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The Chuck (Interview With GameGavel.com's Mike Kennedy)

Posted by Rob Maerz on January 14, 2015 at 10:50 AM

THE CHUCK

Mike Kennedy is Determined to Get You to Kick the eBay Habit and Go For a Ride on the GameGavel Wagon

Originally published in Classic Video Gamer magazine


 

 

An eBay member since 1997, Mike Kennedy saw the online auction giant losing focus of what had made it successful. Knowing that video games are a large niche to support a dedicated auction environment, Kennedy decided to take a chance and start his own auction site, ChaseTheChuckwagon.com, in 2008.


The concept was to create an auction site dedicated to gaming and charge significantly lower fees than eBay. This combination of cheaper fees and dedicated gaming environment has paid off as the site, now named GameGavel.com, has grown to over 3,000 members in its first year and a half.


To instill a community feeling, GameGavel features member forums, chat rooms, a classic gaming radio station at RetroArcadeRadio.com and most recently a podcast at RetroGamingRoundup.com.


Mike, you call yourself a gamer first and foremost. So, first and foremost, tell us about the arcade collection you have in your garage.


Kennedy: I started collecting consoles, games and handhelds about the same time I joined eBay in 1997. Moving to Southern California from Nebraska in 1999 also helped in my hunt for classic gaming relics as I discovered the reoccurring weekend swap meets all year long. Between eBay and the swap meets I was in retrogaming heaven, easily finding about anything I could have ever wanted.


Both were responsible for a very large collection of gaming artifacts that soon grew so large I had to have a “come to Jesus” meeting with myself and make the hard decision to start selling off all this stuff I had amassed. It was then that I decided I didn’t need everything, but only the things I had as a child or wanted as a child but never had - things that had some meaning to me. So, I went through years of finding items at the swap meets and selling them off on eBay for a profit. This also helped finance my small but sustained collection of things as I would buy everything cheap at the swap meets, sell off much of it at a profit which would in turn pay for the items I kept for myself. I basically had a collection of items that essentially cost me nothing. Since then, I’ve greatly reduced my collection to only a small cabinet full of systems, games and electronic handheld games.


There was one day at the swap meet where I came across a Venture arcade game for $75. This was probably around 2002 or so. This started my love affair with having arcade games in my home. The problem I have is I only have a small single car garage to use as my arcade and it also happens to be my office - it’s packed to say the least.


As of this writing I have a Hanaho Arcade PC MAME Cabinet, a Zaxxon cabaret, Atari Battlezone, Atari Video Pinball, Omega Race cabaret, Tutankham, Midway Stunt Pilot mechanical game, Super Moon Cresta and two pins: Williams Taxi and Stern Stars. I have decked out my arcade with black light carpet, a laser star projector, an iPod jukebox and various black light and 80’s movie posters. My arcade is named Yada’s, which was the name of the childhood arcade I spent lots of time in Millard, Nebraska.


All my games are original, dedicated and working machines. I am not a fixer-upper so I tend to buy games that are working and then cross my fingers that they continue to work. So far I’ve had great luck. It’s really amazing how well these continue to work for being so old. My favorite of the bunch and one that I will never get rid of is my Midway Stunt Pilot. This was the first arcade game I ever remember playing and I had to have one. It took me years but I did find one on eBay for $400. Amazingly it was working and is still working to this day. I’ve not seen another one since.


I really love trying to recreate the arcade experience at home, but it could never duplicate the feeling of being in a real 70’s or 80’s arcade. It was a magical time to grow up, to say the least. Since I love my existing game lineup, I try not to look for new games too often because if I find one, I need to consider removing one to make room. That sucks!

 

If you had to make room in your garage for one more arcade cabinet, which would it be?


Kennedy: That’s always a tough question. There is never any one particular game I am looking for, but when I see it, I know it and I want it. For example, I just came across a beautiful BurgerTime locally that hasn’t been posted anywhere, so I have a line on it. And the price is a nice $400. Now I have to figure what to get rid of and right now it looks like the Tutankham has to go.


