ASCII by Jason Scott

Jason Scott's Weblog

The End of the Good Times (Part 2) —

In the middle of an auction, when the numbers are flying that fast, there’s lots of potential to end up bidding a lot more than you were prepared to, or even worse, not bidding at all because your brain isn’t built to make decisions this fast. Someone used to it, who thinks in this fashion and knows what they want and what their limits are, will be in much much better shape than you are if you’re dreaming of a vintage machine and want to pay $500 and $500 is the FIRST BID. What do you do then? Too late, auction’s over, next lot. I watched that happen a lot.

I also watched the old-timers move in. These people, as I said previously, knew what they wanted and got right in when the fight began. And fights some of them were. When the bidding starts at $500 and jams up past $10,000 on an item, there’s a reason for it. I watched the half-dozen or so big names battle amongst themselves for specific items. If others were lucky, they left crumbs for others to grab.

One of them fell to me. A number of friends showed up, looked around, and had me proxy bid for them with agreed upon prices. When the bidding came up for one my friend Charlie wanted, he had told me $300. But with the whip of the auction, I found that I’d won… at $500. A quick call into Charlie told me he was delighted, regardless – the machine I’d bought for him ranged used for between $3500-$5000 if you were lucky. So Charlie was happy, even if we’d gone a little over.

There was little I was interested in from most of the event – I bid on some Skee Ball machines, but in every case the price shot out of what I’d want to pay. I felt especially bad for two young guys, who bid up to $700 (a crazy price) and then were given a choice of any five similar lots. And they chose the worst one, the machine with the most damage. Even a cursory check of the machines would have said that a specific machine/lot was the “good” one, with the others not so good. Having won, they found a way to lose. I decided not to bring it up with them.

Speaking of the lots. In no time, the auctioneer started grouping up and splitting up lots. In one case, it made sense: if you won a lot, you could then buy the next number of similar lots at the same price. This was to give incentive to bid – you needed to get in there and win, or else you would never get a chance to buy any. Sometimes this tactic worked; other times the person would choose two lots, then there’d be five more, the bidding would continue, and the price would be less than half. Still, it probably worked out for the auctioneers, who get a 13% fee on top of any sold lots (in case you’re wondering).

In one case, there was a particularly stupid move – they had a lot of all the go-karts, and a lot of the power packs for the go-karts. One guy got the karts, another got the packs. I was told the bidding on the packs was purely to get back at the guy who got the karts. Bad blood sometimes flows at these things.

Splitting up the lots was a little weirder. Let’s say a lot was 100 chairs. First of all, what the hell, 100 chairs! Who’s going to buy 100 chairs? Almost nobody, it turned out, so they would split a lot of 100 chairs into lots of 10 or 20 chairs. Then they’d sell them off. Excellent, they sold items that otherwise might not be sold.

But wait! This turned out to totally screw up the back office. When the sheets came into the back office (which held our photo IDs as collateral to bidding) and people showed up to buy their lots, the software would completely, utterly choke on the idea of “this person is buying 9 percent of this lot”. The process of integrating these bizarre setups got longer and longer. And by longer, let me make it clear: I left this establishment at 2am. Let’s count that again – I got there at 9am and left at 2am, a total of eighteen hours. An auction house claiming to be the only licensed auctioneer of this material should really have done their job better. We were crushed in that line, waiting for hours while they got their act together.

Now, a little moral discussion.

I like winning. Man, do I like winning. But I like winning, if not fairly, at least by giving everyone equal opportunity to cheat.

After a a few hours of the vending machines, video games and amusement park rides, we moved to audio equipment. The Good Time Emporium, you see, had a full-on nightclub associated with it, and all the audio equipment was being auctioned off too. (A full restaurant and bar setup, as well.) The audio guys, people waiting to bid on this auction, had mostly ignored the bidding on the vending/video games stuff, and were coming in cold. I’d sat in on both. I had an advantage. As it turned out, I and others had a massive advantage.

The guy doing the audio auctions was nowhere near as good as the guy doing the video game auctions. The videogame guy would tell you stories about the games, stories that might not be true but at least would tell people the nature of what was being auctioned. He would mention it was a special kind of crane game, or a vintage video game, or a type of motion ride that normally retails for whatever. You had context and then you moved in. Audio guy did nothing of the sort – he would say “Next up, speakers” and start the bids. And he started combining lots almost immediately.

