Back in the day, quarters were all the rage. A pocket full of 25-cent pieces could get you pretty far: a hamburger from McDonald’s, a comic book from the drugstore, a Slurpee from 7-11 and – joy of joys! – a round of video games at the local arcade.
The fact that you can walk into Free Play Arlington -- Downtown Arlington’s new arcade destination – and pay a one-time, all-you-can-play $10 entry fee blows away those kids of the 1970s and 1980s. Their kids seem to love it too.
Six years ago, brothers-in-law Corey Hyden and Richard Tregilgas bought an old cabinet video game mainly, said Richard, “to see if we could get it to run. Neither of us had ever tackled anything like it before. The programming was completely obsolete, so it wasn’t like we could find someone else to repair it. So, we figured it out and got hooked.”
One game turned into two, two into four, and it wasn’t long before Richard and Corey made their first bulk purchase. “We’d sell them as fast as we could repair them,” Richard said. “We were renting little storage units all over the area as our collection got bigger and bigger.”
As the variety within their collection grew, so did their expertise. Word began to spread that this dynamic duo was becoming a definitive source not only of retro gaming units themselves but of their history, repair and upkeep. When clients like Alamo Draft House started to come knocking, Corey and Richard knew it was time to take it to the next level.
Play freely at Free Play
About a year and a half ago, with four warehouses full of arcade games, Corey and Richard opened their first store-front, Free Play Richardson. Now they’ve opened Free Play Arlington. Free Play Arlington offers more than 100 retro video arcade and pinball games, 1980s music pumping merrily over the sound system, a bar with over 100 craft beer options, tasty snacks, and two outdoor patios for chilling out and taking intermissions.
The concept of charging one flat admission price, allowing guests to “free play” every game, was carefully considered by the partners. “Quarters were the limiting factor to experimentation,” Richard said. “Often players would stick to the games they knew so they’d get to play for longer periods of time. At Free Play, we want to encourage people to not only play the games they love but to play games they’ve never tried before or even heard of.”
Who comes to Free Play? If our experience on Saturday afternoon is any indication, everybody. We saw families, a forty-something group of guys, a twenty-something group of gals, couples, and single players. Novices and serious gamers battled side-by-side, harmoniously taking turns at machines even without the aid of a quarter to “save” the next game.
The biggest difference between playing a video game in an arcade full of people and playing a video game that you can hold in the palm of your hand, Richard explained, is community. “There’s a very active, 2,000-member group on Facebook that follows us. They are people who are passionate about retro video gaming. They -- and we -- understand how much more fun it is to play side by side rather than alone or even in online gaming communities.”
If Free Play Arlington’s soft opening is any indication, their Grand Opening on Friday, June 16 is going to be epic! This ticketed event includes plenty of arcade game play, live music, and food and drink specials. Tickets are only $15 and must be purchased in advance. For more information, visit the website or Facebook event.
Kid-friendly by day, Adult-friendly by night
Free Play Arlington enforces reasonable policies to ensure a good time is had by all. Children must be directly supervised by a guardian at all times, and after 9 p.m., the arcade becomes an adult-only venue. Check the website for details.
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About Downtown Arlington
An official State of Texas Cultural District, Downtown Arlington, Texas blends a unique mix of activities, sights, tastes and sounds that attract visitors and locals alike. Within its less than a two-mile radius, Downtown is home to a top tier public research university, prolific fine and performing artists and arts institutions, live entertainment, exciting NCAA and professional athletics, one-of-a-kind dining and retail, and a supportive business climate. Downtown Arlington brings together a plethora of cultures and inspirations with a character all its own.