A Comprehensive Guide To Video Game Collecting

Retro games – like vintage baseball cards, rare comic books, and antique magazines – initially purchased for pennies, now sell for thousands of dollars.

Indeed, retro video games have earned their spot on the hot trending collectible list. According to a study by PriceCharting.com in July 2020, retro video game value increased by 40% since the start of the COVID Lockdown. While several collectibles experienced a similar surge in value thanks to the lockdown, interest and value of retro video games have continued to surge post-lockdown.

A few months ago, Goldin Auctions auctioned a copy of Sonic the Hedgehog for $430,500. The collectible site Rally sold an unopened 1985 Super Mario Bros video game cartridge for $2 million.

This guide on collecting video games shall touch upon everything you need to know to get started collecting video games. We shall also consider the most coveted titles for collectors looking for a quick flip.

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History of collecting video games

The hype around video game collecting has risen lately, thanks to the pandemic. However, video game collecting is not new. People have been collecting video games for decades before they became trendy.

After 15 – 20 years after a game is released, it gains “retro” status. Most game units would have been damaged and unplayable. This makes playable units of these retro games highly valuable. People looking to play games from childhood collected these games for that reason.

In the early 2000s, websites like eBay helped gamers trade these games. As with all collectibles, games still in their original packaging were considered rare and commanded more value. To add a bit of fun and that feeling of fulfillment collectors understand, people started vying with others to collect a complete set of titles for specific consoles.

This was pre-pandemic, and prices were low. You could collect ten titles with $100 as collectors didn’t consider things such as condition or packaging as long as the game worked. The titles that commanded significant figures were rare titles that were hard to find.

In 2008, the Collectible Grading Authority created the  Video Game Authority division to support video game collectors. They help with grading, rating, and packaging. This ensured sellers with mint or near mint titles could negotiate better deals. Interest in the video game collectible hobby grew in the 2010s as collectors from other hobbies such as trading cards, comics and coins turned their attention to video games.

In 2018, the Wata Games company introduced a set of guidelines for grading a game’s packaging and the auction giant Heritage Auctions began accepting video games in their auctioned items a year later.

Introducing these professional services increased interest in collecting video games as a non-traditional asset. A record sale was made in 2019 when a near-mint copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for $100,000. The news of this sale drew further interest in video game collecting.

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Getting started with retro video game collecting

Video game collecting entails collecting and preserving video game consoles, games, and related accessories. Discontinued video games’ cultural and sentimental significance makes them good collector’s items. The video game industry is massive and has been going on for over 40 years.

To start collecting video games, you must pick a specialty to focus on. This can be one that interests you, or one you feel offers the quickest ROI. You also need to consider several factors, such as what you’ll be collecting.

You could opt to be a console collector. However, many consoles are no longer sold nor are easy to find. You’ll have to fork out lots of money if you hope to collect consoles. Plus, consoles might not run again, and getting them to work is almost impossible.

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Your best bet is collecting games themselves. Before starting, you need to decide games of which console, genre, and publisher you’ll be collecting. Collectors usually collect games from genres they enjoy or titles of famous video game characters. Before we get started on how to start a video game collection, let’s talk about the reasons why retro games are suitable investments.

Why are retro games good collectibles?

There are many reasons why video game collections have risen in recent years and video game collecting has become a viable hobby and money maker.

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Priceless nostalgia

At a point in its history, video games were considered a fad that kids would outgrow. Today, it’s played by over 2 billion users and is regarded as one of the biggest industries on earth, with above $100 billion in sales.

Nostalgia has carried several great collectibles, and it’s almost impossible to find someone with no fond memories of video games. As we age, our love for games we played as kids gets stronger as we yearn for that nostalgic feeling of our childhood.

Retro video games bring back the memories of hanging out with friends, protracted battles with bosses, and the hours of fun we had as kids. It’s an engaging and fun way to relieve childhood, ensuring it’ll forever be valuable.

Retro games are cultural artifacts.

Retro games are an embodiment of our technological and pop culture history. They show how our taste in gaming and the technology required to bring these games to our screens have evolved. They are a vital part of our history, and people will always be interested in how technology has evolved.

Collection for the future

The gaming industry is one of the fastest-growing industries. We’ve quickly moved from having dots and sticks on the screen to vividly detailed games. We’ve moved from buying cartridges in stores to entirely digital games purchased from the comfort of our homes at the click of a button.

