Published on December 18th, 2011 | by Andrew1
Sticking to the Classics … and a Budget.
Upon crossing the threshold of gaming’s local safe haven, my gaze is immediately drawn upward. Above the shelves to my left, I find one of gaming history’s most iconic scenes blown up and cleverly recreated in all of its 8-bit glory. Scaling the two-dimensional ladders and platforms is a familiar red-clad plumber, taking seasoned gamers back to 1981, Mario’s debut appearance in Donkey Kong.
Turning my attention to the opposite wall, we jump ahead four years. Mario and Luigi traverse their blocky, 8-bit Mushroom Kingdom, just as they did in the first Super Mario Bros. on the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES).
Current and last-generation video games line the walls of the store, but inventory here is noticeably light.
No, sir, this is no GameStop.
Games 4 ‘U’ does its own thing. Located in Mission Viejo, California, Games 4 ‘U’ is known as the only local retailer that sells any video games or consoles older than the Nintendo Gamecube (2001), offering local gamers the oppotunity to both shop and reminisce without having to first consult eBay or Craig’s List.
The gems of Games 4 ‘U’ are found in its display cases. Atari 2600, 5200, and 7800 systems are prominently displayed behind the glass, many with their original boxes intact. A Virtual Boy is also spotted, as well as every Nintendo console since the NES.
Of course, the old Sega systems are represented too, including the Genesis, Sega CD, Sega Saturn, and the tragically short-lived Sega Dreamcast.
Old-school cartridges are archived behind the glass, while many classic games can also be browsed through in the bargain bin. The store’s inventory of NES, SNES, and Sega Genesis cartridges appear too numerable to count, and with prices starting as low as 99 cents, distinguished gamers of yesteryear are sure to find an affordable addition to their retro-gaming library.
“We live and breathe and play games,” says Ryan Moore, the 25-year-old owner. “We know what’s good,” he claims, priding himself on the knowledge and passion of his significantly small staff.
The trials of the economy make themselves known, however, on the multiple empty shelves devoted to current-generation titles. Furthermore, as a small-business owner, Moore is forced to cut back on payroll, often working 12-hour days on his own.
“It kind of weighs you down,” he says. With business dropping off a little, despite the store’s recent overhaul, Moore describes the routine as feeling “self-defeating.” Consumers have been forced to cut back on entertainment as it is, and to make matters worse, popular chain competitor GameStop has just opened up a store across the street.
With GameStop’s exclusive pre-order incentives and superior marketing capability, the future of the indie video game hangout looked grim. “We have been hit by the opening of that store,” Moore admits, “but not as significantly as I thought it was going to be.”
Fortunately for Games 4 ‘U,’ competitor GameStop has completely abandoned the old games – titles that have retained significant demand, especially for older gamers who enjoy the nostalgia of older, “obsolete” titles such as Goldeneye, Mortal Kombat II, or the original Star Fox. These nostalgic pieces of video game history account for over 65 percent of the store’s revenue, catering to the interests of children and adults alike.
“It’s the only place in Southern Orange County … where you can find any of the old video games,” Moore says. “Nintendo, Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, Atari even … basically anything related to classic gaming, you can find in this store … and we’re one of the only ones.”
Games 4 ‘U’ has also allowed customers from lower-income families to entertain their children for less. As opposed to buying a brand new Playstation 3 game for $60, customers without the newest technology are more than content to spend $3 to $20 on a used Playstation 2 or original Xbox title.
“We will always match the price of our competitors,” the owner says, “… but we also do things our competitor doesn’t do.”
In addition to specializing in retro video games, Games 4 ‘U’ offers several interesting services. For $5, they can re-surface your scratched game disc, a cost-efficient alternate to paying full price for a new disc. Likewise, customers have the option of bringing in damaged or malfunctioning consoles for repair. Although the costs of repair vary depending on the system and the diagnosed problem, it helps customers save money they might have spent buying a new console. Also, as modeled in one of the display cases, the store now offers custom paint jobs for the console of your choice.
Games 4 ‘U’ won’t push you to buy anything you don’t want or need either. If you find yourself on the fence about a particular title, you can try it out in the store. A large flat-screen television is found in front of the store with roughly 10 different consoles ready to boot up your prospective purchase.
Games 4 ‘U’ is far from throwing in the towel. As the gaming industry continues to evolve, however, Games 4 ‘U’ and GameStop alike must be prepared to adapt. With all current-generation platforms now connected to the Internet, certain games can be downloaded straight to the console’s hard drive without ever having to step foot inside a retail store.
Games 4 ‘U’ employee Robbie Sapunarich remains confident, though. “In long run,” he predicts, “I don’t see hard copies ever going out of style.” As a gamer himself, Robbie enjoys the luxury of being able to trade in his used games toward the more costly new releases. A downloaded game, in addition to taking up extra space on your console’s hard drive, could never be traded in toward a future purchase.
Fortunately for Games 4 ‘U,’ many of the store’s loyal patrons are older collectors – customers who enjoy actually having a physical game on their shelf to show for their purchase.
Long live hard copies.