While you all know that I help run this website, very few know that my day job is actually managing a retro video game store. There’s something about going to work every morning and the very first thing you do is turn on a claw machine while blaring some arcade ambiance over the speakers in the wall to lighten you up for the long day ahead. With many out there wanting to know or not knowing what a retro video game store even is, along with a spotlight on stores like it in an upcoming documentary, I thought I would take the time to discuss what a retro video game store is and my experience helping run one, complete with a roller coaster of mental ups and downs.
So what exactly is a retro video game store and how does it differentiate itself from a major company like GameStop? For one, many of them pay 10% more for trade-ins than GameStop and will sell said item for 10% less. So while you can get a used game like Rage 2 for $54.99 at GameStop, our store sells it for $49.99 provided we have a copy of the game in stock. The other obvious one is that they sell both old school and new school video games. While you will see the latest and greatest video games for Xbox One and Playstation 4, you will also get a blast from the past seeing Playstation 2, Super Nintendo, Game Boy, and the occasional TurboGrafx-16 card laying around.
In 2012 it seemed that the retro craze started and since then games on the NES and SNES shot up in value overnight and even started to receive mainstream attention. With popular retro video game YouTubers such as Pat the NES Punk appearing on Pawn Stars and an appearance on Storage Wars with some extremely questionable values given to video games, many started to believe that all their old games were worth a fortune. While some games are worth more than a car payment, many are not. It also doesn’t help that when there is something worth money, counterfeits pop up on reselling sites like eBay and Amazon all the time. While collectors may care that their game is legit, there are still many casual gamers out there who don’t care that their copy of Pokemon Crystal is a bootleg as long as it plays the game and it only cost them $20 compared to an authentic one worth $55.
One problem that many who work at retro video game stores are facing is the transition to a new generation of consoles and therefore a new generation of customers. We’re experience a transitional period where the prices of NES and SNES games have reached their apex and are now slowly coming back down to sane prices, while at the same time games on the Playstation 2, Xbox, and GameCube are going up. However, it seems that many are coming in looking for a very select group of titles with no intention of picking up anything else. For me, it was both sad and refreshing to hear CUPodcast co-host Ian Ferguson say that he is experiencing customers coming in looking for the same 50-100 titles. It doesn’t help that the Playstation 2 has 1,850 games in its library counting region exclusives. So the odds of anyone going for a complete library are extremely limited compared to something like the NES or Sega Dreamcast.
One major thing that sets the store I manage from every other retro video game store out there that I have yet to touch on is that we are actually located inside of a mall instead of just some plaza on a random street corner. Because of this, a majority of our clientele are extremely casual. We’re talking about customers who come in asking us “When is your next shipment of Super Nintendos coming in” because they actually believe that Nintendo are still making brand new ones. You may laugh, but this is seriously a weekly occurrence for us. Customers come in looking just for the latest titles or just something with Mario in it. When I here people like Ian say that their customers are looking for 50-100 titles, ours is in the lower end of that number. If they have a Nintendo console of some kind and it doesn’t have Mario in it, they are not interested and are unlikely to even look for anything else. It actually makes me depressed because if you know me you know that I am a huge believer in archiving the history of video games and trying to introduce people to hidden gems on certain systems. Don’t get me wrong, the titles that people come in looking for on the Playstation 2 are definitely games I would recommend because they are good, but they are afraid to reach out of their comfort zone. People might come in looking for a Call of Duty game, but will not even look at another franchise like Brothers in Arms, Medal of Honor, or Conflict. We had a customer last week who refused to look at PS2 games on the wall and not in the case because “that’s where all the bad ones are.” If you look at the wall you will find games such as Tourist Trophy, Brothers in Arms, Street Hoops, and Devil May Cry.
Since nobody is really purchasing games (or not in the volume that would make our store profitable enough) we have had to start selling other things in the realm of geek culture such as statues, figurines, and Funko Pops. This has actually helped out a lot and has made me understand why GameStop decided to buy out companies like ThinkGeek and Jinx. I would even go as far to say that it was an extremely good decision on their part and is completely understandable from a business perspective. Funko Pops in particular now account for more than half of our total sales each month and has brought in new regulars who are prepared to throw down large amounts of money for entire sets and extremely rare Pops. While this has had a positive impact on the store, it has come with something that has made me depressed.
One reason I decided to start writing this today was because we were notified by one of our co-owners that we are slowly going to phase out some of our video game section in order to sell more collectables. The first to go will be NES, SNES, and all Sega games. It’s sad because we barely sell anything belonging to a Sega console, much less the consoles themselves. We very rarely get any Dreamcast titles and have probably bought and sold 10 Dreamcast games within the past year (not including those for my personal collection.) Super Nintendo is an odd place because lots of people got the nostalgia out of their system with the SNES Classic Edition, but we also very rarely get an actual Super Nintendo system in stock. We actually have 20 people on a waiting list just to get a hold of one and we can’t just transfer one from another store or even fix a broken one found on eBay because they have started asking for so much money there isn’t a profit to be made.
So what does the future hold for retro video games and the collecting scene? It’s honestly to early to tell. I do hold hope that at least some of those people who are starting to go back and buy their old consoles and games will eventually discover/re-discover the hidden gems that are on their respective systems. Online games and digital distribution may seem to be taking over the world, but there is still nothing like having a LAN party with you and your friends playing Halo 2 or Mario Kart 64.