Retro Gaming in 2022 is a Joke

If getting older has taught me anything, it’s that everything changes. That includes not only the hair on my head, but the hair on my body. Who would have thought that while I lose the precious locks from my scalp, I can also grow a whole new goatee in my pants?

Oh, and also: Retro game prices have gone through the roof and retro game sellers are completely nuts. Almost forgot to mention that. Distracted by my body hair, I suppose.

Retro Game Prices May Have Peaked

But seriously, if you had started collecting retro games a decade ago, it was a free-for-all. And by that I mean the games were almost literally free. For all! Classic games were dirt cheap 10 years ago. They only got really expensive over the last couple of years.

I remember picking up the Castlevania Double Pack pack for Game Boy Advance for around $25. That was in 2018. Today, you’d be hard pressed to find it under $100. Keep in mind, though, that it’s still cheaper today than they were 6 months ago. And if you manage to find a good deal (here’s my partner link to eBay), I suggest you grab it. The games are amazing.

Silent Hill 2 and 3? Not so much. I wrote a pretty viral article in 2020 about how completely insane PS2 prices were getting. (Check it out!) Now that the pandemic has settled a bit, the price spike has slowed down. Values are still increasing across the board, but not as rapidly.

And somehow, certain Playstation 2 games seem to be resisting the post-COVID price decline. Marvel Vs. Capcom 2 has dipped considerably, but the Silent Hill games are continuing to spike. Not sure why, but it supports my theory that the market has gone completely crazy.

I managed to snag Silent Hill 3 in mid 2020 for around $60. The copy I got was complete-in-box (CiB) with the soundtrack disc. And it’s in great shape! Today, that same game fetches a whopping $180 on eBay.

Volumes 2 and 1 from my collection – pretty much my most prized gaming possessions.

It’s not just the games that have gotten ridiculous, either. Gaming-adjacent nostalgia items were also out of control. I purchased a complete and intact (and pretty crispy, too!) copy of Nintendo Power Vol 1 back in 2019 for something like $75. And I thought that was a lot! But in the fall of 2021, that bad boy peaked at around $700. I should have sold my copy then, and re-bought it now.

Today Nintendo Power Vol 1 and 2 are both a lot more reasonable. Here’s one more eBay link in case you want to see for yourself. Even though their price has come back down to earth, and these items seem much easier to find, NP 1 and 2 are still two of my most prized gaming possessions. 

The Last 2 Years

There were many years when I preferred old games because they were cheaper. I was broke and couldn’t afford new games (PS3 was the “current” console then.) The time of cheap old games was good while it lasted, but by now most NES cartridges have been floating around people’s basement and attic spaces for like 35 frickin’ years. Those cartridges—like us—are not getting any younger. And it’s harder still to find ones that are still good looking.

Put that way, it’s easy to understand why retro games continue to demand high prices. There is a finite supply of old games. The number of games in circulation continues to decrease as collectors obtain and hoard their prizes and never let them back into the market. 

So glad I started collecting when I did.

Throughout 2020, a new wave of collectors created a swell in demand. It’s hard to say whether the supply increased or decreased because, even though new collectors were snapping games off the market as soon as they were listed, every broke nerd started seeing dollar signs as they rummaged through their parents’ attics to dig out more old games. The catch is that many of them didn’t try to sell these games at current market rates, they were listing them for 10 or 100 times the market rate. Maybe more.

In that case, it doesn’t matter if the supply increased or decreased. What mattered was that the going price of old games increased stupidly for strictly arbitrary reasons (See also: Greed)

It didn’t help the situation that so much of the US workforce was stuck in quarantine during this time. I don’t have numbers to back it up, but I suspect the millennial population made up most—or at least a lot—of the newly isolated stay-at-home workers. Tech jobs and corporate jobs lend themselves quite well to working from home, and the average age of tech sector employees was about 39 at that time.

So we had thousands and thousands of working adults from the NES/SNES generation stuck at home bored for months. Most everyone took up some kind of hobby during lockdown, and collecting retro games is fun as hell, and most millennials–at least the ones with jobs that could be done from home–were making decent money by then… So yeah! That’s where the price increase began. At least that’s my take on it.

