Need fresh games for your Intellivision? Entrepreneur cashes in on nostalgia
There is one crucial detail that distinguishes William Moeller from other tech entrepreneurs in Hamilton.
While many local firms focus on creating applications for the web or for mobile devices, his company, Classic Game Publishers Inc., takes a much more old-school approach. The outfit, which Moeller founded last year, puts out new, original titles for the Intellivision, a gaming console that came out in 1979 and was discontinued in the mid-'80s.
"My dad gave us the Intellivision in 1980 and I thought it was an awesome system, totally amazing," Moeller said. "It was sort of the first machine that I loved playing, so I never got rid of one."
What is Intellivision?
Developed by Mattel Electronics, Intellivision is a video game system that came out in 1979. At the time, its graphics were considered superior to its competitors.
However, the video game world changes quickly and the next year, Atari released the 2600 which dominated the market during the early-1980s, selling in excess of 25 million units.
The original Intellivision console was discontinued in 1984, less than two years before another gaming giant, the Nintendo Entertainment System, entered the market.
(In fact, he estimated he has 20 of the consoles lying around his east Hamilton home.)
But Moeller's love of the vintage gaming system didn't turn into a career pursuit until two years ago, when he returned to Hamilton from teaching English in Japan, only to find slim job prospects at home.
"Rather than sit there and whine — or as my friends suggested, take a McJob — I decided to try my own business," the 49-year-old recalled.
He did the math, reasoning that there must be enough people like him — fans of old-fashioned video games — for Moeller to eke out a living developing new titles.
"There were 3 million of these units sold. And I've got to believe that there are at least 30,000 of them still out there. And of that, one per cent is going to want to buy a new game for it."
So Moeller teamed up with fellow Intellivision aficionados he'd met online and struck an arrangement. His programmers, who live in the U.S., Canada and Japan, would design the games on the freelance basis, and he would manage the rest.
"I get the ideas, but I have never sat down to make my own game. But I'd like to one day."
Vintage games, modern packaging
Classic Game Publishers currently has two titles for sale, D2K Arcade and Minehunter, which sell online for about $65 each, and five more in the pipeline.
The first pays homage to characters from some of the most successful early video game franchises — including an overall-clad, mustachioed zookeeper who bears a striking resemblance to Nintendo's Super Mario. The second is a puzzle game akin to Minesweeper, an application that, once upon a time, was preinstalled to almost every consumer PC.
Though they were crafted in the 21st Century, the games bear a purely retro aesthetic. The characters and objects move fluidly across the screen, but they are blocky and pixelated. The graphics are more visually crude than those on the original Nintendo Entertainment System, which was released in 1985.
The soundtrack, filled with blips, bloops and crackling, captures the era before recorded music could be programmed into video games.
However, the packaging, though cartoonish, looks sleek and modern.
This is deliberate. Moeller hires a local graphic designer to fashion art for the covers. And each copy comes with a colour manual and a flexible, translucent plastic overlay to slot into the controller. The overall goal, he said, is to create a collector's item that will impress the even most discerning Intellivision fans.
"We feel that presentation is awful important. I've had people say, 'Oh, my manual has a crease in it. Can you send me a new one?' So I have to be very careful that I make the product, you know, perfect."
Despite his attention to detail, Moeller isn't making a mint just yet.
"My accountant says I'm doing really well for a first-year company. He said 'You're doing fine for a new venture.' However, I need it to start paying the bills a little quicker. That's the point. And I think the break-even point is about 500 customers."
And he is steadfast in his commitment to achieving his goal, even if it makes him the butt of a few jokes.
"Some of my friends think I'm insane, that I should go get a minimum-wage job," he said. "But I feel that this has the potential to be so much more."