Arcades: Buying from a retailer vs. a fixer upper

You want to buy your first arcade game or pinball machine and you have found a vendor is selling your favorite game for a decent amount of money, something ranging from $800-$2500 or so, maybe more, maybe less. You’ve seen these same games sell for less on eBay and you’ve been monitoring Craigslist and noticed that some games there are even given away for free. I just want a working game, what are my options? We’ll touch a little bit on that in this post.

How much to pay? A good introductory question to collecting?

I’ll start off my saying, the value of these games is solely determined by the secondary market of collectors much like any collectible. You should know that your market ranges from 2,000-10,000 people nationwide approximately depending if you included pinball collectors. Value is highly subjective, and is largely based on what you want out of your collecting experience.

I paraphrased the question above, but here is an edited email I got through this arcade game blog a few days ago. It was such a great question I thought I should share it with other people beginning to collect arcade games;

I recently started collecting arcade machines and I would like your opinion on the most cost effective way of buying them. I purchased my first machine (Popeye) last week from an amusement vendor here in town for $600. It’s all original and in almost perfect condition. However, I’ve noticed that most people will let similar machines go for half as much in the classifieds, Craigslist and amusement auctions. He does go to great lengths to make sure the machine is in perfect working order and even offers a 30 day warranty. Actually, when you put down the deposit, he takes a few days for the service dept to go over it and inspect it prior to allowing the customer to pick it up. With all that being said, am I throwing money away by buying from a Vendor? Would it be smarter buying from a different type of source?

The main question is “Am I throwing my money away?”

I would respond back typically with this question. What kind of experience do you want from having this game in your home?
Ask yourself these questions;

  1. Do you enjoy woodworking and electronics and the satisfaction of fixing things?
  2. Do you want to play the game in your home and have friends enjoy it at parties and walk away from it when you’re done, knowing it will work next time you go to play it?

Do you like fixing things? Do you like doing wood repair? Do you like painting? Do you like making artwork on your computer? Are you good at and like diagnosing electronics physically and researching online? Do you have some spare time? If you answered yes to all or most of these things you probably will want to buy a used arcade game.

If you answered no to most of those questions then you see what I’m getting at here 🙂 In this particular example for this game (Popeye), paying $600 for a game isn’t as that exorbitant. You get a working game with a limited warranty and if you have checked out the credentials of the vendor, that game may work for quite a long time. If you are looking to have the game just work, you get enjoyment from playing it and want to know that it will continue to work, you may want to pay a premium for it. You won’t have to do repairs, you won’t have to do any painting / touchup to the game to make it look like a nice edition to your basement.

This post has gotten longer than I intended, but I will leave this with one last thought.

As an extreme generalization, let’s put some prices on fixing up a game to make it look semi-restored. You aren’t sure if you want to fix it yourself, you just know you want to try to save some money and you have some time. These are some ranges of what parts will cost (totally dependent on game / vendor);

  • Bezel: $30-$60
  • Marquee: $25-$50
  • Control Panel Overlay: $45-$75
  • Set of Sideart: $75-$160
  • Kickplate Artwork (Not on all games): $50-$75
  • Arcade Monitor (used): $25-$75
  • Arcade Monitor (new): $140-$200
  • Other Parts (Buttons, Joystick, Wiring, Power Supply): $5-$80

You always can save money, find parts on the lower side of the range, buy lots of parts on eBay, etc. Being exact for every possible situation and combination is impossible. It is a ton of work to keep up with market values and even then, they change and dedicated collectors have to ask from time to time what the perceived value of an item.

Conclusion on buying used vs. new coin-op games

If a collector reads this and wants to add something, feel free. I know there is a ton of more information, this isn’t meant to be exhaustive, only a primer.

Good luck, and if you still have doubts about buying your first game you can always drop me a line.

Here are some similar arcade posts

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Comments
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I like buying the games cheap and fixing them up, but as the amount of projects increases, I find myself more willing to pay extra money for a game that needs no work. In the end it usually ends up cheaper. For example, my Centipede in the end will probably cost around $800 after the restore. I could easily purchase one in excellent shape for less. Over the long term, every time I look at that machine, I’ll get a good feeling knowing the time and effort I put into it and feel real good about it which is worth a lot.

But one of these days, I’d like to buy a game, put it in the game room and be done with it.

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Agreed. There are both sides. I personally want to do less fixup and more playing myself, so paying a little bit more for a complete game isn’t a far fetched idea for me. Especially if it’s a game with medium to upper difficulty to find parts.

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My first arcade purchase was a NIB (New In Box) Pirates of the Caribbean Pinball. At the time I didn’t have the time to work on these machines, and I wasn’t sure I could. I now realize working on Arcade Games and Pinball Machines is a good challenge, and very satisfying when the work (even more so when my wife brags to our friends and family about how I fixed it). 🙂

I’ve been lucky with my first two arcade repair projects. I managed to not go go too far over the $200 mark. But I’m not trying to make the outside of the games look new. I will even live with a couple of monitor imperfections (perspective slightly skewed, or discoloration in one corner).

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Your wife brags about your electrical skills to friends at house parties? That funny / cool….

You haven’t had to do anything to the Pirates pinball since you’ve had it, have you?

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Jeff,

I haven’t had to do anything big to Pirates. Although I have taken the playfield apart a couple of times to clean.

I also had to adjust a few things that weren’t quite right from the factory. The right flipper was loose and hung too deep, and the peg that holds the ball in front of the pirate ship got stuck in the up position.

I also added some clear “foot” stickers to the ball guides that lead to the Liars Dice saucer, and inside the pirate chest. I felt the balls bounced too hard and reversed their path off those walls too often. (It works like a charm BTW.)

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On another subject…

[url=http://skitch.com/bjhanifin/bxmgs/how-to-buying-your-first-arcade-pinball-game-new-vs-used-rotheblog-arcade-game-blog]What’s with the non-arcade related photos on your site?[/url] 😉

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