When it comes to obscure arcade machines, you can't get much more obscure than the DECO Cassette System.  Launched in 1980, the DECO (Data East COrportaion) Cassette System was intended to be a low cost answer to the problem of arcade game turnover.  For years arcade owners complained that arcade machines were expensive and a pain to replace when the game became unpopular.  To solve this problem, Data East came up with in innovative solution.  Instead of having to replace large expensive game boards (or whole cabinets), arcade owners would only have to pop in a new cassette to change the game.  That's right, a complete interchangeable game system almost 10 years before SNK would unveil the MVS system.

The way the DCS worked was simple.  Arcade owners would buy the base DCS cabinet, which looked like any other generic arcade cabinet except that inside were three boards (power/cpu, sound/video, and a cassette interface).  When the arcade owner wanted to load a game, he would insert a tiny cassette (about the size of an answering machine tape) into cassette drive and attach the proper security dongle.  The security dongle was nothing more than a primitive form of anti-piracy protection that prevented unscrupulous arcade owners from copying the game tapes.  Once everything was hooked up, the machine was turned on and 2 to 3 minutes later the game was loaded and ready to be played.

Sounds great right?  Unfortunately there were a few kinks in the system.  The first problem was that the tape medium didn't prove to be nearly as robust as Data East had hoped, and the cassettes had a bad habit of failing to load after only a few months (the EPROMs in the security dongles also went bad after a time).  Problem two was that most of the games released for the system were 'second tier' at best, and failed to attract the large crowds Data East promised.  Finally adding insult to injury, was the fact that the few games that did prove to be popular were also released in dedicated cabinets, giving arcade owners even less of a reason to buy the DCS.  In the end Data East pulled the plug on the DCS in 1985, leaving behind a modest but rather unimpressive library of games.  It should be pointed out that the DCS proved to be much more popular in Japan where many more games were released.

Although in the end the DECO Cassette System proved to be nothing more than a minor and obscure footnote in arcade history, the large library of oddball games makes it ideal for arcade collectors who want to try something out of the mainstream.  Unfortunately for all those would be DECO collectors, the fragile nature of the cassette tape medium and relative obscurity of the system makes tracking down working games nearly impossible.  Even when one is lucky enough to find a cassette tape it is almost always missing its security dongle or is in a non-working state.  However for those of us who like a challenge, the DECO Cassette System can prove to be a most enjoyable system to collect for.