Corey Hyden spent his teen years as a semiprofessional video gamer, but as an adult, he wanted to find a less time-consuming way to enjoy his hobby.
“I needed a game that I could pick up, play for a few minutes and just be done with it,” Hyden said.
Inspired by the memory of going to the arcade as a child, Hyden bought his first vintage game. Eventually, with more than 100 machines stored in a warehouse, he decided to open an arcade in his native Richardson.
“I’ve been able to kind of time travel by buying all these really obscure games,” Hyden said.
He soon discovered that the city has laws requiring multiple permits for arcades. Nevertheless, Hyden was determined to open the business. In December 2015, Free Play was born.
The arcade houses about 100 classic games and pinball machines. Each game features original parts to promote the same experience gamers had in the ’80s.
Unlike some arcades, Free Play does not charge per game. Instead, a flat fee is paid at the door, unlocking unlimited gaming.
“You’re not going to worry about which game you’re good at or which game you really, really love—you’re going to play them all.”
One unique feature of gaming is the sense of community cultivated through playing with friends or strangers. Hyden said a Facebook group of more than 5,000 members is used to plan hangouts, tournaments and other events.
Through this community, Hyden has borne witness to many of his customers’ milestones.
“We’ve had people start dating at Free Play, get engaged … [have] weddings at Free Play,” Hyden said.
Free Play has also invested in its community. The arcade has donated roughly $25,000 to area schools since it opened, Hyden said.
“If we’re successful, it’s because of the community supporting us … It would be criminal if we didn’t give back as much as possible,” Hyden said.