Home Improvement

Building the ultimate game room

Let's face it, we all want a place where we can go, unwind, sit back and relax. To do it right, you'll need to follow these seven steps
building the ultimate game room

Who would’ve guessed that video games would become a multi-billion dollar industry? Certainly not those of us who plugged quarter after quarter into that table-top Ms PacMan game back in the day. Still, in 2017, eSports revenue came in at $655 million USD and it’s predicted that 2018 revenue will top out at $905 million USD — a staggering 38% year-over-year increase. By 2021, revenues could reach $1.65 billion USD — and yes, that’s a “b” as in “billion.”

Part of this growth is the idea that every homeowner can create their very own, personalized game room. The ultimate man cave, she-den or themed entertainment room is so popular there are TV shows and magazines dedicated to it. But to build it right you’ll need to follow these seven steps

  1.  Set a budget.
  2.  Find some space.
  3.  Pay attention to lighting and sound.
  4.  Invest in the right furniture.
  5.  Focus on your favourite games.
  6.  Protect your investment.
  7.  Build your own game (optional).

While the vast majority of gamers will create a space to plug into the latest Xbox, Playstation or high-end gaming PC, there is a growing crowd of nostalgic gamers who are looking for a more authentic experience. These old-school players know the joy of hitting an arcade game’s high score list or the thrill of striking a pinball’s bash toy. But it’s hard to find retro arcades in most cities. If you’re in the Greater Toronto Area, you’re lucky. There are over 200 public-facing arcade and pinball machines in the city and you can find them using Zolo’s 416cade map.

But for many of us, the real dream is to build that ultimate home game room. No matter how your man cave, she-den or in-house games-room looks, the one common fact is it’s that personal space where you, your friends and your family can enjoy new technology and a bit of old-school fun. Here is your guide to creating the ultimate gaming sanctuary.

Step #1: Don’t run out of credits (set a budget)

There’s nothing worse than going into debt. Debt eats up the budget and can have a lasting impact on your finances. So, despite some die-hard fanatical love for retro arcade and pinball machines or the latest virtual gaming gear, even the experts advise against going into debt when building your ultimate man cave or she-den.

That said, it’s still important to spend money on what you’re passionate about. (Read personal finance writer, Barry Choi’s post on hobbies and debt). To make sure you don’t hock the house, set a budget before starting. Include everything: from lighting to furniture to the games themselves. “Stay within your budget,” says Jerry Power, the supervisor of Canadian sales at Player One Amusement Group, the largest distributor of amusement machines in the country.

Types of Games to Collect:

  • Arcade Games
  • Pinball Machines
  • Carnival Games
  • Entertainment Booths
  • Table Games
  • Pub Games
  • Home Video Games
  • Kiddie Rides
  • Redemption Games
  • Handheld Game Consoles

Entry level man cave games (up to $1,000)

Building the ultimate game room starts with a table game, such as a foosball table.

For most, the biggest unknown (and expense) are the games themselves. For that reason, Power suggests that entry-level collectors should start off with soccer (or foosball) tables or ping pong tables, both of which can be purchased brand new for under $1,000 CDN. If you want to save even more money, shop used through Ebay, Kijiji or Craigslist. Used foosball tables can cost as little as $50 CDN, while ping-pong tables usually start around $150 CDN. (Although, use a shopping app and you may be able to find sales on new ping pong and foosball tables, such as Best Buy’s current offer of a new ping pong table for just $172.)

