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Swimming with Sharks: Lessons I Learned in My First Year of Collecting

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Let’s be honest, the video game collecting community is very competitive, and can be very cut-throat at times.  I have been collecting for about fourteen months, and over the course of my first year of collecting, I have had many triumphs and many downfalls. Whether you have been collecting for years, or you’re just getting into the hobby, I’d like to share a few lessons I learned in my collecting endeavors.

First, let me dive into how I got into collecting.  Like many of you, when I was growing up, every time I moved to a newer system, all of my older games and systems either got sold at garage sales or simply thrown away.   If you fast forward to January of 2013, the only video games I had were an Xbox 360 with the typical COD games and sports games, a PS2 with a couple of my favorite Final Fantasy games, and a Wii with a variety of Mario games and some games on the virtual console.  I was able to re-live some of my childhood by purchasing certain games on the virtual console like Final Fantasy, Mario 64, Super Metroid, Actraiser, and many more.

Eventually, I came to a point where I longed to play one of my favorite RPGs on the SNES, The 7th Saga.  Unfortunately, the game was not on the virtual console and there were no plans to release it.  At the time I still had some money left over for Christmas, so I decided that it wouldn’t hurt to look on EBay to check on the prices of a SNES and the game.   I quickly learned that the condition of the games and whether they had manuals and boxes vastly affected the prices. Growing up, whenever I got into collecting different things, I always wanted the best and I usually went all out.  So when I saw the differences in the prices, I decided I had to have a complete copy of the game.  It didn’t take long for me to realize that retro video games had held –and in many cases increased– in value.  That’s when it occurred to me that I should gather up some of my favorite games from my childhood.

Before I knew it I was following multiple auctions on Ebay, and checking Craigslist frequently.  One Craigslist ad pointed me to a flea market in OKC called The Golden Goose.  It was there that I ran across a vendor named Jimmy that introduced me to RGS.  After a few weeks of being a member of RGS, I had developed a hunger and a passion to collect games – as many as I could.

From the purchase of The 7th Saga, my collecting snowballed into a massive collecting campaign, which lead me from having a few newer consoles with handfuls of games, to building a game room in my garage to store and showcase my collection that I have accumulated in the past year.  While my collection does not even touch the awesomeness of many collectors who have been in the game for years, going from nothing to a collection valued loosely at around ten grand in one year was quite a roller coaster. Throughout that roller coaster I have learned some valuable lessons about collecting that I would like to share.

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There are many different types of collectors out there.  There are those that simply want to have everything.  It doesn’t matter to them if the game is terrible or not, or even if they will ever play the game.  These types of collectors will grab anything they can get their hands on.  If you are just getting into collecting, I would advise against this philosophy because it can send you bankrupt quickly.  There are also collectors who are system or brand specific.  These collectors will often focus on getting a complete set of a particular system library, or maybe they are more brand specific and only collect Sega, or Atari, or Nintendo.  Yet another type is the series collector.  These collectors will pick a favorite series like Mega Man, Castlevania, Sonic, or Zelda and they will devote their time to grabbing anything and everything related to that series.  Some collectors are more gamer oriented and only collect games they like to play.  A lot of collectors are nostalgia collectors and their focus is to get games and systems that they are fond of from their childhood. Of course, many collectors are combinations of the previously mentioned types, and by no means is this an exhaustive list of all the types of collectors.

For instance, within these various types, there are even sub-groups. There are those who just want the games, some want CIB copies of the games, and an even more select group prefer to get sealed copies of the games. So, whether you are a series collector who wants sealed copies, or you are a brand collector who only want the games, the idea of setting goals can be beneficial to all types of collectors.  Here is how this played out in my collecting last year…

I started out focusing on games I had as a kid, which quickly grew to grabbing anything that was a decent price.  This eventually led to where I had three main focuses, Zelda, Final Fantasy, and boxed systems. Outside of those three I still grabbed up tons and tons of stuff, especially SNES RPGs, which are not exactly cheap at the moment.  I finally got to the point where I had a lot of systems and games that I had no interest in playing, so I decided to sell those off in order to focus more on one or two things.  At that point I decided I wanted to get all the Zelda games released by Nintendo CIB (complete in box).  This meant that my efforts were focused on just those, which also meant I could go weeks before picking up something new.

