The Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE) has emerged as the major gaming event of the year in the Pacific Northwest. Wackoid recently had a chance to chat the convention’s vice-president Toby Wickwire of PRGE’s larger board. This year’s Expo is being held from October 13th-15th at the Oregon Convention Center.
Wackoid: Can you give us a basic timeline of how the Portland Retro Gaming Expo transformed from a nineties-era Atari fan event to the major convention it is today?
The show began as an offshoot of the NWCGE events in Seattle which started in 1997. When Rick Weis, our president moved to Vancouver, WA he organized the first Portland area show in 2006. It slowly grew organically moving from the outskirts of Portland to the Doubletree and then the Oregon Convention Center in 2012. Since moving to that location we have invested lots of time, energy and money to grow the show and make it what it is today.
Wackoid: When did the Portland Retro Gaming Expo transform into something that could reasonably be called a modern fan convention?
The early shows transitioned slowly from a swap meet type event to the format we have today. Adding arcade games, an auction, museum, guest speakers and occasionally musical guests is what really built the small event up to a “modern fan convention.”
Wackoid: What has been your personal involvement with the Portland Retro Gaming Expo over the event’s history?
I’m the vice president, I’ve been involved since before we officially incorporated in 2011. I started out as a vendor, then helped distribute flyers and became involved in the decision making process when the opportunity arose.
Wackoid: The Portland Retro Gaming Expo bills itself to a significant extent as being the major gathering for retro gamers in the Pacific Northwest. How broadly do you define that region?
Much of our core audience is from Oregon, Washington, Vancouver, BC area, Idaho and NorCal. Obviously people have always come from further away but I think our roots lie there.
Wackoid: Do you see a lot of visitors come in from outside the Pacific Northwest?
Absolutely! We have done some informal polls in the past and people come from all over. Pretty much every state and also Japan, Italy, Germany, UK, you name it. I personally moved to the Netherlands in 2021 so I’m coming from almost 5000 miles away.
Wackoid: I notice that the Portland Retro Gaming Expo is listed as a non-profit organization. Do you think being a non-profit gives you a different outlook on what it means to act as a fan convention compared to something like the recently finished Wasabi Con, another recent Portland fan convention run for profit?
I definitely think it makes a big difference. Other events that are for profit have to make every decision based on what the financial return will be. That is obviously a concern for us as well because we need to make money to continue to host this event but it isn’t the first thing we have to think about in every decision we make.
Wackoid: Since the Portland Retro Gaming Expo is non-profit, that means you’re all volunteers. What are your day jobs and do they have any relation to retro gaming?
The organizers of the show own Video Game Wizards, Sidequest Games and Double Jump Events. Two are retired, one worked at Microsoft. One person is a graphic designer. I work at Catawiki, an online auction site, managing the video game auctions and I co-own a collectibles store with my sister.
Wackoid: Do you have any sister-like relationships with other retro gaming conventions in North America?
We have a good relationship with the organizers of a bunch of different conventions but we don’t have a sister-like relationship with any events right now.
Wackoid: Can you describe a typical day at the Portland Retro Gaming Expo- either for you personally or for a typical spectator?
We try to divide up areas of responsibility but we all end up running around putting out fires all day long. We’re there Wednesday to Monday 6:00 AM to midnight most days. Earlier to meet with the morning news people sometimes. For the typical spectator, I have no idea. I rarely get to enjoy the show in that way.
Wackoid: How has this experience changed in recent years?
We were not able to have the show in 2020 or 2021 so there was so much work to bring the show out of mothballs and get it up and going again for 2022. A couple of people have also left the organization so redistributing that work has been a challenge.
Wackoid: Are there any guests or events for the upcoming convention in October that you’re especially excited about that you’d like to discuss here?
We have just announced that the Angry Video Game Nerd will be returning and also playing a concert with his band Rex Viper. Much more to be announced soon!
Wackoid: Any final thoughts, or answers to questions I didn’t think to ask that you’d like to talk about anyway?
We really appreciate all the support that the community has given us over the years. We couldn’t do this without our volunteers, which can be a thankless job.
You can get your tickets to the Portland Retro Gaming Expo now.