Advances in home video gaming may have dealt arcade parlours a fatal blow many years ago, but the scene remains alive in the hearts of those who grew up when it was in full swing. Although the majority of amusements arcades have now closed their doors for good, many of the machines they housed remain in operation, in the safe hands of dedicated collectors.
These passionate individuals collectively form a vast community that single-handedly keeps the coin-op movement alive. We caught up with some of the scene's veterans at this year's Replay expo to find out what inspires their continued pursuit of the lost art that is arcade gaming.
"Back in 1999, eBay UK would have two or three arcade machines on it, now it has around 250 at any one time. Stuff is so much easier to get hold of now," collector Luke Wells told Digital Spy. "Prices started off cheap, went up expensive about 2005 before going down again. Now they look as though they are on their way back up.
"I used to buy circuit boards for about £100 to £150, now you can get stuff for £30 to £40. They're on the increase now though, probably due to the amount of expos that are going on, there's pinball shows, Replay and others too."
When asked which cabinet he considers the jewel in the crown of his collection, Wells expressed his appreciation for vintage Atari products. "Everyone asks, 'What is the one cab you'd keep?' I'd have to narrow it down to about about ten, I think. I like the early to mid-'80s Atari stuff, so Paperboy, APB, Championship Sprint, Gauntlet, things like that."
"There's a big part of nostalgia there," he said. "Some of the Jamma cabinets are quite reasonably priced now, so that's attracted more buyers. There's also the fun as well, these games are quick and easy to play, and there's a lot of high score stuff going on today. There's a lot more kudos for getting high scores now."
The arcade collectors' scene has been around from some time now, but how have the advances brought about by the current home console generation impacted on the movement? Julian Kershaw, founder of the Jamma+ Arcade Video Game Collectors forum, is convinced that the movement continues to grow despite the strides the industry is making from a technological standpoint, but notes that the interest is showing signs of shifting away from early '80s hardware.
Like his fellow collectors, Kershaw also cited the nostalgic value of arcade gaming when asked what influenced him to build up his own collection of coin-op cabinets. "The fun of playing the machines as a kid, and not wanting to give any of that up. I just love playing the games. You think about your favourite games, and just want to revisit them. But you don't want to revisit in on Mame, you want to do it properly. It's memories isn't it? Not wanting to lose it. The ability to still play the games you like for real, rather than on a PC," he explained.
Kershaw named his Salamander cabinet as his prize possession, a game which was released on arcades by Konami in 1986 as a spinoff to Gradius. "It was built by Elecrocoin, but they had a UK licence to put Salamander into their machines. Yes, it's a Goliath cabinet, but it has the Salamander artwork on it. Lovely-looking thing."
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