So you want to start up a hobby in video game collecting? Cool, I can totally help you with that! The joy of hunting down classic games and adding them to your collection can be just as exhilarating as playing them. Although, before deciding to start being a gaming collector, you must know a few things first. Collecting video games isn’t a cheap hobby at all so be aware of that before jumping in. There are definitely right and wrong ways to go about obtaining video games in the most affordable fashion, but this hobby is a very expensive one depending on what you choose to collect. Also, the possibility of purchasing broken games or hardware is higher depending on the age and the place you buy stuff from, so being cautious is also important. If this is something you truly want to do, I can help you get started on building your dream collection of gaming goodies.
1. Choose your area of focus
Going into game collecting with the intention of just collecting everything ever is a daunting task. When you start grabbing anything and everything you want or can find, you start to lose focus and find yourself with a big pile of random crap. I always recommend choosing a specific console first and focusing on that one platform before jumping to another. Personally, I’m a big Sega collector and focus on Dreamcast games. My current goal is to collect every North American Sega Dreamcast title. I start seeking out games I do not own until I hit a lull and will switch to a different Sega console, like the Saturn or the SegaCD, before I start finding more Dreamcast titles I do not own. Focusing on one platform starts you out with a smaller scope and makes collecting a little easier until you’re ready to expand.
If you’re looking for a more affordable console to start collecting games for, I always recommend the Atari 2600, the Playstation or the Playstation 2 as good starter points. All three consoles have dirt cheap games and most of their best games are fairly easily obtainable at decent prices. Not to mention most retro gaming shops and secondhand stores are flooded with titles from all three. The Atari 2600 is the cheapest of the three and fully boxed complete copies will only cost you a couple of bucks. However, a lot of younger gamers may find the Atari 2600 a bit more undesirable to revisit unless you grew up in that era so that’s when I recommend something like the Playstation 2. No matter which console you choose, make sure it is one you enjoy playing. Selecting your favorite console of all-time as a starter isn’t a bad idea at all since it’ll keep your motivation up. Starting out collecting consoles isn’t a bad way to begin either since you can build up a collection of consoles to actually play these games on.
2. Keep tabs on pricing trends
Knowing how much a game is worth is very important when collecting video games. There will be many retailers and independent sellers who will try to take advantage of your need to own a game within the seller’s possession by jacking the price up. Keeping a few tools in your belt to reference back to when deciding to purchase a game will help you stay away from these price-gouging resellers. Owning a smart phone puts you at a huge advantage when you’re out on the hunt so I highly recommend having one in your pocket.
Websites like PriceCharting and RarityGuide will give you a good indication of the average price and rarity of a particular game. Shops who price their games using these guides are usually the ones you want to support as a collector. Using eBay and Amazon to check current selling trends from actual independent users will also give you a decent indication of how much a game is worth, but you will also find folks trying to take advantage of you. Keep these websites handy when you’re shopping so you can reference, compare and ensure you’re getting the best deal.
3. Know where to shop
Depending on your location, there will be many different places for you to shop for video games. Some are definitely better options than others. Probably one of the most important tips I can give new collectors is to know exactly where to shop and who you’re giving your money to. The easiest place to obtain a game you’re looking for is through eBay; however, eBay is also the most expensive route to take. Most sellers on eBay will price gouge potential buyers with higher than average prices and jacked up shipping costs in order to get sales from those desperate to obtain the item they’re selling. Only use eBay if you MUST have the game in question and do not mind paying the asking price. I think of eBay as the ‘easy way out’ and it kills the thrill of the hunt when it comes to game collecting. Use this as your last resort.
You will find many secondhand shops and retro gaming stores in the United States that are a blast to shop in. These stores are usually operated by gaming enthusiasts and collectors themselves, so the employees are generally knowledgeable and fun to interact with. The odds of finding rare games are usually high in these shops too, which can be exciting. Having a relationship with the staff and owners are great ways to network and be notified when they obtain something that you may be interested in. The problem with these stores are that many of them use eBay in order to price their inventory and set prices based on whatever “buy it now” prices they see when doing a quick eBay search. That’s not a good way to do business because they’re potentially charging more than the game is actually worth.
