The (Brief) History Of The Portland Retro Gaming Expo

The (indirect) origins of the Portland Retro Gaming Expo go all the way back to 1996 and 1997!

In 1996 there was a store in Seattle called “Penny & Perk”, in the words of co-owner Beth Fell:

"The first Atari 2600 Championship at Penny & Perk was in 1996. Our store sold vintage clothes, furniture, records and pop culture memorabilia from the 60s, 70s and 80s. One day someone came in and sold us a 2600 console and a bunch of games. We set it up immediately and all took turns playing. Whenever customers came in, they would light up when they saw it! Pretty soon we had a bunch of consoles, joysticks and games for sale at the shop and we started getting competitive amongst each other for high scores. We joked about holding a contest, and eventually we talked about it so much, that the beginning of an idea started to form."

Atari Championship posters

Eventually Beth and the other decided to move forward with organizing a contest.

"We imagined a row of TVs, all showing various stages of an Atari game in progress. We theorized about which games would need to be included and why. We talked about it so much that it became truth. So, we made it happen. We advertised in the Stranger. We hung up dozens of posters and left hundreds of flyers around town. We sent press releases out to newspapers and tv stations. And all the while we never really knew if anyone would enter the contest or even care enough to show up."

The "First Annual Atari Championships" were held in Seattle on August 23rd (qualifying rounds) and August 25th (Championship) and were a huge success. The event got good local buzz and multiple posts on Usenet

2001 Atari Championships

HI*SCORE Arcade in Seattle in 2001

In parallel to the Atari Championships, Lee Krueger had thought about organizing a gathering of Atari 2600 fans and on May 26, 1997 he posted a message in the Usenet in which he and (later) Paul announced a Northwest Classic Gamers Enthusiasts (NWCGE) meeting on Saturday, June 21, 1997 at the Centerplex building, 6000 & 6100 Southcenter Boulevard in Tukwila. The event drew around 20 attendees with people coming from as far away as Salem, Eugene and Spokane and playing games, competing and trading, buying and selling classic games.

The annual Seattle Atari Championships and the NWCGE videogame meetings continued to run in parallel for a few years. The Championships found a home in Beth’s Hi*SCORE arcade in Seattle and NWCGE organized their events in Kirkland. This lasted until 2001 when the HI*SCORE arcade closed its doors on September 29, 2001.

Beth Fell, owner of HI*SCORE Arcade:

"Seattle in 2001 was changing rapidly. Rents were going up everywhere. We were losing half of our space to construction of a new building, and we couldn’t find an appropriate place to move to."

For 2002 NWCGE took over the Atari Championship as part of their annual show in Kirkland. At this point the one-day events saw a typical attendance of 100 to 150 people.

Joe Decuir speaking at the 2004 NWCGE event

NWCGE 2004 Atari Championships

The combined NWCGE and Atari Championship events continued to grow and eventually moved into hotel exhibition halls for more space. The last Seattle NWCGE event was in 2006 at the Holiday Inn near Sea-Tac and drew around 250 attendees.

2006 NWCGE flyer

Lee, Hans and the other organizers were increasingly pressed for time and so Rick Weis (a good friend and co-organizer in Seattle) decided to create a parallel event at the Quality Inn in Vancouver close to Portland, calling it "NWCGE Portland". Encouraged by the enthusiastic response of the gaming community (200 attendees) Rick and others kept organizing annual events in Portland and in 2008 renamed the show to Portland Retro Gaming Expo (PRGE).

Also in 2008 former NWCGE exhibitor Nate Martin organized the Jet City Retro event in Seattle which eventually turned into the annual Seattle Retro Gaming Expo (SRGE). There were also other PRGE-related events like many Cowlitz Gamers For Kids charity expos and PRGE swap meets.

Meanwhile PRGE kept growing at a rapid pace and needed more room – the move to the Oregon Convention Center in 2012 was the next logical step. With more space for exhibitors, arcade and free play area and panels, more attendees were drawn in. By 2016 PRGE had an audience of almost 10,000.

PRGE continued to grow until the sudden arrival of the COVID pandemic. The uncertainty and the risks associated with this caused PRGE to take a two-year break while planning for the next event.

And then in 2022 PRGE came back strong - thanks to our amazing and enthusiastic exhibitors, volunteers and attendees. Encouraged by this success the 2023 events promise to be bigger and better than ever.