FAQ: EVOLUTION OF A VIDEO GAME COLLECTOR
Last Updated: 31 March 1998
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The opinions expressed within this document are those of the author only
and not necessarily those of their respective employers.
This FAQ was created to assist beginning and established collectors by
providing some useful information about various stages or phases that
collectors may go through. The FAQ is not meant to be comprehensive.
This FAQ is provided for informational purposes only. Although the
author 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 author take no responsibility for anything arising as a result of
anyone using the information provided in this FAQ, and the reader hereby
absolves the author of any and all liability arising from any activities
resulting from the use of any information contained herein.
Disclaimer: This FAQ was written by an Intermediate/Experienced collector
who has soured quite a bit in his old age, but still manages to find it
in his heart to type up these FAQs...though, lord knows, I don't know why
I bother given how many people post without ever reading one of the half
dozen FAQs specifically meant for video game collectors!
Disclaimer: The below FAQ has MANY generalizations that won't be true for
every case, but does serve as a good guideline. If your particular case
doesn't fit into the evolutionary path, I don't want to hear about it!!!
This FAQ is divided into six sections:
SECTION ONE: Introduction
SECTION TWO: The Newbie
SECTION THREE: The Beginner
SECTION FOUR: Intermediate
SECTION FIVE: Experienced
SECTION SIX: Conclusion
Evolution of a Video Game Collector
It starts with one game. You're a mild-mannered college student, or
maybe a child of the '80s with too much free time on your hands. Two
or three years later, the house is littered with parts, all three bedrooms
have become arcades, and neither you (nor any spouse you've managed to
keep through the process) have any clear idea where it'll end. You
barely have any idea how you got there, how *could* you have known
where it'll end.
Here's a sketch of the evolution of a video game collector. No one
collector in particular; this is just a collage of collectors we've known
over the years. There are some anecdotes in here from our own experience,
as well as from those of people we've known both on and off the 'net.
Actually, it doesn't start with just one game. It often starts with
no games whatsoever. Just an itch for a blast from the past - a silly
little game that, with the passage of time, has taken on a very rosy
color in the mind's eye...
Technical skills? Maybe, maybe not. Clue? Probably none whatsoever,
at least as far as the arcade biz goes. Desire? Absolutely.
To scratch that itch for the game, they start looking into ways of
finding games. Some newbies give up in frustration after annoying
every arcade attendant and change-maker within a hundred miles of
their house. Others find the game - but find that it comes at a
price - often several hundred dollars more than what the game is
Why is this? Well, the typical newbie will expect to walk into an
arcade, plunk down a few bucks, and get a machine, a warranty from
the operator, all original documentation, and expect it to work
flawlessly for at least a year or two. They'll then wonder why
they get laughed at (or worse, gouged when negotiating price).
A reality check, folks. These machines, in the eyes of operators, are
money-makers. Plain and simple. They're used as long as they continue
to make money, and are then disposed of. Since the home market for arcade
games is nowhere *near* as large as the arcade market, it only stands
to reason that someone who treats a game as a piece of consumer electronic
equipment and expects it to be serviced accordingly should pay a premium
for it. (Yes, most newbies pay more for their first game than they'll
pay for any other game in their collection...)
Hint: Don't expect much out of operators. Remember that you're
taking their time and their money - and that they really *do*
have better things to do than deal with the general public.
See what kind of a deal you can swing, grab the game, and
be gone. The less trouble you cause for them, the better
the reputation of all collectors will be in the industry.
A few find their way to r.g.v.a.c, where they post a message saying
that they want the game, working, and delivered to their front door.
They find the game the next day with a $800 shipping bill for their
$300 game because they neglected to post where they were located,
and the seller happened to be from Fiji.
Hint: When posting a message that you want a game or have a game
for sale or trade, please state your location and where you're
willing to deal? Reading the FAQs would also be appreciated too.
If you've got a question that's not answered in the FAQ, then post
it and you can be sure you'll get some kind of a response...
Yes, being a newbie on r.g.v.a.c. is something like being a kid in a
candy store. Every time a guy posts a list of boards for sale, you
wonder "what are boards", but recognize the names and realize that
want these games *TOO*...
The newbie phase technically ends when you get your first game. This
probably only takes a month or two, simply because most newbies are
so obsessed with getting it. They've probably overpaid a bit, but
hey, don't worry -- that's probably the most you'll pay for a game
in the near future...
So the first entry under their name goes to the VAPS list, and they
see another board sale post. Yeah, I want *THAT* one. And *THAT*
one! And *THAT* one too!
Only problem is, creating a collection isn't as easy as going to a
department store and picking up cartridges for a home system. When
it comes to collecting, nobody really displays their wares to the
general public, and if they do, you're probably overpaying. The
newsgroup is a great way to escape from this - there's enough healthy
competition among sellers that most sales are held at fair prices.
But with the exception of certain extremely rare and/or obscure games,
it's still a lot easier to build up a decent home arcade than it is to
build a decent home art gallery. No matter how many times you hear
operators say "we threw all those out years ago", you can be assured
that there are dozens of copies of your pet game sitting around in
Think of it as a scavenger hunt. You'll go around to all the operators
and distributors within a hundred-mile radius, every six months or so.
