Game collecting is a cool hobby. There are literally dozens of game consoles to collect, with thousands of video games to find. And believe it or not, video games can actually be played if you take them off the shelf and pop them into one of those consoles. I know, crazy!
Everyone has their hobbies, and everyone should be happy to pursue said hobbies. However if you take a look around game collecting blogs, Reddit posts, and YouTube videos and there is a lot of negativity in the community (I just Googled these blogs linked and easily found what I wanted after 10-15 minutes). I see time and again collectors talking about high prices hurting the community. Or companies like Limited Run games creating false scarcity for games. And even the old topic of digital games becoming the norm and physical games becoming a thing of the past. Long story short, it’s not always easy to justify game collecting as a hobby to some people.
I’ve been back and forth on the topic personally, and have come to peace with a few things I think many game collectors will come to understand in the weeks, months, and years to come. I’m not saying these are definitive identifiers for the gaming market, or that these predictions will come true. Rather, I think the following show what I think the state of game collecting to be in the current year of 2022.
There has been a shift in the collecting community; which side are you on?
Without getting too in depth, I will point to two distinct events that created a sort of divide in the game collecting community: the introduction of limited batch released games, and the rise of graded video games. Let’s talk about limited batch games first.
Companies like Limited Run Games, Super Rare Games, Strictly Limited Games, and so many others have created a market of scarcity. These companies do something genuinely really cool: they release physical versions of games that would otherwise only have a digital release, oftentimes including sweet bonuses like posters, steelbooks, artbooks, and more to go with these releases. Not only are there games for the current consoles, but they are even releasing fully functioning retro games that play on actual consoles like the original NES and Sega Genesis!
However this creates a divide for game collectors. If you’re someone that has a goal of collecting every game for a console… are you going to collect these games too? There are literally hundreds of games released by Limited Run games for the PS4 alone, and those games aren’t cheap! Also, which version do you purchase? Where would you draw the line? For the average game collector it is likely not feasible to collect every game Limited Run releases and expect to stay within a modest budget. While there is definite joy and gratification for collecting these small batch and immediately rare games, this makes for a sort of offshoot of game collecting (which we’ll get to later).
The other divide comes from the onset of graded video games and their skyrocketing resale value. Companies like WataGames and Video Game Authority (VGA) apply a numerical grade to a game, considering factors like the game’s physical quality and whether or not it’s authentic, which can then be valued higher when selling the games to others. Without getting into the awkwardly blatant scandals with WataGames (you can read about it here), these companies provide a service to rate and authenticate the legitimacy of a video game.
However this creates another divide for game collectors. Now your unopened copy of Earthbound for the SNES can be graded by one of these services and command a significantly higher price in the resale market. Considering the entire retro gaming community exists solely in the resale market, this makes for a bit of a conundrum for casual collectors. There’s likely little chance to score a complete copy of Earthbound for a reasonable price nowadays, and collectors knowing they can grade their game to later on sell it for increasingly more money would be foolish not to do so. If you’re someone that collectors new, sealed games, what do you do now? An already difficult, albeit fun, hobby of tracking down older games may have gotten exponentially more expensive.
With those two events in mind, I asked myself where I stood as a game collector. Do I change my game collecting goals? Adjust my budget to make more room for expensive games? Seek out these games manufactured to be scarce? To put it bluntly, no. I will not be doing any of those things.
Collect the games you want, when you want, and how you want
The above mentioned instances make collecting games more challenging. To be more accurate, they make collecting certain games more challenging. Despite this, the overall premise of retro game collecting hasn’t changed. There are still retro game stores where you can find video games and other goodies. There’s still online options to track down missing pieces and harder to find games. There are even local gaming communities you can join to grow the hobby. All things considered, at its core game collecting is the same as it has been for decades, with one caveat.
Game collectors in 2022 have to ask themselves what they want to do with collecting. No longer is it feasible to own every game for a console since even retro consoles are getting “new” games released for them. The average price of games has been steadily going up over the years, and if inflation has taught us anything it is that this number may eventually go down but will more than likely be here to stay. Budgeting for game collecting as a hobby, in turn, has gone up as well.
As enticing as it is to have that super cool special edition of Billion Road for the Switch, I had to draw the line. For me, game collecting will be an opportunistic hobby that fits in my budget. If I can find a cheap game or a great deal on something like a Limited Run game, I might swoop in a buy it. However I have already come to terms with never owning every game on the PS4 (it was never my goal anyway). Taking it a step further, I’ve also resigned to never owning a Limited Run game for budget reasons alone, even more so for a rated video game. I suspect a lot of game collectors will have this conversation at some point: many will likely accept that fact and move on, but others, justifiably so, will be upset that their hobby has been shifted away from them.