What recollections do you have of Yada's?


Kennedy: Yada’s, like most early arcades, was a very vibrant, noisy place that always had a good smell of pizza and popcorn coming from the small snack bar. What I remember most are the sounds that emanated from that place as I was opening the door and about to step in: a mixed up symphony of arcade theme songs and attract screens all greeting me and wanting my attention (and my quarters). It was magical. I always went straight to Star Castle and then migrated to Astro Blaster, Carnival, Missile Command and Battlezone. It is also where I learned the Pac-Man square pattern and could routinely get to the 9th key before the pattern changed to something else. The next best thing was meeting your buddies there and watching each other take on the latest games.


In the spring of 2008, you launched the video game auction site ChaseTheChuckwagon.com. What was the biggest challenge in getting this venture off the ground?


Kennedy: The biggest challenge was day one. Thinking to myself, “How do I get people to use a site with no buyers, no sellers and no nothing?” Well actually, I was on a camping trip the day we turned the site on. I was setting up the categories using the Internet on my cell phone. It was crazy but most of the site was formatted and set up on my phone during this weeklong trip.


Then, I needed to figure out how to get a few people using it. My plan was to start hitting the swap meets hot and heavy, buying up everything I could and then listing it on my site. I figured if I loaded it up with a constant stream of new items and offer them cheap, I would at least get a few gamers from the forums looking to buy things. Then I started to comp people into the site - basically give them a lifetime membership where they can sell for free in exchange for listing items. It was a combination of me populating the site with my own items and persuading others to list theirs that allowed us to at least get out of the starting gate and we just built on that.


I distinctly remember one forum post from someone saying something like, “Wow you already have 100 items listed. I think this is going to work.” I look back on that and it seems like so long ago. As you have seen by reading the pages of forum posts, I was met with tons of criticism. I really felt like I was doing something good for the gaming community, but most people really thought this wasn’t going to work and it would fizzle out. Some responses were downright mean and I always wondered why it wasn’t met with more enthusiasm in the beginning. I guess because it had been tried before (Vidiots.com) and failed so fast that no one thought going up against eBay could be done. Thankfully, the praise far surpassed the negative vibes, I pressed on and I think we have come a long way to surprise some of the disbelievers.


A constant battle is convincing people they will be as successful selling on GameGavel as on eBay. eBay really has people fooled into thinking their items will sell 100% of the time. But, a search for items “ending soon” quickly disproves this. Don’t believe me? Simply type in “Nintendo NES” into the search and look at all the items ending without a bid or being purchased. There are considerably more items not selling than selling, and with eBay’s new rules this will be a continuing trend and that is a fact.


I believe that if people use GameGavel in the same way they use eBay, they will see equal success selling their items at or near the same selling price they will see on eBay. One thing that plagues both GameGavel and eBay are sellers that overprice their items. One thing I really think eBay is good for is price checking your items before you list. eBay has a good history showing what items should sell for and if more sellers would educate themselves on the value of their items it would make their selling more successful on either auction site.


It's interesting to follow the ChaseTheChuckwagon thread on AtariAge, which begins the day after ChaseTheChuckwagon.com launched. You can see the Chuck growing as you read through page after page of posts.


Kennedy: Reading the threads on all the forums is quite amusing to me now. But early on, it was difficult to remain positive as most of the comments were negative. It always made me wonder, why all the negativity? A lot of it stemmed from the fact this had been tried before and failed. Many early comments read, “It’s a great idea but will most certainly fail.” This really added to my determination to press through the start up period and grow this thing. And I knew I had to grow it as fast as possible.


I started out selling things from my personal collection and also from items I found hitting the weekend Southern California swap meets. I literally had to fuel this thing with my own items in the beginning and somehow I managed to bring in buyers. These buyers eventually started to see it working and then started to sell things of their own and the site just started to snowball. Thankfully, I have been blessed with some true believers who have continued to stock the site with a few thousand auctions.


Not only did you surpass your target of 2,000 members in one year, but you added yet another 1,000 members just five months later.


