Free Play Arcade Has Been Busy but Aims to Stay Fun

On Friday and Saturday nights, the 3,500-square-foot arcade on 505 W. Hickory Street will be packed with Dentonites looking to appease their nostalgia with a variety of authentic, retro arcade games.

Free Play Denton is the third and smallest location of the arcade, which offers a selection of games and craft beers. Customers can pay $5 to receive a bracelet and play any of the 60 arcade games offered.

The arcade, next to Hanabi Ramen, sees about 350 customers a day and is the busiest of any Free Play opening. On July 23, a Facebook post on Free Play Denton’s Facebook page addressed the abundance of traffic.

“So we're totally, absolutely shocked by how many people have visited Free Play Denton so far and we want to be the first to apologize for how busy we've been during our soft open.”

The post continued to say, “We know how weird it is for a business to complain about being busy, but we know that our long-term existence is predicated on you all having the best possible time at the arcade.”

Corey Hyden, the bar manager at Free Play Denton, promised the owners are brainstorming ways to mitigate the issue of overcrowding.

“We’re working on all kinds of ideas, just brainstorming all the things we can do to make the flow better — to really give the best, most fulfilling arcade experience to the town of Denton,” Hyden said.

Hyden said employees have to work diligently to make sure they track everyone who enters the arcade. In attempts to ease the overcrowding, five pinball machines were moved to the small back room and replaced with standard cabinet games. This allowed for more room at the entrance. A stanchion was placed at the entrance to control the flow of traffic, and managers walk the floor to keep an eye on things during busy nights.

Leading up to Free Play’s opening, managers faced an “archaic law regarding the size of arcades,” according to the Facebook post. The location in Richardson is 6,000 square feet and the Arlington location is 8,400 square feet, about double the size of Denton’s Free Play.

The Denton location is entirely different from the other locations, Hyden said. The Richardson and Arlington arcades have a kitchen and more workers, which has been a learning curve for Denton managers.

Hyden says individuals will self-police when the arcade gets too crowded and come back another time. The benefit of the bracelets is that customers can leave and come back anytime that day.

Damien Sanders, who has visited the arcade twice, said the key is to come during off times. The arcade tends to be less busy Monday through Thursday, especially before it gets late.

“It gets a little packed and if it's packed then it’s hard to get around,” Sanders said.

The amount of people at Free Play is breaking the trend of businesses failing at the same location. New York Pizza & Pasta, Lone Star Taps & Caps, Smiling Moose Deli, and Oxide Gallery are all previous businesses that have closed down where Free Play now stands.

Hyden said the Free Play crowd can be good and creates the atmosphere that most arcade-goers want.

“On Friday and Saturday night it’s a busy arcade and that’s what we are looking for,” Hyden said. “The arcade experience isn’t the same without people here. You want someone to talk to. Someone to play with or against depending on the games.”

Jackson Leonard, who has visited the arcade three times, agrees with Hyden.

“I like the vibe when there is a lot of people,” Leonard said. “It makes me happy to see other people happy.”

Hyden said they check the cameras to monitor the crowd during busy hours and are confident in the fact that there is always a game available to play.

“It has never been so crowded that it's uncomfortable or you can’t find a game,” Hyden said.

The question remains how the traffic will change once the school semester starts. College students may be busy with school or interested in checking out the old-fashioned games Free Play offers.

For these reasons, Hyden calls college students a tricky market. He hopes the owners will come up with solutions to manage the crowd the semester may or may not bring.

“We can only assume it will be busier at that time and we will have solutions to take care of it by them,” Hyden said.

Even though Denton has had some difficulty managing the crowd, Hyden is happy to be in the city.

“It's been amazing so far, the city has loved us,” Hyden said. “Everyone has been more than excited to come out. They love the games and the beer selections.”

Photo by Devin Rardin
Header image layout designed by Mateo Granados