Anything that’s categorized as “retro” these days means whatever is being described – whether it be a fad or physical item – pertains to the nostalgia for one’s childhood or younger years. You might have taken a glimpse at the market a bit and instantly figured out that prices of retro games are through the roof, especially when compared to half a decade ago. There are multiple reasons for this, and we’ll go through every one of them.
Nostalgia is A Powerful Drug
One of the main causes for this price hike is the growing (literally) up of gamers. Remember those snot-nosed kids that used to play their old Nintendos and Ataris back then? Well, they’re grown up now, and they’re missing that time where times were so much simpler – where they could just kick back and play their Legend of Zeldas and Super Marios. Nostalgia relives the good memories for many people, and playing these games, they get to relive them at least for a short while. Unfortunately, as with anything life-related, nothing stays permanent; friends move away, family members don’t stay forever, and life just goes on, whether we like it or not. But for a moment, people can go back to that time capsule where they were duking it out with their buddies (and their family, of course) in Street Fighter II Turbo.
A lot of people feel this way, but with the retro gaming market being larger than it was a decade ago, along with the fact that these games aren’t being produced by companies anymore, the demand continues to go up while supplies remain low.
The Covid-19 Factor
Arguably the biggest reason for the rise of physical retro games is the pandemic. People desperately felt the need for an entertainment system amid this stressful time. To put it simply, everyone was bored out of their minds and needed to find a way to blow their money. People had hours if not days to spare, and as if in unison, all of them thought “hey, why don’t I buy all of the games that made my childhood?”. This caused the initial prices for these games across all past consoles – the PlayStation 1, Nintendo Gamecube, Super Nintendo, Sega Dreamcast, you name it – to skyrocket as if there was no tomorrow. Remember Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance? Back then, this Gamecube title was considered as one of the most expensive games to get for the system and a complete-in-box copy was easily worth $170, but if you take a look at the prices now, it has increased to more or less $300. Prices for other titles also went sky high such as Earthbound, Soul Blazer, and Cannon Spike.
Years before chaos ensued and we all had to lock ourselves in our house, prices for retro games were still affordable. But when everybody in the world had to stay home and the internet is their only main source of entertainment, you can bet your bottom dollar that Mercari, eBay, and other websites that specialize in trading second-hand goods had flocks of people vacuuming up every old title they could get.
In conjunction with everybody forced to stay at home, this meant that no one was able to go out and do some “ game hunting” – at least until the restrictions were loosened. Game hunting is a term that’s often used by retro enthusiasts and collectors where they’d go around their area, or perhaps to another state/city, to do some digging in retro gaming stores, pawnshops, and flea markets. You’d be surprised at the number of instances where people would just get the haul of a lifetime, and for just less than $50, people could easily snag some good games with that kind of money.
2021 was a crazy year for retro video games – who would have thought we’d see the day that a copy of Super Mario 64 would sell at an auction for almost 1.5 million bucks? And if you think that wasn’t enough, you’ll be happy to know that this amount was bested in less than a month later, when a sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES sold for a cool 2 million buckaroos. This all seems too good to be true; we knew that the prices were increasing, but not in THAT exaggerated kind of way.
Enter Karl Jobst, who conducted an almost hour-long video investigation regarding Heritage Auction and Wata Games being complicit in artificially inflating the retro gaming market for their benefit. Apparently, the president of Wata Games and the CEO of Heritage Auction were in cahoots about the whole thing. Through interviews claiming that prices for these retro games would continue to rise and press releases, they were controlling the market. It was made known for all that the directors for Wata Games were grading their OWN games to raise the value, while the unlucky saps (game collectors) that bought them unknowingly got conned out of their money.
Now, both companies strongly refute these allegations, but honestly, the damage has been done. What we have here are inside people related to either Wata Games or Heritage Auctions buying the game for a record price, then delivering news about their purchase, and finally, the head honchos saying “oh yeah, the prices of these games are going up”. By doing this, Wata and Heritage are deliberately causing inflation to the prices in the retro gaming market so they could get dough from it.
It’s still too early to predict as to when the retro gaming bubble will burst, but in the meantime, the prices are going to stay that way until everything has gone back to “normal”. Since the arrival of the pandemic, there’s been a 33% increase in the value of retro games. We all know that video games are the perfect time killer, especially when you’re forced to have free time in your hands. If you’re thinking of building a collection of the game that you grew up with for yourself, just know that it’s going to take some time and patience, especially if you only have a limited budget.