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How Do Arcade Machines Work?

How Do Arcade Machines Work?

Arcade machines look amazing on the outside, but it's not so often that we get to see what's going on inside them.

Whether they're original arcade cabinets from the 1970s, '80s and '90s or they're more modern replicas, you might not know much about how they operate.

What's really happening in there to deliver that fantastic, nostalgic gaming experience? And how does putting a coin into a machine queue up the game you want to play?

These questions and more will be answered in this guide. We're going to look at how arcade machines work and what components they're made from. And what even is an arcade machine anyway?

kids playing arcade machines

What Is an Arcade Machine?

First of all, what counts as an arcade machine? Is any game found in an arcade technically an arcade machine?

Well, to start with, a machine doesn't have to be electronic. So you could argue that mechanical arcade games count as arcade machines just as much as video games do. This could include everything from a pinball machine to one of today's arcade machines, which often feature thousands of different games.

However, when people say arcade machines, they are often referring to video games and games that have various electronic components.

They are usually coin-operated, especially if you find them in arcades, pubs or other places of entertainment. You can even buy a coin-operated machine for your home. But you can, of course, set it so you can play for free.

What Makes Up an Arcade Machine?

What parts make up an arcade machine? From the outside, you can easily see that it has a main cabinet, a display, and controls such as a joystick or buttons. But what else is it made from and how do all the parts work together?

Here are some of the bits and pieces included in the anatomy of an arcade machine:

  • The monitor: Every arcade machine needs a display. Just like with televisions, these once used CRT technology but have now evolved to use LCD. Not only does LCD provide a much better picture but it's also more energy efficient.

  • The controls: You need a way to control the game, and this is usually provided in the form of buttons or a joystick or two. You will find touch screens on some newer machines, but a lot of people prefer the retro controls.

  • The sound system: For a truly immersive experience, the arcade machine needs to produce sound too. Today's machines typically have stereo sound, with an audio chip that generates signals and sends them to the speakers.

  • The PCB: The printed circuit board is at the heart of the game. It contains the two main types of memory, ROM and RAM, that hold information including the game's graphics, code, game scores, and more. Of course, the PCB needs a power supply too.

  • Network board: Some arcade machines can connect to each other so multiple people can play against each other. This means they sometimes have a network board, which players can use to communicate and that can hold information such as high scores.

man playing pinball machine

How Do Arcade Coin Machines Work?

A key feature of arcade machines is the coin operation. The joy of inserting your coins and starting the game can't be underestimated.

The question is, how does the coin slot connect with the rest of the machine? A
coin acceptor mechanism might seem simple but the technology used has evolved a lot since the very first ones were created a long time ago. Some of today's coin selectors are even able to accept coins from different countries.

Coin-operated arcade machines will use either a mechanical coin mech or an electronic coin validator. This checks the validity and sometimes the value of the coin. If the coin is rejected, it typically comes back out. But if it's accepted, it will credit the machine with the value of the coin.

When enough money has been inserted to trigger the game, you will be able to play it. At The Modern Cave, our coin-operated machines can be configured to request whatever value you like. Or you can set it to allow free gameplay.

What Operating System Do Arcade Machines Use?

Arcade machines have developed over time, so you can find a range of operating systems. There are older systems, which some people prefer, and more modern systems too. Modern arcade systems can allow for technology like WiFi or provide thousands of games, offering even more to play.

Arcade machines can get pretty complicated. Knowing a bit about them is definitely useful if you want to maintain a machine you own.