A few years ago, I heard about graded video games. I also heard about the sealed collectors, and how the prices of retro games had gone up. This surprised me, mostly because I had stopped collecting video games in 2015. I had most of what I wanted, and I had been priced out of the games I “needed” to finish a complete set. Not to mention, I didn’t see a need to collect all of the sports games. How many copies of the EA sports game do you need anyway? Especially the games from the 90s.
I got back into it and started to look for the weird games I had overlooked. These included the unlicensed games for the NES and the Sega Genesis. I know about them but didn’t really care much about them. Youtube rekindled my love of collecting again as I found more people who enjoyed retro games. I was very late to making videos. However, I found a fairly large group of people who liked older games. It wasn’t just the “retro” games, I’m still not sure there is a definitive definition on what is retro, it was everything concerning video games. People loved the history, the weird stories, and the feeling that you weren’t the only person who loved older games.
This was also when I learned about graded games, consoles, and other peripherals. The company at the time was the Video Game Authority (VGA), and I thought it was a joke. Why would anyone want a video game they couldn’t play? The sealed game collecting community also confused me, but they could, if they wanted to, open those and play them. I still thought it was weird even if I could understand why they were collecting them. It was like preserving the ephemera of video games. The boxes, manuals, and other things which are normally thrown away after someone purchases a game.
I just ignored VGA and moved on with my life. They weren’t really hurting anyone. I didn’t think they were hurting the price of the video game I was looking for. I did see the prices going up. Sometimes, I would see a video on a game that I had never heard of, and I would see if I could buy it. I was able to get a hold of some of them, but I was priced out of a good number of them. This is when I got discouraged and stopped collecting again.
It was around this time when I discovered the Completely Unnecessary Podcast (CUPodcast, https://www.youtube.com/user/PatTheNESpunk) hosted by Pat Contari and Ian Ferguson. They had an occasional segment covering the state of retro game collecting, and they often talked about graded games as well as some collectors manipulating the retro game market. It was very interesting to hear people talk about what I had seen. In my mind, the prices of retro games, NES and Sega Genesis specifically, should still have been closer to the prices they were in the late 90s and early 2000s. Unfortunately, reality didn’t match up with what I was thinking.
Then Wata came around. I thought they were just another joke, much like VGA. Why would anyone want to grade their games? It’s not like encasing a game in a plastic coffin would mean anything. I was still thinking like a collector who wanted to play the video games they collected. I wasn’t thinking like someone who wanted to exploit nostalgia or exploit the greed of people who wanted to manipulate a market. Looking at it now, it feels like people came into a hobby and decided to insert an unnecessary paywall into it.
Last year I decided to see if I could get some graded games. I went looking for a few NES games I remember playing when I was little. Specifically, I was looking for The Legend of Zelda, BurgerTime, and Iron Tank. I found that I was priced out of them. The Legend of Zelda made sense, but the other two didn’t. I have no idea why BurgerTime was so expensive given the NES port isn’t very rare, and in my opinion not that great. So, I decided to look at the Atari 2600 port of BurgerTime. I also went and looked at Haunted House and Missile Command. I was able to get all three for less than half the price of BurgerTime on the NES. Even then I thought they were overpriced.
This thought was reinforced when I watched some videos going over auction results of graded games. Specifically, the results of Pac-Man, Spider-Man, and other games on the 2600. The ridiculous amounts that the 2600 port of Pac-Man made me chuckle. There were millions of unsold Pac-Man carts. Atari had over produced them back in the early 80s. 13 million Pac-Man carts were made, and only 7 million were sold. I sometimes joke that some of my Atari 2600 cartridges reproduce. I just seem to find more copies of Combat, E.T. and Pac-Man in the storage closet I keep my doubles in.
I didn’t really know much about the market manipulation though until I watched a video from Karl Jobst (https://www.youtube.com/c/karljobst). This video, along with others from Pat and Ian, made me take Wata seriously. They were exploiting people’s nostalgia for retro games, and they seem to be manipulating the market to raise the price for retro games. It’s sad to see this. I loved collecting retro games, and when I realized I was priced out of the market for some of them it was a little discouraging. When I wanted to see if I could get some of my favorite games complete in box, I couldn’t because of the price. I don’t think much will change though. The price of retro games, specifically graded games, will eventually fall as people realize there is a bubble. I just don’t know why that will be.