Kennedy: Many small, underfunded websites like GameGavel have a first year goal of 1,000 people. My goal was to hit 2,000 members in our first year and we hit that on the bull’s eye - even surpassed it a bit. Like you say, our second year is far outpacing the first year, not only with membership but also with listings, bidding, searching, etc. which is a good sign. But I can never let up. Once you let up the site starts to dwindle off, thus my love affair with the forums. I try to use them to my advantage but at the same time try not to annoy everyone. Sometimes it’s a fine line to use the forums as a gamer and also a business owner. Sometimes I say things I shouldn’t or get involved in discussions I shouldn’t have. The bottom line though is I am a gamer first and foremost and a site owner second.


Why do you suppose the naysayers said that you couldn't succeed and that this venture would fail?


Kennedy: Easy: “No one can compete with eBay”, along with the fact that there have been a few other gaming auction sites try and fail. But, I can tell everyone that no one is as determined as me. My goal is still to be the number one online destination to buy and sell video games. That means overtaking eBay, GameStop and all other large online gaming stores. I think I will achieve this, but the question is how long will it take? That is anybody’s guess.


But I can say this: by the end of 2009 we will have entered into a strategic partnership with a large international gaming community with significant marketing muscle. This has the potential to turn GameGavel into a household name for a hundreds of thousands of gamers around the world. 2010 is going to be one hell of a year!


On March 26 2008, two days after opening the Chuck, you said “It will take time to catch on and grow.” With over 3,000 members in a little over 17 months, has it caught on?


Kennedy: That is a good question and one that is hard to answer. The site has definitely gone above and beyond my expectations since the launch, but it still has so far to go. But, I guess it is catching on because when I wear my t-shirt into GameStop and local gaming stores frequently I am approached and asked if I own the site. That is a great feeling and shows it is reaching further into the gaming community. But, taking into account eBay has around 300,000 video gaming auctions running at any one time; we have light years to go. But, like I said earlier, it will get there. How long it will take is anyone’s guess.


It seems like you can’t make anyone happy with the auction site name. ChaseTheChuckwagon allegedly was hard to identity with gaming - people associated it with dog food or it was just too long of a name. Changing the name to GameGavel.com is viewed as an unpopular move based on bad experiences some may have had with the old GameGavel.com while others just have a fondness for the ChaseTheChuckwagon name. How did the GameGavel deal come about and then why the subsequent name change to GameGavel.com?


Kennedy: In my mind the name really isn’t that important - it’s what you do with the site. It’s functionality, features, advantages and benefits. The name association will come. I could have named it anything and after a while the name would stick. I mean, eBay means nothing (well, maybe East Bay as that is where eBay is located - East of the bay). I had people say I should have named the site GameBay. I still laugh at that one.


To understand why I named the site ChaseTheChuckwagon we need to travel back about a year before I launched. I was always an avid listener of Shane R. Monroe’s RetroGamingRadio show. So after meeting Shane at CGE 2007, I pitched a segment for his show where I hit the Southern California swap meets, negotiate bargain buys on classic gaming items and then make them available to our listeners for the same price I negotiated at the swap meet. Shane loved the idea and my segment “Chasing The Chuckwagon” was born. I soon purchased the domain name, ChasingTheChuckwagon.com and at the same time I also noticed the domain name “ChaseTheChuckwagon.com” was also available so I bought that as well. You never know when you may need something like that.


For about a year I was scouring the swap meets finding great deals and passing these great deals onto our listeners. It became a small, but popular part of RetroGamingRadio and was part of Shane’s show until he ended it back in early 2009. After the show came to an end, I figured I had built up a small dedicated following that would then be called upon to help me populate the auction site, which of course became known as “ChaseTheChuckwagon.com”.


