Like other collectors on this site, I'm blessed in that years ago I bought, and kept, many video games that have risen in value over the years. Over time I've seen games for classic systems such as the NES, SNES, and Saturn go from a couple of bucks at most to several hundred dollars in value. My original Panzer Dragoon Saga
was bought new at EB for $20; most of us have similar stories.
The flip side, naturally, is that I regret not tracking down Radical Rex for Sega CD
before it became a $200+ CIB item. While I don't have much desire to play a decidedly average platformer (and one that I already have on two other systems beside) that does mean that grabbing the last few titles to make a complete Sega CD library is cost-prohibitive. It's easier to justify saving up or trading for that rare gem of a game that you love or always wanted to play, even more so if it's one of the last games for a collection. But few can deny that the mystique surrounding Stadium Events
is because of its unavailability and not its gameplay; otherwise World Class Track Meet
would be on more lists for top ten NES favorites. All this is restating the obvious, but things get interesting with the modern state of retro gaming and the economics of both our industry and the world at large.
Video games have proliferated our culture from both financial spectrums: the top down (expensive new consoles) to the bottom up (free mobile and browser games) so that the industry is enjoying a new ubiquity. Early eras were mostly coined by a single system, and to say you played video games meant you played Atari, or later the NES. As the market and competition grew, so did the visibility of an entire spectrum of available game machines. While there have always been extreme fanboys for respective systems and companies, most of the time the playing field was close enough that to be a 'gamer' meant pretty much the same thing to everyone.
What started as 'console wars' has now grown into such a diversified stratification that various sub-groups have no connection to each other. New terms such as 'casual' and 'hardcore' have become classifications that are coined to distinguish video game playing habits, and these camps are sometimes vehemently exclusive in nature. I've heard a 25-hour-a-week World of Warcraft
player say she wasn't a 'gamer', and friend who has a phone loaded with Candy Crush Saga
, Angry Birds
, and a dozen others (that I see her play often) claim that she doesn't play video games. In the similar vein, I've witnessed devoted Call of Duty
players completely dismiss any Nintendo console as worthless, as well as many a retro gamer completely disregard any system or game after the PS2 era as having nothing to play.
It is within this diverse stratification that we retro game collectors find ourselves in a new, interesting territory. Since the hobby began, there has been, and always will be, worthwhile video game experiences that are locked behind prohibitive barriers of price and availability. That's just the nature of the beast in any luxury entertainment industry. But imagine Citizen Kane
or Star Wars
, two inarguably important cultural movies, being largely unavailable to the public. Perhaps they are only available on an old film stock and require aged technology that is incompatible with current displays, or they are available on modern media but are limited to a few thousand copies and are therefore incredibly expensive. What if countless movies of worth are completely unavailable to most people who would desire to experience them, even willing to pay reasonable amounts for them, but can't afford the huge expenses necessary to purchase what would ordinarily be reasonably priced and available?
Of course this is already true for movies. Some folks like myself still await non-bootleg versions of Song of the South
, Captain EO
, and Let It Be
to see release. (If you haven't, check out Hugo
. Excellent movie that gives a real glimpse of what's already been lost.) There are an untold number of movies that have, for various reasons, never become available to the modern public.
When it comes to video games, arguably the most technology-driven entertainment industry, we are perhaps most susceptible to more and more games becoming completely unavailable over time. As has been noted, the rise of digital-only distribution and server-based software puts virtual timers on a game's later availability, and therefore its ultimate ability to impact and influence, or at least entertain.
For retro collectors, this issue has become one of economics as well. The resurgence of interest and popularity of retro video games, including originals and new games mimicking older art, music, and gameplay styles, has refreshed a market once known for offering countless titles for next to nothing at any yard sale or flea market. Many of us collectors remember the days of buying an Atari, NES, SNES, and almost any other game system with a box of games and accessories for a couple of bucks any given summer. Now that retro video games are a big market, the corollary is that these bargain finds have mostly dried up, giving way to eBay and Craigslist selling for hundreds what once went for pennies.
Not that this is surprising or even necessarily unfortunate. However, as the years go by more and more great games are becoming cost-prohibitive to gamers who would otherwise pay 'reasonable' money for sought-after games. If you're reading this far into the article, you likely know many of the names: Earthbound
, the aforementioned Panzer Dragoon Saga
, Little Samson
, Metal Warriors
, Master of Monsters
, Lucienne's Quest
, Magical Chase, Beyond Shadowgate
, and the list goes on and on. More and more uncommon games such as Hagane
have gone from cheap obscurities to valuable collectables, and prices on rarer games such as Snow Bros.
and Aero Fighters
have doubled or tripled in only a few years. Sometimes these are temporary spikes, but often the prices level out higher and higher. There are many factors to account for this, including mentions on popular sites like the Angry Video Game Nerd and Racketboy, and the adjusted prices of normal inflation. And naturally, as the years go by and more people develop interest in retro video games, the laws of supply and demand mean fewer games going for higher prices across a larger pool of people.
What this has done and will continue to do is price more and more retro video games out of the availability to the average-income video game player, collector or not. As they age, video games naturally become more difficult to find as retailers replace them with newer titles and systems. Since most consoles are not backwards compatible, even the availability to play retro video games is slowly diminishing. Digital rereleases and newer streaming models such as PlayStation Now will help, but only temporarily, due to their own inherent ethereal design.
Whereas a board game can be rebuilt and replicated, and movies are mostly transferred to newer media, the pool of older video games are becoming smaller, generally pricier, and overall less available. In another decade or two, prices on even common pre-PlayStation era games may be inconsistently priced next to their modern brethren. Certainly today, it is cheaper for me to pick up a full-priced modern game rather than any of the hundreds of retro video games on my to-complete-this-system-library-list. To collect the bulk of Atari, NES, and SNES games in any given region has always been a crazy task, but most games were more readily available for cheaper prices only a few years ago. It has been many a collector's lament, myself included, to have not picked up more when it was available for cheaper.
There are plenty of exceptions, such as the myriad Namco
Collections, and a new trend as of late for HD rereleases like Ico/Shadow of the Colossus
and Kingdom Hearts.
On a rare occasion, older games get a new lease on life such as the recent rerelease of the SNES oddity Super Noah's Ark 3D.
But the vast majority of video games are going the way of the early decades of the film industry and the first few thousand years of musical development, disappearing forever.
While I certainly find all of this more than a bit sad, it is of course the natural progression of entertainment culture. Even with our ability to record and store our media with greater permanence than ever before, the scope and practicality of completely preserving our forms of entertainment and artistic expression is beyond our means. But the desire to preserve and maintain is not at the expense of advancement and growth. It is to cherish, reflect, and learn from the past. Students of history tend to know more of the future than those over-focused on the present. Like all media of its time, video games are a reflection of where culture is in technology, morals, ethics, thought, expression, language, and change. They are a unique, interactive snapshot of their time. There is genuine worth in keeping this stuff around!
This is why I enjoy being part of the RFGeneration community. We keep the flames of video game culture alive, passing the torch to each other with each game recommendation, review, and long-winded article (ahem). Site members here are have shown a very uncommon generosity and kindness to each other in the form of free gifts, helpful information, community gaming experiences, and a general sense of goodwill that reminds me more of the ancient BBS dial-up days rather than what is mostly seen on today's internet.
The retro and collecting video game community is alive and well here at RFG, and we have brought to it a sense of worth. There's no solution to preserving every video game ever made, and probably not a healthy reason to do so. But this site, and community, makes preserving our video game culture legacy a visibly positive, worthwhile effort.