If you do end up buying used, you’ll need to check the quality of the game table. According to Foosballsoccer.com, there are four steps to checking out a used foosball table:

  1. Check the table surface: The table surface on a used foosball table is the biggest concern. A damaged playing surface can ruin the entire table. Look for cracks and warping from water damage. If a visual inspection doesn’t produce any concerns, then ask the seller if you can play a game on it. Even a quick game will reveal table surface problems and problems mean extra costs.
  2. Check out the goals: Look for chipped corners around the goals. This is especially important on cheaper foosball tables because they tend to be made with more brittle and thinner materials that tend to chip off. Chipped goals can detract from the game and cause continued disrepair to the table (and that means more money spent on repairs).
  3. Check out the players: Grab the foosball men and make sure they aren’t loose on the rod. While a loose player may only require a quick tightening of a screw, it may be a sign of bigger problems. Better to know now, and plan for those costs, than regret the purchase sometime later. Also, check to see if toes are rounded or smooth. If they are, they’ll need to be replaced and, you guessed it, that costs money. Ideally, the player should be secured tightly to the rod and the toes should be pointed with cross-hatching (for better ball control).
  4. Check the rods: Make sure the foosball rods aren’t drastically bent. Minor bending can be straightened out but significant bends will require a rod replacement. Keep in mind, the material used for rods differs dramatically based on the table’s age and the manufacturer. Heavier rods will make the game slower and sluggish, while lighter weight rods will speed up the game and fun!

If you end up noticing any defects or wear and tear, consider walking away or ask for a significant discount.

Mid-range man cave games ($1,000 to $5,000)

Next up are commercial “dome” or “bubble” hockey arenas, stand-up arcade cabinets such as Arcade Legends, which range in price from $3,000 to $4,000 CDN when purchased new and or used, which can start at $150 (but you’ll have to shop hard at this price) but usually start at $500 and go up.

For new bubble hockey game purchases, you’ll need to consider what features you want. To help you decide Gameroominfo.com has a great comparison chart (all prices listed in the chart are USD).

Choosing a bubble hockey game for your home game room

If you’re buying a used bubble hockey game, try and get the history of the table. If was originally used in a bar or public facility, you’ll probably end up having to replace quite a few parts — and the parts don’t come cheap. The dome, itself, will set you back $400.

Now, if your pocketbook can afford it, it’s time to start chasing silver balls. “Next up are your pinball machines,” says Power.

Only a handful of companies continue to produce new commercial pinball machines, with Stern Pinball being the most prominent.

A brand-new Stern machine, which often features popular licenses such as Game of Thrones and The Walking Dead, start at $7,700 CDN and go up, depending on the edition. Keep in mind, most manufacturers will make a standard, a premium and then a limited edition explains Power. “The limited editions top out at over $10,000 or $11,000, so it really depends on your budget.”

You can save a bit of money if you shop used, but not if you’re competing for the most sought-after games. (See Invest Wisely). If you don’t care about buying a collectable and just want a fun machine to play on, budget $2,500 or more for a used pinball machine.

Step #2: Size matters (you need space!)

Driving arcade games take up a lot of space in a home game room

“Don’t be looking at Cruis’n Blast if your basement entrance only has a 28-inch wide doorway or a spiral staircase. Some things just functionally won’t fit,” explains Power.

While there aren’t any hard and fast rules about the dimensions a game room requires, there are a few things you should keep in mind. For instance, while a machine may physically fit into the space, you should also take into account space around the machine. Consider this “engagement” space, or the space required to allow you, your friends and your family to engage and have fun on the game. There are other reasons for building in this engagement space. “Most game tables need anywhere from 3 to 5 feet of additional space around them, otherwise they can overwhelm a small basement,” explains interior designer Letitia Holloway of Myers Design during a Houzz interview.

To use your space wisely it’s a good idea to plan out the square footage use on paper. Start by measuring the room. Then map out what goes where. If it’s an empty space, use painter’s tape or masking tape to mark of where machines and furniture will go. Then walk through the proposed game room to get a “feel” for the space. Be careful not to overpack the game room with too many activities or your game room will end up feeling small and cramped.

Once you’ve confirmed you have enough floor space, you’ll need to confirm there is easy access to that space — along with a couple of strong friends — before making a sizeable purchase. Even with space at a premium, Power still gets a number of requests for Dance Dance Revolution — a 1,000-lb machine that takes up 10 square feet in floor space (about a quarter of a king size bed).