At the time I launched CTCW, a fellow gamer started another auction site, GameGavel.com. We continued to bang heads for months. Looking back, it was a great thing because it pushed us both to outdo each other and add more functions and features to both our sites, which really benefited the gamers that used our sites. In the end, the owner of GameGavel had other commitments that kept him from growing GameGavel the way he wanted and he posted in various forums he was going to be closing down. I had always thought GameGavel was a good name for a gaming auction site so I made the decision to contact him and make him an offer for the name. We agreed on an amount and I became owner of the domain. I figured sooner or later I might need it as finding short, decent gaming domain names are next to impossible these days.


The decision to change the name from CTCW to GameGavel was a very difficult one, because as I mentioned above, I think it could have worked and been successful with any name. I had a constant battle within myself but in the end, I felt I had to do it. CTCW had deep meaning with me and in video gaming lore but it just didn’t resonate with modern day gamers, who, love it or hate it, are a core demographic I need to grow this site and take to the next level. It would be great to just be a big classic gaming site, but in the end we need the buying and selling activity of the modern gamers to help us grow the site so us old-timers can continue using it.


Why do people prefer GameGavel over eBay?


Kennedy: eBay is in a transition period - a period that I frankly don’t get. They are moving away further and further from what made them unique. They have lost their vision of what made them great. I think people are looking for new places to take their business. And for gamers, what is better than an auction site dedicated to gaming and the gaming community?


I think our members like dealing with people they know through the hobby and have met through the online gaming community. Combine that with a dedicated gaming auction environment and cheaper selling fees, GameGavel will continue to be a favorite online destination for gamers, to not only buy and sell, but to buy and sell with people they know.

What exactly is your day job and how many hours do you typically work per week between that and GameGavel.com?


Kennedy: I am a regional sales engineer for a manufacturer of material handling products back East. I handle the Southern California area for them and work out of a home office, when I am not traveling around within my territory. This tends to work well as I can still, from time to time, catch my emails and keep an eye on the site during the workday. After five o’clock, I am online the balance of the evening to about 11:00 PM. I figure I spend roughly five hours each night trying to promote the site or simply keeping up to speed with what’s going on in all the forums.


Weekends are obviously also spent working on the site: tweaking things, talking with my developer about suggestions for improvement, etc. My mind is always going 24/7. I am always thinking of ways to promote the site, companies to partner with and those types of things. I have had discussions with companies like GameStop and Play N Trade, among others. So, to directly answer the second part of your question: I work more than 80 hours per week.


Another thing that will soon be available, that was born out of one of my late night think tank sessions, is a new flash and iPhone tile matching game that will be a new and inventive way for people to search our site. Someone can now play a tile matching game where the tiles are randomly taken from our pool of photos from live running auctions. They will attempt to match up tiles before a timer runs out. Points will be scored for matches, consecutive matches and finding all matches before time runs out. There will be a few cards scattered in there like a “thief” card that will steal 100 points from you and take one of your three lives. A “Warp” card will randomly shuffle all remaining cards and a “clock” card will add more time to the clock. With each wave completed the time to complete the wave is reduced. The game ends when you flip over three “thief” cards or run out of time during a level.


Once the game ends the player will be able to register their high score and also have the opportunity to bid on any of the items they successfully matched during their game play. It’s really a new way to search the site disguised all in the form of a cool little game - like I said, always thinking. This will be offered as a Flash game that can be played anytime on the site and also a free iPhone game that I think should bring in significantly more memberships to the site.


Is there any one auction that sticks out in your mind that has been listed on the Chuck or GameGavel since the site's inception?


Kennedy: We have had some auctions for rare items, but the one that sticks out the most is a boxed Atari 2600 Chase The Chuckwagon game. I remember it fondly because it was the first time I had ever seen a boxed one. It ended up selling for a little over $500 and I really wanted it but didn’t get it. I always love seeing rare items get listed, because they can bring lots of attention to the site and always seem to sell well.


A response to the word “community” in a word association game may be “Mike Kennedy.” It’s a word that I see repeatedly in every interview you do. So, let’s talk about community for a bit since it seems to be something you emphasize. It’s a big deal to you, right?


Kennedy: Community is what it's all about especially since I am also a part of it. It is very important to me to uphold high standards for this community and cultivate a community that I, too, would have wanted to be a part of if I hadn't been the one who created it. On eBay, the community feeling has been lost, mainly because it is all encompassing.


