Tips to Repair Your Arcade Game on a Budget
Old school arcade games are just plain fun! All the classics like Pac-Man and Galaga have basic controls, easy game concepts and wicked-awesome cabinet art that make them great features to have in your bar or home game room. It’s easy to see why people collect and repair arcade game cabinets, but if you’ve ever tried to have any work done on one, you know that it can get really expensive, really quickly.
So we’ve made a list of tips and general advice to get you started on repairing your arcade game without breaking the bank!
Patience is key with arcade video game repair. This can be a very trying and frustrating hobby with games not wanting work even though you’ve done everything possible to fix the issues. The term ‘ghost in the machine’ has crossed my mind on more than a few repairs and there have been some machines that have kept us scratching our heads for days. If things get too frustrating and you simply can’t figure out whatever problem you’re working on, walk way. Remember that this is just a hobby and that you aren’t on a deadline to fix your game. (This is supposed to be fun!)
UNPLUG THE MACHINE!
Do not perform any maintenance on your arcade video game before unplugging the unit first. This is meant to be a money-saving article and a trip to the emergency room is never cheap! (Never mind the thought of going to the great game room in the sky!)
Discharge the CRT Monitor
Even with the power unplugged some components can still retain enough electrical charge to be fatal. Many CRT monitors need to be discharged before being worked on because they retain an electrical charge. Please research this process and proceed with extreme caution when performing this task.
Purchase the Game Manual
This can sometimes be the only solution to finding specific parts for your game. Trouble shooting an arcade game can be infinitely easier with a manual and ordering a specific part is nearly impossible without the part number.
Clean the Cabinet
Clean your unit the best you can. The best way to start inspecting your arcade video game is with a clean machine and components. Dust and dirt can get into the board and connections creating issues. Clean the PCB and inspect the solder for bridges, breaks or other solder abnormalities. Buy and use contact cleaner to clean connectors and other components. (There are various sources with materials you can use to clean contacts like pencil erasers etc., but I’d stick to contact cleaner.) Use a paint brush to sweep away the dust and debris from boards. A dirty arcade game can lead to issues but some of these issues can be solved with just a little elbow grease and attention to detail.
Learn How to Solder
If you’re going to be performing your own video game repairs you’re going to want to learn how to solder. Soldering isn’t hard to do but it’s hard to do well, so some research, practice and patience will be needed. Soldering will allow you to perform your own repairs on printed circuit boards, replace video game controls as well as installing and removing the majority of the components in your machine. It is worth it to buy a better-than-average soldering iron because cheaper irons won’t get hot enough to properly remove and replace components. You don’t want to do further damage to your game because you wanted to save $10 on the soldering iron.
Purchase a Multimeter
Purchase a multimeter for testing components. A typical multimeter can measure voltage, current, and resistance. Mulitmeters are essential for testing various electronic components in your game. Some of the issues that might come up with arcade games are virtually impossible to find without a multimeter. There are plenty of online resources for familiarizing yourself with multmeter operation and functionality. Learn how to check for continuity with your meter and begin by checking your fuses!
Check Your Fuses
If you’re experiencing issues with your arcade game machine a good place to start is with the arcade game fuses. Using your multimeter check each fuse for continuity. Also, use your manual to make sure that they are the correct fuses for their location. Fuses are cheap so simply replacing them is a good start to fixing your game cabinet.
Inspect the Controls
One obvious easy-fix is the control panel. Many of the usedarcade games for sale will still have their original game control panel components like joysticks and player push buttons. These parts can be upwards of 40 years old! Luckily they are fairly inexpensive and easy to replace. Game Room Guys stocks and sells video arcade game parts and accessories from trackballs to joysticks and every button in between! If the controls seem loose or worn, it might be a good idea to get this simple fix out of the way and make the game feel like new.
Many arcade games have printed circuit boards (PCB) that are connected to the rest of the components via an edge connector. (Also called a JAMMA Edge connector). Sometimes the pins on these connectors get bent or stuck, so they aren’t making sufficient contact. An easy fix is to use a small pin or similar tool to unstick and re-shape the connectors. Cleaning these connectors with contact cleaner is another good idea. If the part is beyond repair another option is to replace the edge connector entirely which isn’t an expensive part. Often the edge of the board where these attach will need to be cleaned as well.
Another good place to start trouble-shooting is with the ‘socketed IC chips’ on the PCB. Socketed IC chips are the chips on the board that aren’t soldered-in. You can remove them with a special tool or carefully with your fingers. Inspect the pins or legs for bends and breaks. Using a tooth brush or wire brush is good for removing dirt, corrosion and grime from their connections. Straighten any pins that appear off and re-insert the IC chip. These chips can be relatively inexpensive to replace and can be tested with a Logic Probe.
Inspect Capacitors on PCB
As mentioned earlier inspecting the PCB is good way to check for issues. Often capacitors will go bad and expand, bulging the vent on top of the capacitor. If you see a broke or cracked vent with crusty brown or red dried goop, this is also an indication that the capacitor has gone bad. Capacitors will also sit crooked after going bad and bulging, so this is yet another thing to look for. New capacitor kits can be bought and installed if capacitors on your board have gone bad.
Inspect Sound and Video
Excessive noise in the audio or video or rolling bars in the display can be symptoms of bad capacitors. Distorted, muffled, scratchy or missing audio can also be attributed to faulty capacitors. If your CRT monitor is dead, although not ‘cheap’ an LCD retrofit screen will look fantastic and you won’t have to worry about CRT monitor issues again. If your sound or display is only experiencing minimal disruptions you may need to perform a capacitor replacement with a repair capacitor kit.
Keep up on Maintenance
Make sure to clean your cabinet out regularly. Using a shop-vac or vacuum with hose attachment and compressed air, to rid your game of dust and dirt at least twice a year. If you never let the dirt and dust build-up, you’ll have less issues in the future.
Get to Know the Community
Get to know the arcade gaming community in your area. Search for online forums, see if there are any collector’s clubs in your city or your side of the state. The more people you meet with similar interests, the better chance one of them will be able to help you out. Heck, you might even be able to solve a problem for them! This is a great way to obtain even more video arcade games through trading and getting first dibs on machines for sale in the local scene.
Two great resources online are the Arcade Controls Forum and The International Arcade Museum with their Killer List of Video Games.
Of course, there are new arcade games on the market and usually of the multicade persuasion, meaning many games (sometimes 100+) in a single arcade game cabinet. Multicade arcade game cabinets like Arcade Legends or Pac-Man Pixel Bash are brand new units that are fully licensed, so you get the real games, just like how you remember them in the arcade! These machines also come with a higher price tag but one that doesn’t include trouble shooting, parts searching, board soldering or monitor discharging.
So the choice is yours but if your sticking with the classics then get ready for a fun hobby of problem solving, issue fixing and, of course, classic arcade gaming with your friends and family!
Game Room Guys carries all of the game room parts and accessories you need to get your classic arcade gaming machines up and running, but we also sell Pinball Machines, Pool Tables, Shuffleboards, Dartboards, Ping Pong Tables, Golf Simulators plus all of the fun that goes along with them! That’s why when it comes to all of your game room needs, we’re the guys!