FAQ: BUYING FROM AN OPERATOR
Last Updated: 31 March 1998
INTENT AND DISCLAIMERS:
Copyright 1993, 1998
The authors hereby grant permission to reproduce and distribute this
document for personal use, subject to the condition that the document
(along with any copyright and disclaimer notices) is not modified in
The opinions expressed within this document are those of the authors only
and not necessarily those of their respective employers.
This FAQ was created to assist beginning and established collectors by
providing useful information about making deals with the current owners
of video games.
This FAQ is provided for informational purposes only. Although the
authors have made every effort to provide accurate information, they
cannot guarantee the accuracy or usefulness of any of the information
contained herein due to the complexity of the issues involved.
The authors take no responsibility for anything arising as a result of
anyone using the information provided in this FAQ, and the reader hereby
absolves the authors of any and all liability arising from any activities
resulting from the use of any information contained herein.
This FAQ is divided into five sections:
SECTION ONE: Where did all the games go?
SECTION TWO: Who's Who?
SECTION THREE: Strategies for dealing with operators
SECTION FOUR: Wheeling and Dealing
SECTION FIVE: Miscellaneous questions
SECTION ONE: Where did all the games go?
Q: Why can't I find my favorite game anymore?
A: Simple. Your favorite video game doesn't make the operator enough
money to justify the floor space it takes up. Perhaps you should
have put more quarters in it when you had the chance.
Sometimes games are retired due to high repair and maintenance costs
regardless of their popularity. For example, Missile Command's large
trackball was known to have problems with pins wearing down, and the
HV flyback transformer in the Ampliphone color vector monitor (used
in many Star Wars machines) was notorious for its high failure rate.
Regardless of the reason for its retirement, if you want to play,
it'll be up to you to find your game and buy it. Making this process
simpler and easier for you was why we wrote this FAQ.
Q: So why couldn't I buy it when it was in the arcade?
A: If you're playing a game on the street, the game is still making money
for the operator. We'll get into "how much money" in the next question,
but keep in mind that unless you offer the operator enough to make up for
the next few months' worth of earnings from the game, he won't even
consider selling it to you.
Q: What happened to my favorite game while it was at the arcade, and where
did it go when it left?
A: Here's a rough sketch, based on the authors' experiences, of what the
first few years of a game's life is like.
An operator makes money by buying video games from a distributor for
$3000-$4000 and running them for several months. Note that there are
exceptions: The newer driving games, for instance, can cost upwards
of $20,000 and will be "run" for years.
After the first week of operation, the operator will probably have
$200-$400 inside. If a game costs $3000 and the operator gets $100/wk
over the life of a game, it takes the operator 30 weeks to make back
his original investment. Anything that comes in after that (after the
ongoing costs of electricity, rent on its square footage in the arcade,
as well as taxes), is profit.
For an operator who places machines on location in a route (e.g. at a
pizza joint or convenience store), the take from the coin box is usually
split 50/50 with the location owner, and the operator will have to double
the time required to make back his investment; it can easily take well
over a year to make back the investment, which is why an operator is
often loathe to sell a new game - unless you can offer the operator
more than he will make from a machine over the rest of the year, you
can forget it.
After the operator has been running the game for about a year or so,
the game becomes "old". For more recent games, the "home version"
is out and the kids are playing at home, not in the arcade. The
game no longer earns as much, perhaps only $20-$50/wk or so. Since
the operator has limited space in the arcade, the game gets replaced
with a new game when an opportunity arises. The old game has lost
both value and earning power; the new game takes up no more space than
the old one, but earns more money. The old game is therefore replaced
by the new game.
If the old game is still capable of generating at reasonable earnings,
it gets dragged off to another location, and then another location,
until it finally arrives at an auction, where its resale value will be
around $500-1000 (for most "newer" games less than a year old, and
ignoring high-cost items like cockpit driving games with 50" projection
screens :) or less, and the cycle starts anew with another operator and
a lower cost base.
Eventually - and this is the case with most of the "classics" from
the early 1980s, it's ceased to make money altogether, and has been
dragged downstairs or thrown into a warehouse, where it sits unused
for several years, waiting to be sold, converted, "parted out", or
even taken off to the dump!