Eventually, you'll get routed to a "stash of games" and make a deal.
It takes a lot of footwork, but it beats paying several hundred dollars
of "operator premium" to have someone else find and restore your favorite
games and deliver to your den.
You'll find that once you understand the basics of collecting (how to
find games, how much to pay), you start thinking more and more about
expanding the collections. You'll also start building networks, both
between yourself and operators, and yourself and other collectors.
As you begin to accumulate machines, you'll also start thinking about
buying a pickup truck :-)
The beginner's main concern is how to most effectively expand their
collection to include most of their favorite games. The number one
way to do this if he or she is married (or living with parents) is
to practice saying, "I can fit Just One More Game in over here".
(You have to say it with sincerity. Do it in front of a mirror a
couple times. And even then, it still takes lots of practice. :-)
By this time, you've probably got a room of your house/apartment,
own a multimeter and/or logic probe. You understand that all video
games are broken into a few standard modules (monitor, control panel,
wiring, board, etc...) and are familiar with the basic display technologies
of raster and vector monitors.
You've got some inventory (and the space to store it), but you're
waiting to expand. Your main source of boards is still probably
the board sale on the 'net, where most working boards can be had
for under $60. If you're a bit of a techie, you'll be doing your
first conversions at this stage, or at least plugging the boards
into your slightly-altered cabinets.
The "itch" is a little easier to deal with - odds are you've got
some of your favorites already, or you've at least got a reasonable
idea of how to go about finding it. You don't have to own *all*
the games *NOW*, because you know that if it's been sitting in a
warehouse for the past ten years, another few months won't kill it.
This phase generally ends when you start considering how to expand
the collection to include a few more of those old favorites (now
that you've read through the KLOV and remembered a few more games
from your misspent youth :-). You've read the FAQs, know the stuff,
and are talking to operators and collectors. Your family/spouse/roommates
have *no* idea about what's about to hit them, so you're also not feeling
any real pressure about the hobby, although the first twinges of "space
angst" (a nagging feeling of "how the *HELL* am I going to fit *all*
those games in *HERE*!?") are usually showing up.
Note: This is a fairly pivotal point in the career of a collector.
Most beginners expand their collection to four or five games
and stay there, or get bored with their games and drop out of
the hobby altogether. But a few of you will find the hobby
so addictive that you'll continue to build things up. That's
where the real fun begins...
THE SPACE HOG STRIKES! Collecting vids is in your blood, and
there's no hope for recovery. Armed with most of the collecting
knowledge out there, you're likely to start stalking bigger game,
like the elusive "bulk buy".
There's a certain pride in the way you speak of your collection,
as you begin to realize that the arcade in your basement is probably
*better* than the one where you used to play in the mall.
You've got tons of connections, and are getting great prices since
you're dealing in bulk. Only problem is, no space.
Welcome to r.g.v.a.c. Intermediate collectors are the backbone of
this group. They've got about 6-10 games and are beginning to return
their knowledge to the group by finding stashes of games and parts,
spreading knowledge by writing FAQs and home pages, and of course,
following up questions posted to the group by its less-experienced
Hint: NEVER let an intermediate collector store something at your
place for "a couple of weeks". Unless you want to keep it for
the next few years (although in certain circumstances, this
might actually be a *good* thing - just be sure you've got a
date set when the game becomes yours if he doesn't pick it up :-)
The average intermediate collector has probably spent close to $1500
on the hobby over the years, but because of this investment, they've
got a respectable inventory of parts. This is particularly true for
the more technically-oriented collectors. (Those of you who aren't
so technically-oriented have probably paid three to four times this
amount, since you've had to pay top dollar for working games...)
Most of you have a truck or trailer, or a *really* good friend with
one, since you'd have otherwise never been able to get this many games
home without transportation. You've probably driven at least 300 miles
(about five hours) to see a warehouse or set up a bulk buy. You've
often set up informal networks between yourself and other collectors
in your local area in order to facilitate bulk buys, as several collectors
acting together can take excellent advantages of the economies of scale
offered by bulk buys.
Because you've had so many opportunities to buy games in warehouses,
you're patient. You'll wait until the right game comes along at the
right price. You've also probably sold some games (or at least boards),
because after a bulk buy, you've got more copies of some boards than
you can possibly deal with. One copy is great. A spare is better.
But eight? Okay, time to fix up your machine with the best parts
you've got, then fix up as many of your spares as you can and hold
a sale :-)
You've got lots of information, especially from the point of view of
the less-experienced collectors - you're also in a good position to
offer information in exchange for later favors, as well as pay back
your mentors that helped you get this far. Given the amount of useful
stuff in your head, it's not surprising that you've spent at least some
time posting fixes to the newsgroup, writing FAQs, answering questions
and typing up pinouts and switch settings from all those manuals (or
just scanning in the whole thing) you've accumulated over the years.
Space. The final frontier of video collecting! Truly, there isn't
a more annoying aspect to the hobby then the constant shuffling the
Intermediate collector has to do! Many conversion techniques and
the JAMMA cabinet were born out of the need for MORE SPACE!
