The retro gaming market has absolutely exploded in recent years. Rare vintage games that sold for a few bucks in the 90s now fetch hundreds or thousands of dollars at auction. This has led some collectors to view old video games as potential investments. But are retro games really a smart place to put your money? This guide takes an in-depth look at the viability of retro gaming as an investment strategy.
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On the surface, retro gaming seems like a fun hobby that could potentially appreciate into profits. Plenty of headlines showcase ultra-rare games like Stadium Events selling for $10,000 or more. But investing successfully requires analyzing risks and challenges beyond the flashy dollar figures.
Some key considerations around retro game investing include:
- Mass produced 90s games lack scarcity compared to coin or art collecting.
- Game prices are highly dependent on nostalgia and gaming trends.
- Counterfeit cartridges and resealed repros flood the market.
- Condition is paramount – damaged labels or boxes sink value.
- Storage, insurance, and costs add up quicker than other collecting.
Despite the challenges, assembling a well-curated retro library has rewarded some collectors handsomely. But it requires knowledge, care, and budgeting to build real value. Let’s take a deeper look at the keys to successful retro game investing!
- Rare and sealed games offer the most upside but need significant starting capital.
- Popular mainline Nintendo and Mario titles provide stable “blue chip” cornerstones.
- Obscure games are prone to artificially inflated prices and counterfeits.
- Condition is absolutely critical – damaged items tank resale value.
- Storage, insurance, grading, and other costs quickly eat into profits.
- Have an exit strategy – selling large collections takes major time and effort.
Why Retro Game Prices Have Skyrocketed
Before analyzing investment viability, it helps to understand why vintage games have appreciated so dramatically:
- Nostalgia – The 90s kid demographic has grown up and has money to spend reliving childhood nostalgia.
- Limited supply – Far lower production runs on cartridges vs. modern digital titles.
- Community – YouTube, streaming, and conventions have strengthened collector networks.
- Investor speculation – High prices drive interest in flipping for profit like a virtual stock market.
- Grading services – Professional grading builds confidence in an unregulated market.
Soaring prices have been a self-fulfilling prophecy – high valuations justify further speculation. But is this growth sustainable long-term? Can prices continue skyrocketing?
Risks and Challenges of Investing in Retro Games
While the retro boom has produced some big returns, plenty of risks and pitfalls exist:
- No guarantees on future appreciation – Prices could stagnate or collapse if interest fades.
- High production runs – 1990s games sold tens of millions of units versus hundreds or thousands for coins and comics.
- Non-fungibility – Each game copy has unique condition issues affecting value. A $5,000 sealed copy may be worthless opened.
- Condition sensitivity – Heavily played copies carry little premium over base price. Boxes and manuals are required for big value.
- Counterfeits – Fake sealed games and repro boxes flood the market, requiring authentication skills.
- Storage and insurance costs – Protecting a high-value collection isn’t cheap.
- Transaction costs – Grading fees, auction commissions, and shipping add up.
Vintage games don’t necessarily translate into a simple path to profit like stocks or bonds. Let’s look at strategies collectors have used to build value despite the challenges.
Best Games to Invest In
With over 15,000 unique US releases spanning 40+ years, deciding what retro titles to invest in is daunting. Here are some of the safest targets:
Rare and Valuable Games
These headline-grabbing ultra-rare titles offer huge upside but require big investment to acquire:
- Stadium Events – The legendary NES fitness game routinely sells for $10,000+ in top condition.
- Nintendo Campus Challenge – The 1992 kiosk cartridge fetches 5 figures easily for its rarity.
- Nintendo World Championships – Only 116 gray carts exist from the 1990 competition bringing $10,000+.
- Birthday Mania – Obscure NES puzzle game with reported 7 copies known sealed, selling for $10,000+.
- Air Raid – Atari 2600 rarity with 12 known copies – several auction sales over $10,000.
- Gamma Attack – Near-mythical prototype Atari 2600 game with only a few physical copies accounted for.
High roller investors with deep pockets can target these extremely scarce collector’s items. But entry costs are steep and finding authentic copies difficult. Still, the payoffs justify the effort for some.
Mainstream Nintendo Flagships
Less risky than ultra-rare titles are flagship Nintendo games still beloved today:
- Super Mario Bros – The iconic NES pack-in title maintains value across conditions.
- The Legend of Zelda – First-print gold cartridge copies reach $1000+ sealed. Even loose goes for $50+.
- Pokemon Red and Blue – Still immensely popular, boxed copies hit $300+.
- Super Mario 64 – Defining 3D platformer sells for $150+ new in box.
- The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time – N64 masterpiece valued at $200+ sealed.
- Super Smash Bros – N64’s multiplayer hit ranges from $50-150 CIB.
These classics are easily obtained for $10-30 loose but demand big premiums for mint CIB copies. Condition matters greatly, but solid examples represent stable anchors to a game portfolio.
Across the spectrum, sealed games often provide the highest returns due to perceived mint condition:
- Common $5 games like Madden 95 can sell for $50+ sealed.
- Sealed Pokemon Crystal for Game Boy Color – $1200+.
- Sealed Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles for NES – $400+.
- Sealed Final Fantasy VII for PlayStation – $300+.
- Animal Crossing for GameCube – $400+ new in box.
The plastic wrap provides the ultimate guarantee of pristine quality. But beware – a lot of resealed fakes and repro boxes exist. Authentication is crucial. Still, legitimate sealed games are the blue chip investment in retro gaming.
Avoiding Risks and Pitfalls
While the above types of games offer safer returns, collectors still need to take precautions:
- Verify authenticity – Use visual guides to spot resealed and repro boxes. Confirm legitimacy of rare titles.