Q: Okay, so it wound up in a warehouse. What happened to it then?
A: The game sat there for some time, waiting to be sold, converted,
parted out, or dumped.
Conversion is the process of turning one game into another. Ever
wonder why you keep seeing the cabinets for some of your old favorites
with the "wrong game" inside 'em? Conversions are the reason.
The more specialized the parts for a game are, the less likely they are
to be converted. "Dedicated" games with proprietary hardware schemes
will either sit more or less intact until sold or dumped, or be stripped
of their original parts and turned into generic JAMMA cabinets. Most
of the "classic" games from the '80s have suffered this fate.
JAMMA cabinets are good from the point of view of simplicity; only the
game logic needs to be changed; the controls and other hardware are
essentially identical. Such machines are almost always converted
quickly and re-introduced to circulation. Mortal Kombat no longer
making any money? Yank the board and throw in a Mortal Kombat 2.
The longer a game sits in a warehouse, the more likely it is that parts
of it will disappear, either for use in repairs ("parting out") or for
use in other conversions. As the game's earning potential approaches
zero, or as a lot of its parts disappear, it'll eventually wind up in
Not all of this news is bad news, though. When a game gets converted,
for instance, its boards are often left over afterwards. This is why
warehouses can be a good source for boards as well as complete games.
We'll get into the risks and rewards of buying boards later on in the
FAQ. For now, let's stick to the sale of complete games.
The sale of a game can take two forms:
The games are sometimes taken to auctions and sold to the general public.
The "general public" includes other operators (who might have fewer games
in their arcades and still want the game), or collectors (who often attend
auctions and buy games there). See the Auctions FAQ for details.
A few operators sell their used machines and used boards on the 'net.
Although there have been a few incidents of people passing themselves
off as large operators and then disappearing with people's money, the
majority of the operators doing business on the 'net are friendly and
reputable folks, and are happy to deal with the general public.
Dealing with an established operator with a long history of dealing
on the 'net is an excellent place to start in this hobby.
The games can also be sold to collectors who manage to get into the
warehouse. Getting you into that warehouse, and informing you on what
to do when you get there, is the goal of this FAQ - How to Buy from an
If the game is not sold and the warehouse is full, the operator will,
without a moment's hesitation, throw the old game into the dumpster
in order to make room for newer retirees. The boards may be saved
for later use - or they may not.
Again, it's a business. Newly-retired games are more likely to command
a higher price when sold, and the operator doesn't want to spend money
on buying more warehouse space. So they get sold. And that stack of
ancient boards from the 1980s will never make any money for the operator,
so it gets trashed.
Q: Can you go over that again?
A: The life cycle of an arcade machine starts with its origin at the
manufacturer, shipment to the distributor, sale to an operator, a series
of sales from operator-to-operator, either by auction or by private sale,
and then conversion (with another series of sales), storage in a warehouse,
and ends with either disposal in landfill or sale to the retail collector.
The retail collector is generally the buyer of last resort.
SECTION TWO: Who's Who?
Q: Who are distributors? What do they do?
A: Distributors sell new (occasionally used) games from manufacturers to
operators. Some distributors also perform repair, reconditioning, and
conversion work for operators.
Q: Who are operators? What do they do?
A: Anyone who owns a video game and makes money off it is an operator. The
guy who runs your local arcade is an operator. The owner of the company
which puts games at "locations" such as your corner store is also an
operator. Even the people who run the mega-arcades, or "entertainment
centers" are operators.
Q: What about those operators on the 'net?
A: Since 1993, when this FAQ was first written, a new breed of operator
has emerged. In addition to operating their own machines, they've taken
advantage of the popularity of the WWW to sell their used boards to end
users on the 'net. You can e-mail them or phone them, and most will be
happy to deal with the individual buyer on any size of order - from one
board to a hundred. (Some of these operators have minimum purchase
requirements and discounts on larger orders; respect the former and
feel free to take advantage of the latter :-)
This is probably the largest change in the market for game collectors.
