Like it or not, video games have now been around long enough that they can be considered a ‘vintage’ collectible (yes, you are that old), as as a result there is a lot of interest in the collection and sale of retro games. Even Gamestop, whose previous policy was to refuse the purchase of a game for a system that’s maybe been obsolete for a few months, is now starting to buy and sell older titles and systems. With this booming sector of the collector’s market, and now the sky rocketing secondary market for some games, it’s very easy for a beginning collector to get lost in the shuffle. So whether you are starting to collect retro games, simply want to catch up on vintage titles or are planning to sell your collection to someone else, it’s important to be informed.
So welcome to the first lesson in Collecting Retro Games!
For the first lesson I’ll be going over figuring out the value of games. Different people sell different things for different prices, and the last thing you want to do if you are collecting is to overpay for something with no value, or undersell when you are trying to make a profit. Whether you are buying or selling antiques, comic books or the newer market of vintage games, value is always established the same way. Value is established based off of 5 factors: Condition, Quality, Popularity, Provenance and Scarcity.
A lot of people assume just because something is old, that it is valuable. A big reason why older items tend to be in higher value usually has little to do with the age itself, but with the fact that there are usually less of the older things than the newer things. Some vintage tiles, like the original Super Mario Bros were produced in the millions. Not only were the cartridges available for sale and the game was highly popular, copies of the game were also packaged with the NES, one of the best selling systems of all time. As such, original NES Mario titles, even in good shape with their boxes and manuals tend to not have much value. Other games were produced in lesser quantities, and over time there are even less of those games in circulation now because they were thrown away, used up or otherwise lost to the world. Ever hear about the 10,000 dollar NES cartridge? The 1990 Nintendo World Championships - Gold Edition cartridge was only one of 26 copies thought to still exist. Compared to the millions of Super Mario Bros. floating around, it’s easy to see why a game with only 26 copies would be valuable.
Reproductions affect value as well. If you ever pay attention to the eBay/Amazon listings for some games, you’ll notice most of these games always tick down considerably once a vintage game is released digitally through an online streaming service. Similarly with remakes/reproductions. A driving force in video game collecting is the fact that lots of people actually play their collections, and people interested in playing older games will stop hunting for an original title if they can get a cheaper remake/re-release/digital version. A few years ago it wasn’t unusual for copies of Final Fantasy VII to got for 70 dollars or more, but after the release for the PSN, even my local used gaming shop will sell black label additions for a more reasonable $35. So remember, age isn’t as much of a factor in vintage games as rarity. If there are dozens of version of a game, it usually isn’t that high in value, unless there is something unusual about it which brings us to the next factor in establishing value:
Provenance refers to the history of an item. This could mean the history behind the item itself, or simply who owned the item. A Super Mario Bros. cartridge might not be worth much by itself, but if you have a copy signed by the game’s designs Shigeru Miyamoto, then that game is going to be significantly more valuable than a regular copy. A lot of games gain a lot of notoriety for being innovative, historically important or controversial, and as a result these games tend to be more in value. This is where cult classic type stuff comes into play. They usually aren’t printed in large amounts because they aren’t commercial successes, but are known or talked a lot about in gaming circles. The games licensed and translated by the late company, Working Designs, weren’t produced in very high amounts, but are valuable now because the company gained the reputation for good translations, caring about their fans and releasing games with great extras as rewards to their loyal customers.
Popularity tends to be the trickiest of all factors to take into account when it comes to any collectibles market, simply because it is really, really hard to figure out what will become popular. But a good rule of thumb is if something was popular at the time of release, and isn’t a quickly burnt out fad, it will resurge in popularity every 20-30 years. Final Fantasy VII and Pokemon are both beloved franchises that sold in high numbers, so original versions are now sought by the people who originally played the games as kids. While there are remakes and rereleases for both sets of titles, and thus may not reach the same levels as rarer games, the originals still have higher secondary market values than say, some sports title released the same year in 1997. Which brings us to...
Quality is another one of those less calculable factors but is still very important. Generally speaking, if an item was considered of good quality during its release, it will always hold its value. In gaming, unlike, say, furniture or jewelry, quality is usually determined less with how the game was made, but the playability of the game itself. Glitchy games, games that had poor reviews during release, so-called ‘shovelware’ or games released so often that older versions are seen as obsolete generally will not hold their value. I think you guys are seeing where I am going with this: sports games. Most sports games have no value because new versions are released every year with little change between each iteration. A Madden game from 2010 may have cost you 60 dollars in 2010, but you’d be lucky if someone gave you a dollar for it today. The Atari version of E.T. is infamous for being one of the worst games of all time, but even with all they hype and the legend of the E.T. cache in New Mexico, the game still doesn’t have a high resale value.
Condition is probably the factor most people are familiar with, which is why I saved it for last and it simply refers to how good shape the actual item is in. If you have two items that are identical except condition, the item closer to brand new is the more valuable one. The best an item condition can be is Never Removed From Box. Which means it’s still in its original box/case with the manual, inserts, still covered with shrink wrap, preferably with the box in good shape as well. From there value goes down based off of whether or not the box is still there, the manual is included and how good shape the disk/cartridge is in.
It is important as a collector to keep all these factors in mind. It is the combination of scarcity, provenance, popularity, quality, and condition that determine the true value of something in such a fluid market. If you try to sell a game with no extras, with the label ripped off for the same price as a mint game, you probably aren’t going to have much luck selling it. If someone is offering you a scratched disk, but you know a game in much better shape sells for the same price, you know you can walk away from the deal. If you spot a Stadium Events cartridge at a flea market, then you know it’s a good idea to pick it up. By being an informed collector, you can avoid getting scammed and start building up a respectable collection without going to the poor house.
Next up: 102 Where to Find Your Collection