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10 Steps to Starting Your Retro Video Game Collection

Fancy graphics are fine, but all gamers know in their hearts that nothing will ever top the drama of Final Fantasy VII or the pure physicality of Super Mario Bros. 3. Playboy’s Retro Gaming articles look at why we love the classics and give you your nostalgia fix.

[...ven y siente el RUIDO!/Flickr](

…ven y siente el RUIDO!/Flickr

Like many, I have an addiction, and it is spreading. Video game collecting is hot right now. Prices are at an all time high, and everyone wants in on it.

I used to have quite the collection of video games and accessories in my youth, but moving off to college and one tragic fire saw that depleted. I got back into the scene a few years ago and have been rebuilding, while keeping an ear to the ground for how to do it without breaking the bank or driving myself crazy. What I have here is a guide of sorts, a few tips on how to survive until the market levels out—or at least suggestions on how to enjoy the hunt.

The first question people have is of course, “why?” Collectors do what they do for a lot of different reasons, mostly based in nostalgia, entertainment, or simply being a completionist. Others are attempting to preserve a piece of history that is special to them. For most, though, collecting brings about an excitement, a good feeling that is hard to explain or replicate. I’m not the type that wants a full set of everything, but I certainly fit into the other criteria, and once it starts the feeling just grows.

Game stores seem like the obvious choice, but better deals are often found at pawn shops and thrift stores. However, as game collecting becomes more popular in the public eye, prices are rising fast there also.

Flea markets and estate and yard sales used to be a type of holy ground for hunting games, but each of those places has their own positives and negatives. Condition of the products is less guaranteed and the seller not knowing what the items regularly go for can actually backfire on the buyer. I recently had a woman try to sell me a copy of Top Gun: Combat Zones for $15 when it is only worth $3 at most, simply because she thought a movie tie-in action game should do better.



It is best to be familiar with the items. Knowing the average prices and rarity will help in spotting deals as well as knowing when a buy is good for the circumstances, but never be afraid to pass. A little research can go a long way into saving money and frustration.

There is a lot out there to collect. A few people collect cartridges without caring about the condition, some amass loose games, and others like to get their favorites complete in box (CIB) with the manuals and inserts, as well as the few dedicated—and possibly crazy—who desire to accumulate everything they can factory sealed. Deciding between licensed and unlicensed games, whether or not to do imports, and if fan made games (often referred to as homebrews) are worth owning are just some of the decisions to make when getting started. This can all be a bit overwhelming without some sort of focus or a plan. I started out wanting everything, then just the treasures I grew up with, but I discovered so much more as I began to build my library.

If you’re still intent on starting your own retro game collection, I recommend picking one or two systems to concentrate on at first, and then deciding if the games you want for those consoles are to collect or just play. I do partial sets, but some people treat it like Pokémon and want to catch them all for a full collection, which can be daunting. Make a list and establish which games are desired more and fit your personal needs. Sometimes it’s easy to start with the cheaper titles and leave the more expensive ones for special occasions, but that will often depend on availability.

Set a budget and a pace. Something like this is easy to burn out on when trying to gather too much too quickly. Buying bundles is great at the beginning because everything is new to you and these are usually cheaper in the long run. I have had people throw in freebees or stacks of sports games because I bought so many titles at once or they want to get rid of them and see me as a good customer—plus sports games are abundant and like a hard to get rid of fungus, since they come out every year and are usually worthless once the new version is available. Doubles may become an issue after a while, but those can be traded to other collectors or exchanged for a small bit toward a bigger game.

No matter where the hunting is happening or what is being purchased always remember to ask. Ask each store if they have any video games, because they aren’t always visible. Ask sellers if they will bundle items together to cut down on the overall price or shipping cost. They are often much more willing to drop the price when the pile keeps growing. Do not be afraid to haggle either, because although the word “no” may come up a lot, when it works it’s worth it. Ask people you know as well. I have found several great games from people who were just holding on to them or who had sets just gathering dust. Just be polite when doing these things and ignore the grumpy assholes that you do encounter once in a while.

[Steve Petrucelli/Flickr](

Steve Petrucelli/Flickr

Once the collection begins growing make sure to keep a list of games you own to avoid unnecessary duplicates and to have an easily accessible list of desired games and what you are willing to pay. Spreadsheets work but there are plenty of good apps and websites like VGCollect and Darkadia for greater ease. Not sure where to find information about prices and rarity? The internet really is the best resource here. There are several price charting websites, programs, and other collectors willing to share their thoughts and experiences. Just read and take your time looking into things. Places like the retro gaming subreddit and YouTube can be good resources, but be mindful that not everyone in those communities is right all the time.

For some the excitement is in the hunt. Being out there looking for the best deals and hidden treasures adds an element of surprise and requires some strategy. Others however find their prizes online and have them shipped directly to their doorstep. I find that a mixture of both helps, but be willing to pay closer to the higher end prices when going online. Buying from a place like eBay will seem like the best idea, but avoid negative trends, price spikes, and sellers trying to capitalize on uneducated buyers. It is important to master the search engine to help find specific items and the best deals that fit your standards and price range. Craigslist is similar and a better place to haggle, but read all of the details offered about the items and make sure to stay safe.

Beware of replicas and fakes when searching places like these. Sometimes a great deal is too good to be true. There are ways to spot fakes, but the best thing to do is be familiar with what you want and to have done some research. I often find myself combing over several sales of the item to compare and looking up the seller’s history, just to name a few precautions.

Goodwill’s website was a solid option for a while, but is a shining example of how quickly a secret spot can change once the secret is out. Amazon and a few other places like it are a bit more reliable with their product and do well at locating stock, but are often overpriced. GameStop recently joined the retro game selling fray as well, but they are still working out some kinks. There are a few sites for online trading, like 99Gamers and LeapTrade, but these places usually have a low stock of older titles and aren’t optimal for those not wanting to let go of their games. And from personal experience I would urge anyone to watch out for sites that may look good but do not keep their information up to date, as the market is always changing.

[Hsing Wei/Flickr](

Hsing Wei/Flickr

When dealing with any of these places there are things to be aware of if quality matters to the buyer. Game cartridges often have ripped or torn labels as well as stickers that will do the same if not removed properly. There will sometimes be scratches or writing on the games that may not be removable. Functionality is important for most so make sure the game has been tested or there is a way to return it if not. Many games just need to be cleaned thoroughly to work. A simple set of tools and the proper supplies can help make most cartridge based games work without damaging them.

This may seem like a lot to take in, and it can be. I have barely begun to scratch the surface on a lot of things, but everything I mentioned above is important for those who are still getting started or just want to know a little bit about the craze that struck so many like myself. More and more people are being drawn in, whether it involves what is commonly being referred to as “retro” game collecting or even accumulating titles for the later generations of consoles, there is a fun passion to game collecting. Be patient with it, enjoy the hobby, and every once in a while take a break to actually play some of those elusive games you’ve worked so hard to get.

Writing in the dirty South, recovering internet addict Stephen Wilds wakes up every night wrestling with nightmares of Silent Hill and stray commas. You may follow his exploits on Twitter @StephenWilds.

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