DFW locals Billy Hudson and Jay Hunter were in the middle of an episode of American Pickers when their lives changed forever.
“During the commercial break [Billy] said, ‘Hey, let’s do this with video games,’” says Hunter, who goes by the name Shady Jay on the duo’s YouTube show, The Game Chasers. The channel documents their travels and triumphs hunting through everything from sketchy flea markets in West Texas to spare rooms in Norway, all in search of retro video games, toys and good times. Now their home-grown nostalgia fest, Retropalooza, is setting up for its fourth year Oct. 1-2 in Arlington and just wrapped up its first event in Pasadena.
Hunter says the movie Field of Dreams has come to mind over the four years he’s run the convention, which started as a six-hour meet-up of around 350 people at the Bob Duncan Center in Arlington. Last year, the Retropalooza welcomed five times the number of visitors it did in its first year.
Despite the growth, Hudson and Hunter are still hustling to help foster the video game community in DFW while navigating through the hyper competitive niche of video game YouTubers.
“What we do is a double-edged sword,” Hudson says. “We go out and have this type of high-production show where we go out and find games … but at the same time it’s really hard to get consistent content out because of the nature of that.”
Hudson says the risk of building a business around video game hunting on the internet makes it hard for them to create the level of consistency needed to be successful in the user-generated content field. You only have to look at their relatively low sub-100,000 subscriber count to see the effect of their mostly monthly video schedule for their main feature. But the guys say it beats having a day job.
“We’ve gotten to a point where things are kind of falling into place and we can pay bills on it now, and what that does is let us do more of [the show], instead of being bogged down with a ‘regular job,’” Hunter said. “I say anything you make money at is a job.”
Hudson, who works as a freelance video editor and producer, says while the channel started out as fun thing to do, he always hoped to make it something more.
“I get that a lot, ‘It’s not stable, it’s not stable,’ well what job is stable?” Hudson asks. “I got laid off two times and fired one time [from] video work. The last time I got laid off was right before we started the channel and I was like ‘Fuck it, if I’m going to make videos I want to make my own videos and see what happens.’”
That risk has so far paid off, as the two are wrapping up their sixth season of The Game Chasers and looking to expand further by adding a paranormal show to their normal programming of collecting and reviewing games and palling around.
“The gaming stuff is just something we kind of focused on because we’re into video games, but ultimately I’m a video producer, I like making videos, and so we have other ideas and stuff we can do outside of that,” Hudson says. “We’re trying to expand and make what we do not as niche.”
One look at their production values and their on-screen personalities is all it takes to see how these two blue-collar game bros have made friends and connections with some of the bigger names in their field.
“Literally 99 percent of my guest list I can call and just ask them to come out,” Hunter says.
Retropalooza 4 will feature a spectrum of popular YouTubers, including cult icons such as Pat the NES Punk and more mainstream personalities such as Boogie2988, who has a massive 3.6 million subscribers to his channel. The convention will feature a mixed bag of vendors ranging from “Video Game Store LLC” to Joe Blow, as well as the standard array of panels on building oversized NES controllers and learning how to turn your hobby into a career like Hudson and Hunter.
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Hudson and Hunter are hesitant to suggest anyone just dive into YouTubing, however.
“It’s a big ocean out there, and if you decide to start swimming in it now, you’re in for a long, long time of not really getting where you probably want to get,” Hudson says.
“Don’t start a YouTube channel and then quit your job … there’s no 401k in YouTube, there’s no pension plan in YouTube, but it’s fun, we’re going to be honest,” Hunter says. “But if you can turn something fun and that you love and that you enjoy doing into something where you can pay your bills, I mean, that’s the American dream isn’t it?”
Retropalooza 4 takes place at the Arlington Convention Center (1200 Ballpark Way) from 9 a.m. to 5 p.m. Saturday, Oct. 1, and 10 a.m. to 5 p.m. Sunday, Oct. 2. Tickets are at $10 to $25 at retropalooza.com.