I have a rant for you, I’m very tired and it’s very rambly but I think I may have made a few good points.
Here’s something odd that many people have a hard time coming to terms with, rarity does not equal value. When the topic of old games comes up in conversation I usually have to reiterate this multiple times, and almost every time I do this the person I’m talking to gets that greedy little gleam in their eye. “Oh, I have a Nintendo/Atari/Sega in the basement, and I have a bunch of games, I bet I could sell them and get a bunch of money.” That’s usually the gist of what they wind up saying every time, I get the feeling that they search on Ebay what their stuff is worth and wind up getting disappointed because their copy of Jack Niclaus Gold on NES isn’t worth 500 dollars. Because chances are, they don’t have anything worth anything. I feel that ‘The Media’ might have something to do with this overinflating of value, especially when it comes to old games. Most articles you see are about the .0001% of games, the ultra rare/valuable/famous, and they come out with outrageous numbers that may or may not be real, sure Air Raid sold for 33K in the box, but that doesn’t mean your copy of Defender is worth anything, or any of your games for that matter.
You know what drives the value of a game up? Notoriety, or perhaps a good story, perhaps some mystery, something for people to dig their teeth into. A good story can turn an item from a curiosity into a collectible. The Air Raid cartridges are rare and have a good story to them, the same with Pepsi Invaders, or any of the ultra rare games in most game system’s libraries. NTSC Stadium Events has a good story and is rare, same with NWC carts or that sealed test market SMB that sold for 100k, that has a story, it has history. People care about those games, and it helps that they’re on popular systems. Word of mouth drove the prices of Earthbound up from the bargain bin to hundreds of dollars on Ebay, and the rarity did help give the game an air of value and exclusivity. I’m gonna quickly switch over to the absolute epitome of a good story increasing the desirability of an item. The Mona Lisa, despite being one of Da Vinci’s works was no more than another painting in the Louvre with a small following of art professionals, until it was stolen and became public knowledge and was soon hailed as a masterwork and is know the most famous work of art in history. But back to games.
Some games are just valuable because they’re rare; yes I admit that wholeheartedly, some games are just rare, if I may fall back into my comfort zone of the 2600 for a moment. Games like Asterix, Eli’s Ladder, and Red Sea Crossing are just rare, they don’t have a particularly compelling story and in the case of some weren’t even known to exist until they were just found and released online. They’re rare and people will pay large sums for the exclusivity of owning it that’s just a given.
Then you have the rarities that nobody cares about, I have several, in my experience much of this falls into the realm of the PC, though I have a few console games that would fall into this category. I am one of the tiny few who are even aware that Classic Pinball for Windows 3.1 by Impressions Software exists, I am currently the only person on the internet who has admitted to owning it, that being said, I’d be lucky to break even when selling it and I paid next to nothing for it. I own Windows Arcade Pack by WizardWorks, of which only a grainy image of the CD has ever been seen online, and yet I know that nobody is interested. The same thing goes for Championship Pool, also by WizardWorks, also for Windows, nobody cares. These could be the only complete copies on earth and nobody would care. I own a review cartridge of Choplifter for the SMS and the guy who sold it to me won’t even take it back. I have a review copy of Flight Simulator II on C64 with a letter of apology from the VP of Marketing at SUBLogic about the lateness of said review copy; the guy who sold it to me couldn’t even sell it on Ebay for ten bucks.
Why is Custer’s Revenge more valuable than Bumper Bash despite it being far more common? Bumper Bash might just be the rarest pinball videogame to have ever been released and yet you can get a copy for less than 100 dollars while people pay similar to higher prices for something like Chase the Chuck Wagon which is more common. People have paid more for Devil’s Crush on Turbografx-16 than people have for Bumper Bash on Atari. Why do people still spend in excess of sixty dollars, as much as a brand new game, for Conker’s Bad Fur Day? The game isn’t even rare, if you cut the crap there are probably three full Ebay pages of nothing but Conker’s, the game isn’t rare. And you know what, I have the answer as to why some of these rare games are so worthless, people don’t care.
People would rather play Devil’s Crush over Bumper Bash. People would rather own conversation starters like Custer’s Revenge or Chuck Wagon over Bumper Bash. People spend sixty dollars on Conker’s Bad Fur Day because it’s a good game, nobody cares about a pinball game for Windows from a company that nobody’s ever heard of, and nobody cares about a review copy of a flight sim game on C64. An item is only worth what its purchaser will pay for it, demand drives the market, and there is just no demand, and possibly no market, for these near worthless rarities.