A block and a half beyond the Freemont Experience in downtown Las Vegas sits Insert Coin(s), a “Videolounge Gamebar” at 512 Fremont St. I haven’t been to every big retro arcade across the country, but I hit a lot of them while working on my book Invading Spaces and had hoped to hit Insert Coin(s) the last time I was in Vegas. Unfortunately we had the kids with us that time, which meant we ended up visiting the family-friendly Pinball Hall of Fame over the more adult-oriented Insert Coin(s). This time around, no kids meant I was able to finally swing by the arcade.
Although the walk to Insert Coin(s) from the Freemont Street Experience is a short one, those two blocks make a difference. Perhaps at other times the sidewalk is more well it and filled with revelers; at 9:45pm on a Friday night with the bright lights and crowds to our backs it was dark and kind of scary.
Outside the barcade we spoke briefly with the bouncer who informed us that after 10pm Insert Coin(s) has a cover charge — $5 for locals and $10 for out-of-towners. We arrived roughly fifteen minutes before the club started charging a cover, which was a good thing as I had three people in tow who were only there to appease my curiosity, none of whom would have dropped $10 to do so.
In stark contrast to the other retro arcades I’ve visited, including the 1984 Arcade in Missouri, the Arkadia Retrocade in Arkansas, and FunSpot in New Hampshire, Insert Coin(s) is definitely a playground for the 21 and over crowd. Those other arcades are well-lit places, full of color and children. Insert Coin(s) on the other hand is a throwback to the “darker” (and I mean that literally, not figuratively) arcades of the past. Other than the glowing monitors, marquees and televisions, the main source of light in the room comes from the room’s centerpiece, a glowing bar that changes color.
The right-hand side of the room is filled with over-sized vinyl booths that sit behind home gaming consoles hooked to flat screen televisions. According to the arcade’s website, patrons with a bar tab of $25 or more get to play those systems for free. The rear of the bar housed a DJ setup. There wasn’t a DJ there during our visit, but that didn’t stop a couple of drunk girls from dancing with one another.
The real draw for me were the sixty arcade games lined up down the left hand side of the room. The lineup of games was exactly what I was both expecting and hoping to see, with machines ranging from the classics of the early 80s to the hottest fighting games from the late 90s. Along with all the usual classics one would hope to find, a couple of less-common machines caught my eye including Star Wars Trilogy, Tapper, and 720. Other than 720, it looked to me like all the machines were turned on and had good, working monitors. (I can tell you from personal experience that 720 machines are a pain in the ass to own.)
Insert Coin(s) offers retro gamers a different side of the token to consider. With their resident DJs and omnipresent glowing bar, there’s more to Insert Coin(s) than just a large selection of classic games. And, of yeah, they have a large selection of classic games! A different business model than the other retro arcades I’ve visited results in a different experience. Although I was only able to spend a short amount of time in the arcade, I’ll be adding Insert Coin(s) on to my “must stop” list of Vegas hot spots. A quarter is bound to last me a lot longer in Donkey Kong than it will in a slot machine!
This morning on Facebook one of my friends forwarded me the link to a news story on MSN.com. The story is about video games as financial investments, and references the current auction of an Air Raid cartridge which is currently selling for $20,000. I wrote a bit about the last Air Raid cart found, which sold for $36k. That’s not really the story here.
When I clicked on the link, I saw something familiar — a picture of my old game room!
Here is a link to the article. It’s always surprising to see a picture of the inside of your house on the internet, especially when the picture is almost 10 years old.
In 2004, an AP reporter interviewed me in regards to a story about retro games making a comeback. After interviewing me over the phone, the AP sent a photographer out to the house and shot some pictures. That led to this story, which again, ran in 2004. The picture MSN used in this morning’s article was recycled from that 2004 photo shoot.
It’s a little hard to tell because of the angle, and things are definitely messier in this shot, but here are the same shelves about a year later. As you can see I ended up painting the shelves black. The walls remained green.
This weekend, Morgan and I attended a birthday party at Celebration Station which, if you’ve not been or don’t have one near you, is essentially a Chuck E. Cheese clone. They have pizza, arcade games, lots of outdoor activities, and animatronic … dogs.
(Not my video.)
Below are a few pictures I snapped at the party.
Down the left-hand side of the arcade sat all the racing games, lined up and ready to go.
And here are some of the shooting games.
Upstairs, tucked away in the corner, were three pinball machines. The middle one was turned off, but I did play the other two. Good times. I think that may have been my first time on that WWF table. Definitely old school, “brother”. Tales from the Crypt is a good but not great table. It’s too bad the Addams Family machine is out of order. Maybe next time.
