Why Retro Games Are So Expensive Now

The video gaming market is at a time when it has never been bigger, consistently providing an unlimited amount of high quality entertainment for experienced and unexperienced gamers alike, ranging from AAA games that take tens of millions of dollars to produce, all the way to re-releases and remasters of retro games made decades prior. The market has grown to accommodate dozens of different types of games, and over the past few years, retro games have made a comeback in many different forms.

Some companies, such as BANDAI NAMCO, have fully recreated some of their most famous games, such as last year’s release of PAC-MAN 99 on the Nintendo Switch. In other cases, companies like Atari have opted to port older games, such as the original Donkey Kong, to current-gen consoles so that players can have the ability to experience older games on newer hardware. This type of trend can also be found elsewhere in the industry, as the Xbox Series X by Microsoft is designed with backward compatibility, being able to run games going back to the original Xbox, allowing players the freedom to play and experience hundreds of older games that have never been updated.

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Along with companies rereleasing older games, there are also many stores geared towards reselling retro games, with many retro game classics making a comeback through resale. These stores serve as a convenient physical means of browsing and discovering older titles. They also allow for instant gratification, as purchasing retro games on websites can sometimes take time due to bidding and shipping. These stores typically sell games from most of the older gaming systems, ranging from the NES to the PlayStation 2. The downside of many stores is that in order to compete with online bidding websites, where much of the retro gaming market is centered, prices may get inflated to match online prices. On top of the retro retail stores, auctions are taking advantage of the retro video game market. In an article posted by Business Insider, a copy of Super Mario 64 was shown to be sold for $1.5 million at auction. Not even a month later, another copy of the game was sold for $2 million.


Retro Games Are Coming To Be Seen As An Investment By Speculators


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So the question remains: why are retro games so expensive? Part of the answer is that people have begun to view them as investments. The two aforementioned copies of Super Mario 64 were not sold in the traditional way, but rather sold as shares, making it easier for people to hop in and invest. Similar to the Antstream Arcade subscription, which makes retro arcade games more accessible by providing them as a service for a monthly subscription, this method of selling classic games provides an easy and modern solution for people to get in on the market, giving those who invested the opportunity to walk away with massive earnings, making it a lucrative investment. In a traditional auction, copies of the game just in the past few years were selling in the $100,000 range, and now due to changing the way it is sold, it can be worth so much more.


After visiting one of these retro gaming stores, Evan Nixon voiced their concerns on Twitter after spotting a used copy of The Simpsons: Hit & Run for the Nintendo GameCube. This game was released back in 2003 and is only available on early 2000s hardware, and was priced at $119.95. These prices are marked up higher than some of the online listings, as on Amazon, the game could be had for $89.99. For comparison, some modern AAA video games, such as the recent Demon’s Souls remake for the PlayStation 5, only recently made the jump to $69.99, so paying well above that for a 19 year old game is a big ask for those merely looking to play it rather than seeing it as an investment. Nixon also mentions in the tweet that they spotted a copy of Madden 2002 that was priced around $30, which seems unreasonable given that the Madden franchise has a new installment every year, making it seem as though there should be generally a lower demand for older editions of the franchise.


Retro Game & Console Hardware Is Continually Aging


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Another reason why retro games are becoming more expensive is because there is a larger demand for them as older units begin to age and fall apart, making surviving items more valuable. This makes devices like the Analogue Pocket, a modern retro hanheld  more appealing for the masses, as they no longer have to acquire and maintain older console hardware, but can play physical games on a newer device. In some cases, labels of games are torn and discolored, making them a harder sell due to poor quality, and many retro games lack boxes. While these kinds of offerings are generally far cheaper, it also serves to raise the price on the rarer complete copies of games, especially those without any significant damage. It can be quite difficult to find complete used copies of Game Boy Advance titles, for instance, which nearly always lack their original packaging, making those with their original outer boxes significantly more costly to acquire.


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With the expansion of the gaming industry, along with the rise of methods like shared investing and bidding, retro subscription services, companies porting older games, retro handheld devices, and emulators, retro games have been on the rise in terms of visibility. Sometimes this has led to a sharp decrease in the price of an original boxed copy of a game, especially if the primary driver of interest in owning it was to actually play it (rather than treating it as an investment), but it has also raised awareness of games history with newer generations, and as older gamers come into greater wealth, they also have greater ability to pay for some of the titles that they remember from their youth.

Retro games continue to influence and inspire modern series, especially in the indie scene, with many indie games being developed in retro styles, giving them an older feel but with current control schemes and gameplay mechanics. As game preservation becomes a wider and more nuanced topic, and organizations like the Video Game History Foundation work to preserve the history of digital games for future generations, the value of retro games will no doubt only continue to rise. It can only be hoped that more ports and rereleases become the norm, as it may not be much longer before the average person can’t reliably afford to try older games they might be curious about.


Next: Why Retro Game Prices Are Skyrocketing During COVID-19

Source: Business Insider, Evan Nixon/Twitter

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