Since I first set out to get Star Wars figures with my dad when I was about 5 years old, I've found myself in the collecting hobby in one form or another. But no field has magnetized me as much as video games. The medium not only has bountiful offerings from thousands of titles and accompanying merchandise, but the interactivity through playing a game makes it unrivaled to other forms of collecting.
Whether you're venturing to a retro-gaming store for your first crown jewel or have already scoured countless garage sales, these are the best video game-collecting tips I have to offer through my 20 years of experience, backed up by fellow collecting experts.
Tip 1: Analyze and Prioritize
Before you consider this wonderful, money-sucking hobby, you should answer three important questions: Is this within your budget, do you have the necessary space in your home, and will your significant other – if applicable – approve? If you can't respond "yes" to each question, then you should reconsider your priorities. If you have passed the first test, then move on to the secret fourth-most-important question: What do you want to collect? One of the best ways to answer this is to look back at your past with video games. Do you fondly recall playing Super Nintendo games as a kid with your dad? Search for your favorite SNES games. Is horror your favorite genre? Seek out the titles that make even the calmest gamers wet their pants. Center your collection around the aspects you love most about gaming. For example, 2016 marked the Nintendo 64's 20th anniversary. To honor the birthday of the console that got me into gaming since I was 4-years-old, I decided to get all nine editions of the N64 that released in North America – which you can look up on the handy Console Variations website along with many other special edition systems.
If you still need an idea of where to start, Brett Weiss, author of numerous video game reference books, says that PlayStation 2 and original Xbox games currently are the way to go. "You can get really good games for $1, $2, $3 apiece because people just dump that stuff," Weiss says. "Ten years from now, [those values] could be a very different story because you have some quality, really desirable titles that are dirt cheap for the Xbox and PlayStation 2."
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Tip 2: Where to look
From games to $300 statues, collectibles come in many shapes and forms, meaning there are numerous places to comb depending on what you seek. Sites like eBay and Amazon, as well as stores tailored to selling games, are obvious locales, but unconventional spots increase your chances of beating the collecting competition.
Did you know antique stores are slowly beginning to take in older electronics, and sometimes have video games? Facebook has its Marketplace side, but there are tons of Facebook classified groups – on local, national, and worldwide scopes – created solely for buying and selling games. College students in need of cash will often post gaming items they are selling on campus peg boards, particularly inside student centers. Some websites sell retro-gaming loot crates that contain randomized games based on what you're looking for, though you should sign up for one at your own risk. Take a look at classifieds in your local newspaper, or arts and culture papers, and see what people want to toss out. You can also try placing a small, cheap classified ad to inform readers you are looking to buy video games. It's an out-of-left-field way of reaching an older audience who might still have video games their now-adult kids used to play. For someone trustworthy, ask your family and friends if they are looking to get rid of anything game related.
Jason Lindsey, aka YouTuber MetalJesusRocks and owner of more than 7,000 physical copies of games, recommends retro-gaming conventions above all else. "You can spend every weekend for a year scouring garage sales to maybe find a few crappy games, or you could probably find every game you've ever wanted in one weekend," he says. "And most vendors accept trades, too, so if you are low on cash but still want that copy of EarthBound or Little Samson, trade a stack of games you never play."
On the other hand, YouTuber "Lithium" who runs a Nintendo Collecting YouTube channel says to shop locally as much as possible. "This saves a lot of money on shipping and import fees," he says. "Garage sales, flea markets, and pawn shops are your best bet for getting deals." You can certainly see he put his money where his mouth is in the tour of his bonkers Nintendo room and collection in the video above or here.
Tip 3: ALWAYS meet at a safe location
Contacting a stranger through something like Facebook Marketplace or Craigslist always carries risks, such as being paid with fake bills or getting robbed at gunpoint. Always, always, always (did I mention always?) ask to meet during the day at a safe, highly populated location like a popular retailer, which often have cameras and security guards on the premises. Try bringing a family member or friend with you as an extra safety net. If the seller wants to make the deal in an area that doesn't meet that criteria, don't bother meeting at all. Your safety is not worth any collectible – not even CIB (see collecting terminology on Page 2) Stadium Events for NES.
