If you’ve come along with me on the journey from young gamer to adult gamer (a moment of silence for those who didn’t make it), you might have noticed that the video game industry has grown up as well. Games aren’t just something clueless parents buy for their foaming-at-the-mouth kids anymore; most of us are buying for ourselves, from our limited resources, to get that gaming fix.
Nostalgia is a powerful force, though, and there are enough people out there trying to connect to their childhoods that the video game market has become serious and diverse. I’ve recently become more dedicated to navigating these waters as I’ve straddled the line between game collector and reseller. Even though it may take money out of my pocket, I consider it my civic duty to share some of the valuable lessons I’ve learned.
1) Know What You Have (And What You Want)
Even though I always had a general sense of which games were rare, I didn’t really level up as a video game collector until I discovered a unified pricing guide. No longer did I have to take my best guess at how much I could get if I decided to sell some of my games, what I should try to get in trade, or whether I was getting ripped off by that shady guy in the van.
Armed with hard data, I began to catalog what I had. My collection isn’t going to win too many awards, but it has some gems in it and it’s currently worth north of eight grand.
Better nerds than me will come up with a more elegant solution for tracking what they’ve got, but I’ve found Google docs to work just fine for my purposes. Here’s mine if you’re looking for a template to get started.
At the same time, I’ve been viewing it as increasingly important to purge myself of excess physical possessions (YMMV), so it’s been important to decide what I most want to keep and what I can dump. I determined that my collection should be defined mainly as survival horror and RPGs (since I’m a sucker for the “holy crap” moment), with room for a few classics and valuable games from other genres. This has been incredibly useful knowledge, and it enabled me to create another document that every kid at Christmas is familiar with: The Want List. If I hear about a game that sounds like it belongs in my collection, or one that I haven’t been able to afford yet, it goes on my list. Then I can be on the lookout for good deals to get my collection to its ultimate state, and I’ll know not to pass on a game from the list if I have a decent opportunity. With the advent of smart phone technology, the serious collector has no excuse for incomplete information!
2) Buy The Right Games At The Right Time
Anyone who’s ever been to a GameStop knows that last year’s sports titles go for about twelve cents. The typical player looking for a ballin’ experience feels like they need the latest upgrade to their virtual athletes’ sweat or whatever, so used sports games have always been more shunned than a Republican on the Internet. In recent years, this has become the case with the FPS genre as well; if saving civilized society from the foreigner du jour with your assorted boomsticks takes you longer than a month, don’t expect to see much return on your investment in the used market.
Don’t spend it all in one place!
There are, however, certain types of games that tend to retain their value or even grow in value over time. Niche genres like my precious RPGs and horror games do well because they often go under the radar at launch. Weird-looking games that seem like they could have been Japan-only releases are often collectors’ items a few years later.
If you find out about a game that fails to sell, and it isn’t part of a mainstream series or abysmally reviewed, it may have potential as a collectible. E-rated games don’t do especially well, but there is an exception for games featuring hyper-popular characters like Mario or Pokemon since the demand will be big enough to outstrip the supply over time. You’ll do even better with titles like these if you make sure to get a Complete in Box copy, since young kids don’t tend to take care of their stuff.
“You can’t prove it was me.”
This isn’t only about genre, either; timing is everything for a collector. I’ve seen analysis of a typical game’s value related to when it’s released in a system’s life. Most launch titles retain almost no value, whereas many obscure and valuable titles can be found in the dying days of a particular system’s cycle. Right now is an excellent time to buy for the PS3, Wii, or Xbox 360; the values of games from a few years ago have bottomed out, and stores aren’t going to carry them forever – meaning they’ll be harder to find before long. I’m seeing this phenomenon with the previous generation, particularly Gamecube games, and I expect to see it again soon.
The most valuable titles of all fall into more than one of these categories. For instance, Rule of Rose was a late-release PS2 horror game from Japan that went under the radar, and now it’s the hardest game to find for that system. I bought it for 30 bucks at Meijer, and it’s currently trading at around five times that. There are exceptions to every rule, but if you learn from the trends that are out there, you’ll be better at figuring out which games you’re likely to be very happy you paid for.
3) Don’t Buy New – But If You Must, Shell Out For The Special Edition
Very few games are going to be worth more than their initial price over time. This means that unless you’re looking to go broke furnishing your collection, you need to train yourself to do without most brand new games. If you wait just a couple of months, you can often pick up a used game at 50-75% of retail price. This is truest for popular games; if you’re paying 60 dollars for the latest iteration of Mortal Kombat, you’re making a bad financial decision, especially since they’ll release a newer version with additional content before long.
Even this guy didn’t play the game right away.
Remember that most of your new games are going to be worth a fraction of what you paid for them in no time at all, so you have to decide if having a cutting-edge collection is worth the premium you’ll pay.
The one thing it might make sense to buy new is a special edition game. These have been all the rage since the last generation, and they show no signs of going anywhere. It may seem silly to pay up to twice as much for a few extra pack-ins, but if you consider it from a collecting standpoint you’re actually making a much better investment than the typical consumer. I once bought my girlfriend the Fallout 3 Collector’s Edition in order to impress her into marrying me.
