I'm going to take you back ten years ago to 2006, when George Bush was the president and the big recession was still looming over the horizon. Gaming was still a niche back then, reserved mostly for children, as a hot christmas item. The Playstation 3 and Wii wouldn't arrive until later in the year, while music games like Guitar Hero were starting to catch on in a big way. Gaming was edging slowly into the mainstream, but at the same time, still somewhat suffering from the dotcom bust that had heavily impacted software from the early 2000s.

We'll also journey into 1996, 20 years ago, to remember what video game stores were like before GameStop took over the entire market and big box retailers juxing them out with deep discounts, making the experience very hard to find outside of comic book stores and the few that remain are mostly storefronts for their eBay stores, selling retro relics from ages gone, which is the only segment that the big chains haven't quite moved in on.


World of Warcraft was growing in a big way, and some could argue it helped grow the industry in big ways. In 2006, only 20 million game units were sold in America, compared to 2015 which produced 187 million units sold. Back then, the top games on the charts were Nintendogs, overtaking Final Fantasy 12 here in the USA. A very weird year for gaming, which was slowly transitoning from a niche culture into the mainstream, which the 10 and 12 year olds back then playing on their PS2s are now in their 20s, and gaming is very much part of their lives.

Back then, good indie games that could float to the surface were very notable when they did. For me, there was a game called Armadillo Run. I recently dug through old hard drives until I found my copy of it, dusted it off, and played through the campaign once again for the memories. Armadillo Run, which interestingly enough is still for sale, was in an age where you couldn't just get an indie game on Steam which back then was still a mostly Valve platform. The game combined two very unique genres, the Rube Goldberg Incredible Machine style get the object through a maze style contraption building mixed with the physics based bridge building mechanics. The idea is you get the lovely Armadillo basketball from the start and into the goal area, working with a limited budget and a few different tools to help complete the puzzle.

Today it has aged well. The puzzles are still difficult and nothing about the game would grow easier or harder over time. Playing it, it reminds me ever so much of my youth these days. Sitting around playing these games which were so novel at the time, so refreshing, and were very neat. While probably not worth $19.99 anymore, it's definitely something I remember and the mere fact I remember it makes it notable to me. While not the most popular game out there, having a total of 7 critic reviews pulling a perfect score from Eurogamer and an 82 from PC Gamer, back when 83 meant the game was very good. 


In a strip mall beside your favorite grocery store there existed the now defunct independant game store. Opening the doors, there was a glass case filled with the most popular games, all of the consoles, and of course the easily stolen handheld bits. When you entered, there was this strong scent of plastic and cardboard, as the walls were lined with cartridges from various systems, ranging from generally two generations back and up. The Nintendo 64 released this year, thus it was the demo station everywhere, while SNES, NES, and Genesis games were all the rage.

When you wanted to play a game, you often had to buy it used, as the prices for games were the same as they are now, except with inflation, they costed about $90 in today's money. Used games were often much less and the game store was the only place to get them used, outside of pawn shops, who didn't price by the games popularity, and often just sold all games at a flat price ($20 for SNES, $10 for NES, etc.). Roaming bands of video game players would move pawn shop to pawn shop, flipping through the games trying to find something of value to either resale.

During 1996, many mainstream game stores began what would become the eventual end of brick and mortar PC game sales, which finally ended I would guess in 2010. PC Games were often sold in stores like EBGames, with consoles being somewhat of an afterthought. The shift switched in 1996, during this era, which led to the eventual decline of PC games in brick and mortar stores in what I would declare would have been 2010.

Game stores were a place where you bled money, much like the video rental store. You could trade-in your entire collection of games and maybe get $20 off a new game title, $30 if you put your console in the loop. This "trade-in" continues, in the modern version of the game store which, while very similar to the days of 'ol, isn't anything at all like it because back then the game store and game magazines were the ONLY LITERAL WAY outside of word of mouth to find out how good a video game was.

Either one of your friends had to buy it, you had to rent it, trust the EGM/Nintendo Power/PCGamer/etc. The game store was an interesting place where they could actually pull a system out for you, pull out a game, and let you play it before you bought it. Likewise, they had the inside scope on what was and wasn't good, as the employees often had the bonus of being able to play and tryout the various games traded-in for store credit.

Buying video games at Toys R Us outside of a big sale was common, and you would take your little leaflet up to the register where they would scan it, and give you a receipt which you took to the cage in the front, where they would hand you your game. I remember that so well. Sometimes I go to big box stores to buy a game just so they'll have to unlock the glass screen and pull it out, reminding me of how it was back then.


Yeah, so um, Legend of Zelda came out. NES was really hot back then too and Final Fantasy wasn't Square's final fantasy, it would seem, but I was too young to know much of anything of this time, beyond we had an Atari still and that was fun.

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Last Updated: Mar 13, 2016

About The Author

Get in the bush with David "Xerin" Piner as he leverages his spectacular insanity to ask the serious questions such as is Master Yi and Illidan the same person? What's for dinner? What are ways to elevate your gaming experience? David's column, Respawn, is updated near daily with some of the coolest things you'll read online, while David tackles ways to improve the game experience across the board with various hype guides to cool games.