Happy Monday everyone, today we have a guest post by Kevin Williams of The Stinger Report. His article is based upon a 2017 post from Tony Temple (Arcadeblogger.com), where he wanted to provide more insight into such “arcade raid” situations, but his normal newsletter isn’t really the place for such a thing. I believe we had mentioned Tony’s post in the past, along with other raids that have taken place. Here are his thoughts:
Unearthing Hidden Treasure In Amusements
By Kevin Williams
On occasion the less salubrious side of the amusement trade re-emerges. An industry that can chart its links to organized crime and prohibition through the birth of mechanical pinball, or the involvement of early Japanese amusement factories to organized crime cartels, is an industry with a rich and colourful, if sometimes “airbrushed” past.
But like the unearthing of a buried skeleton, recent developments in Europe have seen a spate of examples of the “interesting” side of video amusement business from the Golden Age come into sharp (if not decaying) focus – and revealing a interesting era of the industries not so distant past.
In what have been called “Arcade Raids” – several video game collectors have reported on their forums and blog posts about trips made to Ireland and France to rescue hordes of classic video amusement machines. Following a similar pattern, the stories usually start with a call from a new owner of a dilapidated property – that has been vacant for years. Surprise, surprise on further investigation, piles of classic arcade cabinets are found in varying states of dereliction – a frantic rush ensues to rescue what remains before the structure collapses or the owners must demolish the site.
Even before the recent Global Health crisis, several such stories had been reported, including fascinating pictures of the abandoned premises and the hoards of so-called forgotten arcade machines. In most cases these machines date from the 1970’s and 1980’s. When questioned further these are claimed to be “machines from a long closed local arcade or restaurant,” though details on the ownership are always vague, or even redacted to ensure confidentiality. But there is obviously much more to this than just a unique arcade owner forgotten stash of disused machines!
Those that have worked in the European amusement trade since the 1980’s will be more than familiar with the issue of “Grey Imports” that rocked the amusement distribution trade. The importing of popular video amusement machines from Japan, or other territories, was often done in a way to circumvent the established and authorized distribution chain. Not all of this was done by mysterious third parties, but the very same distributors were accused back in the day of importing machines to get round agreed quotas, or to generate secondary revenue. Once in circulation these machines became valuable Black-Economy – avoiding tax and licensing fees – they would be traded in lieu of debts owed, or payment for work down. Generating revenue placed in favoured arcade sites, all under the table. Obviously, we are not saying that these Arcade Raids are on illicit stashes but are an interesting occurrence.
Being video amusement hardware, their bulk was an issue, let alone their existence – able to generate revenue quickly that would go into the Black-Economy. But as with all video amusement of the late 1970’s their popularity (and revenue generation) was limited, as not all games proved classics and many would fall out of fashion – in some cases unable to be off-loaded into the legitimate distribution circuit in danger of pointing a trail back to their illegal importer. So, these units would find themselves traded within gangs, or hoarded for a time later to be off loaded when debts to be repaid.
Time has passed and in many cases those involved in the Grey Importation have long since past, leaving unpaid debts and “uncomfortable questions” about abandoned properties that are filled with what are now highly sort after video amusement machines, (obviously aware to previous councilmen, but now placed in limbo with the changing of the guard). Most of these machines in deplorable conditions, needing extensive renovation – but once restored are now once again valuable commodities. The latest hoard of machines sees classic Atari Europe, SEGA Gremlin and TAITO amusement pieces rescued by intrepid private game collectors. Questions about the Irish and French properties were these hoards are discovered veiled in ambiguity to protect the innocent!
One such examples of this salvage of highly collectible machines took place in 2017, a French farmhouse was visited by a convoy of arcade collectors summoned by the recent new owner of a derelict property. Inside where littering the dilapidated site some 60-machines in various conditions of abandonment. A race to salvage what they could in a day – leaving a handful of the too-far-gone to be raised along with the structure. The reason for these machines was that the previous owner of the building had been an arcade, bar, and cafe operator, (explaining pinball and jukeboxes mixed in the hoard). This was one of a handful of such finds in a matter of years. The collectors were able to salvage 30-machines and an assortment of future spare parts. The real story of the finding and bringing back to life these classics for future generations.
We thank the author of an informative report on this audacious salvage for additional details, and the full story can be found here.
The march of time means that many of the secrets of these video units are now being obscured by the passing of those involved. While at the same time, the passage of time is such that hopefully the records of the parts numbers of the machines have long been forgotten. Attempts to trace these relics of a forgotten under the dust of faded memory. Like finding an abandoned Ferrari sportscar in a farmer’s barn, or a stash of money plastered-up in a wall cavity – the story of how this got there, felt by many, best forgotten.
About the Author – Kevin Williams – a leading specialist in the digital Out-of-Home entertainment industry, through his consultancy KWP Limited, specializing in interactive entertainment. Coming from a long career in the theme park, amusement and entertainment software industries, being an ex-Walt Disney Imagineer. Well known for his news service, The Stinger Report that has become a-must-read for those working or investing in the international market. Along with this, he is also a prolific writer with regular columns for the main trade publications in this market, along with presenting numerous conference sessions on the sector and its global impact. He is also the co-author of the only book on this aspect of the market, “The Out-of-Home Immersive Entertainment Frontier” – currently working on the next edition, scheduled for publication soon. Kevin can be reached at email@example.com.