Jun 28

Interview with David Kaelin of Game Over Videogames

I visited Game Over Videogames in Austin, TX yesterday and spoke with CEO David Kaelin about the retro-inspired gaming store. Turns out this is one of five locations in Texas that buy and sell yesterday’s video games. Thing is, they don’t just have a bin somewhere for stuff people don’t want. They have an entire dedicated to what many of us grew up with. Whether you or someone you know lives in the Lone Star State, you as a gamer would most certainly enjoy these nostalgia-inducing locations.

Travis Blair: OK So I’m here with David and I’m going to just try to learn a little bit about your business here because ive been a fan of gaming all growing up my entire life and it seems like you’re a big fan as well so id like to ask you a little bit about yourself and the business to start and just get the feel of what this place is all about.

David Kaelin: I grew up with video games also you know i had an atari as a kid in the early 80’s, probably right around 1980, actually. and I just was a gamer my whole life. always kind of a casual gamer, but I played every system that came out wide variety of games, and I think over time i always sold a system to get the new system – I never really had a lot the games were expensive, and times were tight back then. It’s always hard to beg your parents to buy you anything versus when you’re an adult and you can buy it yourself. But yeah it goes to a point where I would sell a system to get a new one and I don’t know as an adult I just got to a point where I wanted to play the old games again. And it was a time when a lot of the video game stores out there were getting rid of them. Classic gaming and game collecting weren’t a big deal in face the stores were doing the opposite – they were doing everything they could to get rid of old games. And I got back into them and it was kind of an uphill battle to find games and throughout the time I was with retail, at EB games, one of those big stores in the mall and got to a point in my life, post college and everything, I wanted to start a business and I thought well thing I want to was start a game store but I didn’t want to the same thing the other guys were doing where they minimize the old stuff, I would minimize the new stuff, and I would have primarily old things. So I opened this store seven years ago and it was definitely primarily a retro focus and we have all the cartridges Atari, Nintendo, Genesis, 64, and not only the games and systems themselves, but we clean and test them so we tell them in really good condition. So even if you could find them at that time you know its always hard to get them in good shape.

Travis: Yeah, there’s probably a reason it was sold.

David: You get them at a Good Will or something and the wires are all ragged and frayed, there’s Coke stains on them, and you think, I don’t know if this thing works, I don’t feel safe buying it’, but yeah we sell in a nice clean environment, we have well-organized stores, well staffed, and it just started simply wanting to do something different and now over time game collecting has grown, retro gaming has grown, and we’ve just grown along with it, basically.

Travis: So, why the name?

David: Why the name, Game Over? It’s obviously not something I own, it’s a common phrase, but I think it really encapsulates what we do, because we specialize in stuff that’s already been played. So the game was over, but by essentially recycling them – trading in, selling your games, someone else can come in and by them – it’s recycling of sorts so you can game over and over.

Travis: I like that!

David: There’s a couple of hidden meanings, but yeah just as a phrase by itself, it means gaming.

Travis: No matter what generation of gaming, they’re going to recognize that.

David: Yeah, exactly.

Travis: Speaking about gamers, whether it be older gamers, new gamers, who do you typically see come in to the store?

David: We see quite a mix. We see kids coming in, and we also see people that are parents, even grandparents, looking for the old games they had as a kid. But, the average age of a gamer is north of 30 now, so it’s a lot less kids than people think. It’s mostly adults that buy games now, adults that play games, and some of them like the latest, greatest, high-end type stuff, and some of them want the classic, retro style from when they were a kid. And so, the market’s kind of split in that way, but we obviously capitalize on the retro side of it. But we see quite a mix – I mean, it’s amazing, in the same day we’ll have kids, college age, adults, adults with kids, and then some parent or grandparent, that’s looking, literally for themselves. They come here because the other stores don’t have the games they’re looking for, the kind of old, retro style.

Travis: That’s good, so you might have people looking back at what they used to play, or someone younger, that to them, this is new. And that’s something else, because what is old to us, is new to the younger generations. So it’s a new experience, and also a teaching experience from the older gamer to the younger, I’m guessing parents come show their kids.

David: Yep, they come school their kids in our tournaments.

Travis: See, this is what it was like when I was your age! So, what is a hot ticket item, or something people usually call about, because I know you said people can also look at your website.

David: We have five retail stores right now; we’re in the process of opening two more in the next couple of months, to be seven. We have an online store that we sell, and do trade-ins, nationwide now. But we’re still primarily in Texas.

Travis: So throughout Texas, OK.

David: Yeah, Austin, Houston, San Antonio areas.

Travis: So throughout these stores, is there something that people usually request, be it be online or in person?

David: It’s a pretty wide mix.

Travis: Yeah I’m sure, I mean there’s such a diversity here.

