Classic video games are usually popular because they’re the best examples of their era, so it’s little surprise that gamers flock towards these titles. But even the best games, unlike books and movies, eventually go out of print as old hardware is replaced by the new. Once the last copy is sold, that’s it, game over.
This creates a vibrant and expensive trade in classic games of yesterday. Titles that are considered classics, but didn’t sell well at their initial release, are notorious for skyrocketing prices. Gamers on a budget must look on in dismay as games over a decade old sell for $15, $30 or even $60. But if you have patience, and some spare time, you can find ways to beat the market.
Thrift Stores, Flea Markets, Pawn Shops
The thrift store is home base for anyone who wants to find classic games at a reasonable price, and their cousins (the flea market and pawn shop) are also great stops. Many stores in the business of re-selling used goods only pay special attention to high-priced items, as the effort required to research smaller wares just isn’t worth the payoff. And that’s great, because it creates the perfect formula for cut-rate games.
True collectors generally will want to steer clear of these sources because the games that show up are usually missing their manuals and packaging. Still, you could get lucky and find some complete in box copies. But if you’re more interested in playing, the fact an SNES cartridge is missing half its label doesn’t matter much.
What’s important is if the game plays, and personally, I’ve found the success rate to be excellent. Cartridges are very durable, and while CDs are less so, these stores (with the exception of some pawn shops) generally keep the disc in the box rather than placing it behind the counter. Which means you can inspect it for scratches are your leisure. Plus, games that don’t work can usually be taken back for a refund.
A reasonable alternative to a store is the yard sale. Usually set up by a family to clean out unwanted goods, these can be a great place to pick up classic games at a very low price, particularly if you run into a sale where parents are cleaning out the leftovers of a child who has moved out. Selection can be very hit-or-miss, as with any other used shop, but you can usually tell at a glance if a sale is going to have games. Make sure to ask, because they have some they have not put out yet.
The big downside with this option is the lack of a return policy. If the game doesn’t work when you get home, you’re out of luck. Inspect the cartridge or disc carefully for flaws, and if the family is also selling a console that places the game you’re interested in, ask to boot it up before buying.
Ah, Craigslist. The famous classified site is a good place to sell almost anything legal and, on occasion, has provided an avenue for things that aren’t. So of course you’re going to find people selling classic games, at least if you live in a reasonably large city. There’s a huge selection of titles available; everything from recent blockbusters to classic Pokemon titles.
Prices vary wildly, as do people’s reasons for selling. Some individuals know what they have and will attempt to sell at very high prices, while others have no idea and will sell at a fraction of market value. The key is to check the listings frequently and be prepared to show up with cash shortly after contacting the seller. True deals tend to go fast, so a willingness to complete the transaction quickly will give you an advantage over anyone else who contacts the seller.
Look For A Digital Copy
The demand for classic games has not gone unnoticed by publishers. While they can’t just start printing for old, out-of-date consoles and make a profit, they often can port a game to a newer console and sell it as an exclusively digital title.
Many publishers have done just that, and it’s become so popular that grabbing a digital copy is often a much better deal than looking for the original game. SEGA, for example, sells many of its classic Genesis titles at $2.99 a pop on Steam, or in bundles of 10 for $7.50. Nintendo, meanwhile, sells games to use via its “virtual console” on the Wii and Wii U. Sometimes these games are discounted to as little as $.99. This will not work for collectors, but for people just wanting to play a game, this can be a great option.
There are even instances where the original game has been re-mastered into a superior version. Okami, a class from the PlayStation 2 and Wii, can be purchased re-mastered in HD for the PlayStation 3 at a price about equivalent to the game’s typical price on the used market ($20).
With the exception of digital copies on current consoles, all of the paths available for classic gaming bargain-hunters share a common theme; the need for patience. If the seller cares to research the games they have, then they’ll probably know well enough to price the game around market value. The key is to find sellers who don’t know what they have, or don’t care, and that is (of course) difficult. Whatever you do, stay away from Amazon, eBay, and most used game shops. These places usually see classic games sell at or slightly above market value, because the sellers always know exactly what to charge.