An emerging market with great potential for profit, sealed, mint condition video games could be the next big investment opportunity. Research into revenues following the pandemic suggests that;
“Global video game revenue is expected to surge 20% to $179.7 billion in 2020, according to IDC data, making the video game industry a bigger moneymaker than the global movie and North American sports industries combined.”
In comparison, the global film industry reached $100 billion in revenue in 2019, according to the Motion Picture Association, while PwC estimated that North American sports would bring in just over $75 billion in 2020.
- 5 Times Baseball Cards Worth Millions Found in Homes
- First Edition Pokemon Guide
- Most Valuable Pokemon Cards
The point is, video games are booming, and the retro market is also thriving. Here’s everything you need to know about investing in older games, including where to buy and sell, and whether grading is actually worth it.
What is a Retro Video Game?
The main question is, how do we define retro? Anything over 15 years old seems to be a good rule of thumb, although prices begin to rise when looking at the PSX era.
For example, Wata will stop grading items after the Playstation 2/Xbox 360/Wii U generation, and will only go back as far as the NES and Genesis. VGA grades Atari 2600/5200/7800, NES, SNES, N64, and Gameboy games, systems, and accessories sticking to defined brands and eras. That isn’t to say that newer games can’t be valuable, just that they’re not retro yet.
The games we knew and loved growing up are inarguably vintage, especially as the industry only began to take shape during the early 1970s. Anything released around or before the millennium is sure to count and is highly collectible in the present day.
Why Invest in Retro Video Games?
Why invest in retro video games? They might have been plentiful when they were first released, but the majority have been forgotten about, collecting dust in a box somewhere. Some people took care of their games, but others took it even further, refusing to unbox anything as they saw the potential for future profit.
Much of the revenue derived from the $179.7 billion figure in the modern day may come in the form of micro-transactions, but collectors are always interested in buying pristine copies of the best video games, many of which were originally packaged in poor-quality plastic, or even cardboard.
Take an unopened copy of Super Mario Bros., the classic video game released by Nintendo in 1985, which set a world record for a graded game when it sold for $100,150 in 2019.
Graded games have been selling for record prices ever since Heritage began auctioning them in January 2019, but the market is yet to be oversaturated with potential investors.
As with toys, and almost any collectible, sealed versions are always preferable. They’re meant to be looked at rather than scratched or damaged by a console, and they’re likely to continue to appreciate in value over the next few years.
Almost as much attention is paid to the packaging, as a mint condition box and instructions will increase overall values. This is where grading systems will come into play. It’s a definitive method to tell the difference between copies that look like they could be perfect. Any imperceptible flaw will be noted, and it gives an idea of just how many versions of a game still exist.
However, some collectors will prefer ungraded games, despite selling for a slightly lower price in comparison.
Retro Video Game Grading Services
A number of video game grading services now exist. In practice, they work similarly to any others you may have heard of, such as card graders PSA or BGS. You submit your items, pay a fee, and they give the item a numerical grade representing their overall condition.
Here’s a quick rundown with two of the best grading companies in the business at this moment in time.
Founded in 2017, Wata video game grading is ideal for; ‘sealed games, CIB games, loose cartridges, and many more video game collectibles with confidence. Whether your favorite system is from Nintendo, Atari, or Sega, Wata makes video game collecting rewarding for retro game collectors of all types.’
They will only grade retro items, specifically focusing on the major systems listed below;
- NES (All states)
- SNES (All states)
- N64 (CIB and Sealed)
- GameCube (CIB and Sealed)
- Wii (CIB and Sealed)
- Wii U (CIB and Sealed)
- Genesis (CIB and Sealed)
- Sega CD (CIB and Sealed)
- 32X (CIB and Sealed)
- Saturn (CIB and Sealed)
- Xbox (CIB and Sealed)
- Xbox 360 (CIB and Sealed)
- PlayStation 1 Longbox (CIB and Sealed)
- PlayStation 2 (CIB and Sealed)
*CIB stands for Complete In Box, including the instructions (manual).
Check out the full list of gradable games and platforms here.
Wata grading follows a simple 10 point scale, with half points to allow for more maneuverability at the lower end. After 9.0, grades begin to increase in 0.2 increments, for even more precision.