Is there a reason to start game collecting now?
Absolutely. I see this clickbaity title all the time, and the answer to me is wholeheartedly yes.
Game collecting is fun, has been fun, and will continue to be fun for a long time. Hunting down games you never thought you’d find, playing a game for the first time years after release, and finally getting to a game you’ve wanted to play for decades is exhilarating. Though potentially more expensive now that main idea remains to this day.
I try to stay away from the term “Retro” game collecting because I feel Retro has a certain connotation to it, namely being something older like on Commodore, NES, or even the original Playstation. But would we not consider the Sega Dreamcast retro at this point? Also, I feel I have some of the most fun collecting for current or last gen consoles. Have you seen how many stellar PS4 and Switch games are out there, just waiting to be added to your shelves? Here’s a hint; there’s a ton! While I definitely partake and enjoy finding and playing older games from the 90s, I also dig me some new games too. With that in mind, I encourage anyone looking to start a game collection to do just that. On any console they want, and however they want.
Getting away from the drama and back to the games
Let’s address the elephant in the room: some collectors are mad right now. They’re mad because so many money-seekers have come into the hobby and raised the prices for no reason other than greed. They are mad because games that have no reason being so expensive are so expensive. Hell, they’re mad because games that have been expensive before are stupidly expensive now! And I get it… it sucks.
I do wonder, though, what the intentions are for these collectors. What do you expect to happen to a hobby that has a literal finite number of possibilities? There are only so many copies of Earthbound out there: what happens when all the collectors wanting a game cannot find one because all the other collectors that already have one aren’t willing to sell? I am a firm believer there will always be someone willing to sell something, and it is only a matter of time before your chance arises. It’s only a game, why do you have to be mad?
One or two (or even ten, twenty, and beyond) instances of striking out or not getting what you want shouldn’t break your entire conviction to collect games. Yeah, it’s awful that copy of Earthbound is literally $1000 right now, but you know what: there are other games you can collect. And I know you might really want that copy of Earthbound, but perhaps the time isn’t right to buy. Admittedly I think games will largely keep their value so expecting the price to drop isn’t likely. But you know what I do think likely? Continuing the hunt and enjoying your time doing it.
Speaking subjectively, game hunting is perhaps the best part of this hobby. It’s just as rewarding to get a great story with a great game purchase. When I look at my collection some of the fondest memories I have are with games I’ve literally never even played. Rather, the story about finding it, chatting with the person I purchased it from, or the tale of where I was at the time when I found it, sparks the most joy. I would suspect many game collectors, especially the ones that have been collecting for years, have similar experiences and passions. If you’re new to the hobby, or finding it frustrating to not be able to find the games you want, I suggest giving it some time. You won’t need to buy everything right away. Oftentimes waiting and finding the better deal, or the better story, later on is what this hobby is really about.
What to look forward too in the coming years
Quite simply, I think game collecting is in a truly wonderful era. There have never been more gamers out there enjoying video games. Developers are making creative, unique video games that we wouldn’t have even dreamed to see 5, 10, 20 years prior. Also, with the Xbox Series X and Playstation 5’s out there now, the stellar 8th generation of games are fully entering the resale market. There are hundreds of amazing games to hunt and collect. Hundreds. If you’re a collector collecting anything in the current generations, there’s a lot to look forward too.
As far as more retro consoles go, I think we can expect this sort of boom to end. Those ridiculous stories of a copy of Super Mario 64 selling for over $1.5 million will end. There are 10 million copies of that game out there (not to mention digital re-releases), and the one-off instances of inflated prices will end. It is worth noting that retro games are not being made (notably exceptions include those special instances from above): There are only ever going to be so many copies of Super Metroid on the SNES out there. As game collecting becomes more mainstream, and as the player base that enjoyed those games when they first released start (hopefully) getting high paying jobs, it’s increasingly likely these games will indeed become harder to find. This doesn’t mean the hobby is dead: it means the hobby is evolving. Niche collections can be cherished while new collections can be made.
Do I wish we could go back to a time where Sega Saturn games weren’t like, $100 a piece on average? Of course I do. But you know what: I bet we’ll be saying the same thing about 10 years from now about all those Playstation 4 games we’ve been neglecting on the shelves. There are always more games coming out, more games being added to your backlog, and more games you can be on the hunt for. That is the beauty of this hobby: it is always growing as you go forward. While that does mean some items become more scarce and difficult to find, it also means we can have more enthusiastic individuals join our hobby and appreciate the joys of game collecting.