Justin Field, owner of Big City GamingPhoto by Keven Salazar

Big Times at Big City

The evolving video game lounge is for gung-ho gamers and newbies alike

Big City Gamin’ wants you to know that it isn’t the video game store it used to be.

Justin Field, who established Big City Gamin’ in 2001, has a history of being a video game maestro. In 1992, when he was 16, he worked as a Nintendo salesman at Eugene’s Toys “R” Us, and he hasn’t stopped finding ways to promote video games since.

While managing a Video Games Plus in Eugene in his early 20s, Field became an expert at buying and selling games, getting a taste for entrepreneurship in the process. He thought that he could use his expertise to hone in on what young adult gamers were interested in, creating an atmosphere for college-aged game connoisseurs.

 “I was 25, so at the time I was an older gamer,” Field says. “Gamers were growing up. They were in college, like myself. But game stores were all focused on little kids still.”

With the help of his business partner Joe Berney, who is now the Lane County commissioner for Springfield, Field opened Big City Gamin’, located at 1288 Willamette Street, as a video game and movie rental store with a game-playing lounge, fit for all ages.

In 2009, realizing that streaming services and Amazon were making it difficult to keep a brick-and-mortar media rental store open, Field sold the company to work on some other projects. In 2018, after a call from the then-owner who wanted to sell Big City Gamin’ again, Field bought it back, but decided to make some changes.

The first change: getting rid of Big City Gamin’s retail component. It no longer rents or sells movies or games. Instead, it’s a combination arcade and sports bar, with a wide selection of beers on tap and a full bar in the works.

 “There are so many different avenues giving the consumer so many different options when it comes to buying and selling,” Field says. “They don’t really need to come to a store and get ripped off anymore.”

Not that Big City Gamin’ was ever a rip-off. 

Field says that it was always important to him to maintain local relationships, and that he didn’t go into creating Big City Gamin’ with the fat-cat mindset that he’d seen in other video game and movie stores.

 “I was able to implement change and create policy that was really different from a lot of other corporate places that were around,” Field says.

He cites a particular instance where he was charged with exorbitant late fees on a movie rental — a common complaint of Blockbuster-goers in the early 2000s. Field didn’t want to scam Eugeneans.

 “I thought that was so corrupt, I thought it was terrible,” he says. “I came from this environment, so I was really conscious and aware of what we were doing and how we were trying to create this symbiotic relationship with our community.”

Despite Field’s desire to have an honest business plan, he knows the company still has to make some money. When surveying Eugene’s bars, he realized Big City Gamin’ could fill a valuable niche in the increasingly eclectic scene.

 “Well, shoot, I’ve got video games — that’s one of the best time-sucks of all,” Field says. “If I get people here for long periods of time, drinking, that’s going to work well.”

He says it’s important to him that customers can play games for free when they buy drinks, creating a relaxed atmosphere where nobody is counting quarters or the clock.

 “The goal was to not have to charge. I don’t like having to tell someone their time is up,” Field says. “It just creates a different element. We don’t want that here. We just want to kick back, play video games and have fun.”

Field says that Big City Gamin’ differentiates itself from other arcade and video game bars in Eugene by focusing on innovation and new technology.

 “What keeps me in it and excited about it is the future. Innovation, evolution, those are the things that keep me going,” he says. “I don’t really look around me. I just kind of have my own vision and I chase that.”

At Big City’s gaming lounge — they call it a “Next Gen Arcade” — you can immerse yourself in a world of virtual reality on an Oculus Quest, which the average person might not be able to try for free anywhere else.

As well as maintaining an ever-evolving video game library, Field says that Big City is going to start focusing more on bringing more events to the bar. 

Big City has been hosting video game launch parties and tournaments since the early days, but now it’s bringing music and sports watching parties into the mix, too.

Over the course of Big City’s 18-year journey, Field says that one of the coolest things is seeing customers get older, passing their knowledge and love for video games onto the next generation.

 “I have a lot of customers who are still coming here and now are bringing their kids with them,” he says. “I didn’t realize how cool that was going to be until I witnessed it.”