On the 6th of August 2021, it was announced that the record for the most expensive video game ever had been broken. A sealed copy of Super Mario Bros, a 9.8 graded copy, was sold to an anonymous bidder for $2 million dollars. It was the third time in two months the record had been broken. Six weeks previously, a copy of Super Mario 64 was sold for €1.56 million, breaking a record set by a copy of the NES classic The Legend of Zelda (which itself set the record 2 days prior). These are very much the exception to the rule. I most certainly didn’t pay near that for my copy of Super Mario Bros but then again, it isn’t graded or sealed. However, there has been a jump in price in many games, especially retro ones, during the pandemic. Not so long ago, it was rare to see games sell for over €100. Often, these were reserved for collector’s editions but now its not uncommon to see retro games, even common ones appear on eBay for ridiculous sums. Of course, eBay isn’t the best source at times as people will list games for stupid prices, often chancing their arms, but a scroll through the sold items can see some expensive items actually be sold. Using a site like Price Charting is a bit more reliable but it does give a telling story.
There are some games that stick out as being expensive in a lot of people’s minds. Panzer Dragoon Saga, Suikoden II, Snatcher and Castlevania: Symphony of the Night are ones that really stand out. Taking Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, the PAL version wasn’t a big mover so it is rarer. It’s one of the few games I remember selling for over €100 years ago. Using Price Charting to track its sales since August 2018, I can see one complete in box copy sold for $163, a very pricey investment. Fast forward to 2021 and they frequently go for between $350-$400+ complete in box. This is a similar story with Panzer Dragoon Saga. Suikoden II, on the other hand, saw a massive jump in July-August 2020. Games that aren’t as rare or even finished production as long ago as the Saturn of PlayStation era aren’t immune to this. Some Nintendo DS and Nintendo 3DS games have seen a spike. Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver come from a very well-established franchise, were released on a hugely popular system and sold over 12 million copies worldwide. Like many Nintendo games, it held its value well, selling for $50 in 2018-2019. It slowly started to creep up to the $60-$80 range I 2020 before exploding in early 2021, seeing copies resell for over $100. Even now, if I search for one on eBay, they can be very expensive. There are even boxes being sold without the game for nearly €40. This sort of reselling isn’t exactly rare either. I have seen resellers separate out the contents of a game to maximise their return, selling the box, manual and game separately.
I have been lucky in some regards to games. I picked up classics such as Bucky O’Hare, The Legend of Zelda and Skies of Arcadia before the price spiralled out of control. I’ve also missed out on others. I recently gave up on buying the Mega Man X games on their original consoles and bought the collection on Xbox One. I refused to pay £100 for Mega Man 8 on PlayStation and it has jumped up in price. I don’t think I’ll ever own Panzer Dragoon Saga, Burning Rangers or the Mega Man Legends games. Then there’s games like Folklore, an interesting PlayStation 3 title that was everywhere when I work in Xtra-vision. We couldn’t get rid of them. With hindsight, I should have bought them as they are now listed on eBay for nearly €100. The pandemic has certainly driven prices up but there’s always been other factors. Availability is a big one. Living in Ireland, there’s always been a limited number of items available compared to other places. Even when the PlayStation, Nintendo 64 and Sega Saturn were new, I recalled finding unique games for them difficult. Hard Edge was a game I wanted for years but couldn’t find, anything Sega Saturn was difficult to locate and Nintendo 64 games could be sold out for months if you weren’t quick enough. The PlayStation 2 era was more accessible for us. We just didn’t have the large amount of game shops. Still, you could pick up some retro games fairly cheap on eBay in the early 2010s, you just had to pay stupid postage on it as it was coming from the UK. We even had a dedicated retro store open up with decent prices in Dublin. Then the boom came…
The boom can be attributed to a number of things. Availability being one. I still remember talking to a guy who ran a gaming store in Ireland about his prices. He told me the prices were high because the games were hard to find. They were common PlayStation 2 games and I recalled a store in Walthamstow having so many of them, the owner was selling them for around £2 a game. Then there was the case of when I bought a Sega Master System with 30 games for £60. The games were decent, nothing special. I came home to Ireland a few months later and a seller in a market wanted over €200 for a Master System with 6 games. Only one game was a standout, Alex Kidd in Shinobi World. The other 5 were ones I’d gotten with my Master System. Of course, these are very anecdotal but I was amazed by the price difference between Ireland and the UK. Even when CEX started selling retro games here, they were very limited. They had no Sega consoles, no PlayStation 1 games and the prices were significantly steeper than their UK counterpart for a lot of their games. Of course, a limited selection is a huge factor. The UK does have a much larger population than Ireland but there is more to it. We can buy games from the UK through eBay after all, it just feels like it’s only the overpriced games that are available to us. EBay is a great resource. It has allowed me to expand my collection in ways that were previously impossible. I’ve bought a mixture of new and old games on it, which is great. It’s also a massive pain. It’s a scalpers paradise. Anyone who loves to buy limited print run games, they know the experience of missing out on something from say, Limited Run Games, and then seeing it pop up on eBay for double or triple the price right away. This isn’t limited to just games, consoles have also been affected by this but it’s really anything with a limited quantity. The other irritation of eBay, and this one really annoys me, is when people selling games will use it as a pricing reference. I’ve had stores tell me their price is fair because there’s a copy on eBay for that price. It’s also sort of corrupted car-boot sales or even sites like Adverts. People think they have something rare or exclusive but don’t actually know what they’re selling. I’m sorry but your copy of FIFA 13 is not worth €40.
There is another factor I feel has greatly attributed to the rising cost of games. On the 8th of February 2016, Cinemassacre uploaded an episode of James & Mike Mondays featuring Sky Kid. In the 2nd of March 2016 Cupodcast, both Ian and Pat commented that the game had risen in price as a result of the Cinemassacre video. Of course, this isn’t evidence that the video caused the price to rise (correlation does not equal causation and all that) but it cannot be denied that YouTube and Twitch have had a massive impact on the rise in demand of certain games. Among Us is probably the most famous example of this. Released in 2018, the game gained very little tractions until streamers such as Sodapoppin, Ninja and PewDiePie started playing it on their channels. The game then exploded in popularity. It would be interesting to see the rise in prices and demand of video games compared to the growth of services like YouTube and Twitch. Hopefully someone a lot smarter and more resourceful than me will put together research to explore this phenomenon. I know personally I’ve been influenced by YouTube to seek out these games, similar to how magazines influenced me in the late 90s and early 2000s.
Video games and especially retro video games have become a lucrative business for resellers, especially those who have the resources to hoard games such as Stadium Events and The Flintstones: Surprise at Dinosaur peak. For the majority of us, the only way we’ll probably get to experience these is through emulation, whether its on legitimate hardware or through other means. This is why game preservation is so important. I personally prefer to play games on their original hardware but without rereleases, I probably would never have gotten the chance to experience Mega Man X. It’s also the only way I’ll probably get to play Mega Man Legends as its present on the PlayStation 3 store. I think the community, manufacturers and developers should work together to help preserve these classics. There are times when rereleases annoy me, like Super Mario 3D All-stars or The Legend of Zelda Skyward Sword as I felt their price points were a bit high but they allowed new audiences to experience these classic games for the first time. Some games may have aged terribly, some may never be played again but I think its important that everyone be able to experience classics such as Sonic the Hedgehog, Super Mario World, The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time, Final Fantasy VI, Castlevania: Symphony of the Night, Panzer Dragoon Saga, Power Stone and Conker’s Bad Fur Day without paying an arm and a leg for them.