If you walk into a shop and notice their prices are much higher than other stores or websites you’ve seen, avoid them like the plague. The best retro gaming shops price their merchandise based on average selling prices and not random eBay auctions. You will want to deal with shops who are fair, so use your online resources before purchasing from game shops to make sure they’re staying honest. Also, don’t be afraid to haggle with employees to see if you can get a better price. A lot of shops will give you discounts if you are a returning customer or are buying games in bundles. Avoid asking for a lower price from chain stores though since most of them will look at you and laugh in your face.
My favorite way to obtain games are from flea markets. Many sellers at flea markets will obtain random crap and sell them off for a quick profit. Video games are pretty common to find laying around on random tables in flea market booths and most of these sellers have no idea what they’re actually selling. If a seller has a box full of NES games for sale, they’ll usually think of these games as old relics of the past and not worth anything. In that box could be a rare game worth hundreds of dollars in which they will sell you for only a couple of bucks. Times like these are when game collecting becomes super exciting — again, the thrill of the hunt! Hit up all of your local flea markets and keep an eye out for games at dirt cheap prices and don’t forget to haggle with these sellers too; most sellers will go down in price easily just to make a quick buck. Ask if they’ll sell that entire shoe box full of games for a cheap price too even if you own some of them already. You can use those duplicates as trade bait later on.
Beware of video game shops located inside of flea markets, though. Some of these shops are fair while others will use the eBay method to overprice their games. You’ll often find the opposite end of the “have no idea what I’m selling” spectrum and will see sellers pricing cheap common games much higher than what they’re worth, hoping someone is stupid enough to buy it. Don’t be that stupid person. Keep those pricing guides handy. Eventually after a lot of experience you’ll start memorizing prices on games and will call bullshit on a seller quite easily. Don’t give price gougers your business and simply move on.
Another awesome way to get games cheap are through garage sales. In the Spring/Summer time, keep an eye on neighborhoods for potential garage sales that are selling video games. Many of these sellers want to simply get rid of the stuff taking up space in their house. You may find yourself scoring some college student’s old abandoned video game collection that their parents simply do not want in their attic anymore for a ridiculously cheap price. It isn’t often that you will find someone price gouging at a garage sale so these are excellent places to beef up your collection for cheap.
Thrift stores are also great places to score video games cheaply since most mom & pop thrift shops also have no idea what they’re selling since most of their games were simply donated to them by people getting rid of old junk from their home. I often find really awesome and sometimes rare games for dirt cheap at random thrift stores. Avoid chains like Goodwill though since most of them actually catch rare stuff that come through their doors and will sell them in online auctions instead of putting them on the shelf to sell at some standardized price. Although, Goodwill is a solid place to buy old consoles at dirt cheap prices though. Just make sure they work before you buy them!
Online communities like Cheap Ass Gamer and NeoGAF have trading forums for users to swap and sell games with other users. Using forums like these are another awesome way to network with other collectors and purchase or trade games. The only downside to this is the potential to get screwed over by an anonymous user who may take your money and never ship your items, so be very careful. Craigslist is full of game sellers in your local area too, making the site a good place to check often. Just make sure you don’t give out too much personal information and meet up in a public place during the day in order to stay safe and avoid being robbed.
Overall, target places that sell games cheaply just to get rid of them, like flea markets and garage sales. These are the places where you’ll find gold for a small asking price without hitting up eBay and spending tons of money. Retro game shops are fun but do not give them your business if they fail to price their games fairly. Don’t be afraid to haggle a bit and network with the places and people you like in order to snag stuff you’re looking for and potentially have first dibs on it.
4. Track your collection
Once your collection begins to grow quite large, you’ll want to start thinking about ways to track what games you own. You can use computer software or mobile apps like Collectorz or websites like Backloggery to keep a database of your collection. Nothing is worse than purchasing a game that you forgot you even own. I highly recommend the mobile database apps that allow you to add games on-the-fly as you purchase them and double check to see if you already own something before plopping down the money for it. Most software and app solutions will cost you some cash but are more convenient while the website solutions are typically free. You can also create wishlists and share them online with friends so they can reference it on to go and keep an eye out for games you’re looking. For more information on game database solutions, check out my previous Gamer Guidance article on this very subject here.
5. Don’t focus on current generation games
Even though the digital era has sort of ruined collecting games for the current generation as well as the last generation, this rule still applies. Collecting games on current generation consoles is fine, but I always recommend starting a collection for a specific console after the life of that console has ended. You can find games much cheaper once a console has been included in a past generation, making it much more affordable in the long run. If you want to collect games at $60 a pop, by all means go for it, but I always found it more fun to start collecting these games when they can be obtained as much cheaper prices. I tend to sell current generation games that fail to blow my socks off in order to fund new purchases, but then you risk selling something that ends up being super rare and expensive in the future. I’m sure every collector has a game or two they regret selling, but it isn’t smart to collect games at standard $60 retail prices when the same games will be $10 or less 10 years from now and can be obtained with pocket change.
