If you’ve visited this site before, you might already know how deep my hatred for scalpers and overzealous eBay sellers runs. It’s a topic I revisit again and again.
And if I seem a little extra upset, it’s because I really do take this issue personally. I started this site (and the YouTube channel it was originally based on) with the intention of spreading retro gaming goodness and demonstrating that even if you’re broke (and yeah, I was living in the ghetto at the time), you could still start a highly-playable collection of retro games.
And why? Because physical collecting is fun as hell! Especially if you’re of a certain age and have a deep nostalgia for plastic games. When we were kids, that new NES game was everything. And that Toys ‘R’ Us aisle, with all the plastic flaps, some of you surely remember… that was like I’d died and respawned in gamer heaven.
Even back when I started with this whole thing, retro gaming was getting pricey. Or so it seemed. But there were still tons of genuinely enjoyable and nostalgic games we could collect for our childhood consoles that were totally reasonable in their pricing.
If I had only known back then where prices were headed, I would have snagged a lot more hard-to-find games. More complete-in-box games. More sealed games.
So yes, of course I’m very upset lately about the current state of the bougie, pretentious retro games market. Yes, of course I’m crossing my arms and pouting out my bottom lip and mumbling that “It’s not FAIR!”
It pisses me off. And not just because I could have had an extremely valuable collection by now, although I surely could have. And not just because there are still a ton of games I want for the NES and SNES that I can no longer afford, although you can bet there are tons.
The fact is, when you get down to the cause of the retro-pricing insanity, it really isn’t fair.
You might be thinking “Suck it up, you wuss!” and you’re probably right. But you might also be thinking “Aw, come on Steven Long. Don’t beat yourself up. Nobody could have known that retro prices were going to explode.” But the thing is… some people did know. And it’s not just nostalgia or COVID that’s blowing retro prices all outta whack.
Wata and Heritage Auctions are Destroying Retro Gaming
…and everybody knows it. At least, everybody who follows this soap opera. They aren’t even sneaky about it.
I’ve written about it more than once before. And others have had plenty to say on the topic. It’s so well-known that Heritage and Wata are huffing each other’s farts that I was flabbergasted (and my gasts hardly ever get flabbered) to see them with a massive booth in the highest-traffic area of Retropalooza DFW.
Heritage Auctions is here. 👎👎👎🙄 pic.twitter.com/rE2fRDYuMG— The Gelatinous Gameroos (@longie_long) October 23, 2021
Nobody says “Who is that?” They all say “Boooo! Screw those guys!”
If you’re not familiar with Wata and Heritage, here is a post I wrote about it earlier this year. It’ll catch you up. Go read it. I’ll wait.
Oh, you didn’t read it? Ugh, fine. Basically, Wata is in the business of appraising physical games, sealing them in capsules (so they can never be played!!!), and assigning them a grade based on their condition. Wata can charge hundreds of dollars for this process.
Once their game is graded and encapsulated, the owner can feel smug af about the value of their possession and sell it for an outrageous price. But to exacerbate the issue, Wata has some behind-the-scenes agreement with Heritage Auctions to ensure that Wata-graded games are being sold for ridiculous sums of money to investors that can be directly linked to Heritage or Wata.
That’s market manipulation plain and simple. And the way they “invest” in the games to re-sell (to themselves again) at a later date sounds like a case could be made for money laundering as well.
The result of these regular million-dollar game sales and the massive press coverage they receive is a mind-blowing rise in the “average” cost of these old games. Here, have a look at the average price of SNES games over the last 13 years.
When I started aggressively collecting, around 2017, I thought things were a little pricey. But even since then, the average price has doubled. And remember, that’s the average price, so it’s taking into account game sales like this one:
Can’t I Just Emulate Retro Games?
Well, of course you could. I’m not going to encourage that because it’s a touchy subject. Just look at what happened to Kotaku. And besides the moral issue, downloading the ROMs of games you don’t own is illegal. And I don’t want any trouble here, officer.
If we’re looking at it from a strictly moral position, an argument could certainly be made that buying retro games from vendors or eBay sellers does not benefit the game’s developers in any way. The people who own that IP get zero dollars from the transaction.
The only people hurt by emulating old, out-of-print games are those poor resellers asking a million dollars for their graded copy of Shaq-Fu. Cry me a frickin’ river.
When we talk about emulating new games (like Kotaku did and got skewered for it), it’s a totally different story. And even games like Chrono Trigger and old Final Fantasy games are hard to defend emulating because they are still available on number of platforms by the IP owners. I bought my copy of Chrono Trigger on Steam for like $7.49 and Square Enix got their cut.
When people are buying and selling sealed games, then maybe one could justify paying a ridiculous price. Those are super rare. And if a 30-year-old game is still sealed, then nobody should be playing it. Feel free to put those in a capsule and let them collect dust on your shelf.
But sellers are getting complete games graded, or even incomplete ones. Perfectly playable games are now unplayable and being sold for insulting sums.
Just look at this listing for a graded LOOSE CARTRIDGE of Little Samson! I literally threw up in my mouth when I saw this.
This is insane on so many levels.
First of all, who grades a loose cartridge? Well, my guess is not this seller. Because the capsule doesn’t look anything like a regular Wata capsule. And look at the pictures: they’ve REMOVED it from the plastic to open it up and post pics of the board. WT actual F?
Just compare this to another, non-“graded” COMPLETE copy of Little Samson:
Do you know what the real difference is between these two? One of them is being sold by a bloody psycopath!
Listen, $4,500 is waaaay too much to pay for a video game. Sorry, but it is. And good on some certain people who have that kind of disposable income. But this type of game is exactly why emulation, legal or not, is rampant in the industry.
And listings like that fake-graded loose cart show us what’s really happening to retro game prices. People are digging this stuff out of their attic or their grandma’s closet thinking it’s good as gold and they can just name a price and get rich.
Not only are they delusional and incorrect, but they are spoiling a great hobby for a lot of people that could actually afford to collect games like 2 years ago. Resellers–like scalpers–just have a way of ruining everything they lay their grimy little mitts on.
What can we do about it?
Is it even possible to stop this retro ridiculousness and return game-collecting to a reasonable hobby?
But the only way it’ll happen is for people to stop buying. Stop letting this non-gamer, ham-fisted investors hold these classic games for ransom. They invest serious money into this on the wager that gamers gotta game and suckers will keep buying no matter what the cost.
So far they’ve been proven right.
But by the looks of the ever-growing litany of unsold eBay listings for massively inflated old games, it’s starting to seem like maybe the bubble is on the brink of bursting. Maybe retro gamers are getting sick of this crap. And maybe we are tired of handing over too many dollars for the games we love.
Yes, emulation is convenient and cheap and yes, it’s understandable that you’ll want to play ancient, super-rare games like Sword Master and Little Samson. But there’s really no feeling like playing these childhood classics on original hardware the way they were intended.
But until this thing gets under control, I’m going to keep making my purchases from sane sellers that ask reasonable prices. Use Pricecharting.com to see just how insane the asking price is before you commit to buy something from one of these ding-dongs.
Lay low and starve them out, and before long these phony investors will get tired of the unstable retro games market and move on to something else. Like NFTs.