Arcade Game Collecting: 2021, A Year in Review
Updated: Nov 27, 2021
Well, another year and more new games and completed projects have entered the arcade, along with new games, and some projects keep collecting nothing but dust in the workshop. The hobby itself continues to change and evolve for better and for worse. Interest in vintage gaming, arcade games, and pinball seem to be evolving so let’s look at what went on our personal arcade collection this year, the market in general, and predictions for the future.
THE COLLECTING MARKET FOR 2021
The big news this year in collecting had to be the bonkers prices seen at the auction involving the game collection from the recently closed Banning Pinball Museum. The auction overall was viewed with a lot of controversy in the arcade community over questionable game ownership, some strange bidding, and the management of the museum itself. Added to the controversy was the large amount of interest outside the arcade game collecting for the auction due to media exposure of the event. Most games sold for 4-8 times normal values, putting many interesting and rare pieces out of the gasp of normal collectors.
Some of the eye watering prices of somewhat average to find games included…
$2700 for a Rally-X
$5000 for a Joust
$3600 for a Gyruss
$3300 for a Mario Bros.
$6600 for a Tapper
Some rare titles produced these eye watering hammer prices…
$10000 for an Exterminator
$5800 for a Bolder Dash
$9100 for a Cobra Command
$16000 for a Turkey Shoot
$16900 for a Domino Man
$20500 for a Pong
It should be interesting to see how these high prices affect future “investors” into the hobby, or people who otherwise have not yet entered the hobby. Almost every hobby has a time where speculators enter the fray, which can cause price gouging and an eventual market crash (Comic books in the 90’s and baseball cards were victims of these types of situations).
Overall prices have continued to rise, more for uncommon or high in demand machines. Rare golden age machines such as Wacko, Journey, Quantum, Discs of Tron and I,Robot seem to command more and more every year as true original machines get harder to find. The quality of reproductions of rare titles gets better and better every year with advances in CNC machines and PCB reproduction yet should never be considered to have the same collector value as an original machine. More common golden age titles (Ms.Pac-Man, Galaga, Centipede, Joust) prices seem fairly stable. Bronze age titles (Pre 1979) seem to be somewhat stagnated price wise, with some titles (Early Atari titles, Manhunter) being the exception to the rule. Multicade machines both commercial and amateur made still prove popular with collectors and non-collectors, although in my opinion they have little collector value.
There is also a creep of some home gaming system grading starting to make its way into arcade game collecting. Several "graded" and "boxed" items have appeared on EBay and other sites this year for crazy prices. Let's hope this is a trend that will not become a fixture in arcade game collecting.
Pinball machine prices contiune to go up and up, thanks to the large market for add on toppers and customization mostly for modern pinball machines. Although early electric mechanical machines seem to be of minimal interest to collectors, newer machines with their muliple special editions (some often costing over $9,000 new) have been a boom for both pinball manufactures and collectors for now. Also contiuning (much to my shock) is the interest in Arcade 1UP reproduction machines as both a product and as a collector. A small but loyal collecting scene is starting up around these 3/4 scale arcade upirght reproductions. I'm not a hater towards the 1UP machines I just wish they were of better quality.
NEW ARRIVALS IN THE HOME ARCADE FOR 2021
Overall, we saw fewer new games come into our home arcade this year probably due to several unfinished projects, limited space, and my overall lack of free time due to schoolwork. Still the overall collection now stands at 27 upright arcade machines (4 of which are cabaret sized), 2 cocktail machines, and one countertop for a grand total of 30 games. I am also shocked to say as of writting this all the games work, only the current Cabal/Liberator project is in a state of disassembly.
Black Widow (Atari, 1983) – We picked this up late last year fully working and in nice condition. Black Widow was originally released as a conversion kit for Atari's diffcult yet interesting Gravitar (although some factory conversions that could be considered dedicated cabinets do exist) after arcade operators complained that the revenue downturn from patron's quarters playing Gravitar was too high and fast. Black Widow is interesting on several levels. First just being a color vector monitor game makes it of interest to collectors. Second, gameplay wise it is very similar to William’s classic game Robotron:2084 but with a theme based around sci-fi insects. Third, it is a hard to find game in the Atari catalog. And lastly, I persoanlly find it interesting since originally it was intended to be another Atari Force branded title much like Liberator. The game works like a champ and is currently in the upstairs arcade. The only technical issue we have had with it was a bit of a dodgy connector on the monitor which has been repaired.
Star Wars (Atari, 1983) – Not content to pick up just one-color vector arcade game this year, Atari’s on-the-rails space shooting classic Star Wars also joined the collection. I bought this game from a fellow collector and friend in Las Vegas. Not exactly a mint condition example, but it is in solid working shape only suffering from a slight issue with the PCB that was repaired this summer and a noisy fan that needs a replacement. The cabinet is in decent solid shape with the biggest fault being several small holes drilled in the sides at the base in a possible attempt to keep the PCB cool at some point. The game is currently in the workshop.
Cabal (Ramtek, 1988) / Liberator (Atari, 1982) – This former Atari Liberator has been a lot of things over the years, but thanks to a very successful recovery of the original artwork (under no less than four layers of crappy paint) it will be restored into a Liberator again. The game was purchased about 85 miles south of Seattle and was "still working" on a location. Although we already have our cool custom Liberator cabaret, my hope is to restore this one due to its rarity and eventually use it as trade bait to another collector for a different title in the future. Currently it needs a monitor and a good bit of cabinet work, I hope to have this finished by next summer. The biggest shame might be I love Cabal so I might put the working game PCB in a future cabinet.