Here is a few of the first floor, taken from the second. Despite how this picture makes it look, the game mix downstairs is surprisingly close to being split 50/50 between actual arcade games and ticket dispensers.
Eventually the party moved outside. Did I mention it was 105 degrees on Saturday? Morgan said it wasn’t too hot out there on the water bumper boats. I can tell you, it was pretty hot standing on the sidelines, watching the bumper boats.
After the boats, Morgan spun a few laps on the go-karts before I called a heat mercy rule and split. It’s amazing how much bribery one can get out of a $2 snowcone.
Also, all you Apple haters can suck it. The iPhone 4S takes amazing pictures when you forget to bring your DSLR camera …
This weekend marked the 9th annual Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE) in Tulsa, Oklahoma. I attended the first show in 2003 as a spectator, but have participated as a presenter (almost) every year since then.
Along for the ride this year were my friends Robb and Steve, who I previously mentioned flew in from Colorado and New York (respectively) to attend the show. Robb Sherwin is, among other things, the author of the award winning interactive fiction game Cryptozookeeper. Steve and Robb have known each other since the BBS days.
Photo by Brandon Staggs
Since our local NBA team (the Oklahoma City Thunder) are currently in the NBA Finals, I decided to go with a basketball theme this year.
Due to a slight table misconfiguration I only ended up with one table instead of two this year, but we made it work by just cramming everything together and leaving a few things under the table. From left to right we had my NES playing Double Dribble, my (blue development) PlayStation running NBA Showtime, and my Commodore 64 running a couple of different games, including One on One and Street Sports Basketball. I wouldn’t say I had the most popular table at the convention, but lots of sports fans stopped by to play a few quick games of basketball. At the table I also had a playlist of basketball-related songs and sports anthems going throughout the day, playing songs like “Basketball Jones,” “We Will Rock You,” and of course the parody song “Beard Like Harden.” I apologize to the people across the aisle from me who got bombarded with this music all day long.
Along with all the console and computer games available to buy and play, there were also several pinball machines and arcade games set up to play at the show. These are machines that are brought in by private owners and set up for people to play for free all day long. They’re a great hit every year and really add to the show.
Besides games, there were a lot of other game-related items on display and up for sale, including these animation cells over at Drew Stone’s table. I probably should have bought one of these when I had the chance.
Photo by Earl Green
You may notice that I’ve had to borrow a few photos from my friends Brandon and Earl for this post. That’s because, before I knew it, the show was winding down. I only got out from behind my table a few times, and when I got home I found I had only taken a dozen or so photographs … so I went to Facebook and borrowed a few from other people. I added the ones I took to my photo album of the show along with theirs, renaming them to give them proper credit.
Photo by Earl Green
Photo by Earl Green
Although OVGE is pretty console gaming-centric, Ed Martin brought another giant stack of retro Apple computer hardware, along with an impressive spread of classic boxed text adventures.
Several local groups and websites were on hand this year, including Nintendo Okie who did a live podcast from the show. They did a decent job of capturing some of the in-show action going on throughout the day.
Brandon Staggs also uploaded this video of OVGE 2012 to YouTube. He did a great job of capturing all of the booths there. You can catch my basketball-themed table just after the 2:30 mark.
Thanks to everybody who came out to OVGE this year and everyone who stopped by and said hey. Next year will be the 10th anniversary of OVGE, and I know people are already talking about what they will be bringing to next year’s show. I know I am!
The 9th Annual (wow!) Oklahoma Video Game Expo (OVGE) will take place this Saturday in Tulsa, Oklahoma. As always, I and some friends will have a table set up and once again the entire hall will be filled with people buying, selling, and playing video games.
At my table this year, I will be joined by two friends: award-winning Interactive Fiction author Robb “Ice Cream Jonsey” Sherwin, and the creator of the infamous remote controlled phone video, Steve “Aardvark” Davis. Additionally, I will be sharing a bit of table space with Charles “Ubikuberalles” Pearson, who will be showing off some of his game-related creations.
To attend this show, Sherwin is flying in from Denver, Colorado; Davis, from New York; and Pearson, from Albuquerque, New Mexico. If you enjoy old video games and live closer to Tulsa, Oklahoma than any of those guys, you should make an attempt to be there.
Anyone who hasn’t been to one or is on the fence about attending can check out my photo albums. I have pictures of the shows going back to the first year (2003).
Here’s a picture of my table from last year, where Sherwin, my friend Jeff, and I ran a table dedicated to text adventures. At the show we had text adventures running on a Commodore 64, an Apple II, an Amiga, a DOS machine, an ancient portable TRS-80, and even an iPad.
