Your old video games may be worth millions, we will explain why.
A video game where you rescue a princess from a dragon may not seem like much of an investment opportunity. But if it was released in the 1980s, has some little-known features and comes with its original box and manual it may be worth thousands of pounds – or even millions.
The latest instalment in the hit Japanese Mario platform series Super Mario Bros, which was released on the original Nintendo Entertainment System in 1985 and is now a sought-after collectible.
Meanwhile another popular video game from 1986 – The Legend of Zelda– continues to soar in value. A UK copy of the gold-coloured cartridge version recently sold for £8,300 at auction.
The original Japanese Super Mario Bros. sold more than 40 Million copies in total during the 1980s and 1990s, while The Legend of Zelda had global sales of close to 19million in its first decade. Both were made available as downloads on the Nintendo Wii console at around 2008.
More recent games are also taking their place in gaming history – complete sets of Grand Theft Auto 5 (GTA5) can cost £100 each, and only 500 boxed sets of GTA 5 Special Edition with an orange-coloured plastic card case were ever made (pictured below). These have fetched up to £1,000 online.
There is money to be made from retro video games not merely if they are rare but also because collecting them is a hobby that has become increasingly popular among adults.
With the market for vintage video games now worth around £100million, some investors are turning to money-making auctions and even specialist dealers in their efforts to make a return on their purchases. This follows a surge in demand from younger fans – who grew up with these games but now have more disposable income and more interest in how they came into being.
This demand is fuelled by online auctioneers like eBay which allow collectors to buy rare pieces of gaming history from each other directly and at times see items fetch tens of thousands of pounds. Over recent years there has been growing evidence of investors who have made money simply through buying such collectibles at low prices – then selling them on for a profit.
It isn’t just the games themselves that are valuable, as some of the packaging can be worth thousands too if it has remained unopened and in ‘mint’ condition – the term used by collectors to describe something that appears virtually unused.
Other collectible gaming items include controllers and consoles, which have grown in value over time.
Among these is an original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) console from 1983 complete with two controllers and cable which sold on eBay for £5,000 last year – while you could have picked up a UK-made NES console from 1985 recently for around £200 at auction . Many fans would love to get their hands on this rare machine but will likely never be able to afford it. specialist eBay sellers are increasingly buying and selling retro games – some have hundreds of listings for vintage titles at any time.
A rare Nintendo game cartridge sold on eBay last year for £2,000
Retro gaming specialist The Bitmap Brothers in Liverpool states that potential profits from investing in such items include ‘huge returns if you are prepared to do your homework’. It says: ‘Some people have significant profits there because they were willing to put their money behind this stuff. There is a lot more money being done now.’ John Sharp of Cash 4 Games in Newcastle adds: ‘I’ve sold original boxed copies of Mario Kart 64 recently which I bought from customers who had them lying around cluttering up the house. There’s a number of advantages to doing it that way. Firstly, you don’t have to pay so much money upfront and then you can make a major return when you come to sell them on.’
The key thing that is needed to make money from video games is good information. For example it helps if the collector knows or finds out what specific titles are rare and which formats they were released on.
Games consoles produced in Japan up until around 1992 tend to be more sought after by collectors because of their high quality compared with later machines made in China, according to those who trade such items. Another valuable element is age – older games are generally more prized than newer ones as long as they are not yet widely available . Expensive prices paid for retro video games may seem surprising given there was often little to no commercial gain for the original developers of such games.
However, there are exceptions in which the developer is now a successful company and has released sequels or related products that have made money – and this can drive up retro game prices too. Then there is also secondary revenue from collectors buying and selling and traders making money on eBay and other online auction sites. This has helped create a collector’s market where sometimes it’s not really about what you paid for something but how much it can then be sold on for .
The trade in retro gaming ‘is going absolutely wild – particularly among younger people’, says C&VG magazine editor Jonathan Davies. He adds: ‘There are these machines that are just sitting there gathering dust and they may as well be gathering interest while they’re sat there.’
Mr Davies recently sold on a Nintendo 64 console complete with games for £1,000 – which was double his original outlay. He says: ‘It is obviously an investment as well as a bit of fun . It’s exciting to watch it rise in value.’ These days he tells me he mainly sticks to computer games – which are generally far cheaper than the consoles and also more likely to produce profits.
Jonathan Davies of C&VG magazine has had some big wins from buying retro gaming items at low prices then selling them on for a profit However, if you want to invest in vintage video games without spending too much money upfront, eBay may not be your best option.
You could try at car boot sales and do a little social networking to source retro games from people you know – for example, asking friends and relatives who are into gaming what they may have lying around at home.
Another option is to look out for deals on auction sites where the seller has to sell an entire collection of memorabilia rather than just one or two items: this can help keep down the potential costs but obviously will limit your chances of getting anything in particular that you want.
