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July 30, 2013

Interview: 99Gamers’ Brandon Kruzeniski on the success of social video game trading

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Written by: Dalibor Dimovski
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99gamers logo

I’ll never finish Fallout 3. When I last played the game, it was the Summer of 2009 and the economy had become firmly entrenched in a downfall. I had to ease off of gaming to spend longer hours at the office, hoping to keep my head above the water as our recovery seemed so far away. I put aside Fallout, and then Vanquish, Skyrim, Xenoblade Chronicles, and a slew of other games that I bought and sometimes even never opened.

This same thing is happening on the shelves of thousands of gamers, and some may even call it “the Great Backlog Blight of the 21st Century”. With so many new games releasing every week, and new consoles upon us soon, it’s difficult to figure out what to play next.

That’s what happened to Reddit user FrolfinManpris. With his pile growing, he had taken to shooting NERF darts at it to decide what to play next, posting an image of his method on the website. Little did he know that his post would eventually lead to the start of a huge conversation, featuring hundreds of comments and thousands of views and up-votes. Everyone, it seems, was having the same issue of a growing backlog.

“I realized that this random person had a bunch of games that I would love to play but just haven’t had the chance to,” tells me Brandon Kruzeniski, a fellow Redditor who had become just as engrossed with a growing pile of games of his own. “I turned to my game collection and thought, ‘this person would probably feel the same way about mine that I do about his.'”

99Gamers on Reddit

Kruzeniski’s pitch on Reddit

That was enough to spur an idea in Kruzeniski. He decided to create a website where he and his friends could trade their games instead of letting them sit there unplayed or trading them in to retail with minimal returns. But would it take off, especially when some online retailers offer similar options? “I wasn’t sure how many people would be interested in something like this so I decided to post the idea to Reddit and see what the response was like.” Only expecting a few replies, Kruzeniski was astonished when hundreds of people chimed in, giving support and ideas, and pushing the post to the front page of the site. He had his answer. “I then knew enough people felt the same way I did, so I went forward with the site.”

Brandon & Jon Kruzeniski’s 99Gamers website  has seen a steady growth from its inception late last year. The goal, Brandon tells me, isn’t to expand too quickly. “We wanted to start small with a great group of traders and expand from there. Our main focus has been and continues to be providing a safe environment for gamers to trade.” That meant strictly controlling who could join during the launch, and that also meant starting with a beta program first. “By going the beta route, we were able to make sure the community was filled with great traders.” This would allow him and his staff to determine where the faults were popping up, and to address them quickly and efficiently.

The concept behind the website is the democratization of game trading: users themselves determine the value of the games they own, utilizing a coin based economy to trade back and forth. Coins are purchased from the company, with $1 USD equaling 1 coin. “The site works as a free market, and allows fairly priced games to sell quicker than ones that are overpriced.” This allows the users to be in complete control of the worth of their games. Could that mean that some over- or under-value their games? “Members who end up pricing their games too far above the real value just end up not selling the game.” Lower coin values may seem appealing, Kruzeniski says, but a user-on-user rating system and a market price recommendation tool (an amalgamation of the current trade-in values at retailers, along with supply and demand) helps potential buyers determine if they’re actually getting a deal or not.

99gamers video game trades

The 99Gamers home page lists the plethora of available games

That essentially turns each user into their own mini-retail outlet, so to speak. That is perhaps the advantage of 99Gamers over other similar trading scenarios. “Video game trading sites have traditionally used a queue system with fixed game prices. The potential exists for trade lines to grow long, and as that happens the wait times for receiving a game grow longer.” Users waiting for a game to become available might do so for weeks or months, and by then have either bought the game themselves or moved on and forgot. “Having to wait a long time to receive a game can severely limit the excitement you have to play it.” With the focus being on trading and accessibility, the site has essentially no wait times. What users find in the massive bin of games (over 10k as of this interview) is instantly available, should they have the coins to initiate the trade. Think of it like a swap meet, with each person having their own table.

Owners might throw in posters or artwork to sweeten the value, work bundle deals, or trade games to each other instead of for coins. That’s a part of the classic concept of trading that has become lost as retailers incorporated trade-ins more often. “Used game profits at most of the major retailers come at the expense of the consumer, who just wants to play more games.”

“All games on 99Gamers come from our members, who trade directly with one another. We do not sell any games ourselves. We also don’t take a cut and the site is 100% free to use.” In some ways, that initial group of beta testers helped to fill the economy with coins, proliferating them through the network as new users hop on board. That amounts to many using the site for free, should they have in-demand games. Registering a newer game will lead to quicker sales than, say, a stack of GameCube games. Anyone who doesn’t have a popular game to trade can either wait for theirs to eventually be requested, or purchase coins right away.

99gamers profile page

The website’s typical profile page

“Word of mouth is responsible for much of our growth.” Kruzeniski attributes the success of 99Gamers to the social atmosphere of its design. In fact, it has affected the growth so much so that the team is constantly updating the ways that users can interact with each other and share their personalities. Profile pages are growing and expanding. The company added a public forum, messaging network, and social media integration. The goal is to “make trading with your friends easier.” And it definitely seems to be working. “The reaction has been great so far and the community has been extremely supportive.”

With PC games added recently, the company has even begun helping users trade digital content recently. Thanks to things like gifting on Steam, users purchase and trade codes and DLC. The recent Steam Summer sale filled up the digital trading side of the site. Retro games have popped up as well. But Brandon says that it won’t stop there. “We have plans to [eventually] add consoles and accessories. As [gaming] continues to go more digital we plan to be right there with it.”

Though the company hasn’t had many conversations with publishers, they still see the value for trading games into the next generation of consoles. “I think it’s great that both Microsoft and Sony decided to allow used games. It shows how strong the gaming community can be when they voice their opinions.” When it comes to the actual consoles, Kruzeniski is optimistic. “I think a lot of people are interested in what each console has to offer, and why one is better than the other. I’m looking forward to finding out more about what exclusives each console will have. I’m also very interested to hear what Nintendo has to offer. As they start to release some better games for the Wii U, I’m hoping it will begin to look more and more like a must buy.”

Video game trading and rental was one of the key ways that many fell in love with the hobby in the Eighties and Nineties, helping to expand into broader media and driving it to become a huge business. Friends traded with friends, and word of mouth helped games become popular among them. With its heart in maintaining that social side of trading, the website is more of a movement than it is a business. It’s fitting then that the site got its name from another recent movement. “When I was looking for possible name ideas, Occupy Wall Street and whole 99% movement had recently been all over the news.”

The name just might fit well.

As for me, well, I think I’ll post up my backlog in its entirety. Knowing that the games will go to someone who really wants them, and getting something equally of value down the line, might be enough impetus to finally wave goodbye to Fallout. At least until I finally find the time to play it again.

99Gamers can be found at its website, www.99gamers.com



About the Author

Dalibor Dimovski
Dali is the Editor-in-Chief and co-founder of SideQuesting, as well as the co-Founder of CarDesignFetish and the founder of MakLink. Dali is also a car designer, deejay, and introductory beer-brewer.