Tip 4: Know your worth
With hundreds of thousands of games and consoles out there, it's impossible to know the value of everything. Price Charting and Game Value Now are like bibles for collectors because they calculate the average listings of a game or console sold on eBay. Price Charting is slightly more robust because the website not only has more console and accessory values listed, but also has its own market where users – at no cost – can sell their items. Those sales are then factored into an item's worth. Don't ignore GVN or other similar websites, though. Multiple inputs on an item's value is vital, and it never hurts to quickly go to several sources. For example, the game 2 For 1 Power Pack: Winter Blast/Summer Sports sounds like a shovelware title (and it is), but it's exceptionally rare and valued at approximately $300 CIB, according to the average value between Price Charting and GVN. If you find something worthwhile but don't care about it, snag it. Then you can trade or sell it later for something you desire more. I sold The Croods: Prehistoric Party on Wii U at a profit back when it was going for $90.
Tip 5: Keep track of everything you buy
Organizing a list of all your gaming goodies might take as much work and patience as it does to acquire collectibles, but it has a few benefits. A list makes you aware of how much money you have spent and acts as a budget reminder. If someone breaks into your home and steals your possessions, a detailed catalog is something you can easily give to your insurance provider, as well as pictures of your collection that should be taken every few months. Create multiple lists so things are less jumbled. Make documents for different categories like Sega, Xbox, action figures, etc.
I recommend creating a sheet on the cloud-based Google Docs. It's free and robust, and you can update it on the fly if you have a smartphone (Android and iOS), and you won't have to worry about losing it on your computer or a flash drive. Download this handy collectibles organizer I created on Google Docs if you need a jumpstart.
Tip 6: Thrift stores are your friends
Thrift stores and resale shops are useful beyond being a venue to find video games on the cheap. They are excellent avenues for acquiring shelves or displays at little cost, and they're commonly stocked. If you find a shelf that's beaten up, perhaps you can turn it into a fun side project by painting it with some ideas from Pinterest. Thrift stores are also a great way to acquire original cases for games. If you have something like Futurama on Xbox with a beat-up shell, buy another Xbox game with a sleeker case and swap the cover art. Afterward, sell that spare game you bought to get some of your money back.
Tip 7: Be the early bird
Sleeping is ecstasy for adults, but if you're dedicated to the collecting cause then it's something you must sacrifice on occasion. A store might get a limited number of the item you and a hundred other collectors (or scalpers) seek. The best chance – and in some cases the only chance – is to wake up before the sun does and wait it out. To determine when you should arrive, call your local store and ask for an estimate of that item's quantity. More often than not, employees can't provide a precise number, but if you ask, "Do you have less or more than X number?" they can tell you yes or no. Also ask how frequently people have called asking about the item you want. If an item is important enough to you, make arrangements with your workplace to either have the day off or shift your hours.
When the Target-exclusive Jigglypuff Amiibo released a few years ago (a.k.a. when Nintendo was struggling to meet Amiibo supply), I went to one at 3 a.m. and waited outside for five hours – and I was maybe seventh in line. Afterward, I immediately drove over to Toys 'R' Us (rest in peace) for the store's exclusive Greninja Amiibo. Both figures sold out immediately, and I might not have ever gotten them – unless I wanted to pay over $100 for each at the time – had I not willingly gotten up at dark o' clock.
Tip 8: Ask and you shall receive
People often don't buy a console for one game, and that includes casual crowds. If someone lists a single game for sale, then it's logical to think they have more. Tell the seller what you're looking for and ask what else they have. You will often be surprised with the answers you get, which can be a major way to beat rival collectors to the punch. One time when I was scouring Facebook Marketplace, I spotted a Pokémon edition of the "Sorry!" board game. Unfortunately, someone got ahold of it just before me, but I asked the seller if they happened to be selling anything else. My curiosity rewarded me gleefully with about $1,000 worth of original PlayStation and GameCube games I bought for $200, making it one of my favorite video game finds so far.