The operator at a warehouse doesn't have to go through a lot of trouble
when dealing with collectors. The collector just selects the hardware,
pays in cash, loads the truck, and drives off, never to be seen again.
The operator on the net, in contrast, must deal with the hassles of
shipping, payment-by-mail, and the difficulties of varying expectations
among his customers. ("What? I ordered it five minutes ago, what do
you *mean* you haven't shipped it out yet?!"). In short, they get all
the hassles of dealing with the general public, and get it at a minimal
The operators who sell their boards on the 'net in 1998 are performing
a function similar to that performed by the larger collectors in 1993.
They provide hardware, usually in working (or at least tested) condition,
and they do so at good prices. No more waiting by the loading dock
behind the warehouse with a wallet full of cash in the middle of a
blizzard - your favorite game could be a simple e-mail away.
Q: What about the operator of my local arcade?
A: Operators who *don't* explicitly open their doors to the general public
(and that means just about all of 'em) consider collectors as small potatoes.
Specifically, most operators and distributors don't like dealing with
the public because of the problems that arise after the sale - when a
game breaks, or delivery is required, or the home buyer requests spare
parts and a warranty. Remember - the retail buyer is at the tail end
of the food chain.
Q: Now that I know who's who, where should I go to buy my games?
>From the top of the food chain on down:
- It's possible to deal with a distributor, but it's rare, and since the
techniques used for dealing with operators and distributors are roughly
the same, differing only in scale (think of buying $1000s worth of
hardware instead of $100s) the remainder of this FAQ will concern
itself with dealing with operators. Dealing with a distributor is
similar to dealing with an operator, but usually on a larger scale.
If you ever land a deal with a distributor, you probably won't need
this FAQ :)
- If an operator is unwilling to deal with you because he considers
you to be small potatoes, the distributor (who often considers many
*OPERATORS* to be small potatoes) is likely to be even less amenable
- On the other hand, it may be that your local operator may just happen
to have a warehouse full of stuff that he's been itching to get rid of,
but he hasn't had the time or inclination to junk it, and nobody's come
around and made the right offer.
That's where the rest of this FAQ comes in.
Q: ...there's that warehouse again?
A: Okay, you're tired of paying retail prices for single boards, and
you wanna play hardball. You wanna fill the back of that truck with
boards, and you wanna do it dirt-cheap. Guess what? You're gonna
The reality of the arcade business is that an operator has to make
enough money to cover the cost of his space, electricity, insurance,
taxes, and God-knows-what-else.
Operators don't run arcades for fun - they do it because it's their
bread and butter. Note that it's running arcades that's their bread
and butter - *not* selling boards to collectors.
So if you're gonna *be* a collector, and you wanna *deal* with an
operator, you've gotta make it worth his time.
It's a simple rule, but its importance cannot be overstated. Money gets
you in the door, money talks to the operator, money pays your way when
you're inside, and money can even help you get your favorite game away
from the operator at the lowest price possible.
Operators own games for one reason - to make money. They're not
interested in the art of game design. They're not interested in
the impact that these games have had upon society. And they are
certainly not interested in spending hours of their time so you can
relive your childhood memories; not when they can make several times
as much money by sitting back and letting the kids pump the quarters
into their games.
If an operator doesn't normally deal with the retail market, only one
thing can be assumed to matter -- getting the most money out of the
games he owns.
You and I, however, are the other side of the coin - all we want to do
is wrestle our favorite games away from the guy at the cheapest possible
Hmm. The operator would rather have money than old hardware. The
collector would rather have old hardware than money. Sounds like
the makings of a market. Setting up that market is the subject of
the remainder of this FAQ.
SECTION THREE: Strategies for dealing with operators
Q: Where do I start?
A: If you wish to use the phone, you can get phone numbers from the
- The "Amusement Devices" and "Vending Machines" sections of your
Yellow Pages directory is the best place to start.
- See those stickers on games which read something like "For service,
call 555-5555". Call one of these numbers and see who answers.
- The sides of trucks seen at auctions sometimes have phone numbers
and company logos written on them.
