Thursday, February 10, 2011

World 2-1: Rare Vs. Expensive

In this entry I am going to address 3 questions which I feel puzzle collectors and hobbyists alike.
  1. What makes some classic games so expensive?
  2. What makes a game rare and who decides?
  3. Why aren't all rare games expensive?
I see these three questions pop up all the time on the various forums I
am apart of. The questions aren't always phrased the same, but never the less I rarely go a month without finding a new thread dedicated to one head of this gaming Cerberus. These three questions don't necessarily have separate answers and really they are the core of one of the greatest misunderstanding in video game collecting. So what is this grand misunderstand?

Rare games aren't always expensive, and expensive games aren't always rare!

That is it right there. ^^^^all bold and centered in page^^^^. I called the three questions that make up this concept a Cerberus, but a better analogy is probably that of a Sphinx. A sphinx is made up of three parts, (well 4 according to some) as is our grand misunderstanding, and as it is with the sphinx if you fail to answer the riddle you are doomed. In the case of video game collecting, it isn't death, but it is overpayment. Over paying for a game is one of the greater fears that collectors have, it ranks lower then fire and earthquakes but it's still up there. This fear of over paying will make collectors do some questionable things. In some cases collectors will scour eBay and buy up all copies of a title, so it stays hard to find, sometimes it will cause them to bid up auctions that they have no intention of winning to protect their investment. I have heard of collectors hoarding titles, I consider hoarding owning more than 8 copies of any given non variant title. I know one collector that will list rare games at super inflated price points on eBay to increase the base price of his rare titles and to make sure it acts as a gauge for anyone selling similar games. I am not here to be the morality police and condemn people for these behaviors or similar actions, but people should be aware that things like this happen and when attempting to address game collecting's big misunderstanding we must factor in these behaviors.

Back to the sphinx and answering its riddle. Rare games aren't always expensive, and expensive games aren't always rare. It seems like a simple enough concept to understand, but it is kind of counter intuitive to what we know about rare goods. In most cases Scarcity correlates with value; however, in the video game world that correlation doesn't always hold true. To best answer why I will again break down the concept into the three questions I laid out at the beginning of this entry.

  • What makes some classic games expensive?
  • What makes a game rare and who decides?
  • Why aren't all rare games expensive?

  • What makes some games so expensive?
    It seems like when ever I am showing someone my collection or telling someone I just bought an old game, I get questions like this "whats your most expensive game?", then followed up by this " HOW MUCH DID IT COST???". It seems to me that non-collectors find any price over $20 for a game 10 years-old or more is far to much. It doesn't matter what I paid for the game, after I tell them what I value it at. Non-collectors are fixated on my estimated value, they can't see why anyone would want to spend that much on what seems like garage sell junk. After the shock wears off I get the follow up question "Why is it so expensive?" Answering that question is sometimes very easy. Stack -Up being one of my most expensive games, is rare and unique, also its on a shelf that's easy to point to. Stack-Up is hard to find complete, or very rare, because it is rare it is expensive and that's the end of story. This is a one minute explanation, but with other games it is not so easy. Some games are very common but still expensive; for instance, let us look at Final Fantasy 7 for the PS1. FF7 for the PS1 sold about 10 million copies, but it still sells for roughly $50. This game is not rare by any stretch of the imagination, but what keeps its price up and titles like it are its popularity or desirability . If a game was considered to be good, and also desired then the cost will stay high. Titles in this category of popular but not rare are available in the wild and on eBay, but many copies are held on to by people who love the game. While many copies of these titles were produced and many are available, the demand is so great, and the game is so beloved that it always fetches a higher price ignoring the fact that it is not rare. Rarity and Popularity are the two key factors in determining the price of a game. Now if a game is both rare and popular, the games price could rise over the $100 mark.

    What makes a game rare and who decides?
    No one decides which games are rare, they either are or they aren't. In the early days of rarity posting, games were often labeled as rare, when what they should have been listed as is popular or uncommon. So if a game is popular and also uncommon it seems harder to find, or when it is found it is expensive undoubtedly because it sells well, thus people shout that it's rare, which in-turn then makes it go up in cost. A little over a decade ago collecting for the NES really started to take off,
    if you walked into a video game store the setup was much like it is now, most of the area dedicated to current generation titles, and a very small area, sometimes just a bin was dedicated to old games. Games found in these bins were usually all the same cost. At my local store it was any NES, SNES, or Genesis game $5 or five for $20. A select few titles had individual price stickers Zelda was $10 and Earthbound was $25 loose. Other major titles and know RPGs were excluded from the $5 price but that was pretty much it. I know I bought Duck Tales 2 for the low price of 5 bucks. Duck Tales 2 is pretty rare and now a complete copy can find prices of $110 or more, graded copies are currently on eBay for $1000+ and a sealed one is listed for $1999 OBO.

    Back then people weren't collecting to complete a library, most collecting was nostalgia based, so games like Duck Tales 2 and Little Sampson warranted their 5 dollar price tag, the same way Zelda earned its $10 price tag. Demand was so high for games like Zelda, that it didn't matter that it had millions of more copies then games like Duck Tales 2, Zelda was twice as valuable.

