The Retro Game Bubble & What That Means To You And Me

It’s no secret we’re currently in a retro video game bubble that just seems to keep on expanding, and expanding without remorse, or care for the collectors who get stuck in it. Honestly, who knows when or if it will burst, and how explosive it will be.

Collecting, in general, has been a huge compulsion of mine lately. I caught the bug about seven or eight years ago, starting with trying to re-collect my old childhood nostalgia through those sweet, sweet, 8, 16, and 64-bit pixels blasting back at me through an old fat back tube TV.

The day it dawned on me that we were experiencing an uprising of popularity for retro video games was the day I decided to take a trip to a local antique shop. Hidden away underneath piles of dusty junk and electronics, was an unmarked cardboard box that held two Nintendo Entertainment Systems, a Super Nintendo, and a handful of games. I took it up to the register and offered what I thought was a respectable amount considering I had to do some digging and work to free it from its prison. More so, I was unsure if any of it even worked. To my surprise, the cashier hopped on eBay and counter-offered me more than double what I offered just based on what he saw as, “The highest buy it now prices.” Upon doing my own research, later on, those prices weren’t that far off from what was actually selling. Go figure.

There has been an insane demand amongst the collectors’ markets, and they have been booming a lot lately. Everything from all forms of physical media, including vinyl, cassettes, VHS tapes, retro (and even new) video games, to comic books, to celebrity hair, and everything in between. But we’re not here to talk about celebrity hair collecting, no, we’re here to talk about the current state of retro game bubble, collecting, and how it got to this point.

Obviously, you can thank the current pandemic for the way A LOT of things are, especially the collecting market. More and more people have been spending tons of time at home due to lockdowns, quarantining, and working from home giving them the freedom, and resources, thanks to most likely the boredom of staying at home nearly 24/7, to give us that push and drive to, well, do something with all this extra time. One of those things has been chasing nostalgia, and honestly — what’s more nostalgic than firing up a video game console that you grew up with?

The simplicity of loading an NES and just turning it on — granted, you have to blow in the cartridge a few times to get it working — turning it on and having it just….work? No loading screens. No waiting to connect to anyone or anything. It’s just you, six buttons, and the soft glow of that console TV screen humming back at you, as you try to save that princess who always seems to be in another castle unless she’s not too busy being kidnapped by a barrel wielding ape.

No matter how old you are, you can always appreciate the simplicity, and complexity that makes us want to go back to this wonderful era of gaming. Arguably, one of the best eras was the 1990s, with the Super Nintendo, Sega Genesis, and the “Nintendo vs. Sega console wars.” So, with all that said, people have been flooding all online and retail marketplaces to get their hands on that nostalgia. and either experience their childhood all over again. or experience it for the very first time the way it’s meant to be played, which has subsequently driven prices to skyrocket over the past years.

Games that I’d been able to find six or seven years ago have now easily doubled, or tripled in price due to the demand. Retro console prices have easily doubled as well, and at the time of this writing, you can find NES, SNES consoles, GameCubes, and various Gameboys starting at around $100, and reaching upwards of $200, including some of Sega’s various consoles.

Like I said before, this isn’t just a retro game bubble issue, as there is one more thing to attribute to this inflation — not only are people collecting, they’re also keeping what they have now — they’re holding. Basic economics of supply and demand at work here, but, also other phenomena of people buying these items at the high prices, while knowing they aren’t worth as much, therefore keeping prices at high levels.

Another cause of the surge in prices for retro gaming is grading companies that artificially inflate the value of the market for their own games. In short, these companies buy games at incredibly high prices, tell us values are going up, and resell those games at even higher prices due to their artificial inflation. So, when people see pristine, unopened, boxed games still in their wrapper going for hundreds of thousands of dollars or more, people will be inclined to believe that what’s been stored up in their attics for decades are now worth a fortune, and will attempt to retire off an old dusty box that hasn’t seen the light of day in who knows how long.

There is one particular market I wanted to talk about within the retro game surge, and that’s the GameCube market. There has been an insane price hike to GameCube games versus other consoles with Eternal Darkness nearly quadrupling in price from 2017 to 2021 according to www.pricecharting.com. Another game, Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance, once averaged roughly $80 in 2015, then slowly made its way into the $120 range in 2018, and then shot up to $250-$300 in 2021. These are all but two examples that you can find on the aforementioned website, but to be an active collector, and watching this happen in real-time, making it harder, and harder to flesh out collections due to soaring prices, is very disheartening. Especially for collectors looking for complete in-box Pokemon games.

So, with that said, not only are retro games back in high demand fetching premium prices, albeit some artificially, you also need something to play those pre-HDMI, and RGB polygons and bits. This takes us to cathode-ray tube televisions, more commonly known as CRT TVs. Very heavy and highly inconvenient in today’s world of modern, sleek, lightweight flat screens, these beasts are still sought after in the retro collectors market for many reasons. Collectors love these old dinosaurs for reasons such as aesthetic, compatibility, input lag, refresh rates, colors, geometry, aspect ratios, and the most important…picture.

Now, 8-bit, 16-bit, and beyond console pixelated graphics/art style actually rely on scan lines as part of the artwork to make images look sharper, more detailed, and clean. CRT televisions used to be dime a dozen in thrift shops, but sadly, most refuse to take them in, making the online marketplaces a great place to find these relics. You will be paying quite a pretty penny for more well-known brands such as Sony, with its PVM, BVM, and Trinitron Models, some Toshibas, and Philips. So browse your local listings — you never know what you’ll find in the “free” section!

How could we forget one more VERY important aspect to gaming on a CRT? The lightgun. The NES Zapper, the PlayStation GunCon for Time Crisis, Point Blank, and many other lightgun compatible games, the Super Nintendo’s Super Scope, and much more, but lightguns and their games are for a different day, so keep an eye out for that one!

Dig this? Check out the full archives of Retro Echo, by Anthony Montalbano, here: https://vwmusicrocks.com/retro-echo-archives/

About Post Author

Anthony Montalbano

Anthony Montalbano grew up in New York and North Carolina. Anthony is a baker by day and a contributor to the Vinyl Writer cause by night. With a passion for podcasts, Pop Punk, video games, and more, Anthony brings a unique and fresh perspective to the team. Anthony's column is a catch-all for the things he loves most, and he wouldn't have it any other way.
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