Greetings gamers. Some of you may know from visiting the site that I’m a die hard fan of arcade games from the late 80′s and early ’90s. For the past six years or so I’ve made it a bit of a mission to fulfill my childhood dream and bring the arcade experience home, picking up about eight arcade cabinets over the years. During my time collecting arcade machines and hardware I’ve learned a thing or two, and figured it might be worthwhile to share this knowledge with people looking to get into the scene of home arcade collecting, as I often receive lots of comments and questions regarding how to get started with the hobby. Rather than answer all of these questions individually I decided it was about due time I dedicated a post to the subject so that hopefully it can get some of you started in arcade collecting, and hopefully I can save you some coin in the process.
Before I get into way to find a cab, I’d like to clear up a few misconceptions people tend to have about arcade hardware collecting.
Misconception #1 “I’d really like to own an arcade game but I don’t have thousands to spend!“- Contrary to popular belief, it’s not overly expensive to purchase your own arcade machine. Unless you plan on buying a brand new machine, or a deluxe sit-down cabinet, then you won’t be spending thousands of dollars on your cabinet. If you plan to purchase a standard American wooden cab, or “woody”, you should really only spend between 2-5 hundred dollars depending on the game, monitor size,condition, and what kind of additional hardware it may have. For example, if you’re looking into buying a Neo Geo MVS cabinet with a one slot motherboard (only holds one swappable game cart at a time), and a 19′ monitor, you’re looking at spending roughly $300, if you want a cab with a four slot motherboard and a larger, say 25′ monitor, you’ll likely spend closer to $500 dollars, give or take a hundred depending on the condition of the cabinet, and if it is a dedicated machine (the original cab the game software came in).
Now, if you plan on purchasing a Japanese machine, also called a Candy cabinet, then you may spend a bit more depending on your location. Candy cabinets are great to have for a few reasons. They are much more compact and take up a great deal less space than wooden cabinets, they’re also meant to be played sitting down, so extended game sessions can be much more comfortable. Some of them even have built-in rotation mechanisms for the monitor, making them extremely appealing to gamers who plan to be swapping out vertical and horizontally oriented games. These cabinets are usually imported directly from Japan onto California’s shores, so you can readily find these on the West Coast for a good price. However, if you live on the East Coast, you can expect to pay quite a bit more, typically at least $500 for a cab, and three hundred for shipping coast to coast. If you do intend to get a cabinet shipped cross country, keep in mind that you want to find a good freight line, such as North American Van Lines, because typical freight is almost always a terribly risky maneuver. In one deal in which I purchased a Japanese cabinet in a group order, only ten of the twelve machines arrived intact. I’ll have to say though, if you have the choice between getting a woody or a candy, I myself always choose candies, as they are easy to transport, typically have amazing monitors, and offer the most comfort for playing.
These are my Japanese cabs here. The top machine is a Super Neo 29 Candy, the bottom picture is a Capcom Q25.
Misconception #2 “Why buy an arcade machine when you can only play one game?” Back in the late 80′s arcade game manufacturers, hoping to maximize arcade game sales, decided to develop a universal standard of arcade game manufacturing called the JAMMA (Japanese Arcade Machine Manufacturers Association) standard. Basically, almost all arcade games from the late eighties up until present day are built around the JAMMA standard, which allows almost all arcade games and motherboards to be swapped from machine to machine with simple, plug and play connectivity. This concept is fantastic, but you’ll have to keep in mind that while you may able to play almost any game in your cab, you’ll need to make sure the machine is properly equipped for the software you want to play.
Pictured above is my Neo Geo MVS four slot Rev.3 Cab. One of these might cost a little more than other Neo cabs, but that is because it comes wired with a headphone jack, memory card reader, lighted marquee holder, and stereo speakers. This was the first cabinet I purchased and it cost me just over $600.
Now, with those myths out of the way, time to get to the good stuff, trying to pick out a cab, and making sure it will play what you want it to play.
As stated a moment ago, I mentioned that you need to make sure your cabinet is equipped to play the games you hope to play on it. JAMMA is a three button standard, but many games like the Street Fighter, Mortal Kombat, Soul Calibur, and many other series of games require more than three buttons. These games can be played in any five or six button cab (depending on the game), but most companies typically have their own wiring harness you’ll need to buy that simply plugs into the game board and your existing buttons. In my advice, if you plan on having a wide variety of games available to you then you really have no choice but to try to purchase a cabinet that has a six button control panel. Also, if you plan on playing both Neo Geo and Capcom six button games, a seven button panel is definitely the way to go.
On the subject of Neo Geo MVS, it is worth noting that the Neo Geo uses a variation of JAMMA, but is not exactly JAMMA compatible. The sound wiring for Neo Geo is stereo, whereas JAMMA is mono, so without modification to your JAMMA harness (the cable that runs from your machine to your game PCB-arcade games are referred to as PCBs, or Printed Circuit Boards) you will not be able to play MVS or your JAMMA cab, or vice versa. However, single slot MVS boards are JAMMA compatible and will work in a JAMMA wired cab without issue, however, these motherboards lack memory card and headphone functionality.
Here’s a look at what a Hyper Neo Geo 64 PCB looks like. This is the heaviest board ever.
Sure, that sounds boring, but it pays to know this kind of stuff so that you are able to play the games you want without having to modify your cab in any way that could potentially damage it.
Another issue you may want to consider is if you intend to play any vertically scrolling games in your cab. If you do, then I can’t recommend enough getting a cab that has a rotation mechanism. Rotating a monitor is a dangerous and technical process, and monitors carry thousands of volts of electricity. It is no exaggeration when I say mishandling a monitor can easily get you killed. There are a few cabinets that feature a handy rotation mechanism, such as a limited run of the Capcom Q25 cabinet and the Taito Egret series of machines.
Now, with all that babble out of the way it’s time to tell you where you can find a cab. My first cabinet purchase was on eBay, I wouldn’t usually recommend this method unless you’re making a local purchase though, so that you have the chance to possibly check out the machine before purchase. Also, I can not recommend enough using the forums at Neo-Geo.com and Arcade-Museum.com to purchase machines. Two of my purchases were from that site and were flawless. The advantage to buying on the Neo forums is that these people are extremely well informed on arcade hardware and are always willing to answer questions in their excellent tech and arcade forums. Another method that almost always gets good results is regularly checking your local Craigslist.com listings for arcade sales. Oftentimes arcade operators liquidate their entire inventory on Craigslist and sell their goods for amazing steals.
Lastly, Super Auctions is a touring arcade and amusement auction house that regularly holds incredible sales events all over the country. I’ve seen scores of multiple candy cabs for five hundred dollars on occasion. Come with some cash and a little luck and you could potentially leave with a fantastic machine or two. Check Superauctions.com regularly to see if there are any dates in your area.
Well, that about sums up my arcade buying guide. Hopefully this answers any questions some of you may have had on making an arcade purchase, or encourages someone to take the plunge into purchasing some machines of their own. You won’t regret it!