- Go to an auction and put up a posting saying "MONEY FOR JUNK" with your
phone number on it. It can sometimes work wonders. Of course, you can
also end up with a pile of junk :-)
- Coin-op industry trade magazines, such as Replay and Playmeter, also
have useful contact information.
If you're physically present at the arcade, start working your way up
through the ranks. Start with the person behind the coin counter or
a technician. These "front line" people can give you information on
what's sitting down in the basement, and may be able to set you up
with the arcade manager.
Often a combined approach (visit an arcade, ask a few questions, get a
phone number, go home and call the next day) is the most effective.
Q: Okay, I've got the phone number, but I still don't seem to be getting
anywhere. What's going on and how can I do better?
A: Getting the phone number is only half the battle. The whole organization
of receptionists, technicians and arcade managers is set up to prevent
people from talking to the operator.
The reason for this is that *ANYTHING* the operator could be doing would
earn him more money than dealing with a collector who is only likely to
spend $100-200. For example, the average operator can take in just as
much money in a SINGLE DAY by leaving his phone off the hook and letting
people pump quarters into a row of the latest Mortal Kombat machine.
Keep that in mind when you're on the phone with your local operator.
If you are in an arcade, keep in mind that (in most cases) only the
operator has the authority to sell you a video game. The arcade managers
and technicians generally do not. Although these people are often
valuable sources of information, you'll usually have to keep working
at it until you reach the "man at the top".
One last note. OPERATORS DON'T RETURN PHONE CALLS. (Maybe not "never",
but trust us, it's rare...) So if you manage to talk to one and want to
continue dealing, you have to take the initiative. And if you manage to
set up a meeting - show up. There's nothing more annoying to an operator
than a collector who can't (i.e. won't) keep an appointment.
Some operators have also become "jaded" through deals with beginning
collectors that never spent much money, expected perfectly-working
games, and always wanted warranties. If this is the case for your
operator, expect considerable difficulty in overcoming his prejudices
if you wish to deal effectively. Sometimes there's just no winning,
and you're best off trying your luck elsewhere.
Q: I've made contact! What do I say I'm looking for?
A: Don't be overly specific. Telling an operator that you are "looking
for Battlezone" simply tells the operator that he can ask any price
he wants for it - thereby making more money. This is a case of the
money principle working against you.
On the other hand, if the operator has no interest in the collector's
desired item, the collector can often buy it for next to nothing. The
key is NOT TO BRING ATTENTION TO THE DESIRED ITEM. An excellent way
of doing this is by including desirable items in bulk buys. Indicate
interest in "oh, some old Atari boards", then buy a pile of them, even
if half of them are for games you don't really want. The Battlezone
board will be much cheaper as a result, and you can probably use the
rest of the boards, either for your own collection, or to re-sell on
the 'net, at a later time.
The money principle can also be used to your advantage. If you casually
mention that you're willing to "clear out some space" for him by "taking
a pile of old games off his hands", you can improve your chances.
After all, the operator may only going to be throwing the junk away in
a couple of years. If he sees that he can save on storage or disposal
costs by selling you something, you're in business. You get what you
want, and he gets what he wants - money earned from the sale, and money
saved in disposal costs as you take the gear off the premises.
The higher the potential for making money, the more eager he will be
to deal with you. Bulk buys (where you state that you're willing to
buy three or more games, for instance), are particularly attractive.
Making purchases with cash sweetens the deal still further. He can
see the money right in front of his face, and he'll want to get his
hands on it.
The key is to convince the operator that he wants to sell you the
goods. Consider how much it costs to rent/heat the warehouse. Does
he have space problems? Wouldn't it be nice if a dozen machines
which he'll never operate again disappeared and several hundred
dollars in cash appeared in their place? (A hint: emphasize the word
"cash", should you elect to bring this question to your operator's
Ask him why he still has those ancient vector monitors around anymore.
Ask him if he even has any machines out that could use the parts sitting
in the pile in the corner. Why pay to keep a batch of Defender boards
when all his Defender cabinets have been converted to other games or
scrapped? (A hint: make sure he tells you what is useful *BEFORE* you
start rummaging through boards, otherwise his list of useful boards may
grow during your conversation...)
