FAQ: BUYING FROM AN AUCTION
Last Updated: 1 March 1993
INTENT AND DISCLAIMERS:
The authors hereby grant permission to reproduce and distribute this document for personal use, subject to the condition that the document (along with any copyright and disclaimer notices) is not modified in any way.
The opinions expressed within this document are those of the authors only and not necessarily those of their respective employers.
This FAQ was created to assist beginning and established collectors by providing useful information about dealing with the current owners of video games. Because this hobby can involve deals that can be in the $1000s, the reader is advised to use the following information carefully.
This FAQ is provided for informational purposes only. Although the authors have made every effort to provide accurate information, they cannot guarantee the accuracy or usefulness of any of the information contained herein due to the complexity of the issues involved.
The authors take no responsibility for anything arising as a result of anyone using the information provided in this FAQ, and the reader hereby absolves the authors of any and all liability arising from any activities resulting from the use of any information contained herein.
If you're new to collecting, we advise you to read the "Buying From an Operator" FAQ before proceeding; it explains in detail many of the jargon terms you'll encounter in this FAQ.
Q: What goes on at an auction?
A: An auction consists of two parts: a preview period and a bidding period.
During the preview period, all the items are available for inspection. This is to allow the buyers to inspect the merchandise and decide for themselves what they're willing to pay for it. In the case of video game auctions, this usually means that you will be allowed to power up the various games and play-test anything of interest.
During the bidding period, the auctioneer will offer each game up for sale and accept bids on it. The auctioneer will first power up the game to show that it is indeed operational and is worth bidding on.
The auctioneer (and/or the company who employs the auctioneer) gets a percentage of all proceeds. Sometimes this percentage is included in the winning bid or gets paid by the seller of the game, but sometimes it is added onto the "hammer price", and the buyer is responsible for paying. Ask the people running the auction before the bidding starts and keep the answer in mind when bidding...
Then the fun begins. The auctioneer asks for a starting price (an "opening bid"). If nobody accepts this bid, he will lower the opening bid until someone accepts his offer. He will then slowly raise the price as other customers show interest in the item. As the price rises past the personal limits of the various bidders, the bidders stop bidding. The last person to make a bid (i.e. the one willing to pay the most for the item in question) "wins" the bid and gets the item. Bidding then proceeds to the next item.
Q: Sounds like fun. How do I find out where an auction is being held?
A: You can find out about auctions by looking in the Yellow Pages under "Amusement Machines" and asking the people at the other end of the lines if there are any upcoming auctions in your area.
You can also find out about auctions by looking in Replay magazine (the trade journal for operators). You can order a single copy of Replay by sending $5.00 to Replay Magazine, PO BOX 2550, Woodland Hills, CA, 91365.
Q: Okay, I've found an auction. What should I bring with me?
A: The most important item to bring is an extension cord. Preferably 100' or more, with multiple plugs. A good solution is a self-dispensing spool of cord with four outlets in the center. It's lightweight, compact, portable, and helps to prevent tangled cords. There will likely be over a hundred games available, and very few of them will be in reach of the cords dangling from the warehouse ceiling. The warehouse will supply the power, but it's up to you to get the power to the machine you want.
Many auctions are held in rented buildings that don't have any dangling cords -- sometimes they won't even have outlets available. At these auctions, the only chance you have to see if a game works is when the people running the auction power it up just before sale.
The second most important thing to bring is a flashlight. This will enable you to examine the games for signs of water damage, rough handling, pirated boards, poorly-performed conversions, banged-up control panels, and so on. Most warehouses are poorly lit, so a small flashlight can be invaluable when determining the condition of a machine.
The third most important thing to bring is cash. At most auctions, there will be a "bidding deposit" (usually around $200 or so) which you must have in order to get a bidder number. This is only a deposit, so rest assured you'll get it back at the end of the auction, even if you don't buy anything. If you do buy something, the deposit will be credited toward your purchase. Some auctions will permit the use of credit cards, provided you pay a surcharge of around 5% for the privilege. As this is by no means guaranteed at any given, cash is still the preferred way to go.
You should also bring some food. Depending on the number of lots offered, the bidding can take quite a while - sometimes several hours. Make sure you're equipped to spend a long time standing in a crowded warehouse...
