Evolution of a Video Game Collector

by Unknown (let us know who wrote this)

Part 1: Introduction

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.

Part 2: The Newbie

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 really worth.

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 you want these games *TOO*...

Part 3: The Beginner

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 warehouses somewhere.

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...

Part 4: Intermediate

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 members.

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 :-)

Part 5: Experienced

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 :-)

Part 6: Conclusion

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...

links to like

Killer List of Videogames.

Good Deal Games
Old console heaven. These people still release new games for ColecoVision, Vectrex, and other consoles.

Arcade Restoration Workshop
This site is about restoring arcade games to their former splendor. Run by Brien. Swell.

Twin Galaxies
The worldwide authority on player rankings, gaming statistics, and championship tournaments.

Universal Videogame List
I had an idea to database all games ever a while back, but just thinking about it made me tired. This lunatic is attempting it.

Oh look, another lunatic. This site seems to be a competitor to the UVL above, but has a different look.

An international traveling museum exhibit chronicling the history of mankind's first interactive media.