Million-Dollar Retro Game Auctions Help Remind Us What Matters Most – Talking Point

SNES & Super Mario World (1)
Image: Nintendo Life

As you’ve no doubt seen over the past couple of years, there have been some high profile and eye-watering sales of retro games which have reached hundreds of thousands of US dollars, and now more than $2 million. It’s been rather baffling to onlookers; these are copies of extremely common games, after all, and the downside has been that it has also pushed prices up for dedicated collectors. The headline numbers are crazy and standalone, but they inflate the ‘normal’ market elsewhere.

It’s becoming increasingly clear, too, that the bubble that’s led to micro-investment schemes is becoming even less sustainable. Now there are detailed and well-reasoned arguments that this hyper-inflation — which defies logic to many who know gaming history and the collector’s scene in particular — is rife with foul-play, cynicism and greed.

We shared it previously in the article linked above, but the video from Karl Jobst is well worth a watch for the full lowdown on exactly what’s suspected to be happening here. As a one paragraph summary, Jobst outlines and connects a small number of individuals and companies that have been at the heart of the ‘Mario game sells for megabucks’ headlines that have been all over gaming and broader mainstream media in recent times. The video report presents evidence that it says points to deliberate market manipulation, acquiring and then ‘re-buying’ games at greatly inflated prices to create an exaggerated market. With successful inflation of prices, driven by ‘rating’ systems and high-value auctions, it drives investors into the market and it keeps growing. It’s creating a bubble of unrealistic prices.

Many of us settle for buying a nice art print while looking boggle-eyed at auctions of the original paintings, and in a way the same is happening in games

It’s a fascinating topic, and in some respects we could regard it as an obscene sideshow in gaming — a demonstration of how mainstream popularity clashing with opportunists leads to these sorts of crazy initiatives. It feels like a parallel universe that we gawk at, as unidentified millionaires throw money around — or perhaps pretend to — trading in games that are only worth a fraction of the selling price. Many of us settle for buying a nice art print while looking boggle-eyed at auctions of the original paintings, and in a way the same is happening in games. The value attached to an original, or in the case of gaming to sealed and supposedly rated games, doesn’t necessarily matter to the value we place on our own copies, though. After all, many of us have our own treasured boxes and cartridges, because we played them and personally valued them decades ago; our slightly crumpled copy of Super Mario Bros. is no less ‘authentic’ than the hermetically sealed mint version.

The problem, of course, is that the impact trickles down into something more like the real world of collecting. You can still find loose cartridges and dog-eared copies of games for affordable prices, but those prices are still, in some cases, rising a fair bit faster than normal inflation. The insanity around mint sealed copies also makes those prime collectibles harder to find at ‘sensible’ prices. Collecting video game memorabilia can still be done by many of us — there are millions of copies of Super Mario Bros. and The Legend of Zelda out there in the wild — but the cost and expected quality of copies is still artificially inflated and harmed by obscene prices at the very top end.

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