.GAMES Domain: Renting joy, one game at a time

Peter Riemenschneider, proprietor of Rent My Arcade (www.rentmyarcade.games) discusses the joys of sharing his passion for arcade games in this week’s My Side of the Dot™.

Where are you based?
Rent My Arcade is based in St. Paul, MN. We rent full-size classic arcade games to homes and business in the Minneapolis/St. Paul metro area. We try to limit our deliveries to locations no more than 45 minutes away from our workshop, but on occasion we get rental requests from outside of our delivery area. We’ve received requests from South Dakota (a four-hour drive), Ohio (11.5 hours), Kentucky (12.5 hours), and even from Auckland, New Zealand (18.5 hours by plane). We’re thrilled to hear from arcade fans, wherever they are, but we’re looking to build our customer base a little closer to home.
How and when did Rent My Arcade get started?
Rent My Arcade grew out of my love for arcade games—not just playing them, but restoring, preserving, and sharing these 30-plus year-old pieces of history.

Like most kids who grew up in the ’80s, arcades were a big part of my childhood. They were everywhere—not just places like Showbiz Pizza Place and Chuck E. Cheese’s, but in corner grocery stores, gas stations, and, of course, the local mall, and I played them all.

In college, I met a guy who collected arcade machines. Other than Ricky Schroder on Silver Spoons, I didn’t know anyone who owned an arcade. He had three cabinets, a handful of control panels (with various joystick and button combinations) and a bedroom of his house covered from wall to wall with dozens of arcade game printed circuit boards (PCBs). He showed how to swap PCBs, and control panels into these generic cabinets and play almost any game. I’d never seen anything like it.

That experience really stuck with me, and years later, shortly after buying my own home, I bought my first arcade game. It was in rough shape and I worked on restoring it to its original condition. It was fun learning how these old games worked. I also discovered an amazing online community of arcade restoration hobbyists—electronics gurus, graphic designers, woodworkers, printers, and more, who all loved sharing their skills with each other.

Within a few years my collection grew to a dozen machines and I started bringing them to neighborhood block parties and events. It was a blast to watch other people play my games. The kids loved them, of course, but it was fun to watch how excited the adults got when they played their favorite games. They’d always talk animatedly about how much these games meant to them and would reminisce about their favorite hangouts and all the games they played.

In 2013, my wife suggested that I figure out a way to rent my growing collection games. We had a few rental properties, so renting arcades wasn’t much different. In 2014, we began Rent My Arcade with a website and eight fully restored games and have steadily increased our rental inventory over the last few years.

How does Rent My Arcade work?
For $75 per month, customers can select any of our available games and keep them as long as they want. When they get tired of a game, they can exchange it for another one or cancel their subscription at any time. We offer free delivery and pick up in the Twin Cities metro area.

Earlier in 2016, after numerous requests, we began offering short-term special event rentals for weddings, birthdays, office parties, bar mitzvahs, etc. We charge a flat $150 per machine per event. Customers can keep the games for a day or two or even a week for the same price.

How many games do you have, and where do you acquire them?
We currently have about 30 machines in our rental inventory, two dozen or so in various stages of restoration, and another dozen in my personal collection.

Most of the games were purchased locally through Craigslist, although I’m not afraid to travel for a great game or a great deal. I’ve been to lake cabins in Northern Minnesota, abandoned motels in Wisconsin Dells, have made road trips as far as Little Rock, AK (a 28-hour round trip), and quite a few places in between.

I’ve been fortunate to go on a few warehouse raids—digging through the collections of old arcade and amusement machine operators, who have stored vast numbers of games and parts in large warehouses for decades. Talk about history!

Do you have a favorite game?
My favorite game is probably my first—the Nintendo Playchoice-10. It is an arcade cabinet that contained up to 10 classic NES games. Players would insert quarters to buy time on the machine, rather than lives and they could play as many games as they wanted while time remained. It was a great way for Nintendo to advertise new NES games and for kids to try them out before buying them. It is where I played Super Mario Bros. 3 for the first time after seeing it previewed in the 1989 Fred Savage movie, The Wizard.

Since I started collecting, I’ve come to really appreciate the older black and white arcades like Space Invaders, Omega Race, and Space Encounters. My theory is that because these earlier games were technologically so simple, extra effort was put into the presentation of the games. Space Invaders, for example, has a bottom mounted black and white monitor, overlain with red and green plastic gels (to colorize the characters), that is reflected by a mirror over a UV-painted moonscape, that glows under black light, and creates a very cool floating hologram effect as the aliens descend. Along with the mood-altering thumping/marching sound that increases in tempo as the aliens get closer and closer, and it’s no wonder that this game is the classic that it is.

What is your goal for Rent My Arcade?
The goal of Rent My Arcade has always been to get classic arcade machines into the homes and offices of arcade fans that want to play them. I didn’t want to be the kind of collector that spent weeks meticulously restoring a game for it to be taking up space and gathering dust in a private basement game room. I’d much rather get games out of my shop and into the hands of someone who’s excited to play them, appreciates them and who will treat them well. (It also doesn’t hurt that I’m getting paid to store my games in other people’s homes, while I bring in new projects to work on. That’s called a win-win!)

In the long term, I’m interested in moving Rent My Arcade into a larger commercial space that is part showroom and part co-operative restoration space, where local arcade hobbyists can come together—out from their garages and basements—and share their knowledge, tools, and expertise in the in-person equivalent of an online arcade community.

What has been the biggest surprise since Rent My Arcade got up and running?
The biggest surprise? I could say the biggest surprise is that we’re still in business after three years, but that’s what all small businesses say. In all likelihood I’d still be collecting games, but I just wouldn’t have anyone to share them with. Besides, our company rocks! We rent people joy!

Really, the biggest surprise is how much of a thrill it still is for me to talk to people about their game rentals. As the world’s biggest introvert, I usually don’t socialize much outside my close friends and family, but I really get a charge out of meeting people who are so excited about being able to play their favorite arcade games. They all get this Christmas morning look on their faces as they excitedly tell me about when and where they used to play as kids and how awesome it was and we sort of geek-bond. It really is the best part of the job.

How did you hear about .GAMES?
In early September 2016, I received an email announcing that the .GAMES domain was coming soon. I’ve seen other top-level domains but none really appealed to me for business or personal use. The .GAMES domain was not only totally relevant to our business, it also reads well when appended to the end of our company name—RentMyArcade.games.

When originally coming up with the name for Rent My Arcade, we considered calling it something cute or clever, but decided that it was more important to have a straightforward name that tells potential customers what we do. The .GAMES domain is a natural fit for our company. We were very excited when it was officially released and purchased ours as soon as it was available.

Why did you decide to register a .GAMES domain even though you already have a website on a .NET domain?
Our website is our primary marketing tool and the storefront to our business. In the minds of our customers, our domain name is just as important as our company name and logo. When I was deciding on a name for our business, I was simultaneously checking the availability of domains. Like many people I was disappointed to find out that the .COM version of RentMyArcade was already taken. I felt that .NET was the next best thing; it was a well-known domain extension that had been around since the beginning of the web and should be easy for our customers to remember.

I purposely avoided other top-level domains (.CO, .US, .BIZ) because I didn’t think that they would be memorable enough with our customers. I was afraid that they might assume we have the .COM domain too and end up on the wrong site.

Although .GAMES is a new top-level domain, it fits perfectly with our company name and industry. This is a domain that we can work into our marketing and make into something that is memorable in the minds of our customers. I’m excited to rename our site RentMyArcade.games and start using it in our digital and print communications and logoware.

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