Beginner's Guide to Collecting

by Mark Jenison

At one time in my life, as many of us collectors had, I said to myself "I wish I owned a [insert game here]!". The first time I said this to myself was back when Star Wars was big in the early 80's. I pictured a big upright Star Wars standing next to my bed, and I would leave it plugged in and running overnight, and it would go perfectly with my Star Wars bed spread and action figures on the shelf.

Many years later, the dream has come true. The action figures are gone, and the bed spread has long since departed, but a Star Wars machine finally stands in my house.

How did this go from dream to real life, and how can you make your dream of owning your own game come true? Well, this document is here to help you get started on making it come true, and in much less time than the 15 years it took me. More like 15 days.

There are things you need to know

You'll want to do some research. Here's some places to start:
Usenet Newsgroup: rec.games.video.arcade.collecting (old school)
Internet Forum: http://forums.arcade-museum.com (AKA the KLOV forums)

On either of these two internet resources, you'll hear lots of jargon and terms which you won't understand until someone explains them to you. So we'll start with some basic terms you'll see in an average day of postings.

board/PCB/boardset - a printed circuit board (PCB) which is the computer game itself; it contains the processor, memory, and game code.

pinouts - a board connects to the power supply, controls, monitor by connectors. The connectors might be edge connectors, which connect to a row of edge pins on the PCB. Or the connectors might connect to a group of header pins. The pinouts are the list of pins which make up the interface from the game PCB to the external interfaces.

switch settings - a game may have a row of switches mounted on the board itself which can be configured on and off. These switches affect the configuration of the game.

JAMMA - This stands for Japanese Amusement Machine Manufacturers Association, and referes a wiring standard that was developed by the association. A JAMMA cabinet is a cabinet wired with this standard. A JAMMA board is a board whose edge pins conform to this wiring standard.

vector/XY - This stands for an old type of monitor used early in the industry. This monitor draws lines from "point to point", turning a beam on and off as it moves around. Games like Asteroids and BattleZone used these monitors.

raster - This is a monitor which is more similar to how a TV works. A beam is constantly drawn from one side of the monitor to the other, turning colors on and off, moving vertically just a bit after each line until has to restart. This action is so fast that this seems instantaneous, and a picture can be seen.

Most other terms like EPROM, ROM, CPU, RAM, etc, are common computer terms, so you'll want to brush up on your computer literacy.

Now, answers that you REALLY need to know.

1) What is an arcade video game?

It a big cabinet which plays games when you put a quarter in it.

2) What REALLY is an arcade video game?

An arcade video game is mostly just a big fancy TV stand, which is practically empty. Inside you'll find a power supply of some sort, a few circuit boards, a few speakers and a panel that has a few control on it which amount to nothing more than a fancy way to turn some switches on and off. Also there is a coin door, with some coin mechanisms to decifer between a slug and the real McCoy. If it's the real McCoy, a switch is turned on briefly.

So a video game consists of a monitor, controls, power supply, circuit boards, and coin mechanisms, with a bunch of wires to connect everything together, and a cabinet to hold it all in place.

3) Ooo! Ooo! Ooo! I want one! I'll post a WTB right now!

Hold on there just a minute. First things first. There's some stuff you'll need to know and want to know before you get into this hobby.

Information

Become informed on the hobby of collecting video games so you won't fall on your face or be kicking yourself later about a bad investment.

1) Read the resources listed above for a few days

They'll contain pretty much everything you'll need to know about where to get games, where to find information about specific games, and even some pricing information.

2) Study up on the games of your choice

You'll be tempted to post something like this:

Hi! I want to start collecting arcade games!

I want to buy the following games:
Gauntlet
Space Invaders
Star Wars
Dragon's Lair
.
.
.

These will, all together, be fairly expensive, and most likely you don't REALLY want to buy all these games at once. Teasing sellers is one way to get off on the wrong foot. Before you post something like this, evaluate the approximate value of each game. This will help you decide which one you can afford to start with. Then do some research on these games using the above resources to see what type of maintenance problems you might come across. A vector or laser player game can potentially have a lot more maintenance than a typical raster game.

My advice would be to start with JUST ONE so you can get an idea about the amount of maintenance and storage space these games require.

Figuring out an approximate value

The games on rec.games.video.arcade.collecting (or .marketplace) or the KLOV forums are usually pretty close to fair market value. Doing a search, you can get an idea of what asking price for your game has been for a few years. Ignore any "What?? I only paid $ for my game Y!" because most likely at that time, that person was lucky. Ignore prices that deviate from the mean, and you'll get a good idea what the price is going to be if you find one. Whatever you do, don't do a search over the entire internet; there are a lot of resellers out there whose items are much more expensive that what you'll see on the resources listed above. However, they might be worth it if you're the type that is not technically inclined AND they come with a warranty (if not, probably better to skip them).

You'll continue to pay fair market prices if you continue to stick with this route of getting games from rec.games.video.arcade.collecting/marketplace or the KLOV forums. It's fine if you stop here. You can continue to live a normal and happy life with a neat game in your domicile. However, if, from your first game (and from researching) you've gotten the "bug", read on.

3) Seek counciling

Not professional, psychiatric counceling; seek out counciling from other collectors in your area. The key to getting REALLY good values is through CONTACTS. Starting a network of contacts allows you to get in on some of the best deals out there. Not to mention, you can learn a lot of technical skills from these people. These people have probably had years of experience dealing with collecting, and they may even be willing to part with some of their unwanted games fairly cheap. However, these games will most likely not be in showroom condition, so be prepared to work on these things...

4) Work on your tech skills

There's going to be a need to do technical work at some point or another. You may be able to get away with the "my friend knows how to fix these" excuse, but you're going to be better off in the long run if you learn some of the skills yourself (and your friend will be a lot happier).

With technical knowledge also comes the need for a lot of tools. You'd think that video arcade games might only require a limited amount of tools, but you'd be wrong! I've used everything from tweezers to hammers, saws to X-acto knives. Get yourself a full spread of tools.

5) Research, research, research

If you want to learn, you've gotta do the leg work. Most of the problems you encounter with working on games WILL BE DOCUMENTED somewhere. Learn all you can, and you'll be better prepared when you come across that broken down wonder.

6) Give it back

A lot of people went to a lot of trouble to figure this stuff out. Once you learn something new, document it and make the information available to all. Thank those people that helped you. Contributing will help the next newbie learn all that much quicker.

That's about it! Happy collecting!


Back to M.A.R.S.