Pac-Man Is Back, Man Arcade video games of the '70s and '80s are hot right now, with replicas selling for $2,700 and up. Our reporter explains how to snag the real thing for far less
(MONEY Magazine) – When I moved in with my fiancée two years ago, some tough bargains were made. I agreed to part with my Playboy glassware, and I even dumped a couch with leopard-print pillows. But on one point compromise wasn't possible: Under no circumstances would I give up my other woman.
I've forgotten where I fell for Ms. Pac-Man, the full-size arcade vixen. Was it behind the back booth of the pizza parlor or in a dimly lit corner of the bowling alley? In any case, I do remember when I reunited with my old flame. Five years ago, a friend and I drove a U-Haul to a video-game auction in southern New Jersey. Between Missile Command and Q bert, there she was. When the gavel fell at $650, Ms. Pac-Man was mine.
These days classic arcade games are back in style. In December the Japanese video-game maker Taito began selling replicas of the original Space Invaders for $2,772. Gadget store Brookstone now sells a Galaga/Ms. Pac-Man combo for $2,995 through its catalogue and website. And for $6,000 you can have the Cadillac of game machines from DreamAuthentics.com, a wide-screen beauty on which you can shoot or weave your way through 4,000 games, classic and new, Ms. Pac-Man included.
Of course that's an awful lot of quarters to invest in mere replicas, which is why it usually makes more sense to buy the original secondhand--because '80s arcade games were made to withstand pulling, pushing and banging, they've held up well over the decades. And though they have dubious value as investments--"You won't get much appreciation out of the machines," says Tim Ferrante, editor of GameRoom magazine--they tend to at least hold their value over time.
The best and most economical way to buy a full-size video game is at a live auction. Dates and locations can be found on the GameRoom website (gameroommagazine.com) under Show Calendar. (Thirty-six are scheduled for the last four months of the year.) Arrive early and try out the machines before you bid. Broken games can be missing hard-to-get parts, so stick to the working ones. Most video games should sell for $300 to $750, according to Ferrante. If there are no auctions nearby, pay a little more and buy from a dealer. Or check eBay--just be sure to buy from someone in your area so you can test the machine beforehand.
Pass on the urge to own rare games such as BurgerTime or Golden Axe; instead, go for my beloved Queen of the Maze. Nearly 500,000 Pac-Man and Ms. Pac-Man machines were produced, making the couple the best-selling video games and thus the easiest and cheapest to maintain. When mine went on the fritz, I used Google, found a store in Austin, Twobits.com, that specializes in Ms. Pac-Mans, and sent in my game's computer board. The repair cost me about $175. The only other time it broke down, I fixed it myself with a $2 part from Radio Shack. Pretty good reliability, considering the hundreds of hours of luxuriously mindless fun I've had.
Even my fiancée would agree. These days she plays too--and she loves that the game keeps her two young nephews happy when they visit. They probably would have liked my leopard-print pillows too, but we'll never know.