Eventually I did complete that goal, so I started focusing on something else, getting complete copies of the NES Mega Man games as well as Dragon Warrior games.  Thankfully, I was able to finish the Mega Man goal while I was at SUPER! BitCon.  I learned through this process that setting goals made me less of an impulsive buyer, and kept me from spending more money than I should.  Setting goals also helped me get to where I wanted to be in my collection more quickly than just buying when and whatever I come across.  Now, with that said, if you run across a good deal on a game or on a lot, do not pass it up just because it isn’t part of your goal.  You can always sell those off, or trade in order to get something that is one of your goals.  Even if you’re ultimately trying to get everything that is gaming related, if you use short-term goals, it will help you get to your overall goal more efficiently.

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One of the biggest mistakes I made early on was not pacing myself, which led to spending way too much money.    If you are new to the collecting scene, it is easy to get swept up with the excitement of finding good deals and building your collection.  While your enthusiasm is good, it will also lead to many impulse buys and spending beyond your means.  While video games have value at the moment, they are not a guaranteed liquid asset.  So, before you dump your child’s college money into a video game collection, think about why you are collecting.  If you seriously want to be a collector, I want you to think about people who have large collections.  They did not get those collections over night.  In most cases they have been collecting for years – decades even.  So if you plan on being a collector and holding onto your collection for the rest of your life, remember that you don’t have to have everything in a week.

If you pace yourself, you can add some here and some there, and eventually your collection will grow and grow.  I believe the famous saying is “How do you eat an elephant? One bite at a time!”  The world of video games is massive, so take your time and enjoy the ride.  Don’t go so fast that you burn yourself out and exhaust your finances.  Another plus of being patient is finding good deals.  If you jump at the first sighting of a game you want, you may end up spending more than you need to.  Take for instance eBay.  Many people are not fans of eBay, but I love it.  I have searched and watched auctions for an item for 6 months before I got a good deal on one.  There is a reason why auctions generally sell lower than buy it now sales, because some people cannot be patient and wait.  There have been numerous times where I could have spent more on a CIB copy of a game, but instead I decided to wait and got the game and the box and manual at different times and saved money.

Patience is not fun, but in the long run it will help you as a collector. Too many times I have seen collectors buy, buy, and buy but then something comes up and they have to sell a bunch of games because they didn’t budget wisely.  So the next time you see a pic of that Little Samson, or that Hagane, don’t get all crazy and spend the rent money to run out and get your own copy.

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The best advice I think I could ever give to a new collector is this: you are not in a competition.  Because of the rise in popularity in video games, the hunt for games has become very competitive.  Understand that you should be aggressive in your pursuit of the games you want, but competition should not be the reason you collect. Collecting games is a hobby, and therefore it should be something we enjoy, not stress over.  Too often, collecting becomes a competition of who has the most, or the rarest, or the nicest stuff.  Go ahead and get this through your head, there will always be someone who has something nicer, better, or rarer than you.  Once you accept this truth, the race to be better than the Joneses can be eliminated.  Let’s face it, once you post a pic of that awesome addition to your collection, within days most people have forgotten about it.  So instead of trying to impress other people with your collection, try to be content with it.  Collect in order to make yourself happy; not to impress people on Facebook.

If you are happy with your collection, who cares what other people think, or what other people have. I see people complain about sealed games, or complain about people trying to get a complete library.  It doesn’t matter what type of collector everyone else is, you need to go after what you want and what you enjoy.  If you want games that have been graded, go for it.  If you think boxes are a waste of money, then just focus on the games.  Bottom line is, don’t let someone else’s opinion affect your collecting.  So what if you paid market value for a copy of Chrono Trigger instead of finding it at a flea market for five dollars.  It’s your collection, be happy. Just because you didn’t find your games for dirt cheap, or your boxes aren’t as mint as someone else’s does not mean that your collection isn’t awesome.  Instead of comparing your collection to someone else’s, try enjoying it.

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Like I stated earlier, the game collecting scene is very cut-throat.  It doesn’t have to be that way, though.  Instead of trying to take out other collectors, maybe we should work together as a community.  That is why I love the Retro Gamers Society.  A large portion of my collection has come from trading and buying from members of the group.  If you make friends in this hobby, it will help you out tremendously.  I have a large number of friends in RGS that I can count on to help me with my collection.  I don’t expect them to give me games for free, or take a loss on their investment, but they do meet me at a place price-wise that is beneficial for both of us.  The concept of working as a community is really not difficult.  If you run across a good deal, say you find a game that you already have that’s worth $100 and you only have to pay $40.  Instead of trying to maximize your profit and aim for that $100 or more, simply meet somewhere in the middle at like $60-$80.  That way you both win in the transaction.  I promise, if you help others out when you work out deals, when the time comes, they will help you out as well.

