Arcade Machine Kits: A New Way to Play

arcade machine kits


If you were a child in the 80s then you probably hung out around arcades and spent countless hours (and quarters) trying to eat all the fruit in Pacman’s maze. Though it is very hard to find an old fashioned arcade, it is very easy to build one of the machines yourself. Such a machine can provide hours of amusement for your entire family as well as a fun, stress-relieving activity. Plus, with proper design, an arcade cabinet can add a sense of retro style to the room.

Now you can build it yourself or buy one.  Or, do a combination of both by buying a kit. This article will focus on the last option. But, rest assured, the other two ways will be covered in articles very soon. To get a personalized arcade without being a master builder/programmer, you will need a kit. This article will walk you through how to build an arcade with a kit


In 1966, Sega released what would soon revolutionize the entertainment industry. It was a simple little game titled, “Periscope.” Yet, it was a hit. By the 1980s, electronic gaming machines were everywhere, especially in buildings designed to house them. These were termed arcades. For just a quarter, kids (and adults) could become anything from a pilot to Godzilla. It was magical.

Unfortunately, it was not to last. As home consoles appeared, arcades started to disappear. Now, there are many still around but they mainly focus on prize-redemption rather than the experience.

However, with the recent surge of personalized services and products, arcades have come back full speed. And at a much lower cost than even five years ago. Classic arcades range from $500- $10,000 depending on how much work you do yourself and what parts you buy. Sometimes, if you can do woodworking, you can even make one for less than that.

The Previous Option

So for the longest time, there was really only one option concerning home arcades, unless you knew how to code the old games from scratch or could design a motherboard with bootleg roms. You had to buy from a company like Sega or Atari. And because the companies would only put one to twelve games on each machine. You were sure to miss out on most of your favorites. Not only this, but these arcades were astronomically expensive. Most cost at least $10k. Yikes!

But, then something changed. A British charity unveiled a new super-cheap motherboard called the Raspberry Pi. Though it was originally designed to teach children to program, tech geeks soon realized how powerful it truly was. Soon after this came the invention of the retro-pie and the recall box. Both programs were designed for building arcades on the Raspberry Pi. Now, with some skilled help, anyone could have their own private arcade.

Classic vs Bartop

So there are two types of machines that I will cover for kits. There are actually more like five, such as wall mount and table top, but the other types are much more expensive. So, I am going to focus on the classic upright arcade and a new type called a bartop.

The classic cabinet will be close to an exact replica of the original cabinet. The biggest problem is that the arcade will be hard to lug if you plan on moving. It also takes up permanent space and is more costly than just the bartop.

A bartop arcade is definitely a very new, very cool type. Bartop arcades are half the size of the classic arcade so that it can easily fit almost anywhere. It is also easier to move.  This way, you do not need a whole room dedicated to games (although you can still get it)! However, I prefer the full cabinet. It just doesn’t have the same pull of the original, at least to me.

Time vs Money

So the whole idea of building vs buying an arcade is a question of time vs money. If you build, you will spend more time than money.  If you buy, you will spend more money than time. Of course, there are other reasons for buying or building. Building the arcade is more personal, while buying creates a more polished machine.  This is where the kit fits in.

Here you can get the benefits of both buying and building. You can order a custom kit with your favorite art and favorite joystick (yes there are many different types). This will still have a professional look.

Or you can do what I did. Build part of it myself and buy a kit for the rest. I used the Raspberry Pi and wiring myself as well as choosing my own joysticks ( I wanted a four-to-eight way converting joystick for optimal play on multiple games).  These joysticks are kinda expensive and don’t come in any kits I’ve seen.  But, they allow you to play both types of games. If you only want to play four-way games like Galaga, Dig-Dug or Pacman or 8-way games like nearly all brawlers, then this won’t be a problem. If you want to play both, then you will want the converting joystick.

When you etch the Raspberry Pi  SD Card yourself, you can choose to create your own custom arcade games by finding each rom separately or just use one that is pre-done. I used the Emulga Silver. Of course, it has more than arcade games on it, but its so freaking awesome. They also have ones with just arcade games.

I used a kit for the woodworking, graphics, etc. If I hadn’t, it wouldn’t have looked like an arcade. I am glad I did it the way I did. I really like the result.

Where to Buy

Game Room Solutions has a very nice selection of kits. They are a very reputable company that I have come across numerous times during my arcade journey.  All the art in their store is customizable so you can choose your favorite retro art or even upload your own designs. They also sell their own designs. My favorite of which is the Wreck it Ralph design. Call me a Disney nerd, but I absolutely love this design.

Wreck it Ralph

One thing I like about GRS is that their arcades are very customizable. I wish their selection of full-size arcades were a bit bigger.

Many sellers also sell these arcade kits through Amazon.

Ultimately Up to You

The great part about home arcades is that they are completely customizable to your taste and personality. Not only is the finished product completely up to you, but the process is as well. And, while I can’t say mine didn’t involve any cursing, I can say that it was ultimately a lot of fun!

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