While most people collect retro games to play or for profit, some people look at these games to recollect the past. Like vintage cars, these games would remind us just how far we’ve come in the game industry.


Retro games are here to stay

The lockdown caused a surge in the popularity of different items. However, the demand for some of these items reduced and died off post lockdown. This isn’t the case with retro games, and the reason is simple. Retro games are here to stay!

While we have seen a significant increase in big money sales immediately after the lockdown, retro games were in demand long before that. The market for retro games is evolving with professional grading services and auction houses. While the most valuable retro game would change with time, retro games look more likely to hold their value.

Scarcity and demand

Retro games are from the past, becoming increasingly rarer as time passes. Game publishers aren’t producing retro game titles anymore, so the number of old game discs and cartridges would never increase.

This ensures a natural scarcity that ensures retro games continues to hold value. Additionally, the number of working retro games reduces yearly as screens go blank and capacitors fail.

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Getting started with collecting retro video games

As with all collectibles, people collect retro games for one of two reasons.

  • As a hobby – Buying the games they grew up playing due to a desire to try their hands on those games again.
  • As an investment – These sets of people collect strictly for profit. The titles collected by investors is often not played until it’s sold to another collector.

If you’re collecting as a hobby, getting started is easy. You can purchase titles you love without a care for things like condition or rarity. You can search Facebook Marketplace, thrift stores and local pawn shops and build your collection by purchasing from there.

However, if you’re collecting for a profit, there are several things you must know if you wish to be successful at this.

Pick a focus

Hundreds of thousands of retro games titles exist, and attempting to buy games from all titles would lead to disaster. You should pick one or two themes and stick to them. You could decide to collect the 1990s Nintendo classics or PlayStation discs.

This helps narrow down your purchase and ensures you’re on track. Here are two questions to ask yourself when picking a focus to start your retro game collection as an investment.

  • What’s the demand for this title now.
  • How long are you ready to hold onto the game before making a profit?

These two questions ensure you’re making the right investment decision and prevent you from becoming a hoarder. When you pick a focus, you clearly know what you will and will not buy. It also makes it easier to organize your collections and sell them off when the time comes.

Research

As a collector, you must make the most reasonable purchase that will give you the most ROI. Do your research on current market trends and used buying prices. While most trends are hard to explain and exploit, some are clear with little analysis.

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NES games were insanely popular in the 2000s because people that grew up playing them suddenly had the additional income to spend collecting these games they grew up with.

The value and demand for retro SEGA games blew up in 2019 for the same reason, and now, PS2 stuff is going for insane amounts. Knowing and following these trends is the way to make intelligent buys that deliver substantial ROI.

The internet is a great place to find out what’s trending and its value. The Video Game Price Chart accurately values all video game systems and is an excellent research tool for retro game collectors.

Here are a few tips when researching for the games to buy:

  • Buy games that are in demand now or will have a massive demand in the future.
  • Buy retro games of popular titles from well-known franchises.
  • Going for unique games is always great, as collectors prioritize such games.
  • While challenging to find, games with a limited supply of hard copies are a gold mine for collectors lucky enough to get them.

Collect with a budget

While having a fixed budget is recommended when collecting as a hobby, it’s even more important when collecting retro games as an investment. Limiting how much you can spend in a month collecting games helps you make wiser buying decisions. However, a budget shouldn’t keep you from copping a particularly great deal if you find it. Ensure you cut back on next month’s spending to cover it.


What makes a retro game valuable?

Several factors determine the value of retro games. A few of the most influential factors are discussed below.

Title and franchise

Classic titles from the popular franchise have more demand from collectors, which equals more significant value. Games like Legend of Zelda, Pokemon, Super Mario and other well-known franchises would always attract more investors.

This is because thousands of people played them as kids, and it appeals to their sense of nostalgia. They will also always sell for more than other titles from less popular franchises.

The story and gameplay

Gamers only care about story and gameplay. An engaging story and thrilling gameplay work wonder for attracting investors to a retro game title. Retro games with exciting gameplay and an immersive tale create an attachment with players they’ll look to relive as adults.

Scarcity

The rule of supply and demand comes to play here. The lower the supply of a product, the higher its price. Retro games already have limited copies in the market, and games with an initial limited supply would always fetch higher prices.

