I believe that retro gaming is now officially an asset bubble. If it was about experiencing original classic Atari games on the original console, adding it to your collection and then sharing information and pictures about the console and/or games - adding something to the community - cool. But these devices are being flipped, like assets. So, again I firmly believe we are deep in a retro gaming bubble. Not a high-end one like houses. As in, the ramifications will not mean that you have to sell your car, or you will loose your house. But in time, there will be people that will have a stack of investments (sorry... games) that they paid insane prices for, and will not be able to recover that ... investment.
All the classic bubble hallmarks are at play here. Lets look at the classic 5 steps of a bubble:-
1) Displacement - This is when investors (as apposed to fans of retro-gaming due nostalgia, preference to the different older-style of gaming experience, the type that will add to the community, not just ask how much is this item worth-types, etc..), become interested in this "new" potential revenue stream.
We are now seeing more and more people "express" an interest in retro-gaming devices and software. More and more people are aware of this, and more opportunities become available for people to invest (take) or fuel (add) to the growing retro-gaming market (like the NES/SNES mini classic for example).
2) Boom - Prices rise very slowly at first, and then BOOM!!! That game you was looking to get, that was only a couple of quid, is now 10's of pounds (and that is just for starters). And then momentum kicks. Like a stone rolling, the prices keep on rising, and at an accelerated rate. This is the boom phase. Those of us that have been playing old consoles for years, will have seen the prices of these consoles fall when they were originally superseded, and then start to rise (gently as wear/tear/damage - just the ever reducing stock of these devices/games happens) over time. But until the last few years, those increases have always been pretty gentle. Also, a key factor of this phase is recognition. Playing old consoles, or retro-gaming, is now "a thing". When you have news media, that is normally total divorced from the subject matter starts giving the "new asset" wide coverage. You seen the articles:- That old console in the attic could be worth 100's!!!!!! Top 10 games what used be worth pennies, but are now worth 100's. These are all indicators.
Remember how many property programs popped up on TV during the housing market boom? This breeds the attitude "fear of missing out on that once in a lifetime investment" (NES classic anyone?). It also breeds the air of competition. Someone proudy shows their recent acquisition of the "rare" blah blah blah game. It's not a good game, but only a small number were produced. This also really drives prices up. But this uniquely gets other previously savvy retro-gaming collectors spending more than they normally would. Before they would have a spending cap of X per game. This cap slowly creeps up to Y, and then Z etc.. This is rocket fuel to the boom phase. This also increases the number of retro-gamers (investors).
3) Euphoria - In this phase, with free flowing credit and a some-what level of economic security, (and the fact that alot of people that grew up with these consoles are at the age where they may have disposable income) caution is thrown to the wind. The mindset moves to "gotta get them all" before someone else does, and miss out an opportunity to flip for a profit. Prices in this phase sky-rocket even further. You then start to get "market experts". They talk up the market. You've seen game X on eBay, been watching, debating if you should get it or not. You then see You-tuber ILUVRETROGAMESCOZTHEYAREKEWL99SAUSAGE talking about game X. Before you have finished watching the video, you check again on eBay, and the price has gone up because this popular You-tuber mentioned it, and maybe used the word rare at some point. These experts fuel the market, fuel desire, competition. This drives down levels of rational thinking. This also breeds and feeds the "greater fool theory". This theory works on the prinicple, that it doesn't really matter how much I spend on X, because there will always be a "greater fool" that will buy it off me .... for more. During this phase, you will see the introduction of new, weird and wonderful valuation measures and metrics (e.g. PlayStation one release model (SCPH-1001) is now known as the Audiophile due to having RCA presentation and a slightly better DAC - a term that has been used to greatly exaggerate the value of the console in the mind of the lesser researched/informed "investor"), all touted to justify the relentless rise in asset prices.
4) Profit taking - At this point, anyone who "is into retro-gaming" as an asset, and have the smart money mentality, will start cashing out. Impressive complete collections start becoming more and more available. This is because the "smart money" is heeding the warning signs. They are "selling out" and taking profits (which is being provided by the "greater fool") while the profits are available. If someone that would normally be completely divorced from gaming suddenly starts showing interest and some level of newly acquired savvy regarding the asset (like grandma suddenly knowing the difference between her sons old heavy sixer and a light sixer that she found in the attic), saturation point has been breached.
You will see record levels of fakes at this time. And even good ones too, as the prices they can potentially sell for, justifies the extra effort from the counterfeiter. We are talking about it gets to the point that near expert levels of appraisement is required.
At this point, I want to talk about the "mythical" scalper. A scalper does not exist per say. What does exist is someone with more contacts, money or savvy than you to get the item you want, or got it sooner, thus cheaper than you. And then having the savvy to know that they can charge an inflated price when they decide to flip that item. Look, if everyone decided they will not spend more that £55 on a NES classic, how long to do think the "scalpers" would try and charge £200? If the "greater fool" exists, then greater prices exist.
At this point, the bubble of choice has hit saturation point, it can then only take even a minor event to prick the bubble. But once pricked, the bubble is not likely to inflate again. That event could come in any shape or form. Unlike the housing, where is it some what clear what elements can cause a down-swing in the market, in retro-gaming, it harder to predict. A general loss of interest? A better more exciting (read - new) "investment" comes along, maybe? The Ataribox proves to be WAY better than anyone thought (100% perfect 2600, 5200, 7800, STe and Jaguar emulation?), thus killing the desire for anything else? Serious down-swing in the general economy (that makes people focus on the essentials, not frivolous). Retro-gaming stops being "hip". Fakes and badly repaired/modded hardware (you know - that "eBay mint" console that looks worst than an out of date dog's dinner)? It could be all of these or just one or two. It's hard to call. But the realty is that we are seeing a bubble grow, and it will pop. And when it does, phase 5 bites down.
5) Panic - If you are collecting retro-gaming equipment for the love of it and not an asset (e.g. you was doing it before it became a thing - you know when it was just called gaming or playing on my old Atari), this is the only stage that doesn't adversely affect you. In fact, this is the phase you will like. If you are in it for the profit, and you are still in it at this point - whoops!! In the panic phase, asset prices reverse, and hard. And often (as history has shown) at a more ferocious pace. Coming down far faster, that when they were on the rise. Investors at this point will flood the market in attempt to find that one last "greater fool" to buy at an apparently more reasonable price. The problem is, at this point there are no more "greater fools", just the "greatest fools" fighting to get as much back as possible, reducing their loses on a cartridge that they bought at the height of the market for £200 for example, and are now not getting any response on trying to sell it for £30.
So that is my take on this subject. I think we are clicking from phase 3 into phase 4. And boy are we going to see some crazy when the SNES mini classic comes out. All the people that "missed out" of the first with the NES, will be on a mission (impossible mission?) to get one. Competition, desire and a complete lack of rational thinking is gonna kick in.
Anyway, just by reading this, you can tell I am NOT even close to being an expert. This probably reads more like the mussing of a mad man. But I'm a fan, and I find things like this interesting and fun to discuss. So please let me know if you agree, disagree. I would really love to read your thoughts/ideas on this? Is this something we what to happen? It would make prices cheaper, but then you will be less likely to get devices like the NES/SNES mini classic and other ideas that can make retro-gaming interesting.
Looking forward to reading your thoughts.