Let me begin by saying I was a huge fan of Pokémon in the late 90s. The first time it was cool. Before I ever played a Pokémon game, I was hooked on the cartoon and spent many afternoons watching Ash, Brock, Misty and Pikachu’s adventure unfold.
I was sixteen at the time and thought I was too cool for school, and waaay too cool for a children’s cartoon. But that was part of the fun. It was a guilty pleasure, and the show was totally lit as far as I was concerned: it had a jammin’ theme song, cute creatures, and an endearing story. For me, Indigo League ranks up there with Batman: The Animated Series and Animaniacs in terms of nostalgia.
When I finally got Pokémon Yellow for the Game Boy Color, I had fairly low expectations. I was more into PC gaming at that time, and especially preferred PC RPGs to console ones (Diablo and Fallout were my jam).
I was in the process of moving overseas and wouldn’t have access to my computer or N64 for at least a few months. So Game Boy Color was going to have to be my main console for a while, and Yellow Version was the game I chose to pass the time.
It was so good!
For its time, for the Game Boy’s technical limitations, and for the pop culture climate of the day… Pokémon Yellow was a shining gem.
It lacked the depth of the PC RPGs I was used to, but it was such a fun game that I barely noticed. The jaunty atmosphere was perfectly likeable. And while it wasn’t as complex as Fallout, Pokémon utilized the technology of the Game Boy to the fullest.
Looking back now, with a little bit of Game Boy development under my belt (check out Gelatinous: Humanity Lost!), I’m astounded by how much information they were able to fit into the original Pokémon games.
The gameplay was fantastic. The pokémon themselves were cute and unique, the music was good, the graphics were excellent… Pokémon Yellow ended up being one of the only Game Boy games I ever bothered to play all the way through. I was a fan, okay? Tons of nostalgia.
Okay, sure. But why am I wasting time telling you my own Pokémon story? Because I want you to understand that I’m not just some hater. I have love for the franchise and a generation later, I am enjoying the all of the cartoon series with my own son. And it’s good stuff!
But we really need to have a chat about how stupidly expensive Pokémon games are.
Pokémon Games Sold Millions
The truth is that Pokémon games are some of the most popular games of all time. Nintendo understands the love, and have always made sure there are enough copies for everyone. There has never been an undersupply of Pokémon.
And yet to look at eBay, you’d think these games are harder to find than a deodorant stick at a gaming convention. (Haha, just kidding!) (Am I?)
I’ll admit that loose cartridges of Pokémon games aren’t the most outrageously priced. But they still rank among the most expensive games for any given console, and the price of boxed or CiB copies is insane! Given the massive volume of Pokémon copies in circulation, with millions having been produced, it strikes me as odd that they hold any significant value today. The supply should vastly outstrip demand and keep prices low.
And yet, prices are still well above the console average for pretty much every main-line Pokémon entry.
The only conclusion is that the demand for Pokémon games is just really, really, really high. But is that really the case?
The franchise is definitely popular, but can it really be in such high demand that it outweighs the gluttonous supply of Pokémon games on the market? Particularly when you take into account that every Pokémon game is essentially the exact same game, just with slightly updated graphics and reskinned Pokémon with names that get less and less clever as the series wears on?
Something’s fishy here. And it ain’t just Magikarp.
Why are Pokémon Games So Expensive?
I posed this question to our pal JJ, my favorite video game pricing expert and owner of Pricecharting.com. As usual, JJ brought his insight to the table.
“Like you said, each of the games sold millions of copies. They shouldn’t be that hard to find.”
JJ went on to acknowledge that, yes Pokémon games are much more in-demand than a lot of other franchises, but there may be more to it. “I don’t think as many of them are available for purchase.”
One of the factors affecting supply may be a consequence of Pokémon being so kid friendly and accessible to younger players.
“Kids buy tons of them and having three kids myself, I’m very confident that more of those copies were destroyed or lost than copies sold to adult collectors.”
Another factor is Pokémon’s inherent replayability. “People spend all that time catching them all, and even if they aren’t playing the game now, they don’t want to sell it because then they would lose that team and all their pokémon.”