“Sealed game grades are meaningless unless it is clear why the grade was assigned. That’s why factory sealed games will also receive a separate letter grade reflecting the quality and integrity of their shrink-wrap/seal.”
These grades are as follows: A++, A+, A, B+, B, C+, C
For example, is a game a 9.2, or a 9.8 out of 10? There’s a significant difference, and we’ll use the record-breaking 1985 Super Mario Bros. game as an example. Of the few remaining sealed copies of the game, it was the only known sticker sealed copy and was certified by Wata with a Near Mint grade of 9.4 and a Seal Rating of A++.
This is the reason for the six-figure fee, as you literally can’t find a better-graded copy at this moment in time, and the seal is perfect.
They have four levels of pricing, which depend on the amount of time you’re willing to wait for your items. It starts to get expensive quickly, but there’s an option to suit almost every budget. They note that the turnaround times are estimates, while;
“Games valued from $1000 to $2499 are gradually charged more on a sliding scale for liability. Games valued $2,500 and up are charged an additional 2% of their declared value. If we find games on an order are undervalued we may have to adjust pricing on the order for correct liability costs.”
They also offer a range of additional services, including a graders report, a new reholder, or giving graded games a better chance of selling with high-quality studio digital photos. It’s reasonably comprehensive, and they’re seen as the industry leader.
The Video Game Authority (VGA) primarily focus on Atari 2600/5200/7800, NES, SNES, N64, and Gameboy games, systems, and accessories, They are currently working to improve methods of spotting re-seals and fakes for many other vintage systems not mentioned above, as well as for gaming consoles currently in release.’ They plan to expand their list as they feel comfortable in our ability to properly assess authenticity.’
What’s so difficult about accessing the authenticity of a game? As it turns out, it’s because they currently only grade sealed games and selected accessories. As their FAQ states;
“If your item came sealed originally, then it must be sealed to be graded. The only exception to this rule applies to certain systems and accessories which never came with tape sealing the box shut. In instances where no tape was ever present, VGA will inspect the contents and will issue a grade only if the contents appear to be complete, original, and new. For video games, the seal must be the original FACTORY SEAL, not a vintage re-seal (ex: Blockbuster, store return, etc.). For original NES games which came with a horizontal seam across the back, this seal must be present for each game to be graded.”
However, it means that you can ensure that the quality of VGA items is second to none, as they’ve never been out of the box.
VGA’s system consists of grades ranging from 10 to 100 which serve to rate an item’s overall condition. Depending on the overall numerical grade assigned, items are classified as Gold, Silver, or Bronze level. As they explain;
“The VGA Gold level consists of the grades 100, 95+, 95, 90+, 90, and 85+. When an item’s condition warrants classification within this level, the smallest of flaws are judged and taken into account to determine the exact grade received. The select few items which receive these grades are among the highest quality in existence.”
As well as a numerical VGA grade, it’ll also have a relevant description, which corresponds with other collectible grading services. A 100/100 is Gem Mint, while an 85 Silver is Near Mint +. You can find out more about the VGA grading scale here.
VGA has two different pricing tiers, as we’ll detail below;
- Standard Grading Scale – for sealed/new in package video games, systems, and accessories from all years
- Qualified Grading Scale (items are accompanied by documentation) – for opened package with new contents video games, consoles and accessories from all years
They will only grade unsealed boxes under the proviso that;
“An item must not have originally come sealed from the factory. This must be the exclusive or most common way the item was released and the contents must be verified as new. We will only grade boxed items that are no longer tape sealed (i.e. tape cut or lifted) under this grading scale if a boxed item also has an intact interior blister seal, and all of the accompanying contents and paperwork are still sealed in their respective bags when applicable.”
Their grading scale pricing is split between the value of the item, and how long you’re willing to wait. They do offer a 7-10 day turnaround time for their most expensive tier, while Express has a 60-80 day expected wait time.
You’ll find standard grading scale pricing below:
Buying and Selling Retro Video Games
Buying and selling retro video games isn’t as easy as it once was. Most online sellers know the true value of the items they have, especially if it happens to be a sealed copy from a couple of decades ago. Here are some tips and tricks if you’re just getting started in the hobby.
