Brian Riggsbee originally created Retro Game Books without a website builder. Intended to be a solo project, he soon saw the potential of a small online business. A former video game developer, Brian saw a gap in the market where video game books were concerned – most notably they tended to focus on only the most popular series.
With a wealth of retro gaming knowledge under his belt, he decided that he could use his niche and create a whole series of retro gaming books thanks to Shopify. Now, nearly four years on from the initial project, Brian has an online store full of original books covering gaming’s biggest franchises and underrated gems. He’s also expanded into t-shirts, stickers, and other merchandise, all featuring original commissioned art.
But for Brian, it’s still a passion project. We sat down with him to discuss what the most important elements are for running a business like his, as well as learn how he ‘leveled up’ his site as the orders grew and grew.
- Industry: Gaming
- Founders: Brian Riggsbee
- Company Founded: 2020
- Company Location: San Francisco
- Website: https://retrogamebooks.com
- Website Built With: Shopify
- Having a website has: allowed us to globally showcase and sell our products, and sell products directly to consumers.
“The advice I give to others is don’t be afraid. The hardest part is getting started. I find this to be true for any big initiative in life. Once you break open that seal the rest will come together. “
“Retro Game Books started with one book in 2020: The Complete History of Rygar. What was intended to be a solo project quickly became the foundation of a small business, with multiple books and other retro gaming products to follow. I’m a former video game developer with a deep passion for modern and retro games alike.
Despite popular belief, working as a game developer does not mean you are just playing games all day. It’s hard work that often has tight deadlines and moving goalposts, which can be draining and challenging. Also, it’s rare that you’ll get to pick what you get to work on, so you have to be comfortable working on a game that isn’t a triple-A title or perhaps a genre that doesn’t really interest you. Further, gaming jobs can be unstable, as workers are often laid off and studios can collapse.
While there are other gaming books out there, many tackle the most popular and surface-level gaming topics. For example, most focus on the most popular games, series, and genres. Though many of those books are great, Retro Game Books seeks to deliver a more nuanced approach to gaming books, by focusing on topics that are not well-explored such as the maps of games and the history of series that have been somewhat forgotten.“
“Retro Game Books seeks to deliver a more nuanced approach to gaming books, by focusing on topics that are not well-explored such as the maps of games and the history of series that have been somewhat forgotten.”
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“Creating a business from scratch comes with obvious challenges. Where do I start? What should I focus the most attention on first? How much time should I spend creating my website versus promoting it? How do I scale my e-commerce business and when is the right time to scale? What is my definition of success?
Thankfully, there’s so many wonderful tools and resources that getting started isn’t as hard as one may fear. For example, Shopify has made it easy to go from embedding a single product on a website to building a site from scratch. In Shopify, I’m able to manage product pages, inventory, shipping label creation, promotions, email campaigns, and more. Having everything in one place definitely makes the process and overhead less of a burden, and frees up more time to focus on being creative.
The advice I give to others is don’t be afraid. The hardest part is getting started. I find this to be true for any big initiative in life. Once you break open that seal the rest will come together.”
“Having everything in one place definitely makes the process and overhead less of a burden, and frees up more time to focus on being creative.”
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“My goal was to do as much as I possibly could by myself, as it’s easier to move fast and make decisions if there are fewer players involved. However, I also recognized my limitations, and as such have been working with an editor and various artists from the start. My editor, Justin Severson, is fantastic and an extremely talented writer. I credit him with the reason why the writing in my first book resonated so strongly with my audience. As for the artists, I try to work with a different artist for every book cover. Likewise, there have been multiple contributors throughout the years that have offered to feature art and articles in my books.
With any experiment or project, it’s important to start small. Just work on one page as a test, iterate there, and then move on to more pages. Get feedback from peers and make sure that feedback is from a diverse audience so that the opinions vary. Ask yourself questions like: Is the most important information above the fold? Is there a good contrast in my design? Can I simplify the experience further? Is my website both desktop and mobile-friendly?
Create something, get it in the hands of your audience, and see how they react. That’s what happened with The Complete History of Rygar, and the positive reaction and feedback are what helped set the next steps in the journey to go from a single project to a business.”
“With any experiment or project, it’s important to start small. Just work on one page as a test, iterate there, and then move on to more pages.”
“Creating a new book can be, at times, a ton of fun, and at other times, can feel like a chore. I find it’s important to mix up the tasks so that no process feels stale and that creation is an engaging and joyful process.
Each week is different, as it depends on what I plan to focus my attention on. For example, one week may be heavily devoted to researching and brainstorming, whereas another week may be a balance of working on a book layout while also promoting a recent release.
