claw Game God” when he won over 3000 toys in half a year.

Claw Crane Technique Video on Weibo

Most commenters seem to agree that the machines in South Korea have a higher success rate than those in China. “We might be boycotting South Korea,” one person says (in response to recent THAAD controversy): “But at least their claw cranes are better than China’s.”

No matter how popular the claw crane game may be, for some people the game is over: “With the money I’ve spent on these machines, I could’ve bought at least a 100 toys – but I never even grabbed one single toy.”

– By Manya Koetse

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