Story and Photography by Lucas Vore
With many people stuck inside due to COVID-19, a new (and old) love of video games have been revived for many. With many stores struggling to find their footing during the pandemic, Eric Velasco, owner of Calico Games has been finding success with retro games from the old 8-bit era to new games that have just come out this year.
Despite its small size, the store is jam-packed with video games. From shelves, cases, behind the workers, everywhere you looked you could find something that would catch your eye. As I walked in, owner Eric Velasco greeted me and we spoke in the back room. What’s incredible is that he is quite young to be managing multiple stores.
“It was always kinda a side thing, you know, mostly to fund my hobby of buying more games,” he said. His first taste of making money was when friends would pay Velasco to sell their games.
Velasco went to college and ended up dropping out. “I didn’t go to college where I was just going from class to class with no real direction,” said Velasco. After dropping out he became a dishwasher at La Costa Resort. He decided to open up his first store with his family in Escondido. The second store opened in Vista and later expanded to San Diego for his third location.
Besides selling and trading games, Calico Games also helps customers replace missing parts of a console. “When people trade in consoles there are always missing bits and pieces,” Velasco said. The issue is the production of replacement parts has been slowed down since COVID-19, limiting the amount of parts the store has been able to receive.
However, that was only one of a few problems Calico Games faced during this pandemic. In March 2020, the store had to close for almost three months. “The problem is even when you’re closed, you still need to pay your permits fees, rent, all that stuff needs to be paid in three locations. So things got a little close during that time period,” Velasco said.
But as the store was able to open up, many found an escape through playing games and wound up straight to Velasco. An increase in prices for games and consoles and a demand was on the rise. Games like Pokémon have been constantly sold out due to the demand.
Velasco also mentioned that big gaming events, like E3 or Comic Con, have been closed down, but some of these events are happening online, like Nintendo Direct where it showcases all the upcoming games that will be on their consoles. Velasco sees an “uptick” of sales every time one of the events takes place.
The internet helps niche stores like Calico Games. YouTubers, like the Angry Video Game Nerd, reviews and makes fun of old retro games and accumulates millions of views per video. While YouTubers and gaming events can help bring an audience to the gaming scene, Velasco believes that the desire for a physical copy can also help.
“Digital releases, emulators, ROMS, all that stuff was widely available and more accessible, [but] it is a bit different actually having the physical thing to play on your shelf to be part of your collection.”
It seems that the future of a game store is in the retro field. Buying new games is risky. “You make on average around $5 per game. It’s crappy, terrible margins,” he said.
CyberPunk 2077 is an example of a risk of buying new games. It was supposed to be the biggest game of the year, with a starting price of $60, dropped in price to $40 within a few weeks. According to CNBC, Sony has removed Cyberpunk 2077 from its PlayStation Store due to the backlash it received from its lackluster release. New games are a risk and events like these can hinder sales. Pre-owned games are the way to go because you get a much higher profit margin.
Veteran or new gamers will feel welcomed in the store. Velasco has ensured customer service is their top priority, and he plans on expanding a fourth store in Temecula.
“We want to make sure we’re welcoming to new customers—people who are not familiar with the scene, people that are collectors themselves,” he said. “They know what they want to see when it comes from the team store and all that.”