Feb 12 2015

The Cost of Retrogaming

The average price of a new video game on the shelves of any given American store can vary between $40 to $70. The average non-gamer sees this as excessive, and even many who would consider themselves gamers find these prices to often be too high for the quality of the product in question. Of course, older games tend to be cheaper than newer titles, so you would think that buying for a game console that is no longer in production, such as, let’s say, the Nintendo Entertainment System, would be a very cheap way to play games, right?

Nope. Not at all.


As game consoles age, the people who played on that console age with it. Often, in our youth, we abandon things we cared about, because we feel we have outgrown them. We naturally want the newest and best things, and will often sell or trade our old items to others to help us get those new items we want. This mentality can be seen in the trend of people selling their old cell phone, which is often only a year old, to get the currently trendy model. This is just part of human nature as a social species, and while I think it is silly, I fully understand why this happens. I can relate. As a child, I sold many of my favourite games to a local game shop just to get a few must-have games for my Nintendo. I still have a few of those games, which is great, but there are others that I either lost, or were some of those sold, that I wish to have again.

Again, you would think this would be cheap and simple, and for many games, yes, this is. For others, however, a small fortune must be spent to acquire the cartridge, even in poor shape.


The thing about retrogaming is, it is a collectors market. Even game consoles like the Playstation 2 and the GameCube, game consoles that were still actively supported a decade ago have seen some titles spike in price, due to notoriety, general demand, and rarity.

This creates an interesting situation where some games cost more now than they did new in stores back when they were still being sold. For example, the Super Nintendo role playing game “Earthbound” can easily fetch $200 for a copy that is just the cartridge – no box, manual, or any other special items that came with it. The game did not sell well during it’s time in stores, compared to many other titles, but over the years it has become a famous title, heavily sought after by gamers and collectors. This demand has caused the price to rise.

Yes, even things like old video games are subject to the basic laws of supply and demand. The interesting thing is, where the demand comes from.

Many games are terrible, yet because of a game reviewer discussing them, the game will gain a reputation where people will want to own a copy. Many of these poor games are also somewhat rare, and so these factors combined can drive up the price. Even for common games, many game stores will raise the price when a reviewer discusses a game, simply because they know they can capitalize off of the demand generated.


Probably the greatest driver in price, though, is simply nostalgia. Game consoles themselves are subject to this. It seems to follow 15-20 years after a consoles release, a nostalgia kick happens, as people who would have played on such as a child grow up and want to relive their childhood fun.

Right now the trend has gone from the original NES to the Super Nintendo, with prices for just the console spiking between $50 to $100. Sony Playstations are starting to show a spike in price, as are Nintendo 64 console, as people who grew up with those consoles decide they want to get back into their old hobby. Years ago, the Atari 2600 had a similar spike in popularity, as those who grew up with it in the late 70’s and early 80’s got back into their old games.

This pricing trend follows even into the most common titles for the systems, when they are good games. Super Mario Bros. 3 is considered by many to be the best game on the NES, and I have seen copies average $20 or higher in stores, even though it is the one of, if not the, best selling game for the console.

Still, you can sometimes find games for $1 or 2$, if you know where to look, or have the right connections locally. It all depends on where you live, and what you are looking for. It all depends on your luck.

An article like this would not be complete, however, without mentioning games like Stadium Events – a title that was only on the shelves for a short time before Nintendo bought the rights to it, and the special controller it used. This evolved into the Power Pad, which alone wasn’t anything special, but, due to it’s extreme rarity, Stadium Events is the most expensive NES game which was actually sold in stores. Yes, special cartridges like Nintendo World Championships can cost much more, but these are special event cartridges – such items always attain a collectable status and demand far beyond that of a normal game.


All I hoped to do here was share my understanding of game collecting with those who might not fully understand such. It really can be an expensive hobby, but if you know what you are doing, and don’t try too hard to get a game, you can build a good collection for minimal cost.

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