Richardson Retro Arcade Offers Original Gaming Experience
Corey Hyden, co-owner and president of Free Play Arcade, bought his first retro arcade game when he was a young professional working in downtown Dallas as a litigation associate. Corey says he was looking for a way to blow off steam from his stressful job and found the answer in arcade games.
“I found one on Craigslist and bought it,” Corey said. “It was a terrible game called Devastators, but it was really fun to have at my house. My friends would come over and have parties at our house, and playing Devastators was all anyone wanted to do.”
Corey began buying other arcade games, and within a month or two he had bought six or seven more. According to him, it was like a weird addiction that he couldn’t stop.
“I started learning about where they came from, what’s original, what’s not original,” he said. “I started learning about all of it and just kept buying. I would buy warehouse facilities and fill them with games.”
When Corey’s brother-in-law suggested that he turn this obsession into a businesses and open an arcade, the two decided to join forces and create Free Play Arcade.
It took the pair seven months to get their new business off the ground. According to Corey, Richardson has strict zoning laws for arcades. The team had to re-zone their entire location, a previous dry-cleaner store in a strip shopping center, to get a permit for Free Play Arcade.
After conquering zoning law difficulties, the retro arcade celebrated its grand opening on Dec. 6, 2015. Corey says that their first day, a Saturday, was packed with people — and every Friday and Saturday night has been pretty packed since.
“We want to bring young professionals to Richardson, and so far that has worked perfectly,” he said. “The vast majority of our clientele, especially on those Friday and Saturday nights, are young professionals traveling from all over — Uptown, Deep Ellum — to come to Richardson to play arcade games.”
Free Play Arcade has nearly 80 games available to play, including Ms. Pacman, Donkey Kong and Street Fighter Two. The oldest game on the floor is Space Invaders from 1977, and the newest is from the mid-’90s. There is a $10 entry fee, and all of the games are set to free play mode, meaning customers can play them as many times as they want.
Most games at Free Play Arcade, Corey says, are ones that everyone will remember seeing before; however, they also specialize in bringing in the more obscure games, like King and Balloon.
“There are only seven known working versions of King and Balloon, and we have it on the floor of the arcade,” he said. “That’s what really motivated us to get this going: give everyone the classics they love, but also give them the chance to play some games they’d never really played before. If it’s super high-dollar, super collectible, doesn’t matter. We put it on the floor so that people can enjoy it again.”
The arcade also offers snacks, like pressed sandwiches and flatbreads, and a bar that features a large range of craft beers (including local choices) and a unique rotating tap system. Their rotating tap allows them to offer four different new beers on tap each week, so there’s always something new to sample.
All of the games at Free Play Arcade are running on original hardware, on an original monitor, in their original cap. The arcade has on-site techs to fix any problems that may arise with the older original systems. Corey says that keeping the games original and running smoothly is important in order to give customers the best gaming experience.
“The original joysticks and hardware that these games operate on are the way that the designer wanted it to be played,” Corey said. “If you stay true to the original, you’re giving people the chance to experience what made the game so popular in the first place. Anything less is detracting from how the game could be.”
According to Corey, new PlayStation 4 and Xbox downloads of old arcade games detract from the overall gaming experience in this way. At Free Play Arcade people get the opportunity to experience each arcade game’s different control scheme and original design, which Corey says is a completely different experience than playing a download of the arcade game at home.
“[Playing at home] really does a disservice to the games because people think ‘They must not be as good as I remember,’ and it’s not true, it’s just that you’re not playing the real thing,” Corey said. “When you play the real thing, there’s a connection between your mind, and the game and your hand. It’s a full immersive experience that’s one-of-a-kind, and so far, people have loved it.”