As whole industries continue to be upended by the online commerce revolution, local brick-and-mortar video game shops are engaged in a life-or-death struggle for relevance.
“It is what it is. We just keep on chugging, and hope that we can survive another month,” said Patrick Everett, Game Cycle president. “Of course we are here to make money, but we still have a good time doing it, because we know our days are limited.”
Game Cycle, a vintage and modern video game buy, sell and trade business founded by Everett, is located at 1534 S. Main St. and will celebrate ten years in the community in January. But, as Everett tells it, the survival of Game Cycle was and continues to be a rocky road.
“The shop never was intended to be a video game store — it was originally intended to be a hobby store,” Everett said. “I had always liked trains and other hobby activities. I liked doing stuff like that, so this store started out as a hobby — it was only open 4 or 5 hours a day, 3 or 4 days a week. I had another job I was doing, and this was just sort of a blow-off. We had one display case that had video games in it.”
The store was founded in January 2009 as JW Collectibles, but soon shifted focus from hobbies to digital entertainment.
“This business has adapted multiple times over the years — we are constantly reinventing it,” Everett said. “2010 happened, the economy took a dip, and the collectables market sort of dried up. But it seemed like video games and DVDs were always a constant. So we slowly eliminated the collectable side of things and moved toward the games and movies. From there it just took off.”
At its height, Game Cycle was a twelve store chain with locations throughout Nebraska and Kansas. However, industry revolutions have steadily marginalized the brick-and-mortar entertainment industry, Everett said.
“We’re down to three stores now,” Everett said. “We think we’re finally at the turning point, where we can no longer adapt. Game stores have become irrelevant. They are a dying breed.”
Newer gaming consoles, which allow users to forgo purchasing physical copies of games by downloading them directly over the internet, have become the bane of game stores, Everett explained.
“It’s been the new consoles that really put the nail in the coffin,” Evertt said. “With the new consoles they have the technology and adaptability through the internet to provide DLC (downloadable content).”
Game Cycle reinvented itself again to cope with this change, instead focusing on accumulating an unmatched stock of vintage console games.
“What’s really kept us afloat has been all the nostalgia,” Everett said. “I was buying the old stuff when no one else was — sellers were coming from Lawrence and Kansas City with truckloads of vintage. We kept stacking it in our warehouse — I never thought it would become what it did. It was just I didn’t want to see it go to the trash. But then, the nostalgia push really drove the company due to the fact that we were and are the only ones with the stock that we have.”
Even with waves nostalgia prompting consumers to seek out the Nintendo cartridges and vector graphic-visuals from their childhood, Game Cycle still struggles to stay viable, Everett said.
“We’ve been able to adapt and change with the current, but now, we just can’t,” Everett said. “Now, games are going straight to the consumer — they are no longer going through us. It seems like people would rather point and click. You’re seeing it across all industries.”
Brett Roberttson, a 6-year employee of Game Cycle, predicts a hole will be left in communities by the demise of businesses like Game Cycle.
“What we do is almost like community outreach,” Roberttson said. “We have people bringing in games for money, and we get to see that money go back into the local economy, and it cycles around; rather than digital sales, where the money gets sucked up into the big companies.
There’s not very many stores, where you can still walk in and take a look around instead of getting on your phone and scrolling — there’s no personality to that.”
Despite the gloomy business outlook for the physical game industry, Everett is at peace with the narrative arc of Game Cycle.
“We’ve done our best to try and last as long as we have,” he said. “My goals have already been set and met, with this business. I’ve done something that nobody in my family has ever done. I’ve done something that hardly anyone in this community has done, by being a regional business that started with this one location.”
Everett feels a deep gratitude toward the community that has supported Game Cycle this long.
“I used to run the front counter, and when we first began, we heard so much of, “This game store is only going to be here a year, like everything else. When something good comes around that’s not corporate, it doesn’t last.’ We’ve lasted and it’s because of the community,” Everett said. “Everyone knows our name and who we are, and they’re the reason we are still here. Ottawa has been good to us.”
“We’ve outlasted. I’m not sure how much longer we’ll be here, but we did it.”