Arts & Culture News

Free Play Is Working on Two New Arcade Concepts

The Free Play Arcade franchise continues to grow this year. It has plans for two new locations: one in downtown Denton, the other a new arcade concept in Oak Cliff.

The retro video game arcade chain has announced that its third arcade and first growler bar will open in spring on West Hickory Street in Denton. Before the end of the year, it plans to open a location in Oak Cliff that will cater exclusively to fans of pinball. The latter is tentatively titled the Dallas Pinball Project.

Corey Hyden, Free Play's president, says both ideas have been rattling around in his brain since he opened his first arcade in Richardson in 2015, which he followed with an Arlington location last year.

"Denton is one of those places that still has a classic downtown-type environment," Hyden says. "It's like a true, medium-sized downtown, and we thought it would be cool to have an arcade in the downtown area. In the 1980s, all of the arcades were in malls and downtowns, and one of our dreams was to bring a downtown-style arcade there. Plus, Denton has its own cool vibe."

The Denton arcade will be smaller than the other locations and won't have a full kitchen for food service, so the admission will only be $5 instead of the usual $10 fee. However, Hyden says it will be the first Free Play Arcade with a growler bar that will offer take-home service for its collection of craft beers.

"This location was already zoned out as a growler bar," Hyden says. "So instead of going through the rezoning process, we thought it would be cool to just have a take-home growler bar. I think it will help us survive as a smaller venue."

"In the 1980s, all of the arcades were in malls and downtowns, and one of our dreams was to bring a downtown-style arcade [to Denton]." — Corey Hyden

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Hyden says the West Hickory Street location is ideal for an arcade because it's between two major colleges, the University of North Texas and Texas Woman's University, and it's within walking distance of the downtown area, which regularly attracts crowds thanks to the local music scene.

"We're feeling pretty confident about that right now," he says. "Assuming that nothing weird happens, it should be open in three months or so."

Hyden describes his company's other work in progress, the Dallas Pinball Project in Oak Cliff, as a "straight, hard, New Orleans-style bar that happens to have 40-plus pinball tables." It will require more time and work to open.

Hyden says the company put down money on a lease for a space in the Jefferson Bishop development near the Texas Theatre and the recently revived Top Ten Records, but it'll have to undergo a lengthy and complicated permitting process before the bar can open.

"We're hoping this is going to be the definitive pinball bar for the world," Hyden says. "The biggest complaint we got at the other Free Play Arcades was our limited capacity and how we're stuck with 10-12 pinball tables, or we could squeeze in 20 if we wanted to."

The Dallas Pinball Project will offer everything from retro classics like Midway's Addams Family and Williams' Funhouse to modern favorites like Jersey Jack Pinball's Dialed In! and Stern Pinball's Star Wars.

Hyden says pinball tables require the most regular maintenance out of all of the retro arcade machines, and the free-play mode isn't always ideal; it can cause long lines or tables that are abandoned mid-game. To compensate, the machines at Dallas Pinball Project will require quarters and tokens.

"One of the things we learned is it helps if our players have more of an investment in the game," Hyden says. "If not, they walk away in the middle of a game or they stay and abuse the machine until they start to get bored."

Hyden says this dedicated location will help meet his customer base's growing demand for pinball tables.

"We'll have much more reliability and be able to offer a more pleasurable experience for our customers," he says. "We won't have massive lines, and we'll have enough pinball to meet their demand."
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Danny Gallagher has been a regular contributor to the Dallas Observer since 2014. He has also written features, essays and stories for MTV, the Chicago Tribune, Maxim, Cracked, Mental_Floss, The Week, CNET and The Onion AV Club.