Gamers ‘press start’ in the video game industry

Small business owners and aspiring entrepreneurs struggle to compete in the massive world of the video game industry.

Story, timeline and slideshow by ALEX HARRINGTON

Trace the history of video games in this timeline.

Game Changerz’s appreciation of their craft and customers creates a unique experience for any who visit.

 

Video games often hold a special meaning to their players. They transport the player to a world with a kind of power that no book or movie can emulate.

This power has influenced and inspired people who enjoy these games. But sometimes, just playing games as a hobby isn’t enough for these devoted fans. Gamers have started to take their beloved medium to the next level by breaking through to start a small business in the video game industry.

One of the more ambitious options is to dive into the retail aspect of the video game industry, something Michael Morrissey, branch manager of the small business Game Changerz, knows plenty about.

Game Changerz, located on the corner of 3300 South and State Street, is often in direct competition with enormous companies like GameStop. Despite this intimidating match-up, its unique connections with the gaming community give it more than a fighting chance against other retail Goliaths.

Morrissey recalled several events that his company has sponsored for fans. These included several Smash Brothers tournaments conventions like “Anime Banzai,” an event similar to the popular Comic Con but with an emphasis on Japanese culture. Game Changerz’s support of these events not only adds to the fun experiences that come from them, but brings the company recognition apart from other stores like it.

This isn’t the only way this small business distinguishes itself. Game Changerz is packed to the brim with old-school classics, including games for the Sega Genesis, Super Nintendo and PlayStation 2. These games are not sold in most large retail stores, as these companies usually limit their wares to games that are only for newer consoles like the PlayStation 4 or Xbox One.

Morrissey said the older, classic stock is another reason that gamers keep returning to Game Changerz. “People want to relive their childhood,” he said. Older audiences who grew up with systems as early as the Nintendo Entertainment System are often out of luck when looking for games they remember from their youth. Game Changerz provides these games, plus a healthy dose of nostalgia that many gamers crave.

However, in an industry where awareness is everything, Morrissey talked about how difficult it is to compete with companies like GameStop that are much more widely known than small businesses like Game Changerz. “People don’t know about (video game-related small businesses),” Morrissey said.

Game Changerz’s business goal is to raise awareness for small retail stores like it and its best bet to do so is by creating a positive experience for customers. The sponsors and customer service encourage not just the purchase of games, but the enjoyment of the gaming experience as well.

Game Changerz’s unique appreciation of customers helps it to survive in the face of stiff competition. Without this business approach, Game Changerz would not stand out amid the crowd of competitors. Living in the shadow of huge businesses can make starting and maintaining a small video game business extremely difficult.

Riley Porter, an avid gamer and frequent customer at Game Changerz, talked about how small businesses add to the video game industry. “Gaming is a big corporate thing,” he said. He applauded small businesses like Game Changerz for intertwining old and new elements of video games, adding to the video game community.

But the difficult struggle to keep from sinking under the crushing weight of large competition isn’t possible for everyone. Whether it’s from a lack of resources or connections, not everyone is equipped to start a small business, especially when facing up against big-name corporations. But, that doesn’t mean it’s the end of the road for hopeful, business-minded gamers.

With the recent growth of technology, new opportunities are appearing for this community. For those who don’t have the resources to start a company from the ground up, new websites have thrown wide open the doors of the video game industry to everyone.

Websites like Twitch.tv and YouTube allow ordinary people to create a living for themselves in the video game industry, becoming gaming entrepreneurs.

For Steve Mossman, who was weaned on video games from just a tot, this has been his dream for many years. From his home in Sandy, Utah, he has created and uploaded several gaming videos to YouTube, under the screen name “TheAnonymousRaccoon.” He often does playthroughs, which are videos of a person playing all the way through a video game, of games like “Streets of Rage 2,” “Zero the Kamikaze Squirrel” and “Mega Man 3.”

Mossman fondly remembered his gaming childhood during an interview. Games like “Castlevania: Bloodlines” for the Sega Genesis and “Super Mario Bros. 3” for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) filled his waking hours as a child. He retains as deep a passion for video games today, hoping that his videos will elevate him to the status of the gamers who have made gaming into a career.

Mossman pointed to some of his favorite YouTube personalities, people like Markiplier, PewDiePie and JonTron, as models for his own YouTube channel. All of them actually can make a living just playing and talking about video games.

These people may not have built a small business like Game Changerz. But with little more than their charm and a whole lot of traffic on their channels, they became entrepreneurs who took the pastime of many and elevated it to a legitimate money-making operation.

“It gets bland (without popular YouTube personalities),” Mossman said. “[Your average gamer] ends up being some 13-year-old on Xbox Live with a mic calling you the ‘n-word.’”

He talked about how his favorite YouTube personalities create not only an entertaining experience for their viewers, but also add personality and excitement to the gaming community. “[People like] PewDiePie are charming,” he said. “(They) make you think, ‘I want to watch more.’”

Riley Porter agreed with Mossman’s take on the power of these websites. He talked about his experiences with Twitch.tv and what additional opportunities it provides to gamers. He established a Twitch presence, going by the screenname “lolpikapika” and doing live streams of games like “The Evil Within” and “Destiny.” For fellow gamers like him, “It (Twitch) creates a better foothold in the community,” Porter said.

Gamers today can use little more than their personalities and their Internet connections to almost instantly garner fame in the gaming community. But just because the possibility is there, it doesn’t mean it always pans out.

In regards to becoming popular on Twitch, “(There is) a long buildup, you’ve gotta keep at it,” Porter said.

Mossman experienced much of the same in his struggles to become known on YouTube. “You can’t go anywhere without the right equipment,” he said.

The problem of awareness hits these hopeful entrepreneurs just as hard as small businesses. With the virtual world being so populated, with hundreds of thousands of people trying to gain recognition or success, virtual entrepreneurs have to do more and more to stand out from the crowd.

Though there still are certainly obstacles for gamers looking to make a career for themselves in the video game community. These obstacles take many shapes and sizes, whether it’s fighting for recognition in a market crowded with retail giants, or on the Internet where thousands of others are trying to do the same.

Whatever the medium, retail or in the online gaming community, stories of success that embolden and encourage gamers are everywhere.