In general, you’ll need to keep the following in mind:

  • Standard pinball machines are about 32″ wide x 52″ deep x 70″ tall.
  • You’ll need to work hard to navigate the machine into your home and you’ll require a doorway that’s at least 32” wide.
  • Electromechanical pinball machines — games built before 1978) — are typically easier to move as the head comes off the cabinet.
  • On average pinball machines weigh 200-300 pounds.
  • Since arcade games can vary quite a lot it’s hard to pin down average weights and sizes, however, stand up machines typically come in two sizes: 19” and 25” monitor cabinets. The size a reference to the diagonal size of the original CRT monitor.

Step #3: Lights, sound, action!

Large multi-media game room with colourful comic-book like artwork

OMG. Do I really need to think about lamps and lighting, speakers and sound? Yes. While it may sound boring (because it is), lighting and sound are an integral part of creating that ultimate in-house game room. Too bright a room and the game room will feel stark and unwelcoming. Too dim and it will be hard for you and your guests to enjoy the games.

The real nemesis when it comes to the right lighting is glare. As you plan your game room space, consider where screens will be placed and then consider how lighting will impact those screens. The last thing you want is a glare on the TV or projector screen as you attempt to board a zeppelin in World of Warcraft or push for the top spot in Galaga’s high score list!

The first step is to remove or eliminate all light sources that are directly opposite a screen.

Next, you’ll need to consider how dark you’ll need the room. If you’re building a game room using a projector (rather than a TV) you’ll need the room to get really dark. Ambient light will impact the picture quality, which really hinders a good gaming experience.

To get the best experience do the following:

  • For windows and other natural light sources, install blackout shades or blinds.
  • Consider painting the walls a darker colour, preferably grey or navy. When choosing the paint, stay away from semi-gloss. While this is the standard paint for homes — because it allows for easier clean up — it’s not ideal in a game room because it’s very reflective. Stay away, too, from gloss and satin finish paints. Instead, pick flat or no-gloss darker colours. (Apartmenttherapy.com has some great colour suggestions, along with specific swatch numbers.)
  • If you’ve done all of these tips and tricks and there’s still a lot of ambient light in the room, consider buying a screen with a light rejection surface (also called angular rejection). For help on picking the right screen, check out Screeninnovations.com’s screen material wizard. You’ll need to know a few specifics about your game room, but all the information can be collected using an Android or iPhone light meter app. Be warned, though, this option can get pricey. Basic Screen Innovations’ screens start at $1,230 USD and go up from there.

With the lighting sorted, consider how to use sound in your game room. While sound and speakers aren’t as integral to retro game rooms, they are vital for game rooms that utilize modern consoles, such Xbox, PS4, Nintendo and other brands.

For those without budget constrictions consider the maximum number of channels on your speakers (say, 9.1) and complete wireless connectivity with in-ceiling/wall installation. But let’s face it, most of us are on a budget. When funds are limited, purchase a good surround sound system. For gamers, Gamesradar.com recommends the Pioneer VSX-530-K 5.1 Channel AV Receiver, which is priced at $380 CDN. The system’s amp supports Dolby True HD and DTS-HD Master Audio, and, as Game Radar author David Meikleham points out, it’s “ future-proofed with the inclusion of 4K/60p pass-through.” (For more options, check out Lifewire.com’s 7 best systems for under $500 USD.)

Should you soundproof your game room?

Noise levels can increase in game rooms. As a result, you may want to invest in soundproofing the room (for information on whether or not soundproofing increases the value of your home, check out MoneySense).

