May 23 2010

Computer Games World

zorro @ 2:09 am

Computer Games World - Shopfront - 1994?

Computer Games World (CGW) was a small, independent computer games store based in Woden Plaza, Canberra during the 1990s. Occupying the unappealing location of Shop G71 on the first floor next to a pet store and at the foot of the Harvey Norman escalators.

Started by Kim as a logical off-shoot of his Tuggeranong mail-order business (Interlink Software) in 1992 it was initially managed by Jeremy Wilson. He was joined by another Jeremy (Riley) and together they ran the store during the week. On the weekends, Peter and Bruce helped out.

Initially selling games for PC, Amiga, NES and Master System the store enjoyed healthy sales from the growing videogame market. Woden Plaza was surrounded by public service departments and the store was well frequented, especially at lunchtimes.

In 1993 Jeremy Wilson left and joined ACTCOM in Belconnen Mall, a primary competitor, Jeremy Riley became the manager and was joined by Glen, previously employed by Interlink Software.

By 1994, there were three primary independent game stores in Canberra – ACTCOM, Computer Games World and Bitstorm occupying the three major regional shopping centres, Belconnen, Woden and Civic. Rivalry was fierce but relatively good-natured between the stores with Glen’s identical twin brother Mark joining the team at Bitstorm (providing some confusion for customers of both stores and identity-based hilarity for the twins).

Glen "Camera-Shy"

A primary reason for the store’s success was its ability to import small numbers of games from both the UK and US, often beating the Australian suppliers by up to three months. In those pre-internet days, it was also great fun because these shipments would often give staff and customers their first look at games. Though hardly threatening the official suppliers, this grey importing was a source of tension. CGW did receive a threatening legal letter from Microsoft’s lawyers after importing 6 copies of the latest MS Flight Simulator.

An extreme example of the specialist nature of  grey importing is when Glen & Jeremy managed to source some copies of Street Fighter 2 on the Sega Megadrive from Japan for a good price. This game was one of the most in-demand games on any system so obtaining the game first was a huge headstart. Japanese carts were physically incompatible with Australian Megadrives and so a source of compatible, generic empty cartridges was found and Glen & Jeremy spent the next few days ‘popping’ the Japanese carts and mounting the circuitry in the empty cases. Over 100 copies flew out the door and CGW made a handsome profit.

Michael - behind the counter for the final time (1999)

SNK’s NEO-GEO console is covered elsewhere on this site but its contribution to to the hardcore credibility of the store was immense. Too expensive to buy for all but the most affluent (and games mad) consumers, CGW rented the console and its games for the weekends, creating a memorable experience for a few lucky kids. The shop-front photo above shows Art of Fighting running at the front of the store, at which Jeremy and Glen became astonishingly accomplished.

In 1995, at the peak of the PC and 16-bit console markets, CGW achieved a turnover high-point of $947,000. Jeremy Riley agreed to purchase the business from the owner, who by this stage had moved overseas and was taking a less active role in the running of the store.

Over the next few years, CGW employed a number of staff, some of whom are listed below:

  • Michael
  • Jan
  • Julian
  • Glenda
  • Roger
  • Damian
  • Nicole

Closing Party - Julian and Chris (1999)

There were other people involved in the running of the store such as Chris who created the database which supported the company’s foray into online selling (www.cgw.com.au), Ian who created the sumptuous graphics and Dean who assisted with the revamping of the store’s shop-front.

In December 1994 Sony launched the Playstation and Namco released a highly anticipated arcade port, Ridge RacerRidge Racer was still hot at the arcades in Australia (though Daytona USA was not far off) and thus Sony’s new 32-bit CD based powerhouse was much sought after. Gaming magazines were talking of little else at the time and CGW decided to splurge on an imported console both to drive customer’s desire and satisfy Glen and Jeremy’s curiosity. The console cost about $1200 at the time and was considered a major investment but it was set proudly on display at the back of the store blowing away customers with its astonishing 3D.

The original classification stickers

Around this time the Federal government mandated that games carry the same classification ratings that movies required. The climb in graphics quality and increasingly mature nature of some games meant that this was a good thing for consumers, especially parents but it spelled the end for grey imports. The mechanics of the law meant that whomever brought the game in first had to pay for the classification, this could mean a delay of up to three months and up to $3000 per title. Sales of non-classified games became a federal offence attracting a large fine; for the handful of copies CGW was importing, it became an untenable proposition.

The arrival of the mass market consoles spelled the end of the specialist games store. Games became commodities and the need for service and expertise diminished. The big retailers, Harvey Norman, Big W, David Jones  began aggressively targeting the games market and their superior buying power meant that they were able to secure deals like sale or exchange, early distribution and freebies that CGW was unable to match. Woden Plaza planned to open an Electronics Boutique in the high traffic food court and the writing was on the wall. Computer Games World closed its doors on June 30, 1999.

I’d like to thank all the customers, staff and friends of the store that made my time so enjoyable. I gained an encyclopaedic knowledge of games and the industry, learned a lot about sales and management and experienced the ups and downs of small business.

Jeremy - CGW Closing Party

CGW RIP.

6 Responses to “Computer Games World”

  1. Sam says:

    Great article, Are you sure the gray imports stopped in 94-95? Im sure I remember drooling over a saturn and copy of Gundam Side Story in the window at CGW circa ’97… Wouldve got my jp saturn the same year in sydney chinatown. At that store where they kept the bootleg games in a car on the street .. Remember getting my playstation modded at through happydays too. I woulda killed for a Neo Geo!! Finally got an AES in Japan 5 years ago for $20!! only a decade late!

  2. zorro says:

    Ah, well spotted. I continued importing some of the cutting edge console stuff for a while longer but my PC imports had to stop…

    So, now that you have a NEO-GEO, what are you going to do about games? I own about three games but the rest are emulated on the arcade machine…

  3. Peter says:

    Thanks for the insight – a great read.

  4. Grant Wagner says:

    Such a sad story. Shops like this are still around in the states, but incredibly rare. Still those must of been great years to be in the industry. That Sierra logo brought a tear to my eye…. I’m going to go and fire up ScummVM for a few hours….

    The NeoGeo was something special, and it was what really fired up my arcade emulation addition some decade later. I built my mame cab in 2001.

  5. Bruce says:

    Jeremy,
    The “Jeremy ?” at Interlink, who moved on to ACTCOM, was Jeremy Wilson.
    He lived at Theodore with his wife (Debbie, if I recall correctly) and young son.
    Last I heard he had moved to Melbourne.

    Regards to you and Tui,
    Bruce K

  6. Peter Martens says:

    Bruce that is correct. From the Peter that was mentioned in the article. I remember the long nights Jeremy Wilson, Kim and I spent fitting out the store. Such a shame it is gone. RIP

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