Ed Mandy had a basement full of arcade games in his Minnesota home. It wasn’t that he was busy toggling the joystick and collecting coins as Mario — he was tearing them apart to rebuild them. “I was more interested in the hardware and how the games actually worked than playing them,” Ed says.
The graduate of South Dakota Mines spent many years working in the neighboring state and tinkering with his game collection before returning to the Black Hills for a new venture with another Mines graduate, Andrew Pavek, his brother-in-law. The company they started, known as 7400 Circuits, expanded from simple contracting jobs to an entirely niche market creating DIY retro gaming systems. Their creation story isn’t one of a million dollar idea, but more of the impetus of building a product that they enjoyed creating. Ed thought back to his days of rebuilding arcade games and they began a small project designing circuit boards for handheld video game systems.
Ed, an electrical engineer, was skilled on the software side, while Andrew’s passion was in hardware They supported their creative video game ventures by conducting contract work for local businesses, including redesigning hardware for B9 Creations. That is how they were introduced to Ascent Innovation. From there, an entire new market opened up.
Their product line, Freeplay Tech, is familiar to retro gamers worldwide. What started as a “nice within a niche” market has blossomed into a burgeoning business. Freeplay Tech creates DIY kits to install a new circuit board, LCD, and other accessories into the shell of a Game Boy Advance. This allows the device to look and feel like the retro Game Boy Advance but operate like a modern day computer.
In a time when people are looking to the past for happier times, nostalgia gaming is on the rise. “There’s a group of people that love the Game Boy Advance better than anything else.” Ed said. Their success on Kickstarter speaks volumes to the popularity of this throwback gaming world. With 327 backers who pledged over $45,000, they exceeded their initial goal by almost $10,000. This allowed them to partner with a Canadian business that markets and sells their products on an established retro gaming website, so they can focus on production and not carry as much inventory. However, they plan to expand with an additional Kickstarter campaign to create the plastic shells and custom buttons that house the circuit board for the Game Boy Advance. “We’ve never made our own shells. It’s something we’d like to do locally, injection molding the parts” Ed adds.
From basement tinkering to worldwide familiarity, Freeplay Tech has found their niche in the nostalgia gaming world.