VG Tribune

Interview with National Videogame Museum Co-Founder, Joe Santulli

April 12, 2016 / 11:02 AM

By: Matthew Williams

IMAG1330Credit: Ana Carolina Quintanar Photography

On April 2nd, the National Videogame Museum in Frisco, TX had its grand opening. Drawing large crowds of passionate gamers from all around the state and country, fans waited in anticipation to enter the museum for upwards of 1.5+ hours to learn about the history of the video game industry. This historical/cultural place of significance is the first of its kind in the U.S., and is sure to continue drawing large crowds for years to come.

I had the unique opportunity to attend a sneak peek of the museum prior to its grand opening. During this time I got to interview Joe Santulli, one of the National Videogame Museum’s co-founders, about his story and the history leading up to the museum’s monumental opening. The full contents of the interview can be found below. A big thanks to Joe Santulli and Shiroma Southwest PR for this amazing opportunity!

Williams: We’re here to give you a sneak peek at the National Videogame Museum, opening on April 2nd! We have with us, Joe Santulli, one of the NVM’s Co-Founders. It is nice to meet you!

Santulli: Likewise!

Williams: Thank you for allowing us to come check the museum out. I’ve followed the museum around at different events: E3, SXSW Gaming (formerly known as Screenburn). I’m sure you’re happy to have a permanent location/home for the museum.

Santulli: Definitely. It has been fifteen years of travelling, and it’s nice to not have to put everything back in bins, move it, and put it in storage. Things are getting older, so it’s time to settle down.

Williams: It’s good to have a centralized place where people can learn about video games. Gaming has turned into such a cultural phenomenon, that more people should be learning about it. In the museum, you have quite a comprehensive collection. You have systems I’ve never even heard of! What’s your method for collecting these gaming artifacts – eBay? Collaborating with other industry connections?

Santulli: It’s been everything from collecting artifacts as a teenager when the item was brand new. I’d already been a packrat with other things; I was doing baseball cards and comic books for a while…then along came video games! The collecting bug in me found something I could really hone in on. Anytime there was a sale or closeout, it was great! People look at the 1983 Game Crash as a terrible time for the industry…that was a great time for collectors. I remember barely having my driver’s license and driving all over New Jersey/New York, looking for K-B Toy Stores that were closing. I was able to get games for .99 – $1.99 each.

That sort of mentality never leaves you. You either become a hoarder or you open a museum (laughs). In this case, I happened to find two guys who were a bit better focused on how to collect and do these events. I eventually partnered up with them (John Hardie and Sean Kelly), and we ended up taking our collections on the road. When you do that, you also get industry support. We met some people who ran the Classic Game Expo, a show specifically for vintage gamers. We would bring in guys we worked on games with back in the 1980s/1990s. Those guys were interested in our museum idea, and asked us if we could archive some of their stuff. As a result, they would turn those items over to us. We now have that as a part of the museum. It’s a culmination of entire collections.

NVMRoomCredit: Ana Carolina Quintanar Photography

Williams: It sounds like you’ve done a lot of the publicity up-front with all of your touring around major cities, especially the west coast. A large portion of the gaming industry is out there. You’ll probably start getting a ton of people from outside Texas visiting this museum and wanting to learn more about the historical influence gaming has made. It definitely opens the doors for more gaming opportunities to be introduced in Texas. Dallas has always been known as a big AAA development city, and Austin as well (for Indie development), but I’d love to see gaming influence grow more here. Having this museum in Texas is a huge catalyst for that growth.

Santulli: Even the City of Frisco officials look at this museum as more than just a cultural center. They look at this as the national spot. That’s actually why we called it the National Videogame Museum – we know the industry doesn’t have anything like this right now, and somebody has to get it started.

Williams: How did you pick Frisco – was it simply due to the city’s interest in wanting to bring it here? Was it within the gaming industry’s best interest to move it here instead of the west coast?

Santulli: It’s funny you should ask that, because that’s almost exactly how it happened. When we first decided that we wanted to build a museum, the first thing we did was headed west. We looked at already existing museum models, like the Computer History Museum in San Jose. It was a beautiful place, and we thought “Wouldn’t this be perfect…to be in Silicon Valley alongside the Computer History Museum.” Well, the problem is you have to be able to find space, it has to be affordable, or you have to find someone who has money and is willing to sponsor it. Unfortunately, we struck out.

We then did a Kickstarter in 2011, where we concentrated on getting out to as many industry events as we could. At that time, we were really only doing PAX East and E3. We decided to get some money together to make it everywhere, and really made sure the industry understood what we were trying to do. Shortly after the Kickstarter in 2012, we arrived at the D.I.C.E. convention in Las Vegas. We’d never gone to that convention before, and never would’ve gone if not for the Kickstarter money. We put together our typical exhibit, including the 80s living room. The media had brought all of the game celebrities they wanted to interview into that space, including Randy Pitchford (CEO, Gearbox Software). Randy was in Plano at the time, but was moving his business to Frisco. Here’s that perfect storm: Randy is sitting in our exhibit having just finished a media interview, and is looking around, and asks “what is this? Is this a museum? Are you guys trying to build a museum? I want to build a museum!” Randy, already having his foot in the door in Frisco, arranged a meeting for us to meet with the council and everything went from there. We had similar goals in mind, including with the city.

So why Frisco? Frisco was the perfect spot, waiting for us to find it. It’s geographically perfect – when we were looking at Silicon Valley, my friends in New Jersey were telling me “you can’t do that…what are we going to do? We have to fly 6.5 hours to get to your museum?” Now their trip is cut in half. Pretty much, everyone’s trip (in the U.S.) is cut in half. Beyond the fact that it’s a great city, and it’s expanding in culture and population, it’s also a perfect geographical setting.

NVMHistoryCredit: Ana Carolina Quintanar Photography

Williams: In terms of other gaming influences, what do they think about the National Videogame Museum? I believe I saw some of the original Activision co-founders here.

Santulli: You are speaking specifically of David Crane, who is one of the four original Activision members and Gary Kitchen, who did a slew of games for them. They have been mentors to us. They’ve been like patriarchs to our cause. They’ve been going to our shows when it was card tables and standees.

There’s actually a funny story regarding David Crane. One of the things David said when we wanted to do a museum was: “it’d better not suck.” That was his advice. The funny thing: every time I’ll be doing something related to the museum (fixing an arcade machine, determining who will be in a piece of video game art, etc.), in the back of my mind, I’ll hear David Crane’s echo of “it’d better not suck, suck, suck…”.

Williams: Haha, it sounds similar to Navi spouting “Hey, Listen!” to Link all the time.

Santulli: It really does. When he came today, the first thing I told him was: “at some point you have to tell me it doesn’t suck.”

Williams: Well we are really excited to see how successful the museum becomes, and are very fortunate to have had the opportunity to talk with you about it. Thank you for your time, Joe.

Santulli: Anytime!

About the author /

Matthew, a graduate from Texas Christian University, now works as a Senior Digital Analytics Consultant for Ernst & Young. With a passion for video games (mostly retro and survival horror) and data, Matthew is pursuing a career in game analytics.

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1 Comment

  1. Matthew Gibson

    Great interview! I’ll have to check it out if I ever go to the USA!

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