If you have a game you’d like to sell or buy, nothing is more important than the price. How much is it worth, and what would it usually sell for? For more expensive items, it’s arguably better to look to the grading services mentioned above if you’re hoping to maximize the potential ROI.
Auction sites tend to be a good place to start, especially if you’re selling an ungraded copy of a popular title. Search for what you’re aiming to sell or buy, and have a look at recent prices for graded/sealed copies.
If you have a rare game, the price will likely depend on what a collector is willing to pay. This may increase in due time, so you can always hang onto a game as a long-term investment.
Common flaws include issues relating to the cellophane or shrink wrap, while the box is typically damaged in some form. Even N64 games were packaged in cheap cardboard, and they struggle to make it to the present day without a couple of dings, or even peeling on the sides.
Stickers are also annoying, in that they’re hard to remove without damaging the box. Some collectors won’t mind sales stickers, but we’d all prefer a copy without one. The games themselves are usually in great condition, which is why so much attention is paid to instructions and everything else that came packaged with it.
Beware of fakes, be it in the form of games that have been resealed after opening, or even titles being sold with a reprinted box.
Where to Buy Retro Video Games?
As for where to buy retro video games, auction websites and online services such as eBay, Heritage Auctions, and VideoGameSage are great places to start. Prices tend to be fair, while you’ll struggle to match the selection seen with the bigger sites. (It’s especially helpful during the pandemic when it’s more difficult to travel, or stores are closed.)
If you do plan to buy online, be prepared to face stiff competition on auction sites. Social media is another great place to look, especially if you’re able to bargain with a seller.
Lastly, thrift shops, friends, garage sales, there are likely to be gems hidden everywhere if you know what to look for.
Retro Values and Investments
As you might expect, there’s massive money in some of the more popular titles that were released between 1980-2000. Think of the Super Mario Bros. example listed above, and consider games like the original Game Boy Pokemon Red and Yellow, or titles like Final Fantasy. If it has a big following, it’s likely to be wanted by collectors.
The same can be said for niche titles, as they’re harder to come across, and won’t have been released in as many numbers compared to bigger games. It’s worth taking a look at recent sales, to see if anything catches your eye.
As for what not to buy, that depends on your personal preferences. It might be better to stick to a specific console or genre, especially if you’re just starting out in the hobby. However, just because a game is sealed, it doesn’t mean that it’s valuable. There’s no point in buying sealed versions of a game that nobody wants, especially if it’s not rare whatsoever.
Are Modern Games Worth Investing in?
Every game was modern once, but is it worth investing in the latest games? Probably not, unless you’re looking at rare, limited edition versions, or a game that’s especially important for some reason.
You’d be better off looking at vintage items, especially as they’re likely to be worth a lot more than your average Playstation 5 game in a decade or so. However, there’s nothing to stop you from building a collection now, that could be worth a lot in the long run. We’d advise keeping your games sealed for this purpose.
Modern Game Grading
As we’ve noted, two of the larger game grading services stay away from modern releases, for obvious reasons. They’re not worth any more than a game you’ll be able to buy from a store, while the cost of grading would make it prohibitive.
It might be better to hold onto them in the meantime, as long as you can commit to keeping them sealed. However, it’s unlikely that you’ll make much money in the long-term.
Video Game Investments: Summary
As with anything worth collecting, the most expensive games have never been used as they were meant to be. Instead, they were locked away, until grading services came along to give them more of a defined value.
The retro market is only going to get bigger, as gaming has been a mainstream hobby for at least the last decade or so. There’s still time to get involved before the ship sets sail completely, especially considering the potential for profit in the future.
Many traditional collectors are disappointed by the commodification of their hobby. After all, older games used to be far cheaper, and the majority were bought to be played, rather than held onto as a potential investment piece. It’s the way of the world, but at least there’s an opportunity to get into gaming on the ground floor, in comparison to the best comics and collectible cards that were released back in the 1950s.
Wata may be the new kid on the block, but partnering with Heritage Auctions has proved to be a canny business decision. Their games tend to make the news, and the partnership has helped Wata rapidly compete with VGA, which has graded games for roughly 15 years.