Over at TechRaptor today there’s a retrospective for the Resident Evil series; the sire of which is celebrating its 20th anniversary this year (March 30th to be precise; belated Happy Birthday Resident Evil). Hard to believe it’s been 20 years plus since the “fifth generation” of video games dawned. It was an exciting time to be a gamer, with healthy competition producing plenty of different types of games for everybody. I’m probably just looking at it through the rose colored glasses of nostalgia but back then it seemed like there were more studios active. They also seemed to be much more willing to take risks with their products than they are today. In a way I can’t blame them but I miss the sheer variety of the console libraries from that era, to say nothing of the PC ecosystem. Now for the most part you can play virtually any of these games on a whim; all the modern consoles have backwards compatibility and extensive back catalogs available. If you have a few bucks to spare or a computer capable of (good) emulation you can indulge those nostalgic feelings whenever you want. Of course, the original systems and games are still around for the more industrious. That got me wondering what the secondary market for these old games is looking like these days.
A brief aside: part of my renewed interest in this topic comes from Rudy of Alpha Investments. Although he’s been mostly focusing on Magic on his YouTube channel, he’s talked about vintage video games and is a collector of them too. I find his videos to be very informative and entertaining; worth your time if you want a different perspective on the aftermarket for Magic cards and investing psychology as well.
It’s hard to get a feel for the true value of old games. Consider that in many cases millions of copies were produced, meaning games weren’t exactly rare items. Then there were various reissues (Greatest Hits, Player’s Choice, etc). As I already mentioned nowadays you can emulate almost any game. To say nothing of today’s “retro” reissues. The point is artificial scarcity doesn’t seem to be an issue for most old games. I have no scientific evidence to back this claim up, or method to test the hypothesis, but my guess is that this availability depressed pricing. Conventional wisdom seemed to confirm that idea. Chain retailers (GameStop) and second hand shops were happy to pay you pennies on the dollar for your old games before raising the price for resale. Even those used copies were often 50-80% off the retail face value. Online, I observed similar pricing on eBay, Half, Amazon, etc. In other words I expected old games to be cheap and that’s what I saw. Until I didn’t anymore. I remember getting burned a decade or so ago before the Wii came out, when the prices for SNES games started shooting up. Imagine my surprise at seeing a complete in box copy of Super Metroid going for $5,000; or cart-only copies of SNES Ogre Battle selling for $350! Some journalists wrote sardonically about people “jacking up prices” of their treasured RPGs on eBay. For my part I refrained from buying any 16-Bit carts and even most discs during that period. Then just like that the market seemed to go back down. I don’t know if the Wii Virtual Console played a role in that, or perhaps it was caused by the greater economic turmoil of 2008. Maybe in the aftermath of the ’08 meltdown gamers on the whole just didn’t have $700 to drop on unopened copies of Final Fantasy VII.
A few years ago I was reading the remarks one of the editors of RETRO magazine made about the games market. He said that the prices for PS1/N64/Saturn games were creeping up as people discovered they had been undervalued, and predicted they would be repeating that process for GameCube/PS2/Xbox games “in a few years.” Of course, perception matters a lot more than our attempts at divination when it comes to the market. If you thought (as I did) that “old games” is basically synonymous with “used games” and beyond sentimental value, they’re practically worthless – it may be worth checking assumptions here. So the questions I’m interested in now are how much have these games gone up in price, and are they still undervalued?
As with most trips down the rabbit hole this topic ended up being a lot deeper than I had anticipated, so I’ll be breaking it up into a series over the next few weeks. But to share a preview of the investigation and in the spirit of the TechRaptor article: way back in Summer of 2005 I bought a complete long box copy of Resident Evil from Half.com. I still have the receipt, and according to that it cost me $15.59 in “very good” condition. Looking at the same website today in 2016, that game costs $47.95: which is over 200% increase in value. In the same 2005 order I happened to buy the GameCube remake “like new” for $9.99. It doesn’t appear to be available on Half.com anymore, but on eBay it still goes for $9.99. Yet on Amazon, a Prime seller has the GCN remake listed at $64. See what I meant earlier about how hard it is to price these things?
Clearly the first step is to do some market research. More on that in a later post.