By Charles Erickson
For the Chief Herald
Forty-three years ago, when David Warren was 7 years old, the United States was booming in video games. People lined up to insert their quarters into Space Invaders and other games in arcades, and many children begged their parents for game consoles that could be hooked up to home televisions.
“I wanted an Atari so badly when I was a kid,” Warren recalled recently. “I never had one, though.”
An Atari was not available in the Warren household, but a few years later young David received a few different Coleco tabletop games. They looked like miniaturized versions of popular coin-operated arcade games.
“I used to play them all the time,” Warren said with a smile. “I would bring them to school and take them for the rest of the year.”
Seven years ago, when Warren was 43, he opened The Game Guys in rented space at 12 N. Market St. He buys, sells and trades video games, including those old Atari consoles he’s been craving when he was a child and the Coleco table tops that still remind him of his youth.
“The pandemic has actually increased my activity,” Warren said. “I mean, everyone had to stay home. They needed something to do.
FROM VERY OLD TO LITTLE USED
Video game technology has changed at regular intervals since 1979. Manufacturers introduced more advanced systems that allowed games to look better and provide more complex gameplay. Other manufacturers have entered and left the industry.
As a result, stores like The Game Guys contain sections dedicated to different game systems. There is hardware and software inventory for the different generations of PlayStation, manufactured by SONY Corp., Microsoft Corp.’s Xbox brand, and the Wii and other consoles made by Nintendo Corp.
“So we do a little of this and a little of that and everything,” Warren said.
Cartridges and consoles for the first Atari system, known as the 2600, take up a small section of Warren’s shop. Recent inventory included genuine Atari cartridges, as well as those made by Imagic and US Games for use in the Atari 2600. Two had copyrights dating back to 1982. Another was from 1978.
Warren also had a few Coleco tabletop games for sale, including Galaxian and Ms. PAC-MAN.
“My clients run the gamut, from little kids to people my age who still like to play old school,” he said.
The Game Guys was founded by Warren over a decade ago as a buyer and seller of games at area flea markets and online merchants. Physical presence arrived in 2015, and e-commerce now represents a tiny fraction of the company’s revenue. Warren said he sometimes sources inventory from online merchants, but most of his business goes through the door.
“Prices are really high online,” Warren said, “so I tend to steer clear of that.”
HOW IT’S MADE
Nicholas Yesse, 21, walked into the store late on a Wednesday afternoon, about 15 minutes before closing time. His girlfriend accompanied him.
“How are you? I have a bunch of games,” Yesse said as she placed a small cardboard box on one of the counters. Inside were seven game cartridges, two controllers and a Wii console, the everything neatly packaged.
Warren asked if Yesse wanted cash or store credit. Yesse said he would take the money.
“I played them for many years,” Yesse explained. He had driven from his home in Glen. “And I beat them many times.”
As Warren entered the titles into the store’s POS system, Yesse and his girlfriend looked around the premises. They said they had visited on other occasions. They pointed to the stenciled images of a legendary video game that Warren had painted on the black floor.
“This store is awesome,” Yesse said. “There’s PAC-MAN on the floor. There are hundreds of games everywhere.
Warren offered $78 for donated software and hardware. The customer readily accepted the money and said it was double what he had been offered in a store in Amsterdam.
“That’s what I do,” Warren said after the two left. “I usually take 95% of the things that come up.”
The computer Warren used to enter items purchased from Yesse showed what was in the store’s inventory. When he has several copies in stock, he offers a little less to sellers to buy duplicates of titles already on the shelf.
Some customers prefer to receive store credit rather than cash for their items, and others will trade games or consoles for other merchandise. Warren can’t pay his rent and other overhead through trading, of course, and has to sell inventory to make a living. The Game Guys are his only source of income. It considers trading as an important part of the operation.
“Trading helps my collection grow, so there’s always something new here for people to find,” Warren said.
SPECIALTY GAMES AND MOVIES
At the back of the store, in front of a wall painted by hand with representations of beams, ladders, barrels and characters from the Donkey Kong video game, Warren had displayed five games made by Arcade seller 1UP. Monitors from NBA JAM, Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and the rest had the same graphics as arcade games from decades ago. Their controls replicated those of the coin-operated versions, but their cabinets were built to a scale of about half the normal size.
Warren said the machines were perfect for people who wanted to add an arcade-like feel to a room without having to move one of the large, bulky coin units up a flight of stairs.
“They cost $300 to $400, depending on the model,” Warren said.
Near the arcade emulators was a wall of Blu-ray and DVD discs. Warren said movies were a small segment of sales, but he still sold enough to deserve to keep an entertainment section in the store.
But games have always been at the center of the store. Warren said game sales have been down only slightly since the boom days of 2020 and the early weeks of the pandemic.
A few minutes after the official closing time, the phone rang. Warren responded by greeting a visitor. He then listened and asked the most important question for a game purchase.
“Do you want cash or do you want store credit?” he said.