David: We have people come in and just buy or sell PlayStation 3 game. But then you’ll have someone come in to buy or sell Atari games, and everything in between. Nintendo, Super Nintendo. Probably the biggest sellers here, is the stuff that’s kind of in the middle. The Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64 eras. Stuff that’s older than that has a narrower interest, and stuff that’s newer than that has a narrower interest, mostly because everybody has that. Gamestop, Best Buy, you know, 7-11 sells games. It’s not hard to find that kind of stuff. But yeah, that stuff in the middle, we do a lot of the old classic Nintendo and Sega systems.

Travis: I know I decided when I was going to come back speak with you, that I would get a Nintendo light gun, that I remember having from the Nintendo Entertainment System, and not to play it so much, but to put it up in my office.

David: Yeah, that’s how we do it here, we’ve got a lot of old stuff on the walls here in the museum just for that purpose, to show what it was like, before Move and Kinect, when you had to have an accessory for everything. They had guns, they had packs, power pads, all that kind of stuff up in the museum. A lot of cool accessories came out over the years. The old guns don’t work on the new TVs, though.

Travis: Yeah, they need the old kind.

David: You gotta have a tube TV.

Travis: Tell me a little bit more about the museum. I know you just spoke about it some. It’s a great feature, and I plan on showing people some pictures. What are some highlights that you enjoy the most, systems you liked playing?

David: Well, I love the museum aspect of our store, just the fact that the store, what we sell, it’s kind of like a museum. But some of the stores, this store in Austin, our San Antonio store and in Houston, they each have an area in the back where nothing is for sale, it’s just one of everything on display. And unlike most other game stores, it’s a place where you just see the history, like a little museum. There currently is no video game museum in the country right now, there’s groups that are working to make one, but it’s just kind of a hodge-podge of a little here, a little there. So we’re doing what we can to preserve some of that history. We have set up over here some of the different consoles from the beginning of the 70’s, up through the late 70’s – early 80’s, 90’s, handhelds, Everything that we can get our hands on, we place one of each in our museums for everyone to see.

Travis: Not only that, but you have the notes, the little descriptions.

David: Yeah, we have cards in there with when it came out, how much it was. It’s always fun for me, because the most interesting fact is if you look at the cards for them you’ll see that most of these systems came out at around $250 – $300, in the US, at that time. The value of $300 has gone down over the years, so what’s $300 now, like a 360 or PS3, to spend $300 in 1985 is a lot of money. That was like, mini paychecks, that start to add up.

Travis: Oh yeah, I look at some of these systems, and I’d trade in these systems as a kid, save up money to buy the next system that you have here in the museum.

David: That’s what I would do. There weren’t many people in those days that had multiple systems or tons of games for each system because they were all expensive. Now some people can do that. But you look back then, it was a lot of money, and people just didn’t spend it on video games back then.

Travis: And you do say you have museums in each store.

David: In some of them, yeah. This one in Austin, the one in Houston, the one in San Antonio; we try to get one in each city. We try to showcase in each town, something either of historical nature that we have in that town, or at the very least one of each system.

Travis: So if anyone goes to one of those cities, they should go to one of these stores.

David: Yeah, go check them out, they are really fun to see, and we also have arcade machines in the back set on free play so you can play some of the old arcade games. And each store does events every month, too. We do tournaments, we have concerts, like chip tunes music performances, we have guest speakers, we have art shows. We have an art show this weekend at the Classic Game Fest.

Travis: I saw some of the artwork here on the wall.

David: Yeah, we sell cool gamer consignment art. There’s a lot of crafty people out there that make cool, retro gaming-inspired artwork – keychains, T-shirts, posters, things like that. We sell a lot on consignment. It gives the local community a place to sell their work; it gives gamers a chance to buy more unique, one-of-a-kind type items, it’s important to the local artists.

Travis: Well I do like one thing about this store that isn’t so readily apparent, that you have a retro feel but a modern take. You have artwork, you have contests, you have museums highlighting, so people can come in and it feels like it’s alive. Even though to some it might feel dated, it’s the roots of our interests, and it is being kept alive and current in these stores.

David: Yeah, and the way we present it is different, too. Most of the independent stores are gone these days. They either left, or a lot of times not real pleasant places to visit. They’re dark, they’re dirty, they’re in really bad parts of town, and you never really know how much things are, because they don’t price anything, they don’t clean, they don’t warranty items. And so, our take on it is we do a first-rate operation in terms of cleaning, organizing, and selling the merchandise. The stores are nice, well-lit, in a shopping center, and it’s not in a weird part of town. But we definitely celebrate it in a way that a lot of other people don’t, where it’s not just a couple of different cartridges in some dingy little case in the corner. Here in the store, you can feel the nostalgia just by walking around.

Travis: Yeah, it’s definitely a place where I’d enjoy, I’ve already done it and plan on doing it again, just walking around and remembering what I see, and remember why I like gaming in general. So thanks a lot for giving me a history of the place, and spending the time to talk with me.

David: Thank you for coming in, I appreciate it.

Major events like E3 may keep us informed about the newest games and innovations, but small business Game Over Videogames reminds many of us what got us interested in gaming – by showing off the history of our cherished entertainment in a way that feels alive.