Speaking of my buddy Jeff, he has since moved out of state and won’t be able to attend this year’s show. While Jeff tries to stay behind the scenes, he is the one that keeps me organized and makes stuff happen. For the past five years, Jeff has been the one who helped me watch my table when I had to run to the bathroom or free me up when I was mingling with visitors, who helped me set up and break down my displays, and keep things running smoothly. Jeff has been an integral part of my displays for the past five years, and will sorely be missed. I will be pouring out a bottle of Croyn Royal Black on the ground in honor of his absence. (I would never actually do that; Jeff would kill me for wasting good Crown like that!)
Episode 114 of You Don’t Know Flack is all about Arcade Auctions. In this episode I talk about my experiences of buying arcade games at auctions. I share some tips and tricks of the trade, including what to bring, what to look for, and what to expect. I have been attending arcade auctions for almost 20 years, and have purchased around 70 arcade games from auctions during that time.
At You Don’t Know Flack you can download the podcast in mp3 format, or stream it directly from the site. There’s an RSS feed available, if you track your updates that way, and the podcast is also available through iTunes.
If you’re old school, I will come to your house, stand outside your window, and blast the latest episodes through my boombox.
This is going to sound stupid, but nothing makes me feel cooler than hauling arcade games around on the back of my truck.
So many collectors never get to show off their collections to outsiders — and when they do, typically it’s done online. Seeing pictures of someone’s collection can be kind of neat, seeing an item in real life is much cooler, in my opinion.
I’ve never been hunting so I don’t really know what it’s like to take down a big animal or anything, but … I don’t know, I have this visual image of a caveman returning from the hunt with a saber tooth tiger hoisted up on top his shoulders or something. And the caveman enters his cave where all the other cavemen are hanging out, and throws down the carcass on the floor and it goes BAM and … in that one little moment, he’s the MAN.
And that moment, that feeling … that’s how I feel when I’m driving slowly through the neighborhood with an arcade game on the back of my truck. It’s like I’m the caveman. And the arcade game is the saber tooth tiger. And my club is … well, a credit card.
And I know deep down that 99% of the people I pass could not care less about the fact that some random stranger is driving around with an arcade game in the back of his truck. When I think back to when I was a kid … there was this family that lived in our neighborhood, the Sloans, and one time we went over to their house and they had an arcade game in their house and I remember thinking that they must be rich. And maybe they were, I don’t really know, but … the point is, especially as a kid who hung out in arcades and liked playing arcade games, the thought of actually ever owning a real, full size arcade cabinet was like … indescribable. It would have been the ultimate toy and the ultimate status symbol all wrapped up into one 300 pound chunk of wood and electronics.
It’s not that way any more, of course. I mean, the people I’m impressing, or at least the people I think I’m impressing, it’s not the 10-year-old kids out playing in their front yard. To those kids, I might as well be hauling antique junk off to to the dump. Those aren’t the kids that grew up feeling like a rock star because they got to enter their initials into a Centipede cabinet for achieving the high score. It’s the people my age I get the looks from, the people like me who saved a little bit of their lunch money so they would have an extra quarter or two in their pocket the next time they ran across an arcade game in the grocery store, or the convenient store, or the laundromat.
The other day I was delivering a couple of machines over to a friend’s house. Facing to one side of my trailer were two machines, Speed Buggy and Karate Champ. I pull up to a stop light and can feel the guy next to me at the light waving, so I look over and this guy is at first waving, then he points to the arcade games, and then he gives me two thumbs up while he’s grinning from ear to ear. He was obviously pretty excited to see them (I’m guessing he was excited over Karate Champ; nobody gets that excited about Speed Buggy). And then I gave him a nod back and a smile, acknowledging that, at least in that moment, I’m the caveman with a couple of saber tooth tigers on the back of my trailer. And then the light turned green and I turned left and I never saw him again.
The funny thing about this encounter was, I think I paid a hundred bucks for that Karate Champ machine. The last time I filled up my truck, the day I was moving those games, it cost me $112. I was literally carrying more money in gasoline in my truck right then than I had invested in that machine. Of course, nobody has good memories of spending their formidable years playing with gasoline … unless they were a pyromaniac or something. Or maybe they sniffed a lot of gas as a kid, and even then, they may no longer have any memories of those years.
