The tough underground network that brought Japanese arcades to America

By around 2016, the arcade import scene in the U.S. was professionalizing—or, more accurately, de-amateurizing. Networking with Japanese distributors, coordinating the task of shipping containers and repairing broken cabinets, combined with a surge in demand from Japan-obsessed gamers, has created room for a similar industry. A man named David Rocovits, aka Cereth, aka Kenchan, works on the west coast of Reno, Nevada. Another group works in the east. And then there’s this guy, Koun, who covers everywhere, if anything. “He sells junk, everyone knows it,” Rokowitz said after a particularly brutal diatribe. The source said he may have sent the wrong machine and asked the recipient to sell it themselves. He will send the correct one right after, no problem, even pay for shipping. (Koun declined multiple requests for comment. However, I should point out that I did receive mueca cabinet. )

Meanwhile, Arlington just wants to set aside enough money to chase his Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles dreams. In 2017, he took a break from his job as a librarian and was “developing apps,” he said, delivering food, goods and more.After finally saving $10,000, he bought his first cabinet: a pump up(When asked who it came from, Arlington simply said “I should have said ‘distributor.’ We’ll keep it the same.” He said the retail price was $15,000). Living in his “bachelor nun’s garage”, Arlington became obsessed with tinkering with Japanese arcade machines, buying them on Craigslist, repairing them, flipping them, sometimes accidentally setting them on fire, and then carefully throwing them on the road side. Soon he was amassing a collection, some of which he bought from Rocovits. The two met at MAGWest, a music and gaming convention that paid Arlington $2,000 to drag out of his private zoo. Rocovits convinced him to break free from the gig economy and start a business with him.

Since then, Arlington has helped Rocovits unpack and move inventory of Ford pickups. By 2019, Rocovits was importing a 40-foot container every two to three months from a dealer in Kobe, Osaka or Tokyo, each filled with up to 45 cabinets. One container cost him $3,500 for shipping and $40,000 for the machine. By 2020, add three to four containers per month. Last year, Rocovits estimated that he brought in more than 1,000 machines worth more than $1.5 million. “It’s tiring.” A global supply chain crisis hit as demand increased. Now, his port-to-port cost to ship a container from Japan is $13,000. Rocovits said some of his people in Japan wouldn’t even send him a container or give him an offer because it could be over $25,000.

“Yeah, I mean, I think if you compare it to other industries, it’s not great,” Rocovits said.

With a sort of Indiana Jones swagger, Rocovits filmed himself crawling over the piles of machines as the containers were shipped from Long Beach to Reno. His company name GameSaru comes from this tradition: “Saru” means “monkey” in Japanese.Walking through dozens of plastic-wrapped cabinets to the back, his shoes make a sticky sound Yu-Gi-Oh Duel Terminal arrive, get Astro City and a pair Jubeats– Probably for private residences or underground arcades. Unclaimed ones might end up in Facebook Marketplace posts, or in desperate Twitter users like me.

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