It was June 2nd, 2018, and I jumped out of my car to get a photo of the TNT Games marquee on the run-down strip malls street sign. It’s all that’s left of the store, since they seemed to go out of business almost overnight, about a year and a half earlier.
As a retro gamer, outside of eBay and perhaps the occasional gaming convention, it’s hard to find games by other means. Sure I can spend a Saturday running in and out of garage sales or resale stores, and maybe find something, but finding anything good is often rare. So it’s always good to have a retro-gaming store nearby. For me it was TNT Games, a place I bought a number of games, a few systems, and have written about often on this blog. My original 8-bit Fridays were often based on a lunchtime trip to the store, to start out the day’s gaming with a new game or several purchased there. TNT was a hub for local gamers, it was a place where you could shoot the shit with the store clerks about games and store happenings, where you could see games and systems you never knew existed, and a place where you could get a system fixed (yes, including a misdiagnosed Intellivision from my last article). It reminded me of walking into a traditional hobby shop back in the old days, and getting a social element out of an otherwise individualistic hobby like electric trains, or R/C Airplanes. I remember an argument on one gaming podcast that a true retro-gamer buys their games somewhere besides eBay, so they have that social aspect and connection with other gamers. A nice sentiment that does bring an additional value to the hobby, but when there are so few stores to go to it’s not always practical.
So what is TNT Games story? Why did they go out of business? As far as an origin story they started as Try n’ Trade Games (TNT get it?), kind of a Funcoland pre-Gamestop rip off. This was back when it was about buying and trading games and occasionally picking up new ones. They started in Rockford, Illinois and provided repairs at that first location as well, than added a second Rockford location, and eventually expanded out to Harvard, and Woodstock, IL and later Dekalb, IL as well. In their heyday it was just the Rockford, Harvard, and Woodstock stores. At any one of these stores you could have games ordered in from one of the other stores, and even have your broken game system sent out for repairs. Being involved in the game trade they were able to purchase gaming collections fairy inexpensively, and then resell games for a number of systems at prices that were competitive if not cheaper than eBay. This also gave them a head start in the retro gaming hobby as old games flowed into their stores as credits towards new ones. On top of that they also had a buy three get the forth free program that was really nice if you were bulk buying and building a collection.
I often visited the Woodstock location since it was closer to my home and where I worked, but my job that also took me through Harvard from time to time, and visited their store there often. It was at the Harvard store where I saw an Atari Jaguar up close, and picked up my GameCube and many of its games. As for the Woodstock store my first visit was on Black Friday of 2012, and it’s where I bought the bulk of my early Atari 2600 collection, my second PS1, had my Gameboy and NES fixed, and bought in many, many other games for other systems. My very last buy from them of which was a 3DO game, in early 2016. It was like a gaming home away from home, and to many of the clerks I became known as “the guy who bought in interesting systems for repair”, after taking my Fairchild Channel-F for rewiring.
All good things come to an end though and in mid-2014 TNT’s owners made a business decision that would unravel the whole works. They decided to open a location in Dekalb, IL the home of Northern Illinois University. Although Dekalb is a good size town with a large regular population, the bulk of is residents are passing college students who the store chose as their target audience. Butt very few of them were up to buying retro games, and the Dekalb store was in the red from the moment it opened. The business blunder would cost TNT dearly, not only forcing them to close the Dekalb location, but their second Rockford location with repair services, and the Harvard store. This left only the original Rockford store and my Woodstock store. In one of my last visits I could tell things weren’t going well, for instance they no longer had a website, and the prices on many of their games went way up to prices on par with, or higher than eBay’s. I managed to get a few good deals during my last visit in Fall of 2016, but the vibe of the store was long gone. A few months later my son would call to pre-order an upcoming Pokemon game, but every time he called it was just a busy signal, and their Facebook presence was gone. On a trip over to the town for something else I dropped by the location and my fears were confirmed, TNT Games was gone. It was sad to see but at the same time I knew it was coming.
Of course in the past year and a half since they closed I’ve also seen the video game market change. For instance at the 2018 Midwest Gaming Classics, I couldn’t help but notice the change in game prices since the 2016 MGC. Games I could have or even did buy for $10 to $20 in 2016, were now selling for $45 or $50. Prices that in many respects were equal to or even higher than eBay leading me to walk away from many sellers tables then look up and purchase the games online in the comfort of my hotel room. Like the market for classic electric trains which I compared to retro-gaming in a previous article, there are many entering the retro-gaming market and buying up whatever they can as an “investment”. This of course is causing prices to soar as supply diminishes, and good old fashion demand increases. So I have to ask myself, how would TNT survived this market if they were still around? Also, was the rise in prices I saw in my last visits already part of this? Perhaps, or maybe it was part of recovering cost and saving their business.
What I can say with certainty though is a loss of a store like this is something that can be deeply felt by retro-gamers in my area. It was a community of its own after all, and without it we’re back to buying online to get the games we want.
Farewell, TNT Games you will be deeply missed!!