We’ve looked at arcade conversions here on the blog previously. Put simply, this was a way for arcade operators to maximise their profits. When an arcade machine got to the end of its play life and stopped taking money, why buy a whole new cabinet, when a simple swap of the game’s PCB, controls and artwork would convert a game into something new?
This was common practice, albeit something of an underground activity by profit-wary arcade owners. Many conversions were badly done, leaving ugly cabinets in their wake, and a headache for collectors some 40 years later to sort out! But not all conversions were created equal…
Atari, the darlings of the coin-operated industry, were running the gauntlet between 1979 and 1982. Arcade cabinet sales had taken off, and with the release of several arcade titles during those years that sold in the tens of thousands, they realised that their business model was entirely based on operators buying new hardware when the shelf life of their games was up. Put simply, arcade cabinet conversions, hacks and speed up kits were not good news for the company’s bottom line.
But by 1983, they realised that this market had to be catered for. The industry was slowing down, and operators were much more cost conscious. With earnings on the decline, arcade owners were focused on profit maximisation – conversion kits were very much at the forefront of their minds, rather than splashing out on brand new hardware every time they wanted new playthings for their customers to get excited about and drop coins into.
Better to get a slice of that ever increasing pie, than none of it at all.
One game released in 1983, was Crystal Castles. It was a decent enough success for Atari, with the production of 4,880 upright and 500 cocktail cabinets. They sold for $2,095 and £1,895 respectively, before being heavily discounted just months after release – perhaps a sign of the ailing market at the time.
But interestingly, it was one of the first Atari games to be produced as a conversion kit, to be sold alongside the full upright release.
A few months later in 1984, clearly looking to squeeze every last drop out of the potential of Crystal Castles, and with some fanfare, Atari announced the kits in their Coin Connection newsletter, sent to operators and distributors across the USA:
ATARI INTRODUCES CRYSTAL CASTLES CONVERSION KITS
Bentley Bear is back! Now he’s gathering more gleaming new profits, adding new players to a wide base of older games……And he continues to deliver irresistable character appeal that keep players making swift tracks into both arcade and street locations! Each kit includes all the electronics, hardware, instruction manuals and graphic materials to completely convert your games.Atari Coin Connection newsletter Volume 8 #2 Spring 1984
The article goes on to say:
Order Crystal Castles kit #1 to convert an upright Missile Command. Order kit #2 to convert an upright Dig Dug, Kangaroo, Food Fight and Arabian. Watch for other Crystal Castles kits coming soon!Atari Coin Connection newsletter Volume 8 #2 Spring 1984
An interesting move for a company known for its success in selling new hardware. Operators looking to reduce sales overheads, would be given the opportunity to buy the PCB, control panel, harness and marquee at a fraction of the cost of a complete, new machine, and use these components to convert an older game.
Finding a surviving example of a Missile Command or other Atari game properly converted to a Crystal Castles is something of a rarity these days. I’ve never come across one in the flesh. But one recently turned up for sale and I thought it worthy to share the photos.
So what we have here is a Missile Command converted to Crystal Castles using the genuine kit purchased from Atari:
The currrent owner of this cabinet picked this up as part of a job lot purchase recently, and it’s something of a hidden gem I think.
Also provided with the kit would have been a complete manual with full instructions:
If you’re curious as to what the recommended steps to convert the Missile Command were, you can check out a scan of the manual here.
An interesting side note while we’re talking about the conversion package; knowing that most operators wouldn’t go through with the effort of replacing the side art (as was the case in the cabinet pictured above), Atari only gave an option to request side art after the purchase:
So there you go. A pretty interesting chapter in Atari Coin-op History, and another stamp in Atari’s timeline, showing how the industry was changing around this time.
Many thanks to collector Greg Roder for allowing me to share the pics of his cabinet here on the blog.
Thanks for reading!