As arcades shut up shop, their coin-op favourites are turning into collectors’ items, reports Ian Harris.
It’s all but “game over” for amusement arcades. As each new clutch of consoles keeps more and more players at home, the dingy games rooms that hooked an entire generation on Space Invaders and Pac Man are disappearing fast all over Britain. But while arcades are shutting up shop, the machines themselves are quietly enjoying a retro renaissance in homes across Britain – right alongside the Playstations and Dreamcasts that were supposed to replace them.
Williams amusements, in West Yorkshire, is among a handful of companies catering for a soaring demand in old arcade machines. Crammed with hundreds of video games, Arcade Warehouse is a fantastic place to visit, and customers can play on any game they like before deciding which one to buy. Arcade Warehouse sprang from a garage hobby nearly twenty years ago, and the company recently supplied machines to celebrities including Jeremy Clarkson and Liam Gallagher.
The Oasis front man apparently snapped up a rare “tabletop” coin-op, which he’s thought to have modified to house his Playstation – “knocking hundreds off the value”, in the opinion of Arcade Warehouse director Chris Jackson.
But the machines aren’t just playthings of the rich and famous – buying one makes good sense for anyone with an interest in video games. “It’s nostalgia,” says Jackson. “Nostalgia and a talking point when people come round. Owning an Eighties arcade machine reminds people of a good time, when people would go into arcades and play on games for hours. Back then there were new games gaming out, and they were exciting. Nowadays they all cost a quid and all that matters is how gimmicky the cabinet is. They’re more like rides than games.”
Jackson began selling the machines after being made redundant as a printer 18 years ago. “I’d always been interested in video games. People kept asking me to supply the arcade machines I was building, so I thought `What the heck. I’ll give it a go`” And the business, he beams, is booming. “People decide they want a Pac Man in their bedroom, but think they’re deranged! They’re not – loads of people want one.”
Starting at about £150, the cabinets support hundreds of different games, which can be swapped around by simply slotting in a different games cartridge. The PCB’s (printed circuit boards) for modern hits such as Tekkan 2 and Mortal Kombat sell for about £50, with older and rarer titles fetching £100 and upwards. Owning your own arcade machine is cheaper and much easier than you’d think. Less expensive than most games consoles, the machines support a wider range of titles and are infanitely more fun – adding an instant retro coolness to any bedroom or office. What’s more, as the machines become rarer they appreciate in value as more and more machines are left to rot in fields and skips. In a struggle to keep up with demand, Jackson has staff roaming America and Germany in a constant effort to find machines.
Many are recovered from fields, warehouses and back yards – one rare machine was recently found abandoned in a Cornish chicken shed – and it’s not unusual for owners to throw them away without realising their value.
Some of the rarest arcade machines are known as cocktails – tables with a videogame built in. Not many exist in Britain, which is why Jackson and his associates import them from abroad. So which is the Holy Grail of coin-op collecting? “Star Wars”, says Jackson without hesitation. “Full-size Star Wars cabinets that a player can sit in are like hens teeth. We’ve just found one we’re bringing over from America, and it’ll fetch close to two grand.” Prices vary depending on how rare the machines are and what condition they are in. Decorative stickers and front panels often go missing, and joysticks and buttons usually arrive broken or chipped. Mint condition Space Invaders are highly sought after, and Jackson is proud to boast one such Japanese model among his collection.
Demand is already strong in America, and awareness of “arcade adoption” is gathering pace here. Prices are rising, and it seems now is the ideal time to buy. It’d be hard to find a bigger arcade aficionado than Jackson, but he admits even he’s hampered by the one pitfall of coin-op ownership – his wife. “If I had my way, the house would be stuffed with them, but she’ll only let me have a couple in at a time. This warehouse would probably be be a lot emptier if it wasn’t for her.”
Pick a long-forgotten game, hire a van and enlist the help of a burly friend or relative. Then chuck out some furniture, gather some old 10ps, and tell your lady you love her.
How to get one
You can contact the Arcade Warehouse on 01977 515487
Expect to pay about £200 for an arcade cabinet with working buttons and joysticks. Make sure you’re buying a JAMMA cabinet (Japanese Arcade Machine Manufacturers Association) – a set of standards designed to make swapping the games easy. If possible, see the machine working.
For more information, search on Yahoo! for “JAMMA” and visit www.williamsamusements.co.uk
Copyright The Daily Telegraph 2000