This was completely over the heads of the audio guys moving in (and these were really audio guys, ratty jeans, greying beards and headbands a-plenty). They would want lot number 405, and hear the bidding on 399, and not realize the auction guy was NOW TAKING BIDS ON LOTS 399-406. Never mind that lot 399 was a pair of golf clubs and lot 405 was a 32-track mixer. Let’s start the bids.

I saw a couple 1000W speakers being sold, “Bass bins”. I had a hunch. I bid. I won. $150. I did this by bidding on six lots of material and then choosing the lot I wanted. When I didn’t want the lots other than the bass bins, the auctioneer started doing them separately. When the audio guys perked up at the number before the bass bins, he then skipped to the one after, catching them flat footed. The bass bins were gone, fellas.

I felt really bad. Not bad enough to not turn around and call a friend and sell them for nearly three times what I’d paid, of course. But pretty bad.

What made it all worse was the sound guy was there, the sound guy who’d worked at Good Time and had assembled a lot of this equipment. He watched the auction happen, pathetic bids from mislabeled and poorly described lots. My guesstimate is a quarter-million dollars of equipment went out the door for a fifth of that. That’s horrible. A lot of good stuff went out for pennies on the dollar that day.

By the way, the bass bins were HUGE:

The audio guy told me they’d recently been given new insides and were worth probably $2k. So yeah, I got a bargain, even if it was the wrong way.

I bought a couple dozen microphone stands for $50. I bought a pile of trophies. (Why not?) for $25. And other than that, not a whole lot for me.

I met some wonderful people from various bits of the Industry, and had some nice chats with people who are down on the ground working in the Fun Center business. Maybe I’ll meet them again on my travels. I also spent some time with folks from the Classic Arcade Museum, who I would define as “my kind of folks”. Good, good people. I’m sure our paths will cross again, in an arena much less depressing. I got home very, very late.

My pal Charlie came on Sunday with a Uhaul to pick up our related purchases. The previous night’s energy was gone, and all I wanted was to get there and get out.

There’s the beast, the game that Charlie had me buy for him: Initial D: Arcade Stage, a monstrous two-cabinet driving game by Sega from 2002 with network link up and card readers. Charlie is looking forward to restoring it, and I look forward to playing it.

Goodbye, Good Times.

Like all commercially oriented forum sites, Yelp will no doubt take things down over time but for the moment there’s an excellent weigh in by various folks about Good Time, the state of arcades in Boston and what they think this bodes for the general sense of fun in the area.

Categorised as: Uncategorized

Comments are disabled on this post


  1. Flack says:

    I’m so glad you made it to the auction and that it wasn’t a waste of time.

    You are right, SuperAuctions is a slick outfit that is (for the most part) set up to deal to vendors, but makes enough concessions that the guy (like you or me) who is looking to buy a single lot can still do business with them.

    I found a long time ago that there exists a window of games that are undesirable. My theory has always been that there are three (ever-changing) arcade categories: classics, newer money makers, and everything in the middle. If you’re looking for cheap, shop in the middle. The classic category is generally dominated by people looking to blow their cash on one single game. The problem becomes you will most likely be bidding against some middle age guy with a bankroll who came for one specific game. Let the bidding war begin! And the guys buying the money makers are exactly as you described — they’re the guys with the dollies, trailers, and crew. They know what the games are worth and they’re (usually) willing to spend more than you because they can make their money back on a game whereas you can’t if it’s sitting in your living room. Those “middle games” are the ones that time passed over. Golden Tee 2008 (or whatever) will cost you a mint but Golden Tee 1999 goes for a couple hundred bucks.

    There are other factors, of course — as the day goes on the prices drop (people have already spent their limit, I suspect). And as for those middle of the road games, generally speaking, the heavier they are the cheaper they go for. Initial D is a great racing game but I wouldn’t want to move one. 🙂

    The way you described the lots being sold … that happens a lot with non-arcade stuff. SuperAuctions obviously specializes in games so, yeah, when there are boxes of microphone stands and whatnot, I’m sure it’s a “get rid of this crap and move on” mentality. I guess the financial loss must be worth it vs. the time saved. You would think a person could make more selling some of that stuff on eBay but … maybe they were just done with it. You are right, there is a certain amount of guilt associated with picking over someone’s dead carcass and arguing over pennies at the same time.

  2. zpinzane says:

    Nice series of posts, and excellent response by Flack.

    You summed up the auction experience pretty well, especially the lot splitting/merging, price pacing and heavy hitters with their u-hauls and glazed, soulless eyes and dancing hulu girl tattoos.

    I’ve frequented tons of auctions in my day, and used to make a living trading through them, and I’ve never encountered an auction that went from 9am until 2am. Sounds like a living hell.