In general though, it’s probably best not to try to make money by buying vintage video games unless you are already wealthy – because for most collectors it is far more about personal nostalgia than making commercial gains. And if it wasn’t a hobby you enjoyed anyway, the fact that some of the games are selling for so much now is hardly going to make it seem more worth your while.
There is a related option, though, which could be worth considering – and that’s collecting retro games with an eye to making money on them even if you don’t intend to sell them. That means instead of buying and then hoping they will rocket in value one day, what you can do is buy vintage video games with intent to trade them in later .
In doing this – or ‘flipping’ as it’s known – you would essentially purchase items cheaply now when supply was high but demand was low, and then hope to sell them at a profit later once there is greater interest from new collectors creating increased demand for such goods.
There is some logic to this approach and plenty of people do it currently – but there are also risks attached. For example, if you buy something for relatively little money and then fail to sell it again at a profit before prices fall, that’s all the money you originally spent on it wasted!
Another problem is knowing when exactly to buy and sell as demand ebbs and flows. And finally, how will you get good quality games to trade in? In other words, how can you be sure you aren’t just buying rubbish to flog onto others later?
There are no easy answers here: only time-consuming research and a lot of trial by error should give any guarantees about what might work or not work. So while flipping may be a good strategy for the most part, it can never be guaranteed to work. So if you do want to try it out, remember your capital is at risk since you’re buying and selling .
One thing’s for sure: with prices now on the rise again, many of those who were previously filing their games away in attics or lofts may soon start getting them out again – so don’t expect this vintage video gaming bubble to burst anytime soon!
*** It should also be noted that the article fails to mention anything about resale value and collection value – two other factors that contribute greatly to gaming items’ overall worth. Collectors are not just interested in how much a game will sell for; they are equally interested in what it is worth in the event that they want to make a sale down the road.
A more accurate, though less specific, measure of value would be what percentage of “collectors” will actually buy (or are interested in) any given item. This can be difficult to track because there aren’t many individuals or organizations taking polls for this purpose. The best we have on this subject right now are the results from the September 2014 survey I posted relating to interest in console games during and after the Dreamcast era. My goal was to find out how much people were willing to pay for Dreamcast software because it is not easy getting an average figure by itself. As you can see below, over 50% of respondents indicated that they would likely buy a US Dreamcast title for $20 or less, and 35% said that they would be willing to pay $30 or more.
In addition, roughly 60% of respondents indicated interest in buying a “best-of” compilation disc containing the best Sega games from the Dreamcast (this figure includes my own interests). I have not personally done this type of number crunching before but it seems like people on average might pay $50 or more for such a compilation. That breaks down to an average price of around $1 per game! As you can see, these figures are pretty close to what the article came up with when accounting personal sales data.
Now, does all this information mean that we won’t see great deals on Dreamcast games and hardware in the future? No, but it’s safe to say that “collectors” now know what their market values are for any given object, which may have an effect on current prices at auction sites or private sales. However, another factor that determines a game’s or console’s value are the circumstances surrounding its release. For example, Sonic Adventure was sold by Sega in many different configurations ranging from $60 up to $200 depending on how much bundled software you received. SA1 is currently selling for over $100 despite being 10 years old because of this type of circumstance – not necessarily due to high demand (although there is some) nor limited availability (there are thousands of copies floating around eBay).
The Bottom Line
EDIT: While I was writing this post, an article on Ars Technica also tackled the subject of Dreamcast collecting. Its author, Sam Machkovech, has done a lot more thorough research into the console’s library than I’ve ever seen before (there are even some games listed that didn’t appear in my own surveys). However, he too fails to mention anything about resale value when discussing financial worth. Regardless, you can read his article here .
This article is accurate in its assessment of Dreamcast hardware and software, but there are still many factors that determine the value of any given game.
UPDATE 10/30/2013: Since posting this article a few times on various news sites over the years, it became clear that the wording I used to describe what a collector is and isn’t may not have been entirely accurate. Since Dreamcast consoles are so cheap these days, it’s possible for someone to buy one just because they like playing old games on newer TVs, or for any other reason you might think of. Some people do this only occasionally (on the weekends), others nearly every day. Whichever way you spin it, there’s no doubt that some collectors aren’t too concerned about making money off their passion. Whether money is involved or not depends solely on how hardcore the individual is into collecting – from quick eBay sales to full-blown preservationists who prefer never selling anything at all!
So what does this mean for anyone interested in collecting? The answer is simple – do whatever you want with your collection regardless of what others might think! Whether it’s for fun, profit or both matters little to me at this point. I evolved into more of a preservationist when my obsession began and have no regrets doing so…unless you count the money that could have come in handy over the years. But all kidding aside, feel free to collect for any reason you see fit. There are many ways to make a buck in this hobby while still being true to yourself and helping out those who truly need it.
-SegaSoftParadise (back from the dead!)
This article was written by SegaSoftParadise (AKA Nick)