But wait, there’s more!

Sometime during that period, Wata Games and Heritage Auctions started pulling their shenanigans. If you don’t know about that, you’re missing out on a harrowing tale. It’s a tale of tragedy and passion, of intrigue and betrayal. And you can read my thorough (and hopefully entertaining) post about it here:

What, you aren’t going to read that? Fine, here’s the gist: Heritage Auctions began selling Wata-graded collectible video games for record-breaking sums. You may remember that sealed Super Mario Bros that went for $2 million. Yeah, that was them. Along with a slew of other games selling for insane amounts.

But it turned out the same group of business types were working behind the scenes at both Wata and Heritage to make sure these games sold for news-making amounts. There was a whole (actual) conspiracy to artificially inflate retro game prices.

By that point, every nerd with a few cartridges in their attic was digging them up and trying to sell them on eBay for incredibly stupid prices. Other idiots were buying them at stupid prices. So the pricing spike spiked again. It was a spike of a spike. And it sucked!

And by the way: Wata Games is currently under threat of a class-action lawsuit for their market manipulation to enrich themselves. It’s all but assured that they are guilty, but it’s still unclear whether the suit will be successful. I can’t wait to see.

Retro Game Collecting in 2022

So what about today? Has the retrogaming bubble officially burst? Is it safe to start collecting again?

Well, they say you can’t get the toothpaste back into the tube. Certain folks have seen how insanely profitable retro game sales can be, and will always feel like their games are more valuable than they really are.

On the flip side of that, an item is only as valuable as what someone is willing to pay for it. That’s capitalism for you. The buy-side and the sale-side are in a constant struggle to rip each other off.

I’m certain that this generation has normalized insane game prices to the point that they’ll never be cheap again. But the current prices are artificially high. So there is definitely some room to come back down.

Millennials are going back to the office, kids are back in school, quarantine hobbies are being forgotten. People who took up the hobby of collecting games are losing interest. And more importantly, people who took up the hobby of speculating and scalping games are losing interest. So demand is going down. At least a few quarantine collections are being sold back into circulation, increasing supply. It’s the kind of double whammy that ought to trigger a market crash.

And yet…

The price for Super Castlevania IV has definitely dipped since the beginning of 2022. But I’d hardly call this a crash. And it’s already popping back up.

Silent Hill 3 is wavering a bit, but it’s only a few percent cheaper now that it was at its peak.

Of course, there is some margin for error when dealing with Pricecharting. But the data it presents is generally reliable.

I think the conclusion here is that games are still quite overvalued and people are still willing to pay too much while starry-eyed sellers ham-fistedly list their retro games for way, way, way over their appropriate value. Never mind that their listings never sell. I guess just having that potential for money-making makes them feel rich.

Is it Worth Starting a Retro Game Collection in 2022

If you’re just now thinking about starting your retro collection journey, you should at least know what you’re getting into. It’s expensive. And in many cases, there’s no reason for it to be so. 

Those Super Mario Bros cart listings (pictured) are just one example of the abject dumbness of it all. SMB/Duck Hunt is one of the most common games ever. Almost every kid had a copy. The listing for $4.99 is priced appropriately.

That said, prices aren’t likely to go down by very much. If at all. Besides the drop in demand and slight increase in supply, these things are still 35 years old. And there are millions of former kids out there with fond memories tied to them. And that won’t ever change.

Among other factors, the lowering of Nintendo Power prices may indicate that the feverish nostalgia has been satisfied for a lot of fans. Maybe collectors are getting fed up with how stupid prices are, or maybe collectors just got all the games they wanted. Either way, here’s hoping this is a sign that the retro game bubble is finally starting to pop! Maybe.

If you want to collect, and you have the disposable income, you should go for it. And if prices really do drop, it really doesn’t matter that much because I assume you won’t be selling your collection anyway. These are your memories and a timeless source of good fun. You’re not going to “flip” these things for a profit. But that’s the difference between a hobby and a job.

Just know that the pricing and sellers’ attitudes in 2022 are basically a big pointless joke. Don’t be the punchline.

Happy hunting.

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