Published: May 26, 2020
We might look back in ten years and ask when video game collecting really went mainstream. That answer would be right now. The genre has seen explosive growth in the last year with sales establishing slews of record prices. A new era of collector is blooming, and they want to reconnect with the things they played with when they were children. But beyond that, the perception of video games is shifting as many realize that immersive video game environments were among the very first digital art forms – that a Super Mario Bros. game is just as valuable to the soul as a canvas, but exponentially more democratic. We sat down with Valarie McLeckie, consignment director of video games at Heritage Auctions, to talk about the budding field.
How’d you get into video games?
When I was in preschool, I would watch my brother play Super Mario Bros. on his NES – completely transfixed. At some point, I got brave enough to ask him for a turn. He was a good sport, and regularly let me play as Luigi. Needless to say, I was hooked on games (and became a huge Luigi fan, too!). But, my love for games was really solidified when I got my very own Game Boy Color that came with Pokémon yellow. In fact, I still have it!
I’m looking at these games you’re getting great prices with now, and I can recall my excitement ripping them open and playing them when I was younger. Is this a market driven by nostalgia?
Absolutely; I think a lot of us want to buy the things we loved as children.
Did you keep any of your childhood games sealed?
I wish! Some of them I did keep the boxes and manuals for, so, for a kid, I didn’t do too bad.
Why did people keep their games sealed back then?
It depends. I’ve heard it all from, “I bought it and forgot I had it at home,” to “I anticipated it would be collectible one day.”
Is video game creation an art form?
To me, it’s the ultimate art form. Not only do games appeal to multiple senses (sight, sound, touch), it’s the only art form that you can have a direct impact on while experiencing it. This has a profound effect on a person, I think. Since it is up to the player to bring the story to a close, or to help bring the main character’s goal to completion, it becomes a much more personal experience than watching a movie or reading a book could ever be. The music, visuals, stories and gameplay elements only enhance that effect.
Tell me how video game grading works. What are they getting graded on? What’s the scale? How many companies do it?
Wata is the first company to grade sealed games on the condition of their box and their seal separately. While there are other companies that grade games, this is one aspect of Wata that has put them at the forefront of the collecting hobby. Boxes for sealed games are graded on a 10 point numerical scale (with 10 being the best), while the seal is graded with an alphabetical rating (with A++ being the best). The box, cart and manual for complete in box games (opened) are each graded on a 10-point scale. Those grades are then calculated to come up with an overall grade for the completed game.
How heavy a hand did game shop owners have in building this market or preserving the games?
Independent game store owners have certainly played a major role in game preservation and building the market. Though, I would say the introduction of Wata’s grading services have been a major driving force in elevating this collectible into a formal marketspace as well. Both go hand-in-hand!
What makes a video game valuable?
Availability and age play a factor, but I would say that iconic titles in high grade have proven to have the most appeal, and, in turn, are the most valuable.
What’s the rarest video game known?
Effectively, almost every console has a game title that is known to be particularly rare (and some are equally as rare as the rarest title on another console). The answer to this question also depends on whether you want to know what the rarest title is that was sold in stores, or if you want to also include promotional event games or other obscurities into the pool of possible answers. In short, there are multiple answers to this question. This market is also so young that we are still discovering and learning more about the existing population of games every day. In the past, I may have said, “Stadium Events,” but that feels like a cop-out answer at this point.
What about early systems? Are any more valuable in the marketplace than any other? Does that affect the value of their respective games?
Generally speaking, special edition versions of consoles completely aside, the standard retail consoles don’t hold as much value as the titles themselves and this has no correlation with the value of its library. For example, if I wanted to play NES games, I could go buy a console for $100 or less right now (without the box and in okay condition). The most expensive game we have sold thus far was an NES game. It was a Wata 9.4 A Mega Man from the very first production of the game, and it sold for $75,000.
How often is a discovery made in video games?
Surprisingly, new discoveries are made all the time. Whether it’s someone coming across deadstock that we didn’t know about, a rare variant of a title that’s still sealed, or a collection that bubbles to the surface – it’s almost an every day occurrence. There’s a few recent discoveries in our July Auction, so I would definitely recommend checking that out! I don’t want to spoil the surprise.
Is the market growing? Where do you see it in five years?
The market has grown exponentially in the past year, and we are certainly seeing new collectors participating in our auctions all the time with no signs of slowing. Video games are such an integral part of our lives at this point (look at what’s happening with people playing Animal Crossing in quarantine after all!). I have no doubt that five years from now this market is just going to be that much bigger.
Is video game collecting inclusive or exclusive of tech collecting? Should we be saving our 1st gen iPods and Kindles?
It is definitely a separate interest. I wish I could tell you if you should save your 1st gen iPods and Kindles, but I’m definitely no expert when it comes to that. That said – if you have a sealed 1st gen iPod – maybe at this point it would be best to leave it that way (just in case).
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