Tip 9: Follow the leaders
While collecting older games is a nostalgic thrill, companies are still coming out with collector's editions for newly released titles. If you want to stay on top of, say, when this Breath of the Wild guardian from Nendroid gets a discount, then the two best social-media accounts to follow are Wario64 on Twitter and Cheap Ass Gamer (Twitter and Facebook). For Amiibo collectors, Amiibo News on Twitter is excellent as well. Each channel excels in relaying links to pre-orders, sales, new titles, and gaming-related items almost immediately after they go live. Turn on notifications for their posts until you see the item you're looking for. From the black and white Super Mario New 3DS systems only sold during Black Friday 2016 to snagging the Amazon exclusive collector's edition of Gears of War 4 for $80, I can't begin to express how much each of these accounts have helped me in my collecting endeavors.
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Tip 10: Look out for fakes and ask questions
From NES to DS, cartridge-based games are the most common format for repros. "Fakes and reproduction games are rampant on sites like eBay, so if the price seems too good to be true, it probably is," MetalJesus says. He has an informative video in which he discusses fake games, which you can watch above or here. Usually the easiest way to tell if a game is fake is the print quality of the label. If details like the Nintendo Seal of Quality are blurry, then you've more than likely found a repro. I almost once bought a fake Pokémon LeafGreen cartridge, but I noticed the label was almost too clean, the E-rating was a thinner font, "content" was spelled wrong on the ESRB label, and the Nintendo quality emblem was hard to make out. I worked out the situation with the seller, who also wasn't aware it was fake, but I knew I wouldn't always be so lucky if I wasn't more careful.
If you feel skeptical about the legitimacy of an item, ask the seller if you may carefully open the cart using screwdrivers specifically made for Nintendo products and look at the circuit board for its layout, serial number, and company logo fonts. You may also ask if the seller or store owner can open it before meeting. If they refuse to let you look inside the cart, you should probably move on. Bring cartridges or discs from the same platform with you as a point of reference if you're out on the hunt. Other signs a game could be fake are the screws holding the cartridge together are different either in type or color, and the quality and texture of the cart's plastic feels cheap.
There are plenty of discussions about fakes, including whether a game is truly factory sealed or not. For that kind of information among other collecting questions, active Facebook groups centered around retro gaming are a great and easy ways to get your questions answered. MetalJesus and Lithium propose looking at forums such as Nintendo Age, Atari Age, Sega Age and Nintendo 64 Forever.
Tip 11: Bundles are not always bad
Big Muthah Truckas? Superman 64? Nobody wants these games, and those are often the kind that show up in bundles that have the one or two items you actually want. Don't dismiss a bundle for its shovelware. Use that stockpile and sell them to a gaming store, saving up in-store credit to get something on your priority list. Try bundling them in a deal yourself with games people want to gain some – if not all – of your money back. Over time, I sold mounds of games I couldn't have cared less about to a retro-gaming store chain. When Black Friday rolled around, I bought several games I truly wanted at a fantastic price thanks to the trade-ins. Bundles are also an opportunity to swap out for cleaner cases.
Tip 12: Talk the talk
Online sellers frequently use acronyms and terminology to quickly sum up what they are selling. These are some top terms to know when buying video games:
- CIB – Complete in box (aka "complete") means a game or console comes with the full contents like the disc, case, manual, box stuffings, and paperwork such as promotions to upcoming games. There also might be extras such as physical pre-order bonuses.
- Full set – Every game available for a console.
- Graded – An item's overall quality has been thoroughly inspected by something like the Video Game Authority to determine its value.
- Loose – Only the game. No manuals, inserts, or original cases included.
- Not for resale – Rare discs and cartridges made specifically for demo kiosks in retailers. They can also be games that came with console bundles and couldn't be sold back to stores, though these aren't as sought after.
- Repro – An unofficial reproduced game cartridge.
- Shovelware – A poorly made game with few sales and little to no marketing.
- Snipe – Eyeing the countdown for an item in an online auction and placing a bid literally at the last second.
- Vintage – An empty term. Nearly every time someone uses this word in a listing, it means they are not versed in video games and are trying to make something sound more valuable than it actually is.
- Y-Fold – A type of folding in plastic wrapping with sticky residue on the top and bottom part of a case that indicates a game is factory sealed.
For even more collecting tips, check out my blog post here.