What’s the best place to buy retro games online? Frankly, eBay tends to be the least expensive and have the widest selection. But because it is mostly unregulated, there are a few factors beyond pricing you should keep in mind. Counterfeiting, quality issues, and straight-up scamming can happen sometimes. We’ll cover everything you need to know in this short article.
New to Collecting Retro Games?
If you’re just getting into the hobby of retrogaming, a great place to start is with our Ultimate Guide to Collecting Retro Games. We keep it pretty well updated, especially compared to some of the other retro gaming sites online.
The Guide to Collecting Retro Games covers how to choose the games you want to collect, the best places to score hauls, things to beware of, and a few trusted resources. I did my best to make it a great resource to start this awesome hobby. Seriously, check it out, bookmark the page and check back often during your collecting journey.
Of course, many gamers are content just to download ROMs and emulators and play retro games that way. Especially for absurdly expensive games like Little Samson. But if you’re like me and you want physical copies for your collection, there are a few things you should be aware of.
Is eBay Safe for Ordering Retro Games?
EBay has thousands and thousands of video game listings, and the vast majority of eBay sellers are good sellers. If you’re a collector, or becoming a collector, quality is important, and you want to be sure you’re ordering from somebody that also takes quality seriously.
I’ve personally bought hundreds of games on eBay and can count on one hand the number of times I’ve felt dissatisfied. And all but one time, my dispute was resolved satisfactorily.
As with anything else, of course, your own mileage may vary. Sadly, there are some bad eggs out there that are willing to sell counterfeit goods or misrepresent what they’re selling. But the majority of the time, eBay will back you up if something goes wrong.
I’ve used eBay since the 2000s and trust them enough that I am now an affiliate. Purchases you make after clicking my links will help contribute to running this website. But with that being said, I always try to be honest in my posts and provide good info for you.
As mentioned earlier, one reason that many people turn away from eBay is because they want to be assured of the quality of what they’re purchasing. There are several storefront websites online that specialize in retro games and they are usually run by other collectors that know what they’re doing. They (claim to) test and clean their products and stand by the quality.
But check this out: Most if not all of those stores also have a shop on eBay. DK Oldies is one example. Pretty much all reputable retrogaming sites claim to clean and test their games and stand by their products.
Both stores have their own website, of course. But by searching directly on eBay you can quickly compare their selection and prices against every other online store. So you have the combined advantages of buying from experts, but being able to compare prices across just about every listing for your item on the internet.
Are there counterfeit games on eBay?
Counterfeiting is definitely something to be aware of! There are counterfeit games and reproduction games being sold on eBay. Sometimes maliciously and sometimes unknowingly. If you’re new to collecting video games, you may not know about counterfeiting within the gaming community. There are a few ways to protect yourself though, and learn what’s real and what’s phony.
“Reproduction copies” of games are newly-manufactured cartridges with new chips that have old games programmed onto them. They’re fine for just playing a game, but they are worthless to collectors because they aren’t originals. They’re just cheap copies. Also, they’re illegal. (I think? Pretty sure. It’s questionable.)
To see what I’m talking about, check out this filtered list of old games that are listed as “new.”
The majority of people selling “repros” are upfront about what they’ve got. Ebay listings will have the items listed as “New” and usually mention in the description that the item is a reproduction. The legality of selling these is dubious at best, and I don’t recommend buying them if you can help it. But don’t stress over it if you just want a cheap copy to play without “collecting.” The feds aren’t going to bust down your door for buying a cheap bootleg copy of Earthbound.
Have a look at exactly what I mean: Here’s a search results page for Earthbound. You’ll see prices ranging from $15.99 all the way to $350. If a price seems too good to be true, it probably is fake.
Where the counterfeiting becomes more of an issue is when sellers—either through ignorance or greed—sell a fake copy of a popular game without disclosing that it is not original. Or even worse, claim that it is authentic. Sometimes the seller isn’t even aware they have a fake copy and will insist they have the real deal because they genuinely don’t know.
If you want to get serious about collecting, it’s a good idea to learn how to tell the difference. There are a ton of videos on this topic, and I wouldn’t be surprised if it was a topic coming soon to this blog. It really isn’t hard to tell a real copy from a fake.
Typically, the only games that get faked are the ones that are prohibitively expensive but still really popular. That covers things like Earthbound and Chrono Trigger, Final Fantasy III (SNES), any Pokemon game, Power Blade (NES), Legend of Zelda: Minish Cap (Game Boy Advance).
Probably due to cheaper production and shipping costs, Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS cartridges seem especially prone to forgery. Another look at this filtered list should reveal piles and piles of DS and GBA games.
To stay ahead of this problem, here are a few steps you can take to make sure you are getting a genuine copy.
1. Make sure the eBay listing is not labeled as “New.”
The majority of sellers will let you know if they’re selling repro copies or genuine. No big deal. It’s just a few bad seeds that should have you on your toes.
2. Check seller reviews.
Not all reviews you see on eBay are genuine. But it’s hard for any seller to fake a few years of reviews. As long as they have a solid history of good reviews, and sell a lot of old games, you’re probably in good shape.
3. Don’t be afraid to ask.
eBay makes it easy to reach out to sellers with questions. You won’t sound stupid if you ask, “Is this a genuine copy and not a repro?” If there’s any doubt, go ahead and ask. If the seller says they don’t know or the game is “untested,” avoid them.
4. Check the listing again.
Many good sellers will open up their for-sale cartridges and take pictures of the board inside. You can Google the image and see if it’s real. There’s an incredible database of genuine cartridge board images here. And If you have doubts, just ask Reddit. They might make fun of you, but you’ll usually get answers.
Are retro games on eBay really “Cleaned and Tested”
One thing to watch for when ordering retro games on eBay is the word “tested.”
“Testing” can mean a lot of things to sellers but ostensibly, “tested” means they put the game in a console, turned it on, and saw that it works. That’s it.
Many listings will also claim to be “cleaned.”
It has become almost a running joke among eBay hunters and collectors for games to be “cleaned and tested” because the phrase is almost ubiquitous on retro game ebay listings.
Most cartridge games you purchase will still need to be cleaned as soon as you receive them and you should test them, regardless of what the listing said. Sometimes you’ll need to really really clean them before they’ll work. If that’s the case, you can often reach out to the seller and see if they’ll knock a few bucks off the price. Though if the game works, you don’t really have much to complain about. And if it won’t work at all, tell the seller. They will either refund you, or you can return it. eBay will have your back on this.
When it comes to games claiming to be Cleaned And Tested, the opposite should also be considered. If you come across a listing for something that is “Not Tested”, take that as a red flag. Most likely, the item has been tested and does not work. The seller is just trying to cover their butts.
Always Check Seller Reviews
The bottom line when ordering on eBay is that most sellers are good sellers. EBay generally does a good job of weeding out fakers and they take reports and reviews seriously. Someone trying to pass off counterfeit or reproduction copies of retro games will not be on eBay very long.
The little number next to a seller’s name refers to how many transactions they’ve had. If it’s a small number, the seller is new and if there is anything fishy about the listing, take it to heart. A big number means this seller has been using eBay for a while and hasn’t gotten banned. So that’s a good sign. But in general, if you just check reviews, look closely at the eBay listings, be aware, use common sense, and have fun…you’ll be fine!
Ready to go hunting?
Here’s a page of NES listings to get you started. “New” items are filtered out and there is a wide selection of games here.
You should also check out our list of the 52 Best Super NES Games that are Still Cheap.
Thanks for reading and happy hunting!