While I agree that these are probably some of the factors affecting sales value, I’m not convinced that those alone would keep prices where they are. There’s got to be more to it.
As it turns out, JJ felt the same way and went over a few factors that could be increasing the demand for Pokémon games.
Because the old Pokémon game cartridges are the only way to capture some pokémon, players have no choice but to track down the old games if they truly want to “catch ‘em all”.
JJ adds, “Plus the gameplay is still good (mostly unchanged) so people can still go back and enjoy old Pokémon cartridge games.”
“I think the biggest factor is the general rise in Pokémon collecting and nostalgia. Kids who grew up playing Pokémon in the ‘90s are now in their twenties and thirties and have money and want childhood nostalgia.”
“Pokémon cards have had a huge resurgence in popularity and prices have jumped through the roof lately.” JJ adds that Pricecharting also tracks prices of Pokémon trading cards. (Check it out here.)
They’re Only Worth What Someone Will Pay, Right?
So according to our expert, the general rise (craze) in video game prices are affecting the Pokémon franchise. Additionally, Pokémon is having its own rise in popularity. So these games are having a double-whammy of price increases.
This all checks out, but I still feel like Pokémon prices don’t match what the market supports. Something still stinks to me.
We all know the mantra of collectibles-pricing, right? An item is only worth what someone is willing to pay for it. The same is true for video games, as I’ve said many times before.
If you ask me (you didn’t, but what the hell), I think JJ was being diplomatic by saying the gameplay is “mostly” unchanged. I’ll go a step further and say the gameplay has remained completely unchanged since the original Red/Blue/Yellow editions. They’ve been reskinning the same game over and over for decades.
The only reason these games can maintain their current price is that fans tolerate playing the same exact game with slightly different graphics for years and years and years. It’s mind-boggling, frankly.
But I guess the formula works, so there’s no impetus for change. So who am I to judge. I did truly enjoy Pokémon Yellow for its time. But in 2021, we aren’t limited by the constraints of Game Boy technology. Sword and Shield could have offered up so much more and actually advanced the franchise. But they did not. And the graphics are just a notch better than Game Boy graphics.
So the real reason Pokémon games are so expensive is the same as any other collectible. They’re worth what YOU are willing to pay for them. Fans keep paying. Prices stay hot. And yet there’s still more…
Wata is Still Ruining My Hobby
In my last article (Game Collecting is Dead and Wata Killed It) I wrote at length about the current market madness over Wata-graded games. I thought it was a pretty good read and you should check it out. I’ll wait here.
Pokémon games are no different and their prices are every bit as affected by market manipulation. Perhaps more so because of the recent surge in popularity the franchise has seen.
The market is flooded with graded copies of Pokémon games, and rare editions that sellers insist are worth tens or even hundreds of thousands of dollars.
While there are a shocking number of “sold” listings in the thousands-of-dollars range, eBay currently lists only 3 Pokémon games that have sold for $10,000 or more, with the most expensive one being a sealed and graded Pokémon Red for about $18,000.
EBay currently shows exactly zero Pokémon games which have sold for more than that. And yet there are currently more than 60 current listings for Pokémon games with an asking price of $9,999.99 or greater.
The highest price tag is currently a quarter of a million dollars for a sealed and graded Pokémon Yellow. Oddly, the seller notes that “the price is based on sentimentality and personal value.” Okay, well if it means that much to you, don’t freaking sell it you insufferable ignoramus!
Back on track here… Returning to what we know about supply and demand… We see that the supply for Pokémon games in the five-digit range outstrips the actual demand by a factor of 20! That’s nuts!
I’m no economist, and no matter how much I talk about this stuff, I don’t claim to be. I can’t say for sure what it means to have an absurdly overpriced supply that outweighs a meager demand by a cartoonish margin. But I can’t imagine how a market like this could possibly hope to sustain itself. This is called a bubble, my friends. And bubbles always pop eventually.
Still, it makes my blood boil to see so many emboldened sellers on eBay pretending their listings are worth so much more than they actually are. Even though nobody is buying these games frequently listed at well more than ten times their actual value, every overpriced listing is making sellers a little more smug and a little more insufferable.
Here’s hoping this bubble bursts hard.
Thanks for reading.