Auction Buying Guide


A row of games at Auction

Arcade Auctions are held to auction off coin-op amusement equipment. This primarily means old used Arcade and Pinball machines but can include any variety of items. It is not uncommon to see anything and everything related to the amusement industry at an Auction. Everything from bar stools, to electronics testing equipment to vending and related entertainment items can show up in quantity. You may even see totally unrelated items in small (or unfortunately sometimes large) numbers. The main draw is of course still stand-up Video Games and Pinball machines.The first thing to know going into all of this is that Arcade Auctions didn't start out catering to the home buying public at all. A decade ago the scenerio was quite different. Arcades were still alive (although starting to decline) so the Auctions were still primarily for Operators (Arcade and game route owners). There were collectors of course, but in smaller numbers and they were looked upon as a usefull but somewhat annoying sub-group. Collectors didn't bring machines usually and they didn't buy in bulk, but they would snap up those old games that no longer earned any money, so overall it was a beneficial arrangement. Basically, we were the bottom feeders taking what nobody else wanted. As time progressed and the Arcades started to decline the home buyers and collectors started to make up a larger and larger percentage of the buyers at auctions. The auction houses started to embrace and even court these new buyers more and more until finally we reached at point where the home buyers and home re-sellers outnumbered the operators.

The point of all of this is that even though the focus of Arcade Auctions have changed they are still for the most part run like they were back in the old days. They're fast, they can be tricky and at the end of the day everyone is out to make a dollar, not ensure customer satisfaction. In Florida we used to have several Auction houses including Super Auctions, USAA and smaller outfits like ASAP. These days only Super Auctions runs set auctions in Florida, primarily in Orlando.  Just keep in mind that going to an Auction isn't like going to a store, or even like your typical Antique auction down at the civic center. If you've never been to a professional trade auction before, it might be a bit of shock. Hopefully this guide will prepare you. (Don't worry, its easier than it sounds).


First and foremost you need to have a budget in mind. Get a set amount of money and stick to it. Typically it takes $100-$200 to walk away with a working arcade machine or at least $700-$1,000 for a decent Pinball. Also, you need a way to transport the machine from the Auction. Typically they want the machines out that day, so this is something that needs to be arranged well in advance of the auction. You can sometimes find somebody at the auction willing to deliver your game for you, but don't count on it. Even if you do find somebody expect to pay a fee.

You will also need some tools. First you need a good screwdriver or screwdriver set. Chances are you'll have some disassembling to do if you buy something. Don't forget a flash light and some rope. Other general tools and items are a good idea as well, such as wrenches, rope etc. Finally bring your own extension cord. During the preview time you'll get to test out all the games, but don't expect the one you want to be powered on or even plugged in!

Obviously don't forget to bring money. Super Auctions no longer gives a discount for cash, so credit cards work just as well. They don't accept cheques! Also remember with Buyer's Premium and Sales Tax you are looking at over 20% in additional fees and taxes to the final hammer price. That means your $1,000 purchase is actually going to cost you $1,200+ at the register.



Testing out a Game at Auction

The Preview

The preview period typically begins at 7am and runs until the auction actually starts. The auction is usually scheduled to start at 10am, but this is almost never the case. Still, you might as well assume the auction will start on time because it does happen and its easy to arrive too late and miss this crucial period. Normally after the auction starts all machines not being sold are turned off and any attempt to test them out later is heavily frowned upon as the game noises can make it hard for everyone to hear the games currently being sold.

During the preview period you are allowed to plug-in and test any game that is up for auction. This is where that extension cord comes in! Its always a good idea to test a machine that you intend to buy, as to avoid surprises later on. Also some defects or problems might not be apparent during the actual auction, and its also sometimes very hard to see whats going on with everyone crowded around one machine. Thus spending a few minutes of "hands on" testing is crucial if you are serious about a certain game or item.

So what should you look for? Cosmetic condition is fairly obvious. Check to make sure all the side art is complete and the condition meets your standards. Don't expect perfection, especially on something that is a decade old and spent most of its life in a bar. On the flip side, be careful about buying too much of a beater. In many cases replacement or reproduction artwork is hard to come by (if available at all) and can be quite expensive.

On Arcade machines the simple primary concern should probably be the monitor. In most cases its the most expensive part and also the hardest to fix. Look for a nice bright picture, good colours and a stable image. Bars, wavy lines or other issues could only need a minor adjustment or fix, but unless you are good with a soldering iron you may want to look for a game with a fully functional monitor up front. The actual function of the game is also important, if its a newer game make sure you watch the startup screens, especially the RAM/ROM tests. Make sure the game doesn't have power issues (randomly resets, etc.). The least important part of an Arcade machine is probably the joystick and buttons. Unless the game uses a non-standard setup (like a gun game or driving game) it probably uses standard arcade style joysticks and buttons which are fairly inexpensive and easy to replace. A few broken buttons might get you a deal. Be warned though, it is possible that non-responding buttons are the result of a PCB malfunction rather than a loose wire.

Pinball machines are a bit more tricky. The price is likely to be quite high so its imperative that you check the game out in detail. If its a 90s Williams/Bally machine look for a dot after the credits or free play, This means there is an error in the test mode. This could mean something as simple as a missing ball, but could mean something far more serious as well. If the coin door is unlocked don't be afraid to put the game in test mode and see if anything is wrong. Its also a good idea to research specific games before you buy to find out what the common problems and fixes are. Some games have toys and features which are notorious for breaking - some are easy and cheap to fix, some can be a nightmare. Find out if that broken gizmo is easily available for $50 or if it can't be had for less than $300 before you bid! Finally, always check the condition of the playfield. Games with a lot of wear especially down to the wood may require a new playfield to be restored to proper playing condition. In some cases a new playfield may cost almost as much as the game if you can even find one!

One good note of advice during the preview is don't look overly interested in any game no matter how much you actually want it. That guy standing next to you could be another interested party or he could be the owner. If he senses that you'll stop at nothing to own his game he'll know he can get away with bidding you up during the actual auction. So, even if you run across your holy grail.. take a look at it, play it a bit but look as indifferent as possible.

There is also one final note of Arcade Auction Etiquette during the preview: Be careful about poking around too much inside machines. While you are allowed to peek inside, check out the game and play it.. reaching up inside where the PCBs are housed or removing the back door may get you thrown out of the auction. What happens is some unethical folks will sabotage a game they like during the preview period. A cut wire or a broken fuse can totally disable a previously working game causing it to sell for much less during the actual auction. Auction workers and sellers are always on the lookout for this, so be careful!


You've checked out your games, you know what you want.. make sure you register for a bidders card. Its a fairly simple process and it never costs anything to simply sign up. Super Auctions will require your Drivers License, and if your new they may want to hold onto it during the auction. Basically they don't want somebody wandering in, bidding on everything then leaving without paying. If they hold it this may restrict your ability to leave during the auction to run to the local bank or fast food joint, etc. To save yourself time, you can also Pre-Register online for auctions held by Super Auctions.


X-Play segment on auctions circa 2002

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