For the walls and floors, consider:

  • Upgrading your existing framing (only really cost effective if the game room is currently unfinished space or budget isn’t a consideration) and the installation of QuietRock, a drywall panel specifically created to help prevent noise transmission or the use of Green Glue, a sound suppressant glue used between wall or floor materials.
  • Adding extra insulation inside the walls. In most situations, a contractor will drill small holes through your existing walls to blow loose-fill material between the current studs. Costs range from around $1.75 per square foot CDN for loose-fill fibreglass, cellulose, or rock wool to $5.75 for polyurethane foam. The good news is the best insulation for soundproofing is the cheaper loose-fill, as the air between the material helps with preventing noise transmission. For more, check out Noisehelp.com.
  • Or adding sound panels or blankets. A pack of 12 sound-absorbing foam panels will cost you $40 CDN on Amazon.ca.
  • Install carpeting in your game room. While many of us don’t carpet the truth is it’s a great sound-absorption material plus it’s easy on the wallet when compared to other flooring options.

If you’ve opted to purchase pinball machines, keep in mind that solid-state machines (those built between 1970s and 1990s) are more home game room friendly as the volume can be turned down.

Untangle that mess of wires!

Clean-gaming-space-with-wires-hidden
Cable management creates a clean, mess-free gaming space. (AEM Business Solutions)

The final consideration is how you will house or hide all those wires. Let’s face it, a game room that includes a number of electronic game tables and consoles is just a tangled mess of gizmos and wires just waiting to happen.

One quick and easy solution is to set all the wires under the game room carpet and to buy wire houses or cable tracks that can be used to bundle and remove unsightly wires. For more ideas on how to tame wire tangles, check out Abigail Williams’ article in HuffPost.

While we’re on the subject, let’s briefly dive into wiring and connections. If you’re torn about whether or not you should hardwire your game room for HD and dedicated data-streaming or stick with old-school plug and play, the answer will depend on the type of games you plan to install. Most pinball and arcade machines need a standard grounded plug outlet. For a fully immersive online gaming experience, you’ll want to invest in a dedicated (or uninterrupted) hardwired data connection. Sure, wireless connectivity is cool, but dedicated gamers know that even a small lag can stall out a game and ruin your entire gaming experience.

Aim to install wired Ethernet direct to your PC (from your network source). Next, invest in a router. As tech-writer Jonas DeMuro explains, “A router is the grand poobah of a network, and 802.11n (or the even slower 802.11g) gear simply cannot keep up with the demands of today’s high-speed games. These routers, while fine in their day, are also not designed for multiple devices; they aren’t designed to handle all of the smartphones, tablets, and media streaming devices that clog up a modern home network. So get a good router.”

Of course, all of this work is meaningless if you don’t have a great connection. For more on optimal bandwidth, how to test your current system and what to look for check out PCGamer’s “How to set up your home network for optimal gaming experience.”

Don’t forget your game room’s life blood: electricity

Unless you want to keep blowing breakers, you need to remember that most arcade, redemption, or carnival games operate on 1.5-3 amps of power with a pinball machine drawing 3-5 amps, writes Preston Burt for Paste Magazine.  “A normal 20-amp circuit in your home may be able to tolerate many games on one circuit, but the safe way to proceed is to do your math and keep your games’ electrical needs in check.”

Step #4: Invest in a few key pieces of furniture

Bean-bag-chair-in-gaming-room-child-playing-video-games

Yes, you can always throw an old sofa and a 1980s-circa armchair into your game room, but if you want to add to the experience consider spending a bit of your budget on furniture better suited to an ultimate game room, man cave or she-den.

For retro-inspired gaming rooms, consider adding comfortable seating for friends and family. The budget-conscious should consider furniture that can be moved around and reconfigured, as this allows for maximum use of the room.

For those building an online gaming room, invest in chairs with good lumbar support. There are plenty of sites that rate and rank the best gaming chairs. High Ground Gaming offers a list of the best PC gaming chairs (office chairs built to support hours and hours of sitting), while IGN Tech offers an overall top-pick list. Those on a budget will want to consider a good bean bag chairs, such as the Big Joe Dorm Gaming Chair, which will set you back $166 CDN but will help alleviate fatigue from sitting and playing for hours (plus it’s got a built-in drink holder).

