Archive | July, 2014

We’re Betting The Future Of The Arcade Industry On CNG

CNG Fillup

Starting a business is always a gamble. Sometimes it pays off and sometimes it doesn’t. When we came up with the idea of renting out classic arcade games by the month, we knew that getting them to and from our customer’s locations would be a pretty large component of our costs. With gas prices continue their steady climb to $5 per gallon, we’re fortunate in that we’ve been insulated from these increases by an early bet on natural gas. We think that there are a lot of benefits to adopting the technology and while we don’t know whether or not there’s enough demand for it to go mainstream, this particular gamble has paid off for us.

There are really three key benefits to natural gas technology. The first is that it’s a very green friendly technology. I don’t want to go too environmental with this post, but we think that everyone has a certain responsibility to help protect the environment. Every time we rescue a game or old CRT from the dump, it feels good to know that someone will get to use it a bit longer before it ends up being recycled. I’d be willing to bet that we spend more on used parts then we do on new materials. When CNG powers an engine the exhaust is basically water. It’s fun when we go to get smog checked because the techs always say that it’s the cleanest reading that they’ve ever seen. The lack of soot also benefits our truck in that it provides less wear and tear on our engine and will ultimately allow us to go a lot farther then we could on a diesel or gas.

The second major benefit to natural gas is the carpool lane 🙂 Because the state of California wants to encourage drivers to reduce pollution they’ll allow you to drive in the carpool lane solo as an incentive. If you have a long daily commute, this alone is reason enough to consider a CNG vehicle. Not every vehicle qualifies, but with as much driving as we do, it saves a lot of time on the road and allows us to fix games instead.

Of course the biggest benefit is the cost involved. We get about 14.5 miles to the gallon in our truck. Not great, but not so bad for a work horse either. According to GasBuddy.com, the average price of fuel in Antioch runs about $4.00. Currently we’re paying $2.59 per gallon for CNG at the local station in Concord. This means that we would have to get 23 MPG with a regular gas vehicle before we’d be better off paying for regular gas. With a liftgate and a couple of arcades in the back, we think this would be a hard number to hit. If you compare the $2.05 that we pay in Ripon, it boosts our MPG (miles per gasoline gallon) to over 28 MPG.

This isn’t to say that CNG doesn’t have it’s downsides. The first CNG vehicle that we bought had been converted from gasoline to CNG. This made it very unique. Ultimately when the computer unit inside the van died, the entire car was worthless over the failure of a silly microchip that you can’t find. Even finding a mechanic to work on CNG can be a challenge. There’s only a handful of them that are qualified to work on them and the only one we actually trust to work on ours is in Fresno (6 hours of driving) There’s also the issue of finding gas stations that support CNG. We had to spend one night sleeping in the freezing cold, at the airport in Lake Tahoe because their pumps froze up and they couldn’t get a technician to service them. Another time we missed a TV interview because the pumps were down and we didn’t have enough fuel to get to another station. There was also the time that we had to pass up a $50 Stargate game in Paradise California because it was 10 miles too far from the last CNG station. In order for CNG to have a robust future, they need to expand the network of fueling stations beyond Los Angeles and the Bay Area and into something more national. Every time I see the suggestion box at Costco, I always tell them that they should add CNG refill stations. The adoption by a national chain would do more to propel the technology forward than any incentives that the government gives for carpooling or to keep the prices low.

Overall the pros outweigh the cons and while higher gas prices could ultimately put pressure on our margins, we think that we can maintain our low price point for our arcade rentals for a very long time, thanks in part to the savings that we get from CNG.

Our Spidey Sense Is Tingling

Unrestored game

Every time we pickup a new game, it’s always an adventure. We never quite know what we’re in store for, but the first 24 hours after we have a game is a critical window in determining whether it will be fixed or if it will end up at the back of the queue with the rest of our games that need restorations. Tonight we scored a sweet Spiderman game and I’m optimistic that we can restore the game and have it in the hands of one of our customers within our 24 hour time window. Join us live on the blog as we update our progress and write a bit more about what we’ve done to help bring life back into this game.

old control panel

T-Minus 2130 hours – We’ve only just started and have already run into our first roadblock. I always like to start with the control panel. Rebuilding one sounds easy in theory, but it’s almost always the most time intensive part of the process. On our Spidey it has the original artwork that was installed at the factory, but as you can see mother nature hasn’t been so kind. The glue that they used to put it on has bubbled up from being exposed to heat and there are several places where there are noticeable tears in the artwork. Before we got the game, it looks like another collector tried to paint the exposed wood black to try and cover up the defects, but it’s still pretty bad. Since we picked up some repro art in a bulk buy, we’re going to go ahead and install it instead. It has a few subtle deficiencies compared to the original, but it will look much cleaner overall. You’ll also notice that the control panel is missing it’s plexiglass overlay. For home use, this isn’t as important, but since this Spidey is going back into service, we need something sturdy to protect it and will be making a new one for it. Before we can do any of this though, we have to strip the control panel of the joysticks and buttons so that we can peel off the old overlay. Unfortunately, the original joysticks are very rusty. We’re going to try and see if we can refurbish them because they originals feel really smooth thanks to the rubber grommets that they used in the sticks.

rusty grommet

One of the sticks won’t let us take it off because the metal on the grommet has rusted to the joystick. This will take some time, but luckily we have a really harsh corrosive acid that we keep in the shop for just these situations. This acid is so intense that it pretty much destroys metal, rust, teeth and anything else if you let it soak overnight. We won’t tell you the name of this particular chemical, but trust us it works 😉 We’ll check on it in the morning to see if we can save the stick or if we’ll have to dig into our inventory for another joystick.

do the dew

T-minus 930 hours – So our attempts to rescue the joystick have fallen flat. Unfortunately, this guy is stuck on there, so we’re going to have to bolt cut the stick and salvage as many of the parts as we can. Now that we have the control panel clear the next step is to strip off the old sticker and prepare our plexiglass overlay.

plexi

In order to make our plexi we use a Dremmel to cut the plastic. We’ve experiemented with a lot of ways to do this and while the Dremmel does take a little while to do the job and usually goes through at least one blade per project, the heat from the saw causes the plastic to melt instead of crack. A lot of alternative methods end up cracking the plexi and very few things are more frustrating then to spend a couple of hours and $50 in materials only to see it fall apart right before you’re done. We’ll still need to drill our button holes, but so far so good.

plexi cut

T-minus 630 – The next step in our restoration is to address the water damage that the cab has experienced. In the industry we call this particular cab a particle board cab. In order to fix it we’re going to have to flip the game on it’s back. Arcade games hate to be flipped upside down, so we like to do this before we troubleshoot the guts.

particle board

As you can see from the photo this Spiderman lost it’s legs at some point. While that’s not a big deal if it just sits in your basement, it becomes a big deal when said basement floods and the cab soaks up a gallon of water or so. The wood is so damaged that it flakes off in our hands. This will only get worse over time and leaves really gross particle board flakes on our customer’s carpet if we don’t seal it up. In order to stop the decay, we must first sand down the damaged area. After that we need to seal it. We used fiberglass resin to do this and it’s very effective. The particle board sucks up the resin and when it dries it creates at linoleum strength surface that can handle the rigors of being moved from one member’s location to another without breaking down. After applying the resin we’ll need to wait for it to dry, so now is a goo time to go back to working on the control panel.

particle board resin