Five Pieces of Advice For Retro Video Game Collectors
...from a 10 year veteran collector who's still enjoying the ride
So you want to collect retro video games, huh? I get it. I’ve been doing it since 2012. It’s largely been a fun adventure, with a few hiccups here and there. I’ve amassed a library of more than 3,000 games so far. While I’m not as active a collector as I was (Thanks, pandemic!), I still am adding to my library in other, not in-person ways.
Some will tell you that it’s not wise to start collecting— or to continue collecting, if you’ve already started— in 2022. I’m not here to do that. I’m here to offer some simple advice… some things that I’ve kept in mind throughout my journey.
The first piece of advice comes with asking a simple question:
Why do you want to collect retro video games?
It’s a question with multiple answers, and there’s no right or wrong one. What the answer does do, however, is point a way forward. Are you collecting with the intent of playing the games as they were originally enjoyed? Are you building a library to show off, perhaps on social media? Is the goal to buy cheap and treat your collection as an investment to resell for a profit later? Are you interested in collecting as a hobby, with the intent of enjoying the adventure through searching for and finding games in various places?
My answer was that I wanted to build a library of games and consoles so that I could play and enjoy like I did many years ago. I could’ve gone the emulation route, and saved some money, but I prefer playing original game cartridges and discs on original hardware. I was also jaded by what was modern gaming at the time, which I touched on recently… so I was looking to, if James Rolfe will pardon my borrowing part of his tagline, “go back to the past”. It’s been exactly what I’ve wanted, too, especially when it’s come to platforms like the PlayStation, Nintendo 64, and PlayStation 2… where emulation isn’t quite perfect or my laptop isn’t sharp enough to run.
I get the other answers, though. I’ve seen some fantastic collections on shelves on social media or YouTube videos. Those who started collecting as an investment years ago are now able to cash in on what has become a very strong market. For those who enjoy the chase of finding older video games, the return of yard sales, tag sales, and flea markets after a pandemic-related hiatus has enabled more people to find some pretty great deals.
I think answering the question about why you want to collect video games provides purpose. It’s like a mission statement. It propels you forward. You don’t have to share this purpose with anyone, but it’s good to keep in your mind as you begin (or continue) your collecting journey.
The next piece of advice is, I think, very important:
Set and stick to a budget or game limit.
The retro video game market has been trending more and more expensive for years, and the height of the pandemic in 2020 with so many lockdowns and restrictions created an unprecedented demand for at-home entertainment… and retro video games fell into this category. For example, we saw Wii Sports, which was a pack-in for the Wii and had millions of units on the open market, triple in value during 2020. That’s only one example. NES, SNES, and Gamecube games saw significant value rises. Original PlayStation games began creeping higher, as did some PlayStation 2 games.
As prices continue to march higher, thanks to increased demand and limited supply, it’s easy to start spending a ton of money— especially early on in a collecting adventure. That’s why I feel that it’s important to set a budget to stay within. This is especially noteworthy when it comes to pricier games than can run $100+. Perhaps your monthly budget is $1,000 and you can afford to grab a few heavy hitters in a month that you don’t ordinarily see. For others, disposable income may be more restrictive and it can be easy to get into a hole.
If you’re collecting the games to play them, you may also want to consider limiting how many games you buy over a certain period of time. I didn’t do this, and it wasn’t long before I had more games in my library than I had time to realistically play them. This can lead to a lot of “I don’t know what to play” scenarios when your library becomes big enough that it’s hard to choose where to go when you’ve got some spare time. It’s not a bad thing to have this “problem”, mind you— but it’s something to keep in mind.
My next piece of advice?
Create or download a reliable cataloging system or application.
If you’re just starting out, this probably will seem a bit premature… but as your library grows, it becomes harder to keep track of what you already own in your head. This can lead to inadvertently buying duplicates of certain games, which may not be so good if you can’t recoup what you spent by reselling it later. It can also lead to excess clutter as you’ll need to find space for your duplicates until you can sell or trade them. This usually happens more with common games, where collectors will find good deals on lots (or sets) of games that have a few titles they’re missing and several other commons that they already have.