The whole idea behind this line of questioning is "Mr. Operator, why
don't you let me take these parts/machines that will not make you any
money (and which will never be used to repair anything that makes money,
and which cost money to store or dispose of) off your hands. I'm even
willing to PAY YOU MONEY for the privilege of doing you this favor..."
The best deal is one in which both the buyer and the seller walk away
satisfied. Call an operator's wares "junk" and you'll probably (and
rightfully) be thrown out. After all, if it's worthless junk, why do
*you* want it? Get the point across with a little diplomacy, however,
and you'll land the deal.
Find out what the operator wants out of you -- and find out what you
want out of him, and see if you can make ends meet. If you can find
a way for both parties to be happy, you can net yourself a pile of
stuff at a great price.
Taking everything you can is an excellent strategy. It saves you time.
It saves the operator time. And even if you can't resell everything on
the 'net, you can always give it away to your friends, or use it for parts.
Q: I'm in the warehouse. What now?
A: Remember those old contests where the "prize" is "a one minute shopping
spree"? Guess what? You're the next contestant! As we've said before,
time is money in the arcade business. You have a *very* limited time in
which to select the stuff you'll be hauling off.
If you've made it this far, be ready to deal. Show up on time. Bring
money. Bring sufficient transportation to take your haul back with you.
That means at least an empty car trunk for boards, and a pickup truck,
minivan, or larger vehicle for cabinets.
Don't "look over" a warehouse, take down a few prices, and leave. Don't
waste an hour and a half of the operator's time rummaging through old
boards and play-testing half the machines in the warehouse. If you don't
make it worth the operator's time to deal with you the first time, you
won't be coming back for the second time.
(To give you an idea of what *WILL* make a visit "worth it" to an
operator, about the only times we've heard of collectors having been
invited back for a second visit is when they'd purchased over $1500
worth of goods...)
Again - think "power-shop". You probably won't be coming back for the
things that *you* forgot, let alone coming back to pick up anything for
somebody else. Act as though you have only one chance to pull out as
much hardware as you can, and do so AS QUICKLY AS POSSIBLE.
Don't worry about getting multiple copies of the same game; all that
means is that you don't have to worry about whether or not the game
works - you'll have extra hardware from which you can swap and/or
scavenge parts. This is a Good Thing.
Don't worry about getting "stuff you don't want" mixed in with "the
good stuff". If you've got some storage space at home, you can always
resell the extra stuff on the 'net at a later date, and give away the
rest to fellow collectors - or just use it for parts yourself.
There is no need to waste the operator's time searching through piles
of boards, "cherry-picking" the best boards of the lot. If you see
something you like, grab it. Otherwise, leave it. If you see a lot
of things you like, gesture at the whole pile and make an offer.
It'll save you time. It'll save the operator time. It'll get you
more hardware at a better price. Nuff said.
Q: I've made a deal! How should I pay for what I've bought?
A: This is a simple question. Since cash is about the only form of money
that operators will accept, you've really got no choice! Cash is king.
The reason for this is that operators don't have the time or inclination
to worry about things like bounced checks or credit cards. Cash is
simple, direct, *VERY* easy to handle, and gets to the point. Bring
plenty of cash with you when you meet with an operator. A fat wad of
twenties in your hand as good a bargaining tool as any strategy mentioned
in this FAQ.
SECTION FOUR: Wheeling and Dealing
Q: What should I offer for a game? Which games are most worth buying?
A: This is a tough question. The economics of supply and demand determine
what is worth buying and how much it should cost. Both change often, but
a good guide to what was in demand recently is the VAPS membership list.
If it's popular with VAPS members, odds are it'll be popular among other
Ranges of sample prices have also been sprinkled throughout the text of
this FAQ and can be used as guides to help you in your dealings. (Keep
in mind these prices will eventually go out of date as the FAQ gets
Pricing information can also be found by searching http://www.dejanews.com
and http://reference.com for postings from the arcade-related newsgroups.
Q: What parts will be the most useful to me if I (like most people) don't
have much money or space?