Also, if you have friends in the hobby, you can find stuff for each other.  There have been numerous times were someone has sent me a message and asked if I had a particular Zelda item, either because they saw it out and about, or because they know someone trying to sell something.  Some of my friends collect things that I don’t, so if I run across something they need, I let them know about it.  In other situations, I have run across something I already have, so I see if anyone needs it, in which case I would pick it up for them. Flying solo in this hobby is extremely lonely, so build relationships, and help each other out.

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The last year of collecting has been a whirlwind for me.  I have found some awesome deals and I have taken some losses at times as well.  I have learned a lot from my experiences and from the knowledge of all the collectors I have been in contact with, or have communicated with through RGS.   I firmly believe that there will always be something that I will want to add to my collection, so I look forward to the decades of collecting to come. What really makes me happy is that my children love these retro games as much as I do.  So I know my collection will have a home when I no longer have need of them. So, to all of you out there who are just getting started: don’t get discouraged, have fun, and most importantly, play more video games. ♦

Ronnie Titsworth

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This Gen: The Last of Us

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The Last of Us is an excellent game. There’s really no question about it. Just look at the reviews! From the post-apocalyptic setting  (in a not-so-distant future) to the stealthy action, character development, and intensely emotional story, The Last of Us is worthy of a play-through regardless of your retro versus modern gaming preference.

The Last of Us is essentially a survival horror/stealth game. It brings to mind previous generation titles such as Metal Gear Solid and Ico. The game relies heavily on stealth, much like Metal Gear Solid, and the environments, characters, and general atmosphere of the game world evoke a real sense of hopelessness, much like Ico. The gameplay should remind you of Uncharted, since it basically plays the same. If you’ve never played Uncharted, think of the Tomb Raider series. As you play you’ll find weapons, ammo, sharp objects to make melee weapons more effective, health containers, keys, comic books, etc. There are also light platforming elements in The Last of Us, but none stand out as anything more than a way to better associate you with the environment. The game also has obvious similarities to the Resident Evil franchise…at least when RE games had zombies…and were fun to play.

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There are, in fact, zombies in The Last of Us. Well, sort of. These “zombies” are called the Infected in this new American wasteland game world. The Infected have similar characteristics to zombies. They are human beings who have been exposed to some form of catalyst which results in a drastic redirection of said human being’s primary purpose on the Earth. Just like the stereotypical role of other zombies you may be familiar with, these people want nothing more than to violently recruit you to their newfound cause. You will also fight against uninfected human characters throughout the game.

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So what makes the Infected any different than your average, run-of-the-mill zombie? Honestly, not too much. They ARE rather quick (as in, you can possibly out-run them), some of them can see very well (as in, you need to stay well hidden if you expect to survive), some of them use sonar to find you (as in, hear your sweat drop to the ground from fifty miles away), and a few can seemingly do whatever they damn well please. Aside from these small twists on the variations of traditional zombie-dom, the way this round of killing machines has come into existence is somewhat fresh.

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If you know anything about Resident Evil then you know about the T-Virus. Some jerks started the Umbrella Corporation, those jerks hired scientists, those scientists made the T-Virus, the T-Virus turns people into zombies, blah, blah, blah. Well take that story, substitute the creation of Umbrella Corp with the Big Bang theory (or any other creation story), substitute the hiring of scientists with evolution, and substitute the T-Virus with the parasitic fungus Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis. That’s no fake game name…it’s a real thing that exists in our world today. Ophiocordyceps Unilateralis basically turns living things into zombies. While this fungus currently poses no risk to humans, it could with a little visit from your friend Mr. Evolution. What’s that? You don’t believe in evolution? It’s called science. Check it out*.

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Either way, this is where the Infected get their name in The Last of Us. The fungus evolves, takes over its human host, and then tries to kill you. One really intriguing perspective that is mentioned in the storyline of the game is, what if the fungus is simply controlling its host’s actions without altering the host’s state of mind? Basically, what if these people are still people on the inside, with feelings, emotions, morals, ethics, etc. and they are all being forced to infect other humans against their will? It’s an unnerving thought.

The story is really the only thing left to talk about here. I’m not going to do it. I’m not going to do it because it’s something that every person should experience independent of outside influences. To give you an idea of what I’m talking about, I felt real emotion welling up inside me within the first fifteen minutes of firing up the game. It wasn’t so much that I was upset with the events that I had just witnessed as much as it was the fact that there was absolutely nothing I could do to stop these events. It leaves you feeling totally helpless. It’s a great start to a game where you truly find yourself feeling helpless most of the time (especially if you bump up the difficulty).