6. Store your games effectively
Do not allow your home to turn into a special video game episode of Hoarders, especially if you have a spouse and children. Make sure you store and organize your games neatly in order to keep your collection in great shape. Buy media shelves and bookcases to store your games, consoles and memorabilia so you can proudly display your collection and keep tabs on what you own. I like to organize all of my games by console and whether or not they are lose cartridges or complete boxed copies. Keeping cartridge-based games like original Nintendo games in dust sleeves and complete boxed copies in plastic keeper cases are also a great methods of keeping your stuff in tip-top shape. You can usually buy cases and dust sleeves on eBay. Check out hobby shops like Michael’s and Hobby Lobby to find cool cases and shelves that you can mount to walls in order to store games in too. I’ve seen collectors wall mount baseball bat display cases with light fixtures inside to store NES games in. Get creative!
7. Shop around for empty boxes and loose manuals
Some gaming shops will sell empty boxes with no game inside and loose instruction manuals for cheap. Keep an eye out for these! Having a video game complete in box with the instruction manual usually doubles the value, especially with cartridge-based games that originally shipped in cardboard boxes that folks typically threw in the trash after purchasing. Many times you can turn a loose cartridge you own into a complete boxed copy if you find the box and manual sitting in a shop without the game inside. Be aware that oftentimes the box will sell for a pretty penny too if the game is rare enough, so don’t expect to always spend a buck or two on a box and turn a $50 game into a $100 one that easily.
8. Do not pay full price for games in bad condition
Those high eBay prices you see are normally for games in perfect mint condition. If you find a game that has a worn or ripped label, scratched CD or damaged case, DO NOT pay the full asking price unless the price has already been adjusted to reflect the damage. If a copy of Conker’s Bad Fur Day is worth $150 mint in box, it is not worth $150 if the box is ripped and the label on the cartridge is torn. If you don’t mind having games in your collection that aren’t in perfect condition but still play just fine, make sure the price reflects the condition. Don’t feel bad asking for a price adjustment to compensate for condition. A good seller will have no issue doing this. Again, utilize your rarity and pricing guides online to make sure you’re not paying the highest asking price for a game in bad condition.
9. Make sure everything works
Depending on the situation, verifying that your retro game purchases are in full working order is something I always recommend doing if possible. Obviously it’ll be highly unlikely that you can double check the functionality of each game in box of Genesis cartridges that you bought off of a redneck at a flea market before you leave, but game shops and secondhand stores usually have functional consoles to test games out before you purchase and will be happy to test them for you. Quality game shops will test games before selling them so you may not have to worry too much about these particular shops. Make sure eBay auctions state in the description that the game works before purchasing; if they do not work after the seller states they do, you can dispute it with eBay and get your money back. Always verify that old consoles you purchase do indeed work before purchasing since the failure rate is much higher on an 20 year old console, especially disc-based consoles that tend to have the laser eye of the disc reader crap out on them. If a seller cannot verify that the console works (which is common for garage sales and flea markets), make them drop the price significantly in order to make the risk a little more worth it.
10. Revive scratched discs by resurfacing
If you find an old Playstation game you’re interested in but the bottom of the disc is scratched all to hell and may not play properly, don’t always hesitate to buy it if the price is right. You can take these games to a shop with a professional disc resurfacing machine to get them back in proper shape. These resurfacing machines basically shave off a thin layer of the disc where most scratches reside, bringing them back to life as long as the scratches aren’t horribly deep and carved in with a knife. Some video stores (the ones left at least), secondhand shops and retro gaming shops have these machines and will resurface the disc for a buck or two for you. Obviously there is a risk involved, but if you can snag a disc-based game in bad shape for a buck and repair it for an extra buck or two, the purchase may be rewarding.
Using these ten steps will help potential game collectors out there start out smoothly, avoid mistakes and grab great deals for less money. One reason I love collecting games is when I find something unique, rare or interesting inexpensively for my collection. Going on game hunting trips and seeking out new games for your collection is always exciting and makes for an extremely fun and rewarding hobby. Have fun, be safe and good luck!