Bring a pen and paper. Usually there'll be a piece of paper listing all the lots for sale, but you'll want space to write down phone numbers of people you meet, descriptions and notes about some of the games you're interested in, and the winning bid for each game.
Writing down the winning bid isn't just for your benefit, it's for our benefit too. Trust us, if you go to an auction, the r.g.v.a. readership would *love* to hear about it, and they'd also love to see a listing of winning bids. It'll help all of us keep an eye on the state of the market across the country.
Above all else, make sure you've got appropriate transportation. See the next question for more details.
Q: What was that about transportation?
A: Okay, remember in that last question when we said that the most important item to bring was an extension cord?
We lied-- The *MOST* important thing is transportation.
Transportation determines *EVERYTHING* about how you deal with an auction. The more space you have, the more you can buy. If you can swing it, always try to have more space than you need.
When the auction is over, everybody who has bought something has a fixed amount of time to get their stuff off the premises (sometimes they have a day, other times they have to get it off by the end of the auction or a few hours after the end of the auction).
The closer you are to the auction, the better. The question of whether or not you are "close" to the auction can be rephrased as "Do you have enough time between when you buy your last machine and when you have to remove it from the premises to go home and pick up a trailer to drag the stuff home?"
The advantage of being "close" is that you can get a trailer of the appropriate size for your purchase, and if you haven't bought anything, then you save yourself the rental charges and the time for the extra trip. If you're at an auction several hours away from home, however, you'll have to rent the trailer in advance, and you'll only be able to buy games for which you have space.
By and far, a trailer is the cheapest form of transportation, although pickup trucks and vans will do if you're just starting out and don't plan to buy much. A trailer costs roughly $20 to rent and $300 to buy, and is probably the most valuable item a video game collector can own.
Whatever mode of transportation you're using, make very sure that your games are well-secured. Video games are extremely heavy creatures, and the last thing you want is 200 pounds of extra wood, glass, and metal plowing its way through the windshield (passing through the back of your head en route) should you have to slam on the brakes. Also remember that the extra mass of the games can affect the handling of your vehicle; if you're driving in winter weather conditions, be extremely careful on sharp turns and allow extra distance when stopping.
Q: Why is everything sold "as-is"?
A: The main reason auctions are held is to get rid of older equipment. If the equipment doesn't work, the operator who originally sold the equipment doesn't want to have to deal with it again - EVER!
On the other hand, most of the games at an auction will work, and because of the preview period, you'll probably have an opportunity to examine the games beforehand to determine any repairs that need to be made.
This is why the preview period exists. You wouldn't want to buy something and bring it home, only to find that it's a gutted hulk with the wrong parts in it. Use the preview period to your advantage; that's what it's there for.
Even if there is no preview period, most games will be powered up at least once before the bidding (by the auctioneer's people) in order to demonstrate that there's something worth buying in the cabinet.
Q: I'm only after parts. Should I go?
A: Probably not, although you may meet with other collectors who may prove to be valuable contacts in the future.
Auctions rarely have boards, monitors or control panels for sale. These are usually obtained through other channels such as operators, parts houses and other collectors.
The "everything must work" principle combines with the "as-is" principle to explain why boards and monitors are rarely found at auctions. With the exception of JAMMA-based boards (which are very easy to test in any JAMMA-compatible cabinet), it is extremely time-consuming to test a wide variety of boards. Since an auction is an attempt to sell a large quantity of merchandise in a short period of time, it follows that boards and monitors will not be found at auctions. The returns simply do not justify the time it would take to auction them off.
Q: When should I arrive at the auction?
A: This depends on your strategy.
If you're looking for a specific machine (like most beginning collectors), it pays to arrive early and completely go over the machine(s) that you will be bidding on. If the specific machine you want isn't there, then you can go home with only an hour or two of the day wasted. If the specific machine *IS* there, then you power it up and make sure that you really want it. If there are multiples of the machine you want, you have time to play all of them. Decide for yourself what condition the machines are in and what you'd be willing to pay for each of them.
Generally, if there are multiple instances of a given machine and the price is important to you, the second or third machine from the last will be the cheapest.
If you're looking to buy a lot of machines at a really good price, arrive late. By arriving late, you ensure that the crowd has thinned a bit (you have less competition and the prices are lower). Usually the oldest games are left for last, so by arriving late, collectors of older games can avoid having to wait around until the newer (higher-priced) games are sold.