Gamers/collectors

Ultimately, the collectors/gamers set the value for retro games. If an entire community of gamers deem a previously unknown retro title a “must play.” Or collectors suddenly start going after a title from a small franchise.

This sudden interest would make thousands of people suddenly interested in getting their hands on a copy of the title. This increased demand would drive the value up.

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How to appraise retro games before making a purchase

When you’re collecting as a hobby, you do not need to worry about the condition as long as the game is playable. However, when collecting as an investment, there are a few things you have to look out for before making a purchase.

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Functionality

The first and most important thing to check for your retro game is its functionality. Does the game still work? A cartridge or disc that doesn’t work wouldn’t be worth much, no matter how good it looks.

Condition

After confirming that the game works, the next thing to consider is its condition, which influences its value. Consider things such as missing labels, visible scribbles and scratched discs. Look at the connectors to ensure there’s no rust or damage.

As a rule, you should always carefully inspect retro games before purchasing. If you’re buying online, carefully read the description, request as many photographs as necessary, and ensure a return policy is in place.

Extras

These are factors that also influence the value of your retro game. Check if it comes with an original box and what condition it is in. Does the game have a manual, and is the manual a part of the deal? Were there extras with the game, and are boxes unopened or not?

While these details are not necessary if you collect them as a hobby, they can make or costs you several thousand dollars if you collect them as an investment. Generally, go for near-mint copies of retro games if you can find them. The more excellent it looks and the more accessories available, the more you can sell it off for.

Where to find retro video games for sale

Knowing where to find coveted and rare retro game titles can be tricky. Here are a few places you can look.

Local video game store

Game stores regularly get an influx of retro games from people looking to sell their games. It’s an excellent place to start searching for titles you’re interested in. You can find several unique games this way. Simply search for local stores near you that sell retro video games and visit them.

Buying from your local game stores is better than buying online, as you can access the games up-close before paying for them. Most retro game shops let you test the games before making a payment. An additional advantage of local stores is that their prices are sometimes better than online stores.

Garage sales

We can write an entire encyclopedia on great deals people have found at garage sales. People looking to get rid of mountains of stuff would usually accept any offer as long as it’s fair. Do not expect all garage sales to have excellent retro titles. Some do not have any games at all. However, you’ll eventually run into a great deal if you visit several sales.

To avoid wasting effort and time, you should also look for electronics or video game garage sales advertised on Facebook or other online forums. However, garage sales are notorious for bootlegs and fake games as you’ll probably not have a way to test the game, and there’s no return policy.

Pawn shops, flea markets, Goodwill, etc.

While pawn shops are usually unorganized and randomly stocked, you can find a great deal if you’re lucky. Flea markets, however, have mountains of clutter you must go through to find a great deal. There are stories of people buying a dusty, neglected game on a shelf that ended up being worth thousands of dollars.

You’ll probably never find such a gem. However, you should get great deals on unpopular titles if your bargaining game is good.

Family and friends

If you’re collecting retro games, you should be pretty vocal about it. Once you put out the word that you’re searching for retro games, people will reach out to you if they have something for you. It might be a co-worker, an aunt, a cousin or a friend of a friend. You’re also sure to get great bargains this way.

eBay, Amazon, Reddit and other online sources

You can find thousands of titles on these online marketplaces. While the prices are usually high compared to other sources, the available titles are endless. There are also several online stores dedicated to selling retro video games. Such as JJGames, Lukie Games, and Old School Game Vault.

These marketplaces are excellent if you want to sell but not so great for making purchases. Unless you’re making an intelligent purchase of a title you’re convinced is about to become “the next big thing.”

You must take precautions to avoid getting scammed by untrustworthy merchants when buying retro video games online. This is because you can’t inspect the product yourself before purchasing. Follow the steps below to avoid being duped:

  • Ensure you read the entire description carefully.
  • Take note of their packing and shipping policy.
  • Review their return policy and how returns are processed.
  • Confirm whether the games have been tested and verified.

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Guide to properly storing your retro video games

Dust, heat and a general lack of care can destroy your collection. Properly storing your retro game collection is integral to collecting retro games. If not stored correctly, your prized possession will be damaged and lose all value. Properly storing your games ensures it stays in pristine condition and makes finding titles easy.