A: Go for boards, and control panels. Cabinets are large, heavy, and
difficult to keep around. For the same reasons, and due to their high
shipping costs, they're also hard to sell to other people. They're also
useful to operators for future conversions. Raster monitors are a
If you're buying in bulk, get as many boards and control panels as you
can. Here's why.
- If you trade equipment with other collectors, you get the first pick
from the bulk deal and can keep the best stuff for yourself. This is
the main reason why anyone deals in bulk board buys in the first place.
- It's much easier to throw in a new board set and control panel on a
game than it is to rewire a whole cabinet. See the Conversion FAQ for
- Boards are cheaper than whole games. Older boards, particularly from
the 1980s, have no earnings (or even conversion) potential for an
operator and should be relatively cheap if you're buying in bulk.
- You can sell most, if not all of your goods, on the net at a later
date. This helps your hobby pay for itself and also helps others
(who may not have the time nor the inclination to do a bulk buy)
to get the parts for the games they want.
- You can use extra goodies as a source of spare parts for your games.
Control panels are particularly useful in this regard.
- If you're dealing in non-working equipment, remember the adage about
spare parts - "the more, the merrier". Even if you're the type who
likes to program with a soldering iron, you'll want spare parts to
swap in and out during the repair process.
- A control panel and related boards occupy much less space than a
complete cabinet. This fact will become increasingly important as
your hobby of collecting games evolves, as you will rapidly run out
of space for more cabinets.
- If you're buying JAMMA-compatible hardware, or are adept at doing
your own conversions, you don't *NEED* anything more than the board,
since "one cabinet fits all". See the question on building your own
cabinet for more information.
- If you're buying for friends, or are far away from home, you cut down
drastically on shipping costs. See the section on shipping costs for
details. Compare the volume and mass of a control panel and boards
with its cabinet. Which would *YOU* rather carry for 500 miles?
- You avoid the horrible situation of the operator/distributor throwing
the boards away when you aren't there. The next collector arrives and
hears "oh, sorry, we threw a whole bunch of those out last month".
(If collectors got paid a quarter for every time they heard this line,
they'd soon have more money than the operators...)
Q: What risks are there associated with dealing in spare parts? What
should I know about buying or selling boards?
A: When buying from an operator, try to resist the temptation to test the
goods. If a board set is gathering dust in a corner, both you and the
operator can safely assume it isn't working. On the other hand, if you
power up a board set and it *DOES* work, you've just told the operator
that the board set is worth more than it was when it was untested.
That costs money - money you could still have in your pocket had you
bought the board set as "untested" and tested or fixed it at home.
Once you've gotten your parts home, test them out. If they don't work,
don't worry. If you have some knowledge of electronics, you may be able
to fix them. Even if you can't, broken boards can still be sold on the
net -- there *ARE* people out there who can fix them, so they're still
Besides, even the friendliest operator won't be able to help you test
that vector game from 1982 if he doesn't have its machine up and running
nearby. The reality of buying in bulk is that you're going to be buying
boards of unknown condition. Deal with it.
Moreover, you're buying "as is". They may not work even if the operator
says they will. If the operator may not let you back in to buy stuff for
a second time, do you really think he'll give you a refund on something
that didn't work?
If you intend to sell extra boards on the net, we recommend that you
start small in order to get a taste of all the hassles associated with
just breaking even. For instance, everyone will want advice on how to
hook up the game, and nobody will want to pay for shipping or handling.
You may also have to deal with bouncing checks and/or COD shipment
hassles. Oh, and even if the board worked when you tested it at home,
it may have sustained damage during shipping, so be prepared to refund,
repair, or replace items that wound up dead on arrival.
Don't expect to make a killing in the used-boards market. If it were
possible, we wouldn't have this FAQ, as operators would be selling used
boards by the dozen right in the arcades.
Selling used boards simply isn't a money-making business. The operators
who have chosen to sell their used boards on the 'net are providing a
service, not making a killing. Their prices, at least as of 1998, on
the vast majority of games, are comparable to what the collectors were
charging before the 'net became popular.