The day I held the proof copy of The Complete History of Rygar was a big moment for me. Here was this thing that — until this point — was just a 2D, digital file on my computer. And here it was. It was real. It had the new book smell. I could flip through it and appreciate it in a way that I imagined my future customers would. This was when I knew that what I was doing was all real, and anything beyond this point would be possible.“
“It had the new book smell. I could flip through it and appreciate it in a way that I imagined my future customers would. This was when I knew that what I was doing was all real, and anything beyond this point would be possible.”
“It brings me so much joy to see a customer return to purchase new products. To me that signals that they enjoyed my previous work enough to come back and are excited about what is next.
In order to maintain a strong relationship I follow some simple principles:
- Don’t spam
- Exceed expectations
As tempting as it may be to send more and more emails, it’s important to me that my audience is excited every time a Retro Game Books email appears in their inbox. Because of this, I limit my emails to only a few a year. When it comes to surprises, while I’m not opposed to preorders and will occasionally do them, I prefer to launch a new book as a surprise with inventory available. When it comes to exceeding expectations, that can come in the form of ensuring the paper quality is beautiful, the layouts have been immensely polished, offering free giveaways, and sharing extra goodies in some of my packages.
Retro Game Books was started just as the pandemic kicked off, so I can’t compare it to what it may have been like before. Since my business is D2C (there’s no permanent brick-and-mortar location), the pandemic likely didn’t have a major impact on my business. Now that gaming conventions are underway again, keep an eye out for Retro Game Books at your local expo.”
“It brings me so much joy to see a customer return to purchase new products. To me that signals that they enjoyed my previous work enough to come back and are excited about what is next.”
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“Social media is incredibly important. It’s where I get to directly connect with customers and share the news. It’s also a great space to do free giveaway events.
It’s likewise important to ensure you have a presence on as many social sites as possible. As daunting as it is to check and update various sites, the return on investment is what has to be considered here. While your standard social media user may gravitate to just a few sites based on their preferences, content creators don’t have the luxury to do the same.
When it comes to using these platforms, consider the differences between them before posting and engaging with your audience. While many may look and feel the same, they all have different cultures and your audience may differ. For example, Bluesky is a more tight-knit community, so running a giveaway contest there won’t make sense unless you have a massive following. Whereas something like Threads is continuing to build momentum and has a strong video game community already established. It’s a great place to have a direct conversation with like-minded retro gamers.”
“When it comes to using these platforms, consider the differences between them before posting and engaging with your audience.”
“For me, Shopify continues to exceed my expectations. I did some research at the start and considered Square Online, but in the end, I preferred the usability of Shopify and its customer service. For example, I recently ran into a scenario where I needed to split an order into two packages, and Shopify not only did that for me, it made it easy to do so (I didn’t even have to look up how to do it!). When it comes to customer service, I often get what I need from a quick chat conversation. Their support team is well-informed, and it shows.
It was also incredibly easy. I’ve used a website builder tool before, with Weebly, and I’ve written HTML before (which I didn’t need to do here), but even if I hadn’t had those experiences I imagine it still would have been quick and easy. The tool is intuitive and simple.
For me, it’s the low-hanging fruit that nags at me. For example, in the site and email footer, Shopify still doesn’t have an option to insert Threads or Bluesky. It’s quite surprising to me that they still haven’t implemented this, as I imagine this is an easy update and something so many customers want. This, to me, is what you’d call a “customer love” update, meaning something that isn’t a top priority but is still something customers would deeply appreciate and could benefit from.
I’d also like to see some automation and AI website builder stuff come into play with Shopify, especially for the more repetitive tasks that a small business faces. For example, I’d love it if it would automatically group my orders into clusters based on the products they ordered so that it is easier to fulfill those orders. I’d also like to see return customers highlighted in some way on the order page. And perhaps some AI associated with email campaigns, such as having a new campaign automatically created based on products added since the last campaign was sent. There’s so much opportunity here that they can tackle.”
“It was also incredibly easy. I’ve used a website builder tool before, with Weebly, and I’ve written HTML before (which I didn’t need to do here), but even if I hadn’t had those experiences I imagine it still would have been quick and easy. The tool is intuitive and simple.”
Retro Game Books Website Gallery
“At this point, I feel comfortable with what Shopify has to offer when it comes to scaling my business. For example, I’ve sold books internationally since almost the beginning, and Shopify has made this easy to tackle by allowing me to convert currency to local currency.
For the future, Retro Game Books has started to expand what it offers, by carrying books from other authors and creators. Plus, we now have t-shirts, stickers, cards, and more.”