Oh yeah, the graphics! They’re beautiful. ♦

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David Sollars

 

*Actually, don’t check out science. When evolution decides it’s time to wipe out 60% of the world’s population I’ll still need people around to entertain me with their fantastical myths and legends.

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The Ghost Of Video Game Future: Speculating On Video Game Collectability

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One thing I think we can all agree on is that the “retro gaming community” is hot!  Many of us are looking to take a step back into our childhood via some old dusty cartridges.  And whether you’re looking to simply play, collect or even maybe re-sell games you find at a good price, the bottom line is: you seek out games.  We’ve all seen a huge spike recently as game collecting has become hotter than ever.  One topic on many people’s minds is what the next big thing will be?

Now it’s safe to assume based on the evolution of games, that going forward N64, and then Gamecube, will start to rise in prices.  This is simply because they will become more scarce as time passes.  Add in the fact that the kids who originally played those games will now be young adults with larger wallets.  They will be looking to do what many of us are now: buying back a piece of our childhood.

In an attempt to be a bit more proactive, I will take a look one step beyond the N64 and Gamecube.  One of the best things you can do in any market-based situation is get an inside tip on what may or may not become the next big thing.  I’ve done research, and here’s some titles I personally recommend you consider.  Following that, I will offer a few tips on how you can track them down for less than market – to increase the overall chance of striking NintenGold…

Xenoblade Chronicles

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First off, Gamestats having this game ranked as the 5th highest rated game of all time should speak loudly enough to warrant purchases.  Many have dubbed this as the greatest RPG of this generation. In addition, its Gamestop exclusivity indicates a very limited amount of these games being on the market.  This game has many key factors: scarcity, quality, and demand – all of which are demonstrated by its current double retail price tag.

Pandora’s Tower

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This one I say jump on, and do it now!  This game has every ingredient to be a valuable game.  First off, it’s said to be the final game to be released on the Wii, and history has shown us that late releases are often produced in limited quantities (this game is an example of that).  Second, it’s a very well received title – IGN stated that this game “may be no classic, but… [may] potentially become something of a cult favorite in years to come” (source). I put this game in the ‘get in while you can’ bracket.

Here are a few other titles you may want to keep your eye out for:

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  • F1 2009 (2009) Gamestop exclusive $50 complete $100+ sealed
  • One Piece Unlimited Adventure (2008) $60+ complete $150+ sealed
  • Fritz Chess (2009) $40 complete $75+ sealed[/list]

Now some of you may be asking, “if these games already command such a high eBay price how is it logical to take a gamble that they will only rise in price?”

You may not expect the answer I offer, but I do highly recommend it.  Gamestop.

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Yes, I said Gamestop.  First off, in every case above Gamestop is much cheaper than eBay, and if you factor in the 10% off discount card, timed with a Buy 2 Get 1 Free sale you can really clean up.  However, I will offer you two more reasons to make this an almost irresistible suggestion.

Why look for the games, when they can look for you?  This next trick I’ve used time and time again.  It can sometimes take a little effort (and smooth talking) but it’s easy as pie. Go to gamestop.com, search for the game you want to buy, and once you find it go to “pick-up in store”.   With your ZIP code, Gamestop will locate the nearest copies for you.

And the other you’ll have to check out the video version of this article to find out…  Let’s just say if you like paying less for games click here.

Now for the bad news… in most cases these games won’t be available within 100 miles of you, but that’s where it gets fun.  Simply type random ZIP codes (the closer the better) and eventually you’ll find copies of the game.  At that point call the store, confirm it’s in the condition you’re looking for, and ask them to hold it for you for a store-to-store transfer.  Then simply call your local Gamestop, provide them the information, and have them call the store to arrange the transfer.  Within a few days the game will arrive and Gamestop will call you to confirm this.

And there you have it!  I hope you use this information to get some great deals! ♦

Scott Zientek

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Shoestring Collecting

I’m sometimes utilized by friends as a sort of “price chart” for NES game pricing.  Obviously this is because I collect NES titles almost exclusively and know most of the going rates, both in retail and online.  It’s also because I have my personal “what I would pay for it” price, which generally falls around 70% or less of the average going rate.  Does this make me some sort of NES game pricing expert?  Doubtful.  But it does keep my costs down.

You might be wondering, “What?!  You limit yourself to a percentage or less of the average price? How do you ever buy new games?”