Over the past decade and a half I bought somewhere around 60 machines, give or take. Of those, 2 I had delivered; the rest I moved myself. Many of those games were located out of state and purchased through eBay. I’ve hauled games from Kansas, Missouri, Arkansas, and Texas. When we sold our old house, I had to move the 30 machines I currently owned to storage. Of those 30, I ended up moving 15 or so to my new house. Of the ones I’ve sold, I’ve delivered many of them. During my time in this hobby I’ll bet I’ve moved 200 machines, maybe more, and every time I drive through my neighborhood or down Main Street with a machine or two in tow behind me, I get that same feeling. And part of it, I won’t lie, is wanting to be seen with those machines, but another part of it, the bigger part of it, is wanting those machines to be seen.
The single most frustrating part of collecting arcade games has been the amount of maintenance it takes to keep them running. As a kid I had no idea how much time and effort was spent in keeping these machines running — then again back then when these machines were new, I suspect they weren’t quite so fragile.
Sometimes it’s the cold of winter that does them in; sometimes, the heat of summer. Moving them always makes me nervous. I can’t tell you how many machines I’ve bought in working condition in other states, only to have them arrive in Oklahoma, non-working. Sometimes it’s simply the aging process that does them in. That seems to have been Shinobi’s fate.
I paid somewhere around $200 for this machine, maybe 10 years ago. This is the third Shinobi machine I have owned. Shinobi boards have what is known as a suicide battery on them. You can read more about them here if you want, but all you really need to know is that when the battery dies, the game dies. With the first Shinobi machine I owned, the battery had leaked battery acid all over the PCB, killing the sound. The second (and nicest) of the three machines I own still works find, but I was so nervous about it dying that while at an auction, I picked up this machine. I’ve always referred to this one as my “spare” Shinobi.
Collectors are weird, I get it.
Because we moved and I don’t have the space, recently I put all of my games up for sale, including both Shinobi machines. I’m trying to get $250 for the nicer one and $200 for this one. Last night I went over to check on the machine and, wouldn’t you know it … it’s dead. Death by suicide battery, I think.
The drop dead date to be out of my storage unit is February 14th. With no time left for troubleshooting or working on machines, Shinobi had a hand in its own fate. I removed the remaining working parts (the monitor, the power supply, the control panel, and the coin door) and then … this happened.
This is me, smashing $200 and throwing it away.
So anyway, a funny thing happened last night. Before I could move this machine into the garage overnight for storage, I had to clean out a spot. One of the things in that spot was an old laptop case. I was just about to throw it away when I decided to check all the pockets. Inside the pockets I found three birthday/anniversary cards from 2003. That was the year Susan and I went to Vegas for our anniversary. One of the cards had $160 in cash inside it. A second card had $20 inside. A third one had a Target gift card with another $20 on it.
$200, the same amount as the cabinet I destroyed.
I took this as a sign from the universe that everything’s going to be okay.
After spinning my wheels for the past several weeks, yesterday I sold five arcade games … and the funny part was, three of them didn’t even work.
One of the most important parts of sales and marketing is knowing your audience, and that’s something I’m definitely encountering in my efforts to sell these machines.
There are lots of reasons why people buy arcade games. Most regular people might think that the only reason to buy an arcade machine would be to play it, but there are actually several other reasons. Sometimes, arcade enthusiasts will buy a machine just for the parts. I just sold my old Robocop machine for $150. Even though it’s not a very desirable game to own, the buyer got a working monitor ($100), the Robocop board ($50), plus a Midway cabinet ($50) and all the other parts (joysticks, buttons, a power supply, coin door, etc.) For someone who needs and can use the parts, it was a good deal — and I made my money back on that one, so everybody’s happy.
Other reason someone might buy a game would be for the cabinet itself. Take for example my Rampart machine:
As you can tell by the marquee, this was originally a Gauntlet II cabinet. For comparison, here’s a picture of another Gauntlet II machine (that I used to own):
Back to knowing your market; if I advertise this machine to a “non-collector”, I would advertise it as a working Rampart machine, and leave it at that. If I were to advertise it to a group of collectors, I would refer to it as a working and complete Gauntlet II cabinet that currently has Rampart installed in it. A collector is much more likely to convert this machine back to play Gauntlet II than they would be to leave it as a Rampart machine. A non-collector most likely wouldn’t care about the cabinet.
And that explains how I was able to sell three games yesterday that didn’t even work. One of them was an empty Donkey Kong, Jr. cabinet. Even with no innards, the cabinet was worth something to someone who will likely turn it back into a dedicated Nintendo machine. I also sold an old gutted Atari Gravitar/Black Widow cabinet and my non-working Rampage World Tour. I don’t know what the buyer plans on doing with the former, but the latter will most likely be converted into a Multicade of some sort, with its existing parts either being sold or re-used on another project.