GameGavel has the benefit of targeting a single niche and this helps create a community feeling. We are all in this together, taking on eBay and other commercial gaming websites and stores, if you will. There are business simulation games and this to me is like a video game. I am trying to grow this site in real life and against all odds. If I compare this to playing a video game, it makes it even more fun and a lot less daunting.


You recently announced your Gaming Community Affiliations initiative getting ScrewAttack, CheapAssGamer, Digital Press, AtariAge, NintendoAge, Sega-16 and KLOV onboard. How will members of these communities benefit from these affiliations in the short and long-term?


Kennedy: I was extremely lucky and grateful to have the support of some of the premier classic gaming forums like AtariAge, DigitalPress, NintendoAge, KLOV and Sega-16 among others. I asked their owners for permission to start a single thread in their forums and they obliged. Without their support, starting a gaming auction site would have been much more difficult.


I needed to make inroads into the community I knew best - the classic gaming community. So, because of their support the site has prospered with classic gamers. Classic gamers are the ones that account for the largest percentage of users at the moment. In order to move the site forward, I felt I needed to now embrace the younger gamers – the NES Generation. At the same time, this really helps me target the modern day gamer.


I asked Cheapy D, founder of CheapAssGamer.com, for permission to start a thread in his forums and he was cool with it. That started me in the direction of courting the modern day gamers and now it is extending into another popular gaming website, ScrewAttack.com (more news forthcoming on this relationship).


In order to build on these relationships, I started to think of creative ways to separate GameGavel from other gaming store or auction sites. What better way than to magnify a level of integration with these other communities. So, I made the decision to add what I am calling “Gaming Community Affiliations” into GameGavel.com. Once this integration is in place, GameGavel members will be able to have a graphic Avatar representing their community memberships which will be displayed next to their GameGavel User ID.


Taking this a step further, members can then do a custom search for items for sale by members from a particular community. For example, if you are a member of AtariAge.com you can search for auctions only being run by other AtariAge members. This helps convey that GameGavel really is an auction site created by gamers for gamers. Associating with some of the top gaming communities will always be key to the success of GameGavel.com. Gamers will feel safer knowing they will have the opportunity to know who they are buying and selling with.


What about the Twin Galaxies community given that they are one of, if not the, most recognizable names in video gaming?


Kennedy: I know Walter Day and I have asked about how we can work together. Unfortunately, he is not in charge of their website but has passed my information on to the powers that be with Twin Galaxies. I think sooner or later we will be working with them in some form or fashion. For now, GameGavel is struggling with the arcade gaming crowd. That is still a community I am trying to persuade to use the site. They, after all, have the biggest upside as the cost to sell higher priced arcade games is significantly less on GameGavel than on eBay. Sooner or later I will get the arcade community to use the site. You can bet on that.


As the GameGavel community grows, won’t it lose the intimacy? When does it get too big?


Kennedy: When compared to a site the size of eBay, we will always have an intimate community. That is the beauty of a niche auction site. I think gaming is a close-knit community. Add to that, gamers are very passionate people and I think it takes a passionate person like myself to run a website like GameGavel, as that gives confidence to its members. We are all in this thing together. We all want an alternative to big business and eBay. If we all use this site there is no reason why we can’t overtake these larger companies that have lost any sense of community and commitment to their members.


I think I can speak on behalf of our sellers and say the site can never get too big. The more people on the site, the better the chances of selling their items at higher prices. The way I look at it, I work for our sellers. It is my job to continue growing the site so it draws in more buyers. I can never stop my attempts to grow GameGavel and it is something I think about each and every day, all day. As we grow, I intend to always keep the site grounded no matter the size. I think a lot of this depends on how the site is run and the accessibility of site management and owners by community members. As long as I am in charge I can always be reached by anyone very easily. I am not too hard to find.


What are your plans to reach those outside of the AtariAge, KLOV et al communities? Any plans to expand advertising outside the Internet medium?