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To be perfectly honest, it’s not often I do acquire new stuff – at least not from typical collector’s standards.  If I don’t feel like I’m getting a deal on a new acquisition, I have trained myself to say “no”.   It doesn’t matter how infrequently I come across the game, how well I know the seller, or how much disposable income I have on hand at the time.  Nothing is a factor except not spending a dime more than I should.

This isn’t because I’m destitute or cheap, but more out of a matter of principle.  I have resigned to the fact that I won’t come across every rare game in the NES catalog in my lifetime in a dollar bin at a flea market.  I will certainly end up paying large amounts of money for certain titles if I am determined to complete an NES collection before I die.  However, I will not sacrifice more of my personal wealth than I should just because I have no impulse control.  It is a standard that I hold myself to.

In my time collecting (and coordinating the RGS) I have come across many collectors willing to leverage their financial security against the brag-worthiness of their collections.  This is an attitude that I wish I had more power to curb.  Plastic kids’ toys that hold significant amounts of nostalgia value are really fun to own – but no amount of plastic kids’ toys is worth selling your mode of transportation, malnourishing your children, or wrecking your friendships.

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Collecting is a hobby, not a life choice.  If we sacrifice family, community, travel, food, friendships, or comfort in pursuit of our hobby we have crossed a dangerous line into obsession.

This is not to say you must adopt a 70/30 rule or dollar amount budget, nor must you limit your spending to a predetermined amount.  But considering certain restrictions or rules on your collecting habits might save you from discomfort down the line.  As we discussed before, video games won’t save you from debt collectors.  Keep that in mind.

And remember: no one will judge you by the size of your collection but you. ♦

Brandon Cole Phillips

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Speculative Investment & Why Video Games Won’t Save You From Debt Collectors

The 1990s was a time of major boom and bust in one of my other, lesser-known interests: baseball card collecting. While my cards are now relegated to the far recesses of my attic, there was a time when they were far more important to me than video games, Fruit Roll-Ups, and Surge. My cousin and I spent hours pouring through stacks of near-mint card stock and chewing up crumbly, waxy bubble gum that would turn most stomachs… in search of that one big find.

There was a corner store in Broken Arrow, OK near where we would get haircuts that sold older packs of cards. Topps, Bowman, Upper Deck – the brands that used to be just as much about art and style than stats and trivia. I’d usually grab a few packs of from the current year, but I always snagged at least one set of 1990 Topps.

See, in the early-90s, it became apparent in collecting circles that there was a significant misprint on the rookie card of a budding all-star. Had this occurred with most other player it might have not been a huge deal, but when the Big Hurt was involved, things got a bit more interesting.

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This is card #414A from the 1990 Topps set, featuring a misprint that left Thomas’s name off the front of his debut card. Years later, card enthusiasts would piece together that a dry spot had affected the prints of several cards on the sheet Thomas’s card was printed on. However, Thomas was the only one whose card was impacted so dramatically and in such a desirable manner (for collectors).

This card, in the mid-to-late 90s, sold for five-digit sums. Some price guides had a mint, graded value set at $25,000 (though it sold more realistically for $9,000). This was the card everyone wanted – my cousin and I included.

What does this have to do with video games?

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Well, in 1995 ebay came on the scene, and by 1999 the sports card market had begun to experience rapid decline. One of my favorite cards to hunt for – Bill Ripken’s 1989 Fleer “F**k Face” card had gone from a hot collector’s item to something I bought for just $7. After an amazing 90s run, baseball cards had peaked, declined, and plateaued.

The future looks the same for our video game collecting hobby. While it may not “crash” as I have speculated for years, the fall and plateau is on the horizon. That $9,000 Frank Thomas misprint – it is now celebrated when it cracks $2,500 at auction. That’s still a vast sum of money for a piece of card-stock. But say you purchased it for $5,000 in 1995 as a speculative investment… You’ve lost half your money while inflation has continued to rise.

Video games might be a safer bet, for sure. Lately, though, I have run into far too many collectors who feel that “if the wheels come off” they will be able to safely unload their rares and CIBs to pay the bills. The problem is that many of these folks are buying those games at fair market value with an expectation that value is only going up. In a market where price is heavily dictated by demand – what happens when demand drops or supply is over-saturated?

Video game collecting is a hobby because video game playing is a hobby. Let us not forget that these games will not be our retirement plans or pay for our kids’ college. These games will not pay for emergency medical bills. These games are not secured investments.

If we lose sight of why we own these things in the first place, what then is the point of owning them at all? ♦

Brandon Cole Phillips