On the other hand, don't let this scare you away from picking up used
boards in bulk. The authors of this FAQ who have done board deals in
the past have always found *SOME* use for most of the goodies they've
picked up. Keep your wits about you, use common sense, and you probably
won't go wrong.
Q: I want to deal in whole games. What is a reasonable price for a game
and/or its components?
A: EVERYTHING depends on where you live, but here is a general guide:
- Prices for games are somewhat higher in areas where there are lots
of collectors, as a simple function of supply and demand.
- The right cabinet in perfect shape is worth a lot to the right buyer.
If you spot a cabinet that's in wonderful condition, snap it up. But
be prepared to pay a premium for it.
- Once a game stops earning enough money to justify its floor space, its
boards are generally worthless to an operator. These games have no
real value except in terms of what they can be converted into. Ancient
boards from the "classic" era (i.e. that can't be easily plugged into a
JAMMA cabinet) can go for as low as $10-20 apiece if you buy them in bulk.
- Raster monitors go for $50-100 because operators can reuse them in other
games. At the time of this writing (1998), 19" raster monitors are
becoming much more affordable as operators switch to 25" monitors. You
may be able to pick up a bargain on a 19" if you play your cards right,
but be prepared to fix the monitor if it's toast. After all, if the
monitor's in good shape, it's probably in a cabinet on location.
- Vector monitors, on the other hand, are practically worthless to
operators. Very few operators these days feel they can make money
from these old vector games. Furthermore, since vector monitors
operate on different principles than raster monitors, nothing on
such a monitor is reusable. The only value a vector monitor has
is its rarity -- operators know that collectors want these monitors,
and consequently they tend to go for $25-50 apiece in bulk deals.
- Older games (those over three years old) go for $150 to $300.
- Newer games (between one and three years old) are worth up to $500.
- Brand new games can cost up to $4000.
- Driving games and "cockpit-style" games will cost even more when new,
sometimes reaching into the $20,000 range.
Note that rare games are an exception. Operators know which games are
rare and which games are popular. Unless you are making a *VERY* large
bulk buy (20 games or more), the operator will demand more for these
games. Be reasonable - if you're getting an incredibly rare board
with a pile of common boards, and the operator wants to charge you
a premium for the rare board, he's demonstrated a clue - if his price
is reasonable, reward the clue with some cash.
Q: So now that you've said all that, what should I buy? Tell me quickly,
because I'm in the warehouse now and only have about 15 minutes or so
in which to make up my mind!
A: The moral of the story is:
- Scarf any old boards you can find. Just about anything from the
early 1980s will be of interest - if not to you, then to a fellow
collector on the 'net.
- Scarf any vector monitors you can find, particularly if you are
interested in this type of game and are willing to buy or store spare
parts. These parts have become relatively rare, having either been
purchased by collectors or trashed by operators years ago.
- Scarf any control panels of games you'd like to have, even if the board
sets aren't there. This is particularly important in the case of rare
or classic games. If you intend to become a serious collector, scarfing
original control panels is a *MUST*!
- Be wary of buying raster monitors, particularly if the monitors are new.
Ask yourself why the operator is willing to give you a perfectly good
monitor if he can put it into his next conversion, thereby saving
- If you don't already know how to repair hardware, learn. You'll be
bulk-buying "as-is", which means you'll get stuff that doesn't work.
If you can't test it, or can't fix it, when it comes time to resell it
on the 'net, you'll have to tell the buyers about it. The more you can
test and fix your own hardware, the more likely you'll be able to recoup
some of your costs.
Q: What about shipping cabinets?
A: There are a few caveats involved in shipping cabinets. That picture of
the game you saw on the WWW may not be of high enough resolution to show
that annoying scratch on the cabinet, and who's to say the damage was
there beforehand or if it occurred during shipping? A seller's reputation
can go a long way towards answering these concerns, but the fact remains
that you're still buying sight unseen.
Shipping games isn't cheap. Although prices in the U.S. have dropped
from the prohibitive $150-300 range (1993) down to the $75 range (1998)
over the past few years, it's still a non-trivial component of the price.