We shall discuss a few tips for properly storing your retro game collection.

Store in a well-ventilated space free of dust

You should store your retro games and consoles in a well-ventilated space. This helps prevent damage as a result of humidity or fluctuating temperatures. Seemingly harmless speckles of dust can damage your retro games and reduce their longevity. Avoid putting your retro games in the basement, as it can be a haven for dust.

Clean your cartridges and discs with a video game cleaner

Cleaning your retro games before storing them is highly recommended. This ensures they’re free of dust, debris and other dirt, extending their life. These things can damage the game during storage, especially if you store it for long periods.

A good video game cleaner can be made by using cotton swab dipped in rubbing alcohol and clean discs with a microfiber cloth. Wait until the games are dry before storing them.

Put games in their proper cases

Storing games in their original cases helps avoid scratches and make each cartridge/disc easy to find. You can use disc sleeves or a plastic binder if you do not have the original case to store your games in. Many serious collectors buy empty CD cases to put their discs in.

Store in an airtight container

This helps keeps dust, dirt and pests away from the games. Airtight plastic boxes are highly recommended. If your collection is extensive, you can make use of see-through bins. They make finding specific titles easy.

Gently place the games in the box, grouping them by genre, so titles are easy to find later. Avoid stacking your bins too high, as too much weight can damage games in the bottom compartments.

Make use of a specialized video game storage cabinet

The success of retro game collecting has ensured some accessories are produced exclusively for use to store your collection. IKEA and many companies now make specialized game storage cabinets that let you display your collection while keeping them safe.

These cabinets generally come with a glass shelf and multiple storage cubes. You can also opt for bookcases or TV entertainment stands, although these options do not offer as much protection as specialized cabinets.

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Stack carefully

Carefully load your games into whatever organizer you opt for. It’s generally good practice to alphabetize your collection or store them by genre so you can easily find them when you choose to use or sell your item.

Knowing your video game collection value

Your collection’s value would constantly change due to scarcity, popularity and demand. While being a part of the retro game collection community is the best way to know when these value changes, there are websites dedicated to video game pricing guides.

You can pinpoint the exact value of every game in your collection. You can compare the value with other online sources and marketplaces like eBay to confirm the value.

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Collecting for the future

We shall wrap up this article by looking at the future of retro game collections. While trendy retro games are mostly priced above the reach of the average collectors, wise collectors are preparing for the future. Most gamers are carefully preserving copies of today’s games.

As someone said, “look forward in preparation to look back”. Some games released a few years ago haven’t attained that “retro” status and are still affordable for the average collector. If you’re prepared to collect titles that would be more valuable in the future, here’s what we recommend.

  • Collect factory-sealed games
  • Collect limited edition versions
  • Collect factory-sealed consoles
  • Collect consoled complete-in-box
  • Rare vintage games

These five categories would always attract collectors and go up in value.

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Are video games a good investment?

Collecting retro games pre-2018 was a cheap hobby. You could walk into a game shop and walk out with several titles, all for less than a hundred dollars. The reality today has changed. Games that sold for $30 a few years back are now worth several thousand dollars.

So, is collecting retro games at this price worth it? The answer is Yes! And No. I’ll explain.

As a new collector, randomly buying titles of the trending retro games which are already worth thousands of dollars isn’t the most brilliant move. While no one knows if the current prices are the ceiling as regards value, they are already quite expensive.

To be successful, you have to select the right titles that’ll bring impressive ROI. Carry out your research to ensure you’re making the right buying decision. Collecting retro games is worth it only if you’re carrying out the research needed to make the right buying decisions.

Evaluate every buy carefully to avoid buying a title whose demand is declining! A bigger collection isn’t always better. A small collection of 10 great games can be worth more than a 2000 collection of mediocre games.

Additionally, retro games constantly change as new games and consoles gain retro status. Some games being ignored today would increase in value a few years from now.

Final thoughts on video game collecting

Indeed, collecting retro games in 2022 can be quite a pricey hobby. However, the good news is that the demand for retro games is at an all-time high. This demand, combined with the natural scarcity of retro games, translates to a higher valuation of these games.

Smart collectors are making impressive returns on their investments. As this article shows, a great deal goes into collecting retro games as an investment. However, once you get the hang of it, it’s a fun and rewarding hobby.

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John Bassey


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