Super Pac-Man (Bally-Midway/Namco, 1982) – I have wanted one of these for a long time, although it wasn’t specifically on my “must have list” I am thrilled it is currently in the collection. Tragically underrated, Super Pac-Man is the true official sequel of Pac-Man developed by Namco but is largely overlooked by vintage gamers. This Pac has spent it’s last 20 years living on a blueberry farm in Washington state, and it in solid overall condition with honest wear and tear. I am not planning to restore this game in anyway although a new control panel overlay might be in its future at some point. Overall, the cabinet is in nice shape with no visible water damage but some paint flaking especially on the back of the game. The monitor was replaced in the late 90’s with a strange version of a Happ Vision Pro CRT that I rebuilt (it was DOA when we got the machine) completely thanks to a hard-to-find flyback I ordered from Ireland. Game currently is in the workshop.
PROJECTS (FINALLY) FINISHED IN 2021
Space Harrier (Sega, 1986) – A long suffering and lingering project in the workshop that finally got completed this year and overall, I was very happy with how it came out. A lot of cabinet work was carried out along with new side art sources from the UK. I have owned this game since the mid 90’s and it got a good bit of attention at our last gaming party. If I have one desire for this game still, it is to make a new plastic seat reproduction since mine is cracked... and it appers many surviving sitdown versions have cracked seats as well. Currently it is in the arcade upstairs.
Cloak & Dagger (Atari, 1984) – Oh boy what a journey this game has been on, but I couldn’t be happier with how it turned out. Originally part of two games we bought from an estate sale two years ago, originally this cabinet was a Stargate but somehow someone had converted it into a Moon Patrol. Cabinet needed a ton of work and I started once only to strip it back down and start again not being happy with how it was turning out. Game required some interesting audio work arounds with a separate amplifier and is adorned with some beautiful artwork from This Old Game. My only bit of sadness is that the game is still in the workshop due to a lack of space in the arcade.
ISSUES, BREAKDOWNS, ETC.
Tempest (Atari, 1980) – Another year means more Tempest woes as Tempest cements its rep as the lease reliable game in the collection. A total rebuild of the Wells Gardner 6100 monitor took place, as well as replacing a dead Pokey chip or two. Game was down for at least half of the year and was moved to the workshop from the arcade and remains there now.
Moon Patrol (Williams, 1982) – A total PCB failure caused by dirty chip connectors; I replaced the PCB entirely with a backup one I had in the collection. This game needs a full restoration, and the haphazard wiring harness inside of the cabinet defiantly doesn’t help the situation. Currently still in the arcade.
Jungle King (Taito, 1982) - On again - off again issue with the PCB booting up due to some sort of connector issue that I have to as yet track down completely. Still in the arcade and has lately been behaving itself mostly.
Battlezone (Atari, 1980) – Game is more predictably funky than unreliable per-say. This game usually fails every 30 days thanks to some loose chip sockets in the PCB (I push ‘em back in and then it is totally fine again), and it needs a full rebuild of the controllers. Lives in the arcade still next to the other cabaret games.
Consulting as a historian/collector - I was happy to consult with some rather high profile upcoming projects with some large media comapnies revolving around classic gaming, I can't give out the details yet but it was pretty neat to be involved with such things.
You Tube - Was pretty happy with the output of new You Tube content on my channel this year, although I would love to do more documentry style things I just never seem to have enough time to do them.
Book – I have been working on a book about collecting arcade games since the start of this year, and it is actually pretty far along. School work however (including an internship I am currently in) takes priority, so I haven’t done too much on it since the summer ended and I don't have a relalstic date on its completion.
Documentary on Saturday Supercade – I am hoping to work on finishing up a You Tube documentary on the 1980’s cartoon Saturday Supercade before the end of the year after locating one of a kind original storyboards from the show’s production.
Other Projects in the Workshop – The Simpsons cabinet needs to be set up for a 6-way switcher, my desire is to be able to play 6 different Konami PCB’s in the same cabinet all using original hardware… Stargate restoration still needs to get finished, the first attempt was aborted due to a bad paint mix... At some point I am hoping to make a scratch built Bubble Bobble machine in the style of an early 1980’s Taito cabinet… I also want to make the Super Pac-Man into a switcher to play Pac N Pal as well as Super Pac.
HOPES FOR 2022
With graduation in the spring and quickly moving into grad school in the summer, my time will be limited for the next 12-18 months in regards to enjoying my hobby. In addition the projects already spoken about, I am always looking to expand the collection despite space being more than a bit tight for new games at the moment. Although some of the games I am looking for aren't super hard to find, finding a decent condition one I don't have to ship (shipping is just getting too expensive for most games with rising gas prices)... still the games I am most interested in adding to my collection (in no real order) would be...
720 Degrees by Atari Games
Choplifter by Sega (Dedicated)
Gyruss by Centuri (Cocktail)
Marble Madness by Atari
Pepper II by Exidy (Dedicated "Heaven and Hell Version")
Qix by Taito
Space Dungeon by Taito
Space Race by Atari
Stunt Cycle by Atari
Tron by Bally/Midway (Cabaret or Cocktail)
"UA Theatre" JAMMA cabinet