I first began collecting videogames back in 2008. I had just gotten my Nintendo Wii, and the Virtual Console was one of the coolest things in the world at the time. Playing all of these games from my childhood caused so many memories to come rushing back to me, and it made me miss my old consoles. That's when I decided to begin collecting retro games. At the time, I had a ton of disposable income by working two jobs and having minimal bills, and prices for retro games were nowhere near what they are now. There were times I would find a seller who was starting auctions on eBay at $0.01 and would include free shipping on any additional auctions you won after the first one. I would go through their entire catalog and bid $0.01 on everything, and on more than one occasion I wound up winning 10 NES games for $4.
Those days are long gone, unfortunately. You can still find some really great deals, but not on eBay or Amazon unless you find them the moment they're listed. Because of this, I've spent the last several years growing my collection by other means. I frequent the local flea markets, scour Craigslist, make friends with local retro stores (who often give me a nice discount), and other things.
I collect with my friend Chris. We go to the flea markets together and scope out all the tables and sellers, it's better to have two sets of eyes than one. We have only a few rules: 1) If one of us doesn't already have a game that we find, it goes to that person if they want it. 2) If we both have the game (or neither one of us does), whoever spots it gets first crack at it. 3) If we come across a wholesale lot of games, we split the cost and figure out who gets what at the end of the day.
However, being a videogame collector isn't always sunshine and rainbows, it has its downsides as well.
My wife and I live in a moderately sized, one-floor house. It has 4 bedrooms, and my wife was cool enough to let me use two of those as game rooms, one as a retro room, and one as our current game room, where the newest systems and my nice HDTV are located. At one point in time, I was a huge collector of NECA's videogame toy lines. I pretty much bought every one I could get my hands on, even overpaying for some from online retailers. Then a certain fact became very apparent: I didn't have enough room for all of these toys. I wrestled with the idea of selling them for a long time. Then I looked and saw how much some of them were worth and it became a little easier to part with them.
I don't consider myself a hoarder by any means, but it's really hard for me to get rid of something I paid for. Then I had both a realization and a question for myself. The realization was that they were just sitting in boxes every since I got married, and the question was "Will I miss them when they're gone?" The answer was no.
But now my game shelves are starting to become very cramped, and I don't have room to put up another one, so what is a collector to do? Thanks to the years of Tetris, I find ways to fit things into certain areas and crevices, but eventually it'll be filled beyond capacity. But I'll cross that bridge when I come to it.
Flea markets have their own little communities. Chris and I see the same people every week and like to give them nicknames. There's one guy who wears the same camo outfit from head-to-toe every week, his name is "Combat Carl". There's also a collector we call "E-Cig" for his propensity for smoking electronic cigarettes all day. Then there's "Voice Box" who...has a voice box--I never said our nicknames were clever.
Because we see the same buyers every week, that means the sellers also see the same buyers every week, and some of them are in cahoots with one another. Countless times this past summer we would find someone unpacking their items and ask if they had any games, or we would start looking through their stuff, only to have them say things like "Come back in about a half hour when I have everything sorted out." Not wanting to be rude, we move along and keep a mental note to come back. Then we make our way back around only to find that all of their games have been sold.
Normally we just chalk this up to bad timing, but then we came across one gentlemen who had a box full of games under his table, but then told us they weren't for sale. We felt like something was up, so we stayed in the area and watched him sell to someone else. Sure, they may have already had a pre-existing deal, but if that's the case, why even bring them out? Very shady.
There's a guy who runs a booth at the flea market who sells DVDs and games. He's pretty cool to us, and is willing to haggle a little bit. The guy is always hustling, buying up huge collections from people. He prices everything according to VGCharts, but will knock off a couple of bucks for us.
I don't usually bring a ton of money to the flea market with me, most times I'll bring around $100. It keeps me in check and prevents me from overspending. This seller, however, apparently brings thousands of dollars with him, and is willing to pay tons of money to buy another seller out. In this particular instance, I was looking over a table full of games, grabbing any that I didn't have. They didn't have prices on any of them, which usually means that the seller either doesn't know what they're worth, or they want you to make them an offer. I found a few games worth buying and was about to ask how much they wanted before this guy walked up and offered this woman $500 for everything.
The woman had over $500 worth of stuff between the games and systems, so he still made out pretty well. I had to give up the games I was trying to buy (one of which was the original Donkey Kong Country, which I don't have for some reason) because he decided to buy everything. When I asked if we would sell the games I picked out for the same price as the nice old lady, he said he wanted to take everything in and price it up first, which is a roundabout way of saying "No." I'm sorry, as much as I love it, I'm not paying more than $5 for Donkey Kong Country.
Every seller does one of 3 things when it comes to prices:
1) They looked up prices online and price their games the same.
2) They choose a universal price for every game.
3) They have no idea what anything is worth and ask for a ridiculously high or low price.
Then there are several different sub-categories that fit inside of the three main ones I just listed. The one I want to talk about is the third category. There are a ton of people who have no idea how much certain games are worth, which is why I was able to snag things like Super Smash Bros. Melee and Contra Force for $5 each. I know some people may be thinking "Dustin, you ripped them off." You're darn right I did, they should have done their research, because I've done mine. If someone has a copy of Earthbound and says they only want $5 for it, I'm not going to bat an eyelash about the deal.
But then we have sellers who are the exact opposite. For these people, I imagine what happened is they saw a news story about an incredibly rare game selling for thousands of dollars and assuming that the copies of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Super Mario Bros./Duck Hunt they have in their attic are on the same level. The most outrageous example from this past summer is someone trying to sell us a disgusting Super Nintendo with a copy of The Lion King and a couple of sports titles for around $100. They also tried to sell us just a Sega Genesis (again, one that was filthy) for $65.
Even if you manage to talk these people down, you're still going to wind up on the losing end of the transaction, so avoid them altogether.
The thrill of victory is so much greater than the agony of defeat. Unfortunately, the agony occurs more often than the ecstasy. So many times over the years I'll show up right behind another collector, only to find that the giant plastic bag they have is full of games, and I realize then that I was just a minute too late. "If I hadn't taken the time to stop by that other table I would have had those". It's very disheartening, because finding that great score can make or break the day for me.
The flea markets I go to are an hour drive away from my home, and I have to wake up at 4:30am to get there before everyone else does. I'm a morning person anyway, so that's not a problem, but taking the time to drive all the way down there only to come away empty-handed is a tough pill to swallow, and it's even tougher when you realize you were just a little too late.
Every collector will undoubtedly have that moment where they contemplate getting out of the collecting game and sell it all. I made that mistake once and regretted it terribly. I didn't get out of it completely, instead I decided to focus solely on the NES, so I sold off the rest of my collection to stock up on new NES titles. At the time I wasn't as smart about things as I am now, and wound up just taking great (and expensive) games like Earthbound, Chrono Trigger, and Secret of Mana to a local retro game shop, where I surely wound up getting screwed out of some major bank.
I'm glad it happened, actually. Now that I'm back into collecting for all systems, I know to ignore that little voice telling me to sell or trade them all away again. I know the pain of losing it all. But I'm not so attached to my collection that if some sort of emergency were to arise that I wouldn't sell it all in a heartbeat. I'm sure my collection cumulatively is more than enough to pay off my student loans, which would help me out a lot financially, but for now there's no need to panic about my bank account.
Several times I've sat there in my game room, staring at my shelves and just thinking "There's so much money in there", but there's so many memories attached to those games, as well as so many classics I've never played, that I can't just let them go just yet.
Anybody else a collector? Have any good stories? I'd love to hear them.