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  • Arcade Fire – The Man Who Makes His Own Machines

    Born in the UK and raised in South Africa, Lawrence Sheed moved to Shanghai in 1994 to set up an IT department for a successful clothing company. But he had a side project. A very cool side project. For Lawrence Sheed builds his own arcade machines.

    “I’ve always liked arcade machines,and around 2002 I thought, ‘Hey, why don’t I build one,’” he explains. Back then he imported all the parts as he couldn’t find anything locally. “So I built one, and friends would come round and go, ‘Holy shit! What the hell? Where did you get this?’ I would say that I’d made it and they would ask to buy one.”

    He sold half a dozen or so, mostly to bars and clubs, names of yore such as Judy’s, Pegasus and the Big Bamboo. You can still find one of his machines in Bubba’s BBQ on Hongqiao Lu.

    These days Sheed sources stuff in China. “The best place in the world is Taobao. I love Taobao. If you look carefully there are lots of places where you can buy old crap from Japan. Then we order the buttons from a factory in Guangzhou, the joysticks from somewhere else.”

    He shows us an original Neo-Geo cartridge. “These used to cost hundreds of dollars in the US originally. Now they’re RMB100 or so. You can buy ones with hundreds of games on them for a couple of hundred.”

    Sheed says his machines usually have 200-300 games on them, and customers can pick and choose the ones they want. We’re talking Metal Slug, Street Fighter, Pac- Man, Bubble Bobble, Asteroids and Defender. “You can basically run any games on them.”

    They can also customize the look of your machine. “For things like bars we’ll throw their logo on and make a graphic for them. For home clients we can make an original style Pac-Man or Space Invaders or whatever. And it’s not just that, it’s that plus hundreds of games.”

    So to the big question – how much do his machines cost? “We’re kind of bespoke,” explains Sheed. “I can get the big plastic things for about RMB1,500 on Taobao fully done. But mine are smaller and customized for home use – so table-sized – and we’re selling them for RMB4,500.”

    He says the only difficulty he has building them for himself is finishing the job. “The problem with making arcade machines is you get to a certain point where it works and it plays, and it’s like, ‘Do I need to spend the other two hours doing it up now I can turn it on and play the game?’”

    Don’t let that put you off ordering one though. “For the client stuff, it’s got to be done and out,” Sheed assures us.

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