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Game On: Now is a good time to sell those retro video games

UPDATED: Thu., May 20, 2021

Despite characters Ness and Lucas being mainstays in the popular “Super Smash Bros.” series, 1994’s “EarthBound” for Super Nintendo has never been rereleased. Complete, in-box copies regularly sell for more than $1,000.  (Nintendo Co.)
Despite characters Ness and Lucas being mainstays in the popular “Super Smash Bros.” series, 1994’s “EarthBound” for Super Nintendo has never been rereleased. Complete, in-box copies regularly sell for more than $1,000. (Nintendo Co.)
By Riordan Zentler For The Spokesman-Review

A few years back while volunteering as a young adult with a Boy Scout troop in my hometown, I was amused to notice one of the younger boys playing an iOS port of the original “Sonic the Hedgehog” from 1991 on his phone. It wasn’t for the novelty, either – it was genuinely the way he got his game on, and it was a known fact within the troop.

I thought back to my own youth, when I was teased on numerous occasions for being stuck playing on my older brother’s Sega Genesis while the other kids played on their much-newer PlayStation or Nintendo 64. Many of these peers were willfully caught in a cycle of selling off their older game consoles to afford newer ones.

Gone are those days, it seems. Retro gaming is a legitimate pastime now, not just a hobby for the kids with no allowance and limited options. Gamer’s Arcade Bar in downtown Spokane has a Super Nintendo Mini plugged into a small television at the bar, and it’s almost always occupied by young adults wistfully reliving their youth.

Although the future of gaming is surely bright – according to Statista, the industry was estimated to be worth $159.3 billion in 2020, a 9.3% increase from 2019 – it’s never been a better time to look backwards. If you’re holding onto some old games you haven’t enjoyed for years or even decades, now might very well be the best time to sell them.

The COVID-19 pandemic, or more accurately the economic impact payments given to each U.S. citizen, has noticeably inflated the value of old games, consoles and accessories. Retro gamers with stable jobs have evidently used the cash handouts to fund their collecting. Websites such as pricecharting.com analyze the selling price of video games online to showcase data, and almost every chart shows a noticeable uptick in price following each government check.

For instance, loose Super Nintendo Entertainment Systems were valued at just $35 prior to the pandemic. Over the past year and change, the system’s value has jumped up, now fluctuating anywhere between $60-$85. SNES consoles are around 30 years old but still incredibly common to be fetching such a price.

So, if you’re holding onto something far rarer – say, Sega Saturn games from the mid-1990s – you could be sitting on a pretty penny. Some games on the system sell in the range of $600-$1,000. Of course, the pandemic isn’t the sole factor for rising costs. Demand for old games can skyrocket if online influencers showcase them, which happens with surprising regularity.

In March, Jason “videogamedunkey” Gastrow released a YouTube video for an audience of nearly 7 million subscribers showcasing the notoriously ridiculous “The Typing of the Dead,” an educational adaptation of “The House of the Dead 2” for the Sega Dreamcast, which tasked players with shooting hordes of undead not with a light gun, but a QWERTY keyboard. The average price of the game “complete in box” subsequently jumped from $75 to nearly $140.

Ironically, Gastrow’s attempt to introduce the game to a larger audience has made it more exclusive. Such instances make me thankful for the common practice of porting old games to new systems. Be it a remake, remaster or simple rerelease, it’s a surefire way for publishers to bring games to new, often younger audiences – audiences just like the Boy Scout I mentioned above.

It’s hardly altruism, of course – rehashing older titles is less costly and time-consuming than funding and developing brand new ones. It’s also a low-risk investment since publishers know not to bother rereleasing anything that wasn’t a big seller the first time around.

That fact is ultimately why retro gaming is still a desirable but sometimes expensive hobby. “Panzer Dragoon Saga,” a 1998 title on the Sega Saturn, and “EarthBound,” a 1994 release for the Super Nintendo, are two RPGs which severely undersold despite receiving universal critical acclaim. Neither title has been rereleased, so complete, in-box copies sell for upwards of $1,000.

It’s not entirely clear whether these inflated costs are permanent, but I’d encourage anyone with old school video games tucked away to bring them out and research their value. Game collectors are more feverish than ever, and you could be sitting on more cash than you realize.

Riordan Zentler can be reached at riordanzentler@gmail.com.

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