- Ask for photos before purchase – Fully inspect condition, labels, boards, manuals.
- Grade pricier items – Professional WATA grading protects value on four-figure items.
- Research recent comps – Use PriceCharting history to avoid overpaying on hype.
- Budget insurance and storage – Safely store and protect investments from damage.
- Diversify – Spread collection across eras, publishers, consoles. Don’t invest solely in Atari 2600 or Wii.
- Have an exit plan – Be prepared to hold for years. Selling a collection takes major time.
- Enjoy the games too – Play your childhood favorites along the way!
With care, retro games can produce great returns, especially on reserved copies of classics enjoyed for years along the journey.
Estimating Potential Returns
Predicting collector market gains involves countless variables, but we can look at some example cases:
- Complete-in-box (CIB) Super Mario Bros for NES sold for around $50 in 2000, now sells for $600+ today.
- A CIB Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Collector’s Edition for N64 was $80 in 2010, now $250.
- Sealed Pokemon Crystal for Game Boy Color sold under $60 in 2015, now consistently over $1000.
- Complete Stadium Events sold for $13,000 in 2010 and has grossed over $100,000 in recent years.
These demonstrate 10-40X returns on graded CIB games over 5-20 year hold periods, with greater exponential growth on the rarest items. However, condition impacts these numbers greatly – an average loose Mario Bros with faded label won’t show this appreciation.
While past performance doesn’t guarantee future results, cared-for retro games closely follow collectible market trends. However, another factor also boosts returns…
The Nostalgia Effect
Beyond market speculation, nostalgia plays a key role in retro game value. Games tied to beloved characters skyrocket in price:
- Super Mario 64 continues breaking records among Mario games due to popularity.
- Obscure Clayfighter 63 1/3 on N64 sells for $1000+ due to quirky cult following.
- Poor-selling Virtual Boy titles like Vertical Force fetch $200+ due to novelty despite minuscule playerbase.
- Strangely, sports games receive almost no nostalgia premium despite selling millions of units.
The “nostalgia bump” causes quirky but remembered games to jump in price beyond objective rarity. This effect is unpredictable, but influences investing significantly.
Example Investment Portfolio
Here’s one example $5,000 game portfolio for consideration:
|Super Mario Bros||NES||$600|
|Legend of Zelda||NES||$500|
|Mega Man 2||NES||$150|
|Super Mario World||SNES||$100|
|Legend of Zelda: Link to the Past||SNES||$150|
|Super Mario 64||N64||$250|
|Super Smash Bros||N64||$150|
|Pokemon Red||Game Boy||$300|
|Pokemon Silver||Game Boy Color||$300|
|Pokemon Ruby||Game Boy Advance||$250|
|The Orange Box||Xbox 360||$60|
|Red Dead Redemption||Xbox One||$60|
With $2000 left, you could:
- Save for insurance and storage materials.
- Add protective acrylic cases.
- Upgrade some loose games to CIB.
- Grade the pricier items via WATA.
This sample focuses on popular Nintendo franchises plus a few modern titles you can enjoy playing too!
Key Questions Before Investing in Retro Games
If you’re considering retro games as an investment vehicle, ask yourself:
- Do you have at least $5000-$10,000 to start a diversified portfolio?
- Are you a passionate collector willing to learn authentication, grading, documentation skills?
- Can you properly store and insure your collection?
- Are you comfortable holding long-term, possibly 10+ years?
- Will you still enjoy gaming along the journey?
- Do you have an exit strategy to eventually sell the collection?
If you answer yes, vintage gaming can be a viable alternative investment and hobby. But go in understanding the challenges and planning for the long haul.
What retro console has appreciated most in value?
The Nintendo Entertainment System. Flagship Nintendo titles like Super Mario Bros and The Legend of Zelda consistently drive record prices. Later consoles like Nintendo 64 are gaining ground based on 90s nostalgia.
Are sealed retro games worth investing in?
Sealed games can potentially appreciate greatly if legitimately mint. But beware – the retro market is flooded with expertly resealed fakes. Confirm authenticity via visual guides before purchasing high value sealed items.
Why do sports games sell for so little compared to other genres?
Sports games rarely hold nostalgia appeal, so mint condition copies only sell for a small premium over base price. This applies even to best selling franchises like Madden. Sports games can be found cheap to fill out collections.
Is buying retro games at flea markets and garage sales still viable?
Absolutely, huge deals can still be uncovered in the wild with some luck and knowledge. But prices have risen overall, so scoring a $5 copy of Mario 64 is increasingly unlikely. Expect to pay fair market prices at vendors familiar with retro game values.
How important are original boxes and manuals for value?
Extremely important. A loose cartridge sells for a fraction of a complete copy. The box and inserts boost value exponentially. This is especially true for the earliest NES and Atari 2600 titles.
Thanks to a potent mix of nostalgia and speculative investing, vintage gaming offers intriguing potential for patient collectors. But understanding the challenges and risks is mandatory before building a portfolio.
The upside on sealed ultra-rare games can be astronomical if acquired early. But more accessible targets like CIB Mario and Zelda retain value while still providing enjoyment along the way.
While no investment comes without risk, a diversified collection of classic Nintendo games seems likely to hold appeal for the foreseeable future. With care and planning, retro games can potentially produce solid returns and hours of entertainment.
But never forget – retro gaming should be fun first and foremost! The financial aspect comes second. Build a collection you’ll enjoy curating and playing for years to come.
Now it’s time to start catching’em all – for investment or simply nostalgia. Just promise you’ll blow into those cartridges first. 🎮💸