Joke’s on her; once we tied the knot, it belonged to me again.
At the time, the standard edition was going for $60 and the fancy lunchbox-having edition I bought cost about $80. Today, you can get five bucks for the old game if you’re lucky, and the version I bought is back up to $80 with the possibility of being even more valuable in the future.
There are loads of examples like these, to the point where it’s become the new normal – at least until the typical buyer catches up and the game companies adjust again. So if you’re going to buy a new game, get the best version of it available. Just make sure to take good care of that packaging!
By the way, this rule applies to consoles as well. I still haven’t picked up any of the newest wave of systems for myself, because I know that they’re going to continue to decline in value and that most early releases are going to be very easy to purchase on the cheap later. Besides, I’ve got plenty of titles to play from the last generation and before, with the benefit of knowing which ones have held up well. If you train yourself to be a late adopter, your collecting resources will grow.
4) Look In The Right Places
So if you should generally avoid paying retail price, what are the best places to find secondhand games? Let’s break down our options.
It’s counter-intuitive, but stores and live dealers that specialize in game sales are almost universally the worst places to buy them. These guys (or corporations) are counting on the uneducated masses to supply them with games at well below fair market value so they can sell them at elevated prices. GameStop is especially loathsome in this regard, with a store credit loop that makes it impossible to do anything but pay their prices over and over again. I can’t judge this crowd too harshly as a small-time dealer myself, but as a collector I find them very frustrating. Unless you locate a rare store that has favorable prices to take advantage of the margins the other sellers leave (Disc Traders in the Midwest is one), I advise you to steer clear.
Craigslist can be a good option, but it’s heavily dependent on where you live. If your area is secluded, there isn’t much to choose from. If you’re somewhere crowded, you’re competing with other collectors and dealers for the rare good deal, and vendors posing as individual owners clog up the listings. But in both cases, you can still find some sweet deals if you check it persistently. You’ll need to be personable and hone the ability to haggle, which is a turn-off for some. And then, there’s the chance of being stood up or running into some sketchy situations, so meet publicly and use good judgment. Craigslist has been an overall win for me, but it’s not for everyone. There are some shady folks out there.
Pawn shops and resale shops are a mixed bag. Some of them meticulously price every item they have, usually at inflated levels; they’re even worse than the game stores, because they likely don’t test their merchandise or allow returns. But others throw the games they’ve got on a shelf and just ask a flat rate for any title. These are your keepers! I’ve found some truly incredible deals at places like this, so I always make sure to check out which category stores like these are in and make myself a regular customer at the good ones. They often negotiate on price as well, which is a bonus. Thrift stores are occasionally worth perusing, but it’s much harder to find a good game there since they mostly just take donations. The good news is that if you do find something rare, it’s probably cheap.
For my money, the best option for finding a great deal is still garage sales. People are constantly getting rid of old stuff, and with apologies to the Dashing Nerds admins, most of them haven’t read this site. You’ll need to have patience and be strategic, especially when you’re competing with other buyers, but for me that’s the thrill of the chase. Make sure to go on the first day, and be aware that much of what’s available will be from the last generation at bottom-dollar prices, rather than any retro games. While most of the classic games belong to collectors now, I still think garage sales pose a better opportunity for finding them cheaply than any other option. Two years ago, I was able to grab an extremely rare copy of Bubble Bobble Part 2 that’s still on my shelf. This season, I bought a Complete in Box original Game Boy that was in great shape, and I managed to sell it to a more dedicated system collector for seven times what I paid. The deals may be a challenge to find, but they’re out there, and you don’t forget them.
One avenue that people sometimes forget about is friends and family. To those who aren’t collectors, old video games aren’t worth much. You’d be surprised how many people still have boxes of games in the basement from when they were kids. If they know that you appreciate used games, they often won’t mind giving them up; you might be able to score a good deal for some cash, or trade them something you’re willing to part with. It’s not cool to rip people off, though, so try to figure out an exchange that benefits both of you.
“Interested in being my kid’s godfather?”
5) Strike While The Iron’s Hot
As I said, timing is everything. I’ve found that the sting of regret at passing on a deal you could go either way on is worse than buyer’s remorse. You’re going to make plenty more money, but the deal is a finite event. I’m not saying you should make bad decisions or feel like you’re under pressure, but if you’re agonizing over whether to buy a game to add to your collection – you’re using your best judgment, but it’s still a coin flip at the price offered – then go ahead and pull the trigger. You can’t assume that you’ll find the same deal again later, no matter what setting you’re buying in. If I take the deal and it turns out I made a judgment error, I can at least derive value from the lesson I learned and avoid making the same mistake again.
Don’t allow your hang-ups to stop you from following the path of the collector, if it’s something that interests you. Nobody can say what’s going to happen to the video game market in the future, since it’s relatively young, but the same argument can be made about the stock market.
That isn’t helping, guys.
It isn’t hard to come up with the resources to get started. Shoot, the knowledge I’ve imparted here ought to put any fledgling collector ahead of the game! I’ve found that becoming more efficient and organized has made the hobby more worthwhile. So get out there and get started, and let me know when you’ve got a collection that rivals mine!