How COVID Broke the Retro Game Market

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While everyone was baking bread and binge-watching Tiger King throughout the spring of 2020, many bored adults with unexpected free time heard the nostalgic call of their dusty, abandoned GameCube consoles hidden in the depths of the attic.
Just over a year later, there is an unprecedented level of interest in video games from a bygone era — and very few games available to play.
As it turns out, it is very difficult to rebuild your childhood game collection without a solid chunk of change and a time machine. Many of these titles have been out of print for longer than they were available for purchase and this new awakening of retro gaming interest has severely depleted the supply of available used games.

Why Are Old Games So Expensive Now?

Paying well over $100 for an old copy of Pokémon Platinum might sound unreasonable, but there are a number of logical explanations for how retro gaming flourished during the COVID-19 lockdown.
Video games are a terrific time killer when you’re faced with a sudden influx of unstructured free time. The (once small and niche) online community surrounding classic titles and consoles served as an accessible social outlet for people stuck at home, an invaluable resource given the air of precarity in the world outside of these forums.
Money was also an important factor. As unemployment rates soared, people realized that they could make some quick cash selling their vintage games to a massive market of bored people looking for a nostalgia trip. Entrepreneurial collectors saw an opportunity for a sustainable business model buying and selling used games, often as participants in the eBay Renaissance of 2020. The dearth of available Nintendo Switch and next-gen consoles only stoked the flames of this growing industry.
Here are some of the biggest price jumps between 2020 and 2021:

Now you have terrific ammo against your parents who told you that Pokémon games were a waste of money.

gamecube
Credit: @north_of_rapture via Unsplash

A Marked Value Increase

According to game price tracker Pricecharting.com, the value of retro video games has increased by 33% since the COVID-19 lockdowns began. Nintendo game values saw the biggest increase — GameCube prices soared by an average of 70% in just one year. Xbox titles and those from newer consoles saw a slight increase, but nowhere near the recorded surge in game prices for every Nintendo console released after the SNES.
The vast number of popular franchises under the Nintendo umbrella is one explanation for this disparity, but a significant amount of the price disparity is due to Nintendo’s proprietary hardware.
Unlike the Xbox and later-generation PlayStation games stored on dirt-cheap DVD and Blu-ray discs, Nintendo typically prefers the pricier game cartridge format (and changes it with each new console release). Once a console reaches the end of its lifecycle, its specific cartridge format ceases production permanently. As demand increases 20 years after the last units left the factory, an already-limited supply becomes even more valuable.

How to Get the Best Deals on Retro Games

If you are feeling masochistic and want to get in on this nostalgic goose-chase, you aren’t completely out of luck. You should expect to spend more than MSRP if you’re looking for a popular rare game, but there are some handy tools and best practices that can minimize the risk of getting ripped off.

  1. Do your research before making a purchase. Pricecharting.com offers a price history tracker that compares current offers with previous transactions. It’s also worth checking eBay to get a ballpark estimate, but be wary of suspiciously low or high prices.
  2. Set an alert if you are willing to wait for the right deal. You’ll get new listings and price drops in your inbox when you click the “Save this Search” button on an eBay listing. Of course, you can always set a Deal Alert on Slickdeals.
  3. Learn how to spot the difference between bootleg games and authentic cartridges. There’s nothing wrong with buying a cheap bootleg for fun, but don’t pay the retro premium for a fake product. Different consoles have their own security measures, but verifying the region code is always a good place to start.
  4. Check out local marketplaces on Facebook and Craigslist. The nice older lady down the block might be clearing out her kids’ old video games in the basement with little care for their current market value. It’s also worth checking out the used selection at your local game store.

More to consider:

Our editors strive to ensure that the information in this article is accurate as of the date published, but please keep in mind that offers can change. We encourage you to verify all terms and conditions of any product before you apply.

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