I’m just starting to figure out this business while trying to get out of it at the same time.
Okay, I’ll admit it; yesterday’s post was a little depressing. I wrote it after moving 18 arcade games and coming to the realization that I simply don’t have the space or time to continue this hobby. It’s one thing to say it; it’s another thing to hear it from your aching back.
What I neglected to share with you all were all the good times I had with my arcade. Here are a few of those.
When we bought the house in 2002, what became known as “the arcade” was simply a shed. The previous home owner did woodworking as (we guess) a hobby. When we took ownership of the house, the shed was full of scrap wood, sawdust, and spiders. As I said yesterday, it was Susan who rallied my friends and family and surprised me with a complete remodel of the shed for my 30th birthday. I can honestly say I know what it’s like to be one one of those home makeover shows.
Originally I only had two arcade cabinets out there: Shinobi and Bucky O’Hare. They had been stored out in the garage, previously. Mason really enjoyed the air hockey table back then. Selling it is just one of the decisions I regret.
I spent the next few years attending auctions and buying and selling (but mostly buying) games. I never got the selling part down all that well. Three years later in 2006, the arcade looked like this:
Lots of cool things happened in 2008. The first of which was, I was interviewed by an AP reporter about my game collection. They even sent an AP photographer out to take pictures of my games! The article ran in newspapers across the country (I have a framed copy of the one that ran in the Chicago Times). Here is the picture that ran with the story:
The second thing was, friends of mine from all over the country came to Oklahoma to attend the Oklahoma Electronic Gaming Expo, and came to my house afterwards to enjoy my arcade. Friends of mine from Arkansas, Texas, and even New Mexico made the trek out.
The third thing that happened in 2008 was I published my second book. Invading Spaces: A Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Arcade Games was a compilation of everything I had learned about the hobby up until that point. (Say, maybe I should write a sequel, covering everything I know about getting out of it!) Although Invading Spaces has not sold as well as Commodork, I still stand behind the book. I think it’s full of useful information and entertaining stories.
Probably my favorite memory of the arcade took place New Year’s Eve, 2009. That’s the night my buddy Jeff and his family came over to ring in the new year.
For this to mean anything to you, you have to know this — I can’t remember going to a single (okay, Oklahoma-based) arcade without seeing Jeff there at my side. Our moms used to take us to Crossroads Mall to let us play at Le Mans together. We rode our bikes to the old arcade down on Vandement. We walked to the bowling alley together. We went to the skating rink together. Lord knows how many hours we spent at Cactus Jack’s together. The first time I ever saw (and played) Gauntlet, Jeff was there; same goes for so many other games.
Jeff and I met in 1985, and started playing arcade games together probably the following day. Here we were, in 2009, playing arcade games together in my backyard.
That’s me on the left and Jeff on the right, in case you didn’t know. And with everything that picture represents, I think this one is more important to me.
That’s Jeff’s son Talon in the foreground and my son Mason in the background. If that’s not full circle, I don’t know what is.
I like to gauge my adventures based on the number of friends I walk away with, and if that’s the case, then this hobby was a success. I’ve asked dozens of people for advice and help and I’ve passed on everything I’ve learned to anyone who has asked — so, to everyone who has lent me a hand over the years, thanks, and to everyone I’ve helped over the years, you’re welcome. ;)
I’m not totally getting out of the hobby, but I will be making a personal change from “that guy who owns 30 games” to “some guy who owns 3″. There’s a part of me that feels like I’m dumping part of my identity — I mean let’s face it, telling people “I’m the guy that used to own a lot of arcade games” isn’t nearly as impressive as inviting people over, opening the door to the arcade, and watching their jaws drop.
As I explained yesterday, the loss of my building means the loss of this hobby, at least for now. There are big parts of me that are a bit thankful for this. At some point, this hobby took on a life of its own. Over the past few years I have definitely spent more time working on my machines than I have playing or enjoying them. As a kid these giant hunks of wood seemed indestructible. Today, having worked on so many of them, they seem more fragile than they should That’s what I get for buying low end games. Had I stuck to buying one or two at a time and fixing them up before buying more I probably wouldn’t have burned out the way I did.
It’s tough to love and loathe something at the same time, but I managed it.
My immediate plans are to sell the games that are working and in good condition, and either fix or part out the rest. I waited just a tad too long to try and pull this off. (A month before Christmas would have been perfect, but … eh, hindsight.) Each buyer will probably have to endure my stories of how and where I obtained each cabinet one last time, and the selling of the cabinet will get appended on to the end of those stories.