Tuesday, 13 April 2021 08:51

The Wizards of the Coast Game Center...and Restaurant?

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A view inside WotC's Game Center (Seattle, WA). A view inside WotC's Game Center (Seattle, WA). WOTC

Previously on Magic Untapped, we told you of the Wizards of the Coast Game Store, a chain of game stores ran by Wizards in the late 1990s and early 2000s. While there wasn't much more than a store going on at most, one location was a little bit more.

And we mean by "a little bit more" that they had an entire gaming center complete with a full-service restaurant.

Located near the University of Washington in Seattle, the Wizards of the Coast Gaming Center opened in 1997. Built to draw in the strong gaming community from the college and the Seattle-area in general, the whole place was actually pretty big. In addition to a store, Wizards made it so that matches could be held on site, featured an entire rotunda filled with Magic artwork, boasted an 11-foot-tall bust of a Hurloon Minotaur, and even had a 16-foot Shivan Dragon hanging from the ceiling.

The location even had some advanced technology, with 12 virtual reality BattleTech simulator pods and an arcades-worth of networked computers for on-site LAN parties. Then, one year after opening, WotC put in a MTG-themed restaurant: Dalmuti's, named after Richard Garfield's tabletop game, The Great Dalmuti.

The giant, 32,000 square foot center also hosted the Magic: The Gathering World Championships in 1997 and '98. Sports Illustrated even ran a story about it all - it was huge.

And, like the stores, it sailed on through the 90s right into the new millennium. And, just like the stores, things began to falter as soon as the dot-com bubble burst. Despite being in a good location, it was also a giant location. Seattle real estate was (and still is) pretty expensive. Having a specialty game center like that in a good area of the city (especially one of that size) is, well, have you you seen any building in the greater Seattle area go for under $500k recently? So it's like that, but the early 2000's version.

Sadly, it did become too much in early 2001 when the center had to close its doors. The reason? Poor foot-traffic.

"It definitely attracted a loyal following," said Wizards in 2001. "It was our flagship store and a good place to play games. It was something the fans came to know and love, but we didn't get enough traffic to justify the cost of running it. Basically, the Game Center was a test facility that cost a lot to operate. We felt it was time to make a good business decision and close the center."

In the years since the Game Center's closing, the location changed hands a number of times. Today, it's an Urban Outfitters. That's not to imply that the Game Center is forgotten to time, however.  Mementos from it still routinely go for a lot - a 25 cent game token in 2000 now goes for nearly $13 online.

Still, the center is just another reminder, like their stores and sometimes over-specialized promotions, that Magic was riding so high in the late 90s that WotC could virtually do whatever they wanted in terms of building things up.