    More and more collectors are now trying to complete libraries for system (Librarians), Nintendo being the most common has a well established rarity guide. Other systems like Sega CD are just now getting enough people trying to complete the system to truly find out what is rare. The rarity is established on the ability to find the title and that's it. Forums now have these Librarians searching far and wide for titles in such places as eBay, local shops, Estarland, GameGavel, forums, and many more. The results of these questing gamers is now being shared, and we collectors can start to put the data together to see what is actually rare. So that is the answer to why the rarity guides are off. Are they getting better, oh yeah but you can't bank on them to always be accurate. They are fairly accurate for prices though.

    Why aren't all rare games expensive?
    To answer the last question, "why aren't all rare games expensive?" We must ask more questions. Here is an example, a rarity 8 game X is $40 while another level 8 rarity title is $10. Why? This has many factors. Here is a list of a few: How long has the title been know to be rare? Is it desired? Is it a good game? Does it have a niche or sought after designer? Is it an RPG or SHmup? Every time yes is answered to one of the questions I listed the cost of the rare game goes up and the converse is also true, more "No" answers and the cost of a game may stay down. Out of these questions the biggest factor that keeps the cost of a rare game low is "How long has it been known to be rare?". This is a pretty simple thing to understand, if people don't know it's rare then why should they pay a big cost for it. When collectors know a title is rare they look for it, even if it isn't in their collectors category. You would be hard pressed to find any collector in the know to pass up a cheap copy of Stadium Events just because they don't collect for Nintendo. Just like with so many other things in life, big names mean big dollars.
    If we are looking to see why the cost of rare games goes up we should first look at desirability, because it is the sole biggest factor that can drive a price up. Desired titles always fetch more thats the easiest way to say it. I mentioned FF7 for the PS1 earlier, for awhile it was fetching 80 or so dollars on eBay, now its fallen to 50ish for black label versions. It is a very common title,but it commands a high price because it is well loved, just like Mario 3. If Final Fantasy 7 was a rarity 8 title rather than a 2 the cost for this game would be well over $200. Lets look at SHmups, they have a niche market, they are very popular, and also rare. This put the desire factor titles very high and the prices show that. Radiant Silvergun $150+, Border Down $250+, a lot of SHmups are priced like this. Titles like Radical Rex for Sega Cd might fetch $50-$70 even though it is far more rare than FF7 or Radiant Silvergun. In 10 years though Radical Rex may command $200+ if it is as rare as we think, while FF7 and other common titles will only see a minimal bump if all things remain equal. Radical Rex may never have a huge bump in the desire category, but sometimes rarity alone is enough to carry the prize of a game into the triple digit or more area. The desire to own Radical Rex for Sega Cd will be driven by completest and rarity based collectors.

    Hopefully these explanations help us to understand Video Game Rarity and how cost and rarity do not always mesh. My tip is always invest in rare games, classic games have a finite number available and are usually a safe bet. While it is true remakes and Xbox releases can happen, and this can cause games to dip in value but most don't fall far if they fall at all. Buying games you know are rare but aren't valued high can net you some pretty sweet trades in the future, but patience is key. Please remember just because it is expensive it doesn't mean it's rare, it might just be popular and uncommon.

    My Newest Find.
    A part of this blog that I feel has been neglected, is me showing how and what I find. My current focus as mentioned before is Sega Saturn and Sega CD. I can now proudly say I have a complete Sega CD USNTC collection. All of my games are complete in box with manuals. As exciting as it was to finally cross Mega Race, The Colors of Modern Rock, and ESPN NBA Hangtime off my want list, it wasn't nearly as fulfilling as finding this.

    Wonder Dog Red Box for the Sega CD has eluded me for quite some time. I figure and so do a few other Sega Cd collectors I chat with, that this is the hardest Variant to find in the Sega CD collection. I am currently trying to find out just how rare this title is, and when I have a more concrete idea I will let you know, but for now my estimate is at least a 7 on the rarity scale and that might prove to be a conservative guess. Yes, I do own two copies of this titles, and both were found within 1 day of each other. One of them I paid $45 for, it was listed on eBay. I was very happy to pay that cost, even though it might show up again on eBay for less. Why less? well, it's not well known and it's a variant of a title that normally goes for about $20. Most people don't know it even has a variant, and no one I a have talked to knows what the ratio from Red box Wonder Dog to Green Box Wonder dog is. I am currently 3 variants away from having a complete variant set to go along with my complete Sega CD collection.

    As always thank you for reading, and for my next entry I hope to feature one of my 3 complete Sega sets (Sega CD, 32X or Master System) in a video.



    1. Great read!
      "Over paying for a game is one of the greater fear that collectors have" - I did incur in some very nasty disappointments when I started collecting... Thankfully I'm a little bit more experienced now.
      Congrats on the milestone achievement, I look forward to when you do a video of your massive collection.

    2. Thank you for your comments Edward and for following me.

      I think we have all over paid at one point or another, but information is the key.

    3. Stack-Up looks interesting. I had never heard about it before reading this.