The Struggle to Determine the Value of Retro Video Games
Image: Two Games that are fairly difficult to give an accurate value
Written by: Elijah Moon Blackwell
Are retro video game prices too high? Is the market crashing?
If you do a quick Google search for “retro video game prices,” you’ll find a wide array of answers.
There is no reason to point to specifics; it’s just the nature of the internet. No one can really agree if the retro gaming market is too high or low in price.
The answer is not black or white. Like the comments on this particular Reddit post, collectors point out that many factors affect the pricing of individual games.
When discussing the issue of value with employees at a local retro game store, many potential reasons were brought up, with the main one being remakes.
Any time a developer releases an older game on newer hardware or remasters it entirely the original product goes down in value….right? I mean, it makes sense. If you can play it on your WiiU or Switch then why would anyone want to buy the original version for a large amount of money?
But there is a problem with this thinking. It is assuming that people buy the original product because it is the only way to play it. This has several rebuttals.
- Emulation exists. It’s a legal grey area (hence why CD-ROM Fossil will probably never explain how to emulate stuff) but if someone really wants to play an expensive retro game without breaking their wallet, they can emulate it.
- Some collectors just want the original physical version for their collection.
- Nostalgia is extreme. Playing your childhood favorite game might not be the same unless you got the original cart, controller and console.
Earthbound: A Case Study
I decided to take to eBay and compare some prices. The biggest culprit for expensive even though alternatives exist…….is Earthbound.
EarthBound can be played on the SNES Classic. It costs around a hundred dollars on Amazon, depending on who is selling it. It comes with many more games as well.
You can also buy Earthbound for your New Nintendo 3DS or WiiU. Both versions cost $9.99.
Of course there is the legally grey emulation. We will never explain how it works but for the sake of this article it should be mentioned as an option.
Lastly, there are reproduction cartridges. I haven’t explored the world of reproductions but they do exist. They look, play and seem like the real thing but they aren’t. Just be wary when buying expensive games. Make sure it isn’t a reproduction version.
With five options available to play EarthBound one would think the market for the physical SNES cart wouldn’t be expensive.
According to pricecharting.com the current average price for a loose copy (no box or documentation) of EarthBound is $177.50.
The website also shows a graph of price change. You can also read the methodology of their pricing here.
Even if you don’t believe those numbers you can travel to eBay and look at the prices for an authentic copy of EarthBound.
The lowest listing I can find as of writing this article is $188.50 and it’s for a discolored cart.
(Fun Fact: Upon reviewing this article before submitting to the editor, I found that the seller dropped the price to $139.00! Prices change frequently and a year from now this whole section could be outdated. Another reminder that prices fluctuate heavily!)
Our original hypothesis of remakes or re-releases was crushed. So I guess remakes or releases do not affect market value. Well, not entirely.
Final Fantasy VII dropped significantly over the years. The game has released on Steam for $11.99 and there is even a remaster in the making. According to pricecharting.com the current average price for loose discs is $15.01. By looking at the graph you can see that the price was much higher in the past. I found a listing on eBay for $10.00.
So the conclusion is…the market is pretty unpredictable. You can make educated guesses but really it is impossible to be 100% sure.
Further Complications and Potential Solutions
The situation gets a little worse when it comes to computer gaming. Sites like pricecharting.com and gamevaluenow.com do not list prices for computer games. Commodore 64 is featured, but not DOS or Windows.
This makes an already difficult situation impossible.
There are several games I am watching on eBay that are currently going for outrageous prices. They are the one and only listing. Finding a database where someone catalogs how much the game has gone for in the past is quite difficult. Do I really want to spend 80 bucks on a game that may appear cheaper somewhere else?
The real struggle however, is bartering with someone in person.
A year ago I had in my hands was a game called Tom and Jerry: Yankee Doodle’s Cat-astrophe. At the time and as of writing this there is no source online for pricing. I looked for previous eBay listings. I checked Amazon. There was no way to price this game.
