Welcome to Collecting Retro Games, a series or articles which covers the ins and outs of collecting retro and vintage games. Whether you are simply curious about the hobby, or are interested in developing a collection of your own, these articles give information to help a new collector avoid the common pitfalls and mistakes that most people make.

If you’ve read my last two articles, you now have an idea of how to value a game and where to buy them. Now comes the most important part: figuring out what you actually want to collect. This is a mistake that a lot of collectors in all fields make when they first decide to collect something. They are so gung ho about their new hobby that they buy everything and anything related to the field they are collecting. That way you very quickly run out of space or money, or worse, regret what you buy. It’s very easy to get carried away, especially in gaming, when you first go into a used gaming store and see lots and lots of really neat things that don’t cost too much. A lot of people just assume that anything they don’t want they can just sell later on, and let me tell you firsthand as the daughter of a woman who owned a collectibles business that is it is far, far easier to simply not buy something you actually don’t want or desire, than it is to try to sell it later on. Just because the store is selling something for 30 dollars that doesn’t mean you can turn around and sell it to someone else for even a fraction of that. Stores and high-ranked eBay sellers can get the numbers they do because they build up a reputation, and thus people are willing to spend more for that security. Unless you have something super mega rare (which you’ll probably want to keep anyway), people will haggle you down, or you will have to wait a long time to sell the item you no longer want. It happens anyway, but the best way to avoid the hassle is to figure out exactly what you want to collect before you actually start buying anything.

Here are some questions and guidelines to give yourself before you start building. You can always change or expand your standards later, but by setting some rules for yourself early, you’ll avoid a lot of headaches and rookie mistakes.

Am I a collector or a player?

First off, why are you collecting your games? Do you simply like games and like to have the stuff around you? Or are you collecting games you actually plan on playing and enjoying? Are you trying to keep a historical record for posterity? Or are you just recapturing some of the warm fuzzies of blowing quarters at the Laundrymat? If you know why you are collecting, then you understand why you are buying the specific games you are. If you are buying to play, then it matters that the disks and cartridges are in working shape. If you are simply decorating, then broken cartridges won’t matter to you. It also matters if you like the game. Not every game was good, so for the sake of history you might own a copy of ET: The Game for the Atari, but if you plan to enjoy the games you own you probably can skip games with notoriously bad reviews. Does it matter if the game is still in its original plastic so you can unwrap it yourself like Christmas morning? Or do you just want the game any way you can get it? If you aren’t actually sure, it’s very easy to get tons of garbage, or worse yet, skip something you do want because you didn’t realize it was something you’d enjoy or didn’t realize you were getting a good deal.

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By system, by genre, by developer

Unless you are trying to break the Guinness World Record for game ownership (and if you are, more power to you) you are probably going to want to figure out a way to reign in your collection beyond getting every game ever made. Because that is a tricky road to go since we are already in the 7th generation of console games with thousands of titles per system, including special editions, country exclusives, developer copies and unauthorized, unlicensed games. A better goal is to try to stick to a specific subject. It’s more manageable, and depending on how you define it, might make your collection more interesting than anybody else’s. This could be anything, from all the games made by a certain developer (Square, Rare, Atlus), games from a specific genre (fighting games, RPGs, puzzle games), games for a specific system, or something as crazy as getting as many copies of a specific game as possible (the Jurassic Park guy). And don’t get hung up by what games are considered the most valuable and get too focused on finding the rarest games ever. Your collection is about making you happy, so collect only what you like. While it might be great talking point to say you own something really rare and valuable, and you think you are making a great investment, collectibles markets are extremely fluid, and while the market might be hot now, you never know what the next decade will bring. Even rich people who invest in valuable art are told only to buy a painting if it speaks to them. So do the same thing with your favorite art form.

Condition and Edition

Want to know what really sucks? When you buy something only to find out that if you would have waited a little bit you would have gotten a better deal. To avoid that eternal-kicking yourself feeling, it’s smart to set some limits for yourself. Only buy a game if it is in the shape you are willing to settle for. Does it matter if the game is black label, or can a greatest hits copy sit on your self? Does it have to have the case and manual? Or is having the disk enough? Unless it’s one of the rarest games of all time, you can usually wait for a game to come in the shape you want it in. Buying the same game over and over because you keep finding a game in better shape is a great way to waste money. It’s always smarter to hold out something you actually want.

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Another thing to watch out for is Collector’s Edition versus Limited Edition. A lot of people get ‘Collector’s Editions’ of stuff, paying extra thinking they are getting something cool, when in fact they are setting themselves up for a big shock when they try to unload it either out of necessity or design. All a ‘Collector’s Edition’ is is a version of something for a collector. It might have additional features or content that a ‘standard edition’ doesn’t, but otherwise doesn’t reflect its scarcity or rarity. It’s not unusual for a ‘Collector’s Edition’ to actually outnumber the standard edition. A ‘Limited Edition’, on the other hand means just that, that there are only a set number printed. Of course, these numbers can be anything the publisher wants from a few hundred to a hundred thousand. So before you plunk down extra cash on something marked ‘Collector’s’ or ‘Limited’ find out what exactly that means. That way you avoid overpaying for something that just has a slightly fancier box.

Budget

Collecting is supposed to be fun, a hobby, and I know the word ‘budget’ invokes something less than fun. But budgeting is a great way to avoid going overboard and overextending yourself, especially when you are first collecting. If you set up a goal for yourself in terms of how much you are going to pay per game you want, then you will actually be able to buy more games. If you say “I won’t pay for a copy of Final Fantasy VII for the PS unless it is a black label copy with the manual for under $35”, it might be a while until you find the game at that price, but in the meantime you can divert your funds to other games you might find first. While blowing $200 to get that game right now might feel like a high, it might mean you have to skip that copy of Suikoden III that somehow got priced for $15 because you’re out of money.

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When collecting, it is tempting to get everything and anything at first, but it’s actually more satisfying to wait until you find just the right game at just the right price in just the right shape. You might think your collection isn’t very impressive when it only takes up one shelf at first, by staying the course and sticking to a theme, the collection you do end up getting will be high quality, impressive and most importantly, showcases exactly what you want from it. You won’t have to figure out how you’re going to get rid of your stupidest purchases without eating a loss, or wonder why the hell you got the game in the first place. Besides, collecting is about the journey, not the destination. People will be far more interested in how you got the game than simply whether or not you have it.

Next up: 104, Collecting game-related merchandise

Previous Lessons:

101 Understanding Value

102 Where and How to Shop

103 Refining Your Collection