Doll-grabbing machines may seem like a fairly primitive diversion, but in a sense they offer a metaphor for consumerism. The game looks so easy at first glance, but turns out to be costly and addictive. At times, we may feel tempted just to break the machine and grab the dolls.

A 24-year-old man from Wuhan, in Hubei province, has been making headlines for what might be considered a Guinness World Record after capturing more 3,000 dolls so far this year – an average of roughly 11 dolls every day. On the back of that, he has become a doll trader.

Wu Bo has in fact been so successful that, according to Chutian Metropolis Daily, in Hunan province, one machine owner begged him to stay away on weekends as his presence was bad for business. Perhaps other potential players turned up simply to watch him instead of spending their own money. Apparently, he started rationing himself in response, calling time after grabbing a bagful of dolls.

So what is Wu’s secret? Perseverance and a little cunning, seemingly. A regional manager at a little-known firm, he did his research. After joining a WeChat group in which other doll enthusiasts shared tips on where they’d had “hunting” success, he got to work. In his first month, he spent some 4,000 yuan (US$600) for a return of only 200 dolls. But then came a major breakthrough on Alibaba’s Taobao platform.

Pretending to be a doll machine buyer, he sought insider tips from vendors on different types of machines. Thus he acquired the knowledge to be able to identify what machines were designed to give away fewer or no dolls.

He also worked to improve his grabbing skills, taking a scientific approach rather like those mathematicians one hears about who clean out Las Vegas casinos at the blackjack table. His record, now, is 70 dolls in one day.

With his vault full of dolls at home, Wu started to think about how to dispose of his inventory. On WeChat, he markets dolls ranging in price from 6 yuan to 80 yuan, which is about half their market price. Occasionally, he will take orders for specific dolls and then go out and capture them. To date, Wu has sold some 700 dolls, pocketing 15,000 yuan in the process.