For decades, collecting retro video games was a relatively affordable hobby. Granted, rare games and peripherals have always been more expensive, and extremely rare games and peripherals have always been extremely expensive. But most other used games can be purchased in good condition for a low price on eBay. However, that has changed since the onset of COVID. Suddenly, the value of many old video games skyrocketed – in some cases, doubling, tripling or quadrupling – which is great news for people who already own those games and a sweet nightmare for budding collectors.
COVID lockdowns began in the United States in March 2020, and as PriceCharting.com reported in April 2021, the value of retro video games increased by 33% on average during this period. PriceCharting.com aggregates sales data from various sources such as completed eBay listings to track the value of video games in real time, and while it’s certainly not perfect, it’s good enough to provide perspective. . And for almost any remarkable old video game, there is a peak in its value between March and May 2020. Even an extremely popular and easily affordable second-hand game like Super Mario World saw a proportional jump in value. Prices fluctuated thereafter but rarely returned to pre-COVID prices.
The reason old video games rose in value in their early 40s is likely simply that people suddenly had time to reflect on their hobbies, especially sedentary ones. In other words, it’s what happens when you mix bored, lonely people with enticing listings on eBay for things they used to love.
It’s hard to say precisely which types of old video games take on the most value. Although, for one thing, the English North American versions of the games often sell much more and are the subject of this article. And obviously, rare games – or at least games that carry the Perception to be rare – are the ones that carry the highest price tags. In fact, the proliferation of digital reissues of classic video games hasn’t seemed to affect the value of physical copies.
Once upon a time, it was hoped that a PlayStation Network version of Suikoden II or a virtual console or Nintendo Switch Online release of Earthbound would lower the prices of a used physical copy. That didn’t really happen, and post-COVID the prices of both have recently peaked. Similarly, SNES games like Mega Man X3 and Mega Man 7 have always been easy to emulate (albeit illegally) on a computer, but they have always been particularly expensive. They also recently peaked in value.
These video games don’t need to be over 20 years old to have increased in value significantly either. They just have to be the right combination of dark and seductive. For example, Persona 3 Portable on Sony PSP goes for a few hundred bucks without even including that baseball cap preorder only. Then examine the related examples of Xenosaga Episode III: Also Sprach Zarathustra on PlayStation 2 and Mega Man Star Force 3: Black Ace and joker red on Nintendo DS.
Both games were the latest entry in a franchise that was originally supposed to lasts longer, and there is a presumption that fewer copies were sold of each. Thus, while Xenosaga Episode II remains quite affordable, Xenosaga Episode III will cost you over $200 for a copy in good complete condition. Meanwhile, the cheapest full copy of Mega Man Star Force 3: Red Joker on eBay so far goes for $260. There’s little reason to think they won’t continue to rise in value, which again is fantastic for people who already own them, but creates a barrier to entry for new collectors.
It’s worth pointing out a few examples of readily available popular old video games that have gone up in value post-COVID anyway. For example, a bulk cartridge of Final Fantasy 2 on SNES (which is actually Final Fantasy 4) could be had in great condition for $30 at least until 2017. Now it’s nearly doubled to $60, judging by recent listings. A good quality bulk cartridge Banjo Tooie on Nintendo 64 jumped to $40-$45, up $15-$20 from a few years ago. Even loose, in good condition Sonic and Knuckles on Sega Genesis seems to cost around $30 right now, an increase of $15-$20 from a few years ago. These aren’t amazing differences, but it could spell death by a thousand cuts for collectors.
Or seen from the other side, these old video games and their increasing value become an accidental investment opportunity for their current owners. It’s nice to think that people who amassed collections just because they loved their hobby are now being accidentally rewarded for it.
Of course, this copy of Crazy ’94 will likely go worthless forever (sports games notoriously have little resale value.) and the more weeb-ish games seem to be seeing some of the most spectacular comebacks. (You make do not want to start collecting Sega Saturn games.) But what COVID has done to the value of older video games doesn’t seem likely to diminish, and it’s up to current owners and collectors what they’d like to do with that information.
Personally, I plan to keep my video games forever, but I recently bought a few more games to complete my collection, before the prices spiked further.
A final warning about scams
This discussion has only focused on games that have actually been used, whether their condition is “loose” (meaning the game itself is there but its packaging has been lost) or “complete in box” (meaning the game has been opened, but all packaging original is still there). He purposely didn’t discuss the value of blank and sealed decks because, frankly, they’re embroiled in scam allegations.
Organizations like ranking house WATA and Heritage Auctions have been accused of artificially inflating the value of sealed video games, resulting in unreasonably high valuations like $2 million for Super Mario Bros.. Attorney Seth Abrahamson and YouTuber Karl Jobst have detailed the problem in depth, but long story short – exercise extreme caution if you want to get into sealed game collecting.