For these reasons, (to say nothing of the hassles of crating a game up
for shipment via a commercial carrier), shipping is normally reserved
for expensive and/or rare pieces. Most games on the 'net are still
bought and sold within a two-hour drive of the location of the game.
If you're buying for a friend, make sure they're willing to pay these
costs. Otherwise you'll wind up with what they didn't want to pay
to ship -- and what you probably didn't want in the first place (since
you were willing to sell and ship it to them in the first place).
If you want to ship the game yourself, the best method is to use a
trailer. Trailers cost about $20 to rent, plus the cost of your gas,
and unless you own a pickup truck, they are by far the cheapest way
to move a video game. For small buys, shipping is now a viable
alternative to, but for bulk buys, you're still probably better off
with the trailer.
A used trailer will cost about $300 and will probably be the most useful
item in a serious collector's inventory. (The second most useful item,
by the way, is an "appliance-moving dolly" or "refrigerator dolly"...)
Always keep in mind that boards, monitors, and control panels can be
carried in the back seat of your car, so shipping costs are equal to
the cost of gas and a few hours of your time.
Also, keep in mind that shipping can be rough on old games. Expect to
perform some minor repair work if your game has to be carried over long
SECTION FIVE: Miscellaneous questions
Q: Why hasn't anybody started a "locator service" on the net? Why won't
people buy games on my behalf?
A: Since this FAQ was first written in 1993, several attempts have been
made to set up such services, and all (to date) have failed. It really
comes down to an information management problem -- how do you keep the
data in the locator service current, and how do you ensure that people
carry through on the deals?
Consider the following sequence of steps, all of which would be required
were such a service to be set up.
1) Find an operator who's willing to deal.
2) Get a price on a video game from the operator.
3) Advertise on the net through the locator service.
4) Get a reply via e-mail.
5) Buy the game from the operator.
6) Work out shipping and handling through the net.
...it's a neat idea in theory, but in practice, it just hasn't worked.
Q: If "bigger is better", why doesn't the net organize group trips to
A: Group trips are good ideas in theory, but in practice they turn out to
be very complicated. If you've ever organized a social gathering of
net.acquaintances (even if only from your local area), you already
know what we mean. Now imagine how hard it is to get six different
people to show up from halfway across the country at a predetermined
spot - ON TIME - in order to go to the one and only meeting with the
Even if everybody makes it there on time, if all six people try striking
separate deals with the operator, they'll wind up taking too much of his
time and the deals will fall through.
If you *DO* manage to organize a group visit, it's a very good idea to
make up a joint "grocery list" BEFOREHAND. Everyone involved must be
prepared to contribute a certain amount of money for a given game; once
this is decided upon, you can all visit the warehouse and offer ONE
PRICE FOR THE ENTIRE LIST.
Haggling over individual games during a bulk buy is a very poor way to
conduct business. The "one-price-takes-all" strategy will save the
operator's time, thereby increasing the chances that you'll be allowed
back at some future date - and will also likely result in a better price
for the buyers.
Q: Can I build my own cabinet?
A: There may be an advantage to building your own cabinet it you have
an interest in JAMMA-based games. For JAMMA aficionados, a huge cabinet
capable of holding 10-20 boards would be of considerable value.
A number of collectors have gone this route, most often by cannibalizing
an existing cabinet and enhancing it to look like how they wanted. The
original cabinet for Midway's "Xenophobe" is a common candidate for
modification. If you go this route, however, expect to spend a lot of
time and energy with the project. Unless you've got a lot of experience
in carpentry or woodworking, it's not a project for a beginner.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: Connections and reputations are the key to this hobby. For example,
if you develop a reputation for being cheap (by buying only things you
really need and when the pieces are in good condition), you won't be
invited to go on all the bulk buys because you won't be buying much if
the warehouse is a dud. On the other hand, you'll always be invited to
go on the really high-quality buys, because the other collectors will
know you're likely to buy a lot.
Keep in mind that you can develop both your reputation and contacts any
way you like. The collecting community is NOT an "old-boys" network.
If you develop a lot of contacts, you'll have a reputation that'll get
you more connections, and so on...