Also, by the end of the auction, the auctioneer is tired and won't be trying to squeeze every last penny out of the crowd. Simply put, the cheap, old games that will sell for less are most likely to be found at the end of an auction. If you're on a budget (or just like old games), why go early?
Q: What kinds of games are generally available at auctions?
A: There will be at most a handful of recent games (i.e. less than two years old) because the newer games are still making money hand-over-fist for their operators, and the operators will be loathe to auction off their best money-makers. There will be a few older games (pre-1985), but as most of these have already worked their way through multiple conversions, so don't expect to find them every time.
As of this writing (early 1993), you can expect to find the following distribution of games:
- New games (post-1990) ----------- 5% - Middle-aged games (1985-1990) --- 75% - Old games (pre-1985) ------------ 20%
Of the "old games", only half of them can usually be considered "classics", so don't be surprised if you go to an auction and find yourself interested in only three or four games.
The reason for this distribution is that games from the 1985-1990 era can still make money in arcades, but they're far enough past their prime that their original owners are now looking to free up space for newer and better moneymakers.
Q: What factors determine the price of games at an auction?
A: The price of a given game is determined by the type of people bidding on the game as well as the rarity of the game in question.
If the crowd at the auction is composed largely of big operators who don't think they can make money from your favourite game, then the price will be lower than the average.
If the crowd is composed of home consumers -- people who love the game and don't know its real value -- then the price may go upwards of twice the game's market value.
If the crowd is composed of people who know the value of your favourite game (i.e. medium-sized operators and serious collectors), then you'll see your game going at market value.
The more rare the game in question is, the higher a price it will demand. Expect especially high prices for old, rare games at auctions where the proportion of home consumers and beginning collectors is high. Expect astoundingly cheap prices for old, common games at auctions with a high proportion of distributors in the crowd -- you may be the only person present who doesn't already own the game!
Q: How rare is my favourite game?
A: Here are a few rules of thumb that you can use to determine whether or not your favourite game is rare:
For example, if you're interested in black-and-white vector games, the following paragraph may illustrate what we're getting at.
On one hand, the games haven't been in arcades for a long time and are practically worthless to operators, so they'll tend to be rare. On the other hand, Asteroids had a huge production run, and there are still a lot of games out there. If you see an Asteroids machine at an auction, you'd know not to bid very high because the game is relatively common. It'll show up at another auction sometime soon. (the authors of this FAQ, for instance, have seen dozens of these machines in warehouses across the country). On the third hand, Asteroids Deluxe had a fairly small production run and was never as popular as the original game, so you should probably take advantage of the opportunity to buy as soon as it arises.
Q: I'm in a fierce battle for my favourite game, and the prices are getting pretty steep! HELP!
A: Bidding wars are bad news.
Remember, if you need a rationalization to avoid bidding on a given game, or you want to console yourself after losing a bid, remember that there are other auctions, any one of which might also have your game in it. Moreover, you still have your money, so you can now bid on something else in the auction...
Q: Why are the prices so cheap?
A: The reason that the prices are so cheap for "old" games is that the operators can't make any money on them. This is why (provided you're at an "honest" auction) the prices are by far the cheapest you'll see as a beginning collector or as a person who wants a specific machine.
We highly recommend this as a way to pick up your first machine.
Q: Anything else I should know?
A: If you've never been to one, go to one and sit through the whole thing. It's good experience, and you don't have to buy anything.
For the most part everything works and will work when you get it home, but there are no guarantees. Everything is sold "as-is", and all sales are final. This is why it is important to play-test anything you intend to buy, if at all possible.
If a game won't power up, it will be sold at the end of the auction as "broken" (or "was working an hour ago") and will go for next to nothing.
Prices will vary from region to region, and even within regions depending on the auctioneer. For the most part, however, "old" games will sell for between $50 and $250, depending on its age, condition, the number of instances of the game present, and whether or not it was sold at the start or end of the auction.
Living in California seems to add about $50-$100 to the prices, and some people report that "classic" games are often harder to find in the California area.
Cocktail tables will add $100 to the price of the machine, since so many people in the crowd can easily take home a cocktail table.
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