The year was 2008, I was in my early 20’s and just moved into a house with a garage. Up until then I had been an avid console game collector, but for some reason, the pretty random thought of finding a coinop arcade machine to put into that garage popped into my head.
At that time Craigslist was the place to go, and long story short I ended up with a package deal for my first arcade machines. Neither worked, nor did I realize either were complete. As I recall, one was an original Qbert cab that was converted into a different game, and the other was a half assed attempt Data East cabinet into a MAME machine (MAME is basically thousands of emulated games on a computer put into an arcade cabinet). I had no clue what I was doing or even where to start on those first two coinop arcade machines.
Soon after that purchase, I ended up finding an original Atari Centipede machine right up the street from me. Although missing the original side art, it worked and it cost me $200. SCORE!!
Ever since, I have bought and sold hundreds upon hundreds of machines. I have worked with a lot of first time arcade buyers, and I always try to walk them through the ins and outs of what they are about to purchase. And just in case your seller doesn’t go through the machine thoroughly with you, here are some tips below.
We hope you enoy our article Coinop at Home: 5 Tips When Buying an Arcade Machine!
1. Know What You Are Buying
Are you looking for a specific machine, or are you buying one just to have a coinop arcade machine? There are a lot of different machines out there, some being original cabs, some are converted, and not all the time the seller knows the difference. Educate yourself on what an original cabinet looks like; a Google image search is perfect. I just picked up a Mortal Kombat recently that the seller thought it was an original cab; I knew it was a converted Robotron (video of actual cab).
Does it have original game boards or is it a multi game board like a Pandora’s Box? Original game boards (PCBs) are almost always more valuable than the multi game boards. Multi game boards are nice and I always recommend them to people if they are unsure what they are going to enjoy. If you go this route just pay accordingly and don’t pay a premium for non original boards.
2. Make sure you test machine
Seems like a given but you would be surprised as to how many people I have talked with didn’t fully test their machine. Verify the sellers claims to condition of the machine. If it is claimed as fully working, play the machine.
- Test all the joysticks and button functions.
- Does the monitor look correct (not too dark, not too light, colors looks right)?
- Does the power supply fan sound like it is functioning properly? If you can hear the fan grinding, chances are its dirty and it can be a problem later.
- Turn the game off then back on to watch the boot cycle. Are there any errors? Does it boot into the game fine?
- Do the coinop mechs work?
- This is going to sound weird but shake the machine a bit and watch the monitor. I have had cases when the machine plays fine, but as soon as you touched it, the monitor would tweak out. This is usually an issue with the monitor board (my experience cold solder joints).
If you are buying a machine with known issues, be sure to verify those issues. I have had cases when a seller claimed only one issue, but ended up being a whole slue of other issues. Always verify!
3. Spend What You Are Comfortable With
When buying a machine, only spend what you are comfortable spending. If you are wanting a fully working machine, expect to pay more than a machine that needs work. Do some research online to see what machines have sold for and if you are paying within that ballpark (i.e. eBay SOLD listings).
If you are buying a coinop machine needing some TLC, that is fine too. Put a little bit of sweat equity into it and learn at the same time.
Unsure what to buy? There are a lot of coinop businesses open to renting machines, never hurts to ask your local operator.
Just like any hobby, it can be hard to stop at just one machine. I had a customer years ago tell me that he had to put off a couple bills in order to purchase a machine from me. I refused to sell him that machine. Don’t be that guy.
And remember, there will always be another machine.
4. Stick With A Jamma Setup
In a nutshell, jamma became the universal setup for coinop arcade machines from about the late 80’s and later. Technically in most cases you can plug one game board from one game into another cab, something that wasn’t an option in the early to mid 80’s. This made it easier for operators to convert cabs into different games once the original game stopped making money.
By buying an arcade cab with a jamma harness, you have that option to swap game boards out and rotate different games in. Just note, sometimes you need extra buttons so be sure to do some research before you go this route.
5. Prepare To Get Your Hands Dirty
Keep in mind these are 25+ year old machines, things can be dirty and will break. I’ve had games work for years without a hiccup until the day I sell it and it won’t turn on.
Things like swapping out a power supply or buttons is pretty easy. If your monitor dies, that is a completely different story.
A lot of basic fixes can be found on YouTube if you are the DIY type. If not, find yourself a local tech that can fix it.
Well I hope this article helps when you go out to buy an arcade machine. If you have any questions please feel free to Contact Us, we are more than happy to give opinions and suggestions regarding specific machines. And as always, please share this with friends and family on social media, we appreciate it here at The Retro!