The intermediate collector will have dreamt up some imaginative
solutions to his space problems: shelving is certainly the most
common, but it can get as fancy as placing games at friend's houses
to take advantage of their space while they enjoy your games.
All in all, the Intermediate collector has to seriously look at
having their own pad, even if it is an apartment. The ideal solutions
involve basements, or better yet living in a warmer climates where
you can safely store things in a garage.
Family relations can become quite strained because of the space
demands of the collector. Particularly for those of you living
with your parents, moving past that 5-game barrier can easily force
you to move out :-)
There isn't really any criteria for when the intermediate phase ends.
It can be over in as short as a year, but for the less technically
strong they may never leave this phase. The "experienced" designation,
if you could call it that, is more of an emergent property, that tends
to show up after a lot of time spent developing expertise in an area,
a reputation on the 'net, and many tie-ins to the collecting network.
Expert's also have learned to balance demands on their personal lives
with the demands of their collection. (Yeah, if they make it this far
without an ultimatum from the wife/parents, or aren't forced to sell
off their collections for other reasons such as the arrival of a new
baby or a layoff notice, these guys are lifers - they'll be collecting
'till the day they die :-)
Welcome to Guru-hood. You're constantly talking about vids, complaining
about how they "don't make 'em like they used to", and probably attending
operator conventions like ACME or AMAO. Hell, you probably know as much
about the industry as the operators you're dealing with. They may even
think you *ARE* an operator!
When you buy stuff, you buy at wholesale prices. You've solved the
space problem by getting a house or moving into a larger one, and
might be getting into pinball simply for the sake of another challenge.
You've specialized in some areas - be it laserdiscs, vector games,
or certain series of hardware platforms for conversions. Simply put,
your name has become synonymous with a particular area of the arcade
hobby in the collecting community!
The problem isn't space, it's time. You've balanced (if anyone can
call such obsessive behavior balanced :-) your hobby and your life.
(Notice which one we put first. :-) But this means that fixing the
200 boards you just filled your pickup truck with are *not* your
prime focus for the next two weeks. Or even the next two months.
After rummaging through them to find if there's anything particularly
rare or valuable (in terms of resale value or for addition to your
collection), you'll get to the rest of the stuff "someday".
You've taken over a basement, a garage, or a storage unit down the
street - you need all this space even though you've already collapsed
the collection down as much as possible through conversions and JAMMA
cabinets. It's all those obscure hardware platforms (incompatible
vector monitor types, weird control panels, and laserdisc systems)
that keep getting in your way.
In fact, you've got most of the games you want. There are a few games
still on your shopping list, but you don't expect to find them any time
soon. Any acquisitions center on either finding unreleased games from
the manufacturers' beta programs, or by finding popular games for your
friends. Spare time is done on weird and unique projects, like writing
emulators to run arcade game code, hacking existing code to modify your
own version of a game, doing signature analysis for repair purposes,
and building sophisticated conversions.
Space isn't about cabinets, it's about spare parts! (How much shelving
can you fit in your basement and still have room for the games!) Your
space usage isn't out of control - you know *exactly* how much space
things take, it's just that you still don't have much left because
you've got so much stuff. Time is the problem.
Back to time. It's a miracle, at this level, that the games are
working at all, given all the other demands on an experienced collector's
time. Some is spent answering beginner and intermediate questions, some
writing new FAQs and posting to the newsgroup, some with board repair,
some with board sales, and a lot in overhead, visiting the post office
to handle the shipping. Heck you're a permanent fixture at UPS and know
most the folks behind the counter by first name!
Most people at this level also do a little work on the side, making
service calls at $20-40 per hour to other collectors or operators,
which is great for the network and keeping the skill set up to date.
But takes even more time out of a busy day.
The r.g.v.a.c. community is fortunate when the experienced collector
can put together a comprehensive article on a particular type of repair
or a FAQ. One way that the beginners and intermediate collectors can
help is to collect the answers from a experienced collector, fill in the
blanks until a FAQ can be made, and then run the draft FAQ by the guru
before posting it to r.g.v.a.c. (The only problem is that sometimes
the guru won't have the time to review it, let alone finish it :-)
When does this phase end? It really doesn't, except perhaps for
those lucky few of you who make the leap and actually start working
for one of the manufacturers as a game designer. (Hey, not only is
it a lot of fun, but where *else* are you going to make sure you get
your hands on all those unreleased games -- the older unreleased stuff
is still unlikely, but at least you'll have an idea about current
unreleased stuff :-)
Okay, so that's what's in store for you. Machines everywhere, boards
to the ceiling, and if you're still reading, you might even like the
idea. (Be afraid. Be *very* afraid!)
It's not a checklist, it's not a schedule, and it's not even a guideline.
This hobby is *ABOUT* video games, but it is *NOT* a video game in and of
itself -- it doesn't matter what "level" you're working at, so long as
you're enjoying yourself.
So don't rush it, let yourself evolve as you see fit. You'll probably
find yourself going through steps similar to these by default. Enjoy the
hobby, and we'll see you on the 'net...