The person who handed me the game asked me how much I’d pay for it. I didn’t want to go too low or over pay especially since the person has always been nice to me.
I offered 25 bucks. The amount was accepted and I became the owner of the mysterious Tom and Jerry game.
How did I justify 25 bucks?
- I looked my previous purchases. I had bought games that came with one 5 1⁄4-inch floppy and all the documentation. The prices ranged from 20 to 30 dollars. I decided to go in the middle.
- I looked at the developer, subject matter and type of game. Tom and Jerry didn’t seem like a Half-Life or Doom. I figured that there aren’t many Tom and Jerry video game fans out there. Less demand usually means less value…usually being the keyword.
- Most importantly, it was the most I was willing to pay.
I’m not going to try and attempt to sound like a economics professional (I only took an introductory class in college); however, consumption controlling market price is a pretty basic phenomenon.
If I offered 50 dollars then every time this person shows me a 5 1⁄4-inch floppy game that has no price history they will expect the same amount.
EarthBound is so high because people keep buying it at that price. Again this is just another factor in the long list of factors but it does have an effect.
I got lucky that the seller agreed to 25 dollars. It helps that I knew them and they understood that I wasn’t going to resell the product. Regardless, it is still a difficult problem.
Not every seller is going to be someone I know. This means they may not trust my knowledge and think their game is worth a whole lot more. There is no real way to combat price if there are no eBay listings.
The lack of price also makes some sellers list products for huge amounts of money. It makes sense really. If there are no listings, then it must be a super ultra rare game!
When it comes to computer games practically everything is priceless and “rare.” A lot of the games I have bought online have only had a handful of listings. Who knows if the amount I paid for insert-game-here is a truly good amount.
Computer games do not have the same wide spread following as consoles. We will explore the reasons for this in an upcoming article. Just know that the small community results in less sales and organizations, like CD-ROM Fossil, hoarding everything even if it means having multiple copies of each game.
The Bottom Line
It wasn’t till very recently I traded a couple extra copies of some games to get a DOS game I didn’t own. I guess PC collectors are less likely to sell their extras.
This means there isn’t much of a resell market. On Instagram I see a lot of collectors buying console games for a low amount then reselling them on their pages. You can’t do that with PC games and get the same result. Again…upcoming article.
After buying a lot of games from thrift stores I often do a price check. Mainly it’s for fun, to see how good of a deal I got, but it’s also for future price negotiations.
I don’t want end this article with a shrug and a depressing statement about how money spent could be money wasted. So here, take this quick guide on how I price priceless video games when I am out hunting.
- If the game is being sold for 1-3 dollars, I’m going to buy it if I don’t have it. It’s very rare that if it’s on eBay it’ll be cheaper than that.
- Is it common? Age of Empires II and Myst are two of the most common games I see. There is no reason to pay a lot for these games when I see them at thrift stores every single time I go. Local areas may differ. Check your nearby stores before buying online or at a retro game store.
- If it’s the first time I’ve seen the game and there is no pricing online I compare it to other games I have bought. For example: is it a CD-ROM from 1995 and developed by Origin Systems? If I had a different game that meets the same criteria, I will offer the same amount as I have paid before.
Even this method isn’t perfect. Origin Systems is responsible for the Ultima series which goes for outrageous prices at times. Their other series Wing Commander can be pretty affordable. However, it is a good starting point for determining a starting asking price. Very rarely have people debated with me on price in person. If a game is priceless they put their trust in me that I’m going to be fair. I try to be. I offer what I feel the value is and hope I am not cheating anyone.
Determining value is a struggle. The already small retro physical PC gaming community makes even more difficult. My advice? Do a lot of research and try your best to bargain for a better price.
To finish off this article I’m going to give some big shout-outs to the four Instagram users who are fair with their pricing. I take a look at their console sales every now and again (I do sometimes buy non-PC stuff believe it or not) and these people are pretty amazing. Check them out!
Got any good sources for buying video games? Post them in the comments or let us know in the Say Wassup section! Maybe we will compile and publish a list of credible and fair video game sellers!