How much to really spend on furniture

Step #5: Invest wisely (focus on your favourite games)

Investing in a hobby can be risky, but full of rewards. First, there’s the joy of seeking out, acquiring and then surrounding yourself with what you love. Then, there’s the possibility that others will love what you also love — and pay for the privilege of acquiring what you have already acquired. But be warned: Collections can be dangerous investments if you don’t understand the financial risks.

Most financial experts suggest only investing “throw-away” money in a hobby — that part of your disposable income that doesn’t need to earn you a return and isn’t allocated towards paying bills. Of course, most of us don’t want to throw away any money, so the idea is to budget wisely to pay for your passion.

What to consider when building your collection

Before buying, consider renting pinball or arcade games to see if they fit your space and needs. (Eastvanamusements.ca)

Jerry Power has worked in the electronic amusement industry since 1975 and, as a result, knows a thing or two about growing collections as well as some tips for those aspiring collectors. As the supervisor of Canadian sales at Player One Amusement Group, the largest distributor of amusement machines in the country, Power suggests that when looking for older machines, collectors should turn to secondary markets like Kijiji, Ebay and Facebook.

Buying used gaming tables

While your retro pinball and arcade selection should be fuelled by passion, Power also suggests that you consider these purchases as investments.

“In general, pinball machines will always appreciate better than anything else,” says Power. Like any other investment, however, it’s about the timing. “Anybody who got into it 10, 15, 20 years ago would’ve cleaned up,” says Power, who has operated various public auctions over the years.

For those buying resale, keep in mind that like classic cars, older machines were released in limited runs and may be trickier to source in pristine condition, as can the procurement of replacement parts. For example, Williams Electronic Games released A Fish Tales pinball machine in 1992. Only 13,640 were produced and to buy it now, it will set you back more than $5,500 USD. But if you need to replace any component expect to fork out up to hundreds more. The side decals, alone, will set you up back $250 USD or more on Ebay, while the upper boat ramp will cost another $76 USD on Ebay.

Also, not all older machines are valued in the same way by collectors. Chris Lane, a contributing writer to The Houston Press that specializes in covering art, music, pop culture, and social issues, explains that older pinball games aren’t like many other collectables — they don’t command as much as more recent machines do.

Lane continues, “There are a handful of older pinball machines that have a dedicated fan base and generally command high prices, but most made between the 1960s and 1980s aren’t as valuable as some of the later games.”

The sweet spot for retro pinball games? The 1990s. “Many collectors feel that one of the biggest “golden ages” for pinball games was the 1990s,” writes Lane. Why is this? Because more advanced technology made it possible for games to use much more complex designs, which made their gameplay more fun than in earlier eras.

Buying new arcade, gaming and pinball machines

For Canadians looking to acquire the latest arcade and pinball releases, there’s really only one place to go. “We are the last guy standing,” says Power. “That means if you’re playing an arcade or pinball machine in Canada, it initially had to come from our office.”

As previously mentioned, A brand-new machine, can start at $6,000 CDN and go up, depending on whether it’s a standard, premium or limited edition machine.

Types of Games to Collect: Full List

Consider starting small

Retro handheld video consoles are a great way to start your game room collection

For some fans the ultimate goal is to buy the latest pinball game — a goal that’s many years and a few thousands dollars away from an initial game room build budget. But don’t fret, there are still some great ways to start collecting, like focusing on smaller video game paraphernalia, such as retro home consoles and older handheld devices. The idea is to stick to scanning the shelves and tables of thrift shops, flea markets and garage sales for easy to find and easy on the wallet retro-options.

But even as you seek out that no-longer-loved Sega Nomad or the long-forgotten Nintendo 64, what should you keep in mind? Senior Editor for WorldWide Gaming, Robert Workman, has a few suggestion. (He offers five tips for starting an old-school gaming collection in his ComicBook.com article.)

“The only time you should really buy a system that’s not in favourable condition is if it’s cheap,” explains Workman.  Let’s say you spend $5 on a Sega Nomad. Even if it looks like it’s been through the wars, if you know how to clean it or can find someone who can clean it for fairly cheap, then it could be a good buy. And if it doesn’t work, you’re only out of pocket $5 (unless you can sell it on Ebay in as-is condition).

