Rusty Key originally opened The Game Preserve, a retro arcade and pinball hall, in January 2013 as a co-op he and four friends filled with machines they had collected over the years.

However, after more people started showing interest in playing the games, it found a permanent home at 473 Sawdust Road in 2015 after moving twice, Key said.

The full story

The Game Preserve hosts over 120 games at The Woodlands area location, including old-school arcade games, such as Pac-Man, Dig Dug and Centipede, as well as a variety of pinball machines from the 1950s to 2000s.

“For us, it’s all about the old, original arcades,” Key said. “That’s what we are trying to keep alive. All the games here are the original games, original boards. We don’t switch anything over.”

James Austin, a repair technician for The Game Preserve, said a lot of work goes into keeping the machines functioning—a daunting but important task he said is well worth the effort.

“We will see a whole generation of families come in here,” he said. “We’ll see a grandfather with his son and his grandson, so you have three generations all playing the games together—it’s amazing. It’s fun to watch a family interact at that level. You just don’t see that too much anymore.”

Players can purchase a $15 day pass or monthly membership. All games are free play and do not require coins.
Rusty Key (left) and James Austin pose in front of The Game Preserve sign. (Cassandra Jenkins/Community Impact)
Looking ahead

The Game Preserve opened a second location near NASA in 2019.

Key said that location is more of an immersive experience, a concept that he is working on translating to The Woodlands location with future renovations that include:
  • Creating more space in the main arcade room
  • Repainting the area to look like a drive-in movie theater
  • Adding a small museum dedicated to the history of arcades
Also of note

In 2023, Austin and Key patented a device called Adaptive Flipper Controls, a handheld controller that allows those with physical disabilities to be able to play pinball.

Austin suffered a stroke in 2022 that left half of his body without motor skills, and after returning to work he said he found it impossible to test the machines with only one hand.

He decided to create a handheld device with two small buttons that can control both flippers with just two fingers.
The Adaptive Flipper Control plugs into the pinball machines with a 1/4-inch stereo jack and can be played with only one hand. (Cassandra Jenkins/Community Impact)

“I made [the device] as a tool for me to test the pinball machines, but we thought, ‘Why not make it available to a bigger audience?” Austin said.

The pair spent a year testing the prototype before receiving a provisional patent in August. Now, they are working on designing new devices that will allow those with all types of disabilities to be able to play pinball.

“It’s about inclusion for everybody—no matter what kind of disability they have,” Austin said.

The AFC device is available for purchase online. All the pinball machines in The Game Preserve are also equipped with the device.