Kennedy: There are really three different types of gamers I need to focus on. In the beginning I’ve focused on the classic gaming community because, as I said before, I know it best. Starting in 2010, I will be focused on two other gaming demographics: the hardcore gamers and casual gamers. For GameGavel to make it big, it needs to go mainstream by targeting these next two types of gamers. The question is, how do I target them and how much is it going to cost me?


I’ve tried getting involved with some of the hardcore gaming sites like IGN, Gamespot, Destructoid, Kotaku and Joystiq but am not getting anywhere with them. They all want me to just spend an arm and a leg on advertising. At this stage in our development, I still can’t afford any significant advertising on sites like those. I have used Google Adwords, Facebook Advertising and other pay-per-click advertising, but the amount I can budget for is not enough to really keep the ball rolling. So, I am still looking to partner with other companies while looking at other ways to compensate them, like sharing in the revenue of GameGavel. This is something that I will be doing more of because it doesn’t cost me anything out-of-pocket initially and the companies I am working with will then have a vested interest in our growth. In a sense, it is trading a percent of our revenue for their effort to promote the site to their population.


At this point, advertising outside the Net in gamer magazines or trade publications is not something I can afford. But, it would be nice to make enough money to promote this outside the Net and through different channels to reach all demographics of gamers, young and old, male and female, all around the world. This will come as we grow.


On October 26, 2009 you announced that sales were down, bidding was down and registrations for the month were off 50% at GameGavel.


Kennedy: October was a weird month and our stats were down. This didn’t jive with the rest of the year which for the most part saw increasing statistics each month throughout. Maybe it had something to do with the site name change and change over.


One other thing that added to the less than stellar month was that our Google Feeds were down due to some items being listed that were against their policies – something to do with modded systems and such so they stopped our feed. In a sense we were losing out on significant Google Search traffic during the month and it has since been reactivated. As I thought, November is back on track with our yearly averages. I think there was a combination of things that led to October’s poor performance, but GameGavel is back on track and I expect the holiday season to be a big one again this year.


I read an article recently where a video game store owner commented that "There is a whole nostalgia thing going on" in regard to sales of NES and other classic game titles. Is there a nostalgia thing going on?


Kennedy: Nostalgia is something that is always “going on”. As far as video games are concerned people are playing games they enjoyed in their youth. It brings back memories and transports you back to that first time you loaded a Kaboom! cartridge into your Atari 2600 or Super Mario Bros. into your NES.


It turns out these are much simpler games and can be picked up and played for short durations unlike the games of today. I split my time between my classic systems, PS3 and Wii. It breaks things up a bit and gives you something to do if you are stuck in a modern day game or just need to take a break from a marathon gaming session to play something you can finish in a few minutes. I think both have their place - at least in my house.


Many companies are playing the nostalgia card now. It’s big business and really responsible for the record growth of the casual gaming market that is now close to becoming the leading gaming genre.


What's in store for GameGavel.com and any other ventures you may have for 2010?


Kennedy: I can guarantee 2010 will be an exciting year for GameGavel. Dare I say, maybe even a real breakout year. I am aligning GameGavel with a couple other very large gaming entities and have some big announcements forthcoming. Depending on when they are made, it may be old news at the time this is going to press. But, the bottom line is that GameGavel will be making a big splash in 2010 and all members will see the benefit.


Why the disdain for eBay, the company that in effect paved the way for all auction sites?


Kennedy: Despite what you read and see others saying, I really don’t have any disdain for eBay. I just think they are shitting in their nest. I share this with many of their longtime users. I still use them for buying and selling things other than video games and will continue to use them. I hope they can iron out their vision and get back on track.


Unfortunately, I think that bad decisions are being made at the top and until the top is shaken up they will continue their downward spiral. But, I’ve used them since 1997 and wish them the best. I think GameGavel will thrive with or without them. Once GameGavel is significantly populated it will be the best place to buy and sell games online.


Do you own stock in eBay?


Kennedy: Nope. Thank God.

 


 

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