Strictly speaking, video games aren't items that generally hold their value particularly well. Many are produced on a mass scale and only act to carry digital information that could in theory be copied onto any computer. However, thanks to keen collectors, there are many video games that are worth tens of thousands, and they could be lying under your bed or even gathering dust in storage right now.
We have illustrated the most valuable retro computer games right now; items that you might well be hoarding. We have also taken a look at just how much they have appreciated from their original values.
Why do people collect video games?
First, though, we wanted to look at why people love to collect these videogames, since those that are most highly sought tend to be extremely basic in terms of gameplay and graphics. Why would you want to spend thousands of pounds on a 1980s straight shooter game?
Well, we reckon there are a number of factors at play here. First, there is the simple notion of supply and demand: early Atari 2600 or NES games may be few and far between, and those that exist often lack their original box or packaging. A rare and complete boxed game is therefore in limited supply. There are obviously people willing and able to pay for the games (for reasons explored below), creating demand for them within a limited marketplace. Low supply plus high demand equals premium price tags.
Second, many of the most valuable collectible games form the origin stories of games available on the market today – gamers who are interested in knowing where their favourite games evolved from are often curious to play the originals and may be willing to pay a high price to do so.
Third, perhaps the most comprehensive reason behind the extremely high prices is nostalgia. The games that now carry such high price tags were at the heart of pop gaming culture in the late 80s and 90s, and the people who grew up in those decades are now of an age where they may have significant disposable income or capital. They surely can’t be interested in buying the games for their gameplay, which is often very basic and limited in terms of player numbers, character options and even the number of levels that can be played. More likely, capturing and owning a part of their childhood is the compelling reason for many to collect these items.
A final reason is probably that for some people, collecting gives a buzz that they can only get from finding the perfect addition to their collections. Some collectors of video games are games enthusiasts who are willing to trawl through car boot sales and collectors’ fair bargain bins in the hope of one day discovering ‘the one’ – the item that will make their collection complete, or that they have been hoping to find for years; their version of the Holy Grail. Other collectors are wealthy individuals who can afford to pay whatever it takes to own one-of-a-kind or rare items just for the thrill of owning them.
Why are they worth so much now?
As to the value of video games, you may be surprised to learn just how valuable some of those early cartridges are, despite being so basic and outdated. The games listed on our infographic are some of the highest in value and this is no doubt because they are scarce – often, only a handful were ever manufactured, or they could not be bought on the open market.
To take a stroll down memory lane, we thought you may like a reminder of what each of these games actually entailed:
Gamma Attack – Atari 2600
This was the only game ever produced by a company called Gammation, which usually stuck to making controllers and game attachments. It is by far the most valuable game marketed so far. In it, the player is a UFO that can move up, down, left and right, and your job is to shoot tanks beneath you. Each time you are hit by a tank you will drop a little in height. The aim is to destroy all of the tanks before you hit the ground. The gameplay is very basic, with no real ‘end’ to the game – the grounded UFO just remains on the ground until the Atari is switched off. Its scarcity is perhaps the reason for its highest price: only one cartridge has been known to be marketed for sale.
Stadium Events – NES
This is a sports fitness game, a precursor to games like the Wii Fit. It was designed to be played using an interactive fitness mat; the player must take part in four Olympic events (the 100m dash, long jump, 110m hurdles and triple jump) by jumping and running on the mat. It was only available in this form for a few short months before it was re-branded – the original is therefore not very common and is all the more valuable for its scarcity.
Birthday Mania – Atari 2600
The box of this game could be customised to include a name under a ‘happy birthday’ message. It comprised several mini games, including a ‘blow out the candle’ game that gradually increased in speed and difficulty. There were few games produced and even fewer still have an unmarked, complete box, hence the high asking price.
Air Raid – Atari 2600
A precursor to many subsequent games of its kind, this game involves trying to protect the city of Manhattan from an invasion of flying saucers. Each skyscraper on the horizon can only be hit 12 times by the aliens before they are destroyed, so your job is to destroy the UFOs before they destroy the city.
Super Mario Bros Asian Cover – NES
This game is familiar to any gamer, but the Asian cover is what gives it its high value as it indicates that the game is written in English and, uniquely, Cantonese.
Nintendo World Championships Gold Edition – NES
These are mini-games based on Tetris, Rad Racer and Super Mario Bros. The gold edition cartridges were not available on the open market and were only awarded as prizes through a competition in the Nintendo Power magazine, making them highly collectible.
Nintendo Campus Challenge – NES
This was a game used for an organised gaming contest, primarily held in university campuses across the USA. Two events were held, in 1991 and 1992 and it is the 1991 game that is most sought-after. There were 3 mini games to be played in a limited time: Super Mario Bros (collect 25 coins to win), Dr Mario (highest score at the end of a fixed time to win) and Pin*Bot (100,000 points to win). The winner of the contest got to go to Disneyland! There is only one cartridge in existence, hence its high value.
Atlantis II – Atari 2600
The original Atlantis game was a fixed shooter; to promote its release, Atari offered a range of cash and other prizes to players who sent in a photo of their high score. The company underestimated the gamers’ abilities and too many players achieved the top score. As a tie-breaker, those gamers were each sent Atlantis II, which was not otherwise marketed, and which was more challenging and had to be played within just 2 days. The idea behind the game was for the player to defend the Lost City of Atlantis against invading Gorgons.
Tetris – Sega Mega Drive
This is another well-known (and highly addictive) game. Several companies fought over who owned the copyright, with different companies (including Sega) having to relinquish or re-brand their versions.
Superman Yellow Edition – Atari 2600
This was released a year after the Superman film showed in cinemas. The player is Superman and your job is to capture Lex Luther and fellow baddies, dodge Kryptonite and kiss Lois Lane to regenerate. You can fly, have x-ray vision and are super-strong. The cartridge with yellow font is the most valuable as it is the rarest.
Red Sea Crossing – Atari 2600
This game was virtually unheard of and was only available to order directly from the manufacturer on release. Based on the biblical story of Moses crossing the red sea, players had to jump to avoid snakes and snapping clams.
Kizuna Encounter – Neo Geo
An expensive game on release and on a console that was not commonly owned, this is the only game on the list with half-decent graphics.
Interestingly, although these games are rare, whenever one surfaces for sale and sells for such a high price, other games tend to come up for sale as people realise the value of what they have in their loft. Collecting games for fun and the enjoyment of collecting is understandable, though the chances of finding a gem like the ones above are, of course, very low. That said, many collectors want to keep their games safe, clean and dry with their original boxes – just in case they happen to have one that is has more than just nostalgic worth. Have a look in your loft or garage and see what you can unearth!
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