This solution can be as easy as creating a spreadsheet or a list via a word processing or note-taking application. This method is the most cost-effective and also allows the user to create the kind of cataloging setup desired. For those with smartphones, there are multiple game collecting applications out there to choose from. The one that I’ve used for most of my time collecting is PureGaming.org’s Retro Game Collector app. It started out as an a la carte app, meaning that users purchase access to the platforms they’re collecting for. While this is still the case, a yearly subscription option was recently added as an alternative to cover all platforms. Another noteworthy option is the GAMEYE app, which is free and does a really nice job of covering all platforms. GAMEYE uses smartphone cameras to scan barcodes and cartridge art to quickly add games to user’s library.
Whichever way you choose to keep track of your library, it won’t be long before you’ll be thanking yourself for having it. It’ll save you money by helping you to avoid buying unnecessary duplicates and many apps have features that allow you to set up lists of games that you’re looking for while game-hunting that can be accessed quickly.
Deals are still out there, even if other collectors say otherwise.
While we’re certainly well past the cheapest days of retro video game collecting, we’re also not in a market that every possible place to find these games is charging at least eBay prices for their stuff. I still see testimony on the regular from collectors who visit tag sales, yard sales, flea markets, and even some independent game stores and come away with some cheap stuff. Not every location will yield amazing deals, but there’s still a fair amount of success to be had for those willing to take a few chances and chase for them.
Here in the United States, we’re in prime yard sale and tag sale season from April on. If you’ve got time early on Saturday or Sunday mornings, take a drive (or a walk, even!) and see what’s out there. Coming off of long winters, and especially coming off of the worst of the pandemic, a lot of people are unloading stuff they no longer use or need. If you don’t see video games outside, ask if the sellers have (or had) games. You might be surprised by the answers you get.
Don’t write off independent video game stores, either. I’ve been to a few where, after building relationships and rapport with the owners and staff, I’ve managed some great deals or been alerted when games or consoles I’m looking for have come in. Independent game stores are great places to start your collecting adventures, too, as they usually have a lot of the common games you might be looking for and you can immediately start to build relationships moving forward. A good chunk of my collection came from just two stores— Gadget Depot in Holyoke, MA and Retro Games Plus in Newington, CT.
For those who are remaining more isolated during the pandemic, or who don’t have the time or ability to chase down deals by traveling, there’s a nice selection of online storefronts that sell retro video games. This has been my primary method of collecting since 2020. Remember to shop around. Look at different storefronts and compare prices. Don’t fall into the assumption trap when it comes to eBay and think that good deals cant be found there. Whatnot has seen a rise in success of late, with its streaming auction options that have seen their fair share of deals (as compared to market value). 90% of my Xbox 360 games have come from Lukie Games, and the prices have been at least comparable to if not lower than market value for most of what I’ve bought. While it’s true that online may sometimes cost a bit more— especially thanks to shipping rates— there’s a bit of convenience tradeoff for being able to shop or hunt for games from home.
My final, and perhaps most important, piece of advice?
Enjoy the collecting journey.
Make no mistake: Collecting retro video games is a fun journey to undertake, but it is a journey. You’ll have great days, where you find amazing deals or meet fellow collectors who might become friends for life… and there will be not-so-great days when every yard sale was a flop or that one find you were happy to score winds up being defective. It’s like an unfilmed reality show that you’re starring in, minus the constant infighting and over-the-top drama. Heck, several people have made documenting their retro game collecting adventures into successful YouTube series, like The Game Chasers.
This journey has the added benefit of providing hours and hours of entertainment between stops. For those who are collecting these games to play them, it can be about reconnecting with days gone by… maybe memories of youth, or days of playing certain games with friends while in college. Each game can have its own personal story, and that’s what has motivated me for more than 10 years.
The journey ends when you want it to end. It can be as intense or as laid back as you will it to be. You can be active for a few weeks or months, then slow down, then pick it back up when real life allows. It’s your story, your adventure. There isn’t any set deadline.
Have fun with it. I know I have, and I think you can, too.