Workman also suggests resisting the temptation to fork out big dough for games. While the idea of owning a rare copy of Stadium Events for Nintendo may thrill you, the $2,600 USD typical ask price will take a real bite out of the budget. (For the 10 most expensive video games, check out Mental Floss’ list.) Instead, shop around at thrift stores or go online.

And Workman’s last tip? “Make sure you get a proper gaming space.”

Step #6: Maintain it! (protect your investment)

Technicians-fixing-broken-pinball-machine

If you want to keep your game room investment from dipping seriously into the red, you’ll need to pay attention to ongoing maintenance.

Remember that most of the retro games were originally built for commercial use, so it’s not unusual to find gummed-up insides — from years of spilled sodas — to names scratched on the outside, writes Lane. Quite often, when these games were no longer popular, they’d be stored away in dark, dank spots that exposed them to environmental wear and tear. “Even under the best of circumstances, the electronic components of early video games are decades old now, and after 40 years, circuit boards have often more than reached their life expectancy.”

Vintage arcade and video games require maintenance in order to continue looking good and working properly. As a result, Lane says every collector must “be prepared to fix stuff or pay someone a lot to do it for you.”

If you want to tackle the job yourself, you’d better be prepared. There is a stark warning on Homepinballrepair.com, “Pinball machines contain potentially lethal voltage.” The site goes on to explain that dangerous voltage can remain in the machine even after it’s unplugged. “If you are not qualified, you should not work on a pinball machine.”

For collectors who choose to heed this warning, you can start setting a repair budget based on rates charged by licensed plumbers — about $90 to $100 USD, just to walk through the door, plus any labour hours and cost of parts.

Of course, for the hundreds of DIYers, part of the joy of collecting retro pinballs and arcade games is the challenge of repairing and restoring the machines with your own hands. For these collectors, start by getting educated.

Exceptional sites for DIY pinball repair include:

For instructions on repairing arcade games, check out:

  • The beginners guide at Arcaderepairtips.com, which offers everything from tips on where to source parts, to how to open the cabinet box (which is the housing for the game itself)
  • or the guide at Arcaderestorations.com
  • For visual learners, try John’s Arcade series. John has more than 39,000 YouTube followers and offers practical tips, such as how to repair an arcade bought on Craigslist. Hint: He also tackles pinball restoration.
  • Another option is to review the Arcade Repair Tips series, where Tim Peterson walks you step-by-step through the process

Whether you do the work yourself or pay a technician, the key to maintaining a fully-restored machine is to consistently inspect the game for potential issues. Check that machines are plugged into grounded outlets and that cords aren’t frayed or cut. Visually inspect the machine’s components, including the decals on the side and front. The key is to address issues as they arise, rather than letting a problem get bigger (and more expensive to fix).

Collectors should also keep in mind that when it comes to repair and maintenance, pinball is in a league of its own. At its core, a pinball machine is all about the intricate pieces that make it ping, ding and sing. “It’s a 3-ounce steel ball, rubber, plastic and glass,” said Power. “You will have issues.” Keep an eye on these components and fix at the first sign of wear and tear and a well-maintained pinball machine will usually last between 40 and 50 years, said Power.

Step #7: Build your own machine

Build-your-own-arcade-games-retro-redemption-games
(Retro Built Games)

At this points, you are well on your way to creating the man cave, she-den or game room of your dreams, now it’s time to take your passion one step further and build your own machine.

There are plenty of tutorials and guides on the web that can help, but some of our favourites are:

…and you’re done!

Now, it’s a matter of updating and personalizing your space and finding the next fun collectible piece. Aside from space and budget, the only limit in your home game room is your own creativity.

with files from David Weisz

Romana King
Romana King

Romana is an award-winning personal finance writer with an expertise in real estate. She is obsessed with the property marketplace and is the current Director of Content at Zolo.