Collecting Video Games: A Beginner's Guide

Since being popularised with the 1977 release of the Atari 2600, the market for video games has been steadily growing to the point where it is now one of the most important industries in the world of entertainment, valued at an estimated $75bn worldwide.

The active participation required in video games has captivated audiences in ways no other media is able to; creating generations of players with extremely fond memories of specific consoles or franchises. Naturally, this has resulted in the emergence of a large market for collectors, as people look to accumulate physical copies of titles close to their heart.

How do I collect video games?

Find a focus

The video game industry is one with a notable and storied history of products, ranging from items everyone knows, such as the PlayStation console or Mario series of games, to long-forgotten failures like the Atari Jaguar and Ouya.

If you grew up playing video games, you’ll no doubt have experienced both sides of this and developed a passion for a wide range of consoles and series during that time. When you start to collect, it can be incredibly tempting to use your passion for a wide range of properties and ease of access to many of them as justification for simply going out and buying everything you can to build a large collection.

This, however, will result in your collection lacking in consistency and being incredibly difficult to organise. A better way to build your collection would be to establish a niche focus and begin to build from there. For example, you may have fond memories of playing The Legend of Zelda series and could start by working to own each game in this series. From here, you could move to collecting other Nintendo properties, giving you a specific focus for your purchases and building up a theme for your collection.

Do your research

Once you’ve established what the focus of your collection is to be, you should then take the time to thoroughly research this section of the market, establishing exactly what items you’re looking for, the rarity of these items, average prices, and everything else you’ll need to know to make successful purchases.

Using the Zelda example above, your first step could be to head to Wikipedia to view this list (external link) of every game released in the series and transpose it into an Excel document, immediately giving you a list of target purchases. You could then use Video Game Price Charts (external link) to establish a price estimate, allowing you to easily prioritise where you should begin your collection.

Another vital part of starting your collection is learning to recognise regional variations and replicas to avoid purchasing the wrong item. The North American version of Earthbound, for example, was only sold in an oversized box, meaning that if you purchase a commonly-seen version in a regular box whilst expecting an original, you’ll be sorely disappointed.

Know your limits

When you start your collection, it’s easy to get excited and immediately start making purchases without thinking about the financial implications, so knowing your spending limits and setting a budget at the outset is crucial.

Become detail-oriented

During your research you will learn both how to spot non-legitimate copies of games and also what a mint-condition copy should look like. When buying, you should pay close attention to the detail of each purchase, to ensure you’re only acquiring real versions and that you don’t overpay for copies with faults.

This is especially important if you’re looking to build a pristine collection with no intention of playing the games. In this scenario, even slight blemishes on the packaging or hardware itself could lead to a dramatic decrease in value.

If you do notice issues which weren’t initially referenced by the seller, you shouldn’t be afraid to negotiate the price or even walk away from a purchase. Although you may have to delay your purchase in these cases, your collection will benefit in the longer term.

Know whats important to you

On the subject of pristine copies: you should also be aware of what’s important to you before building your collection. Some collectors focus on acquiring software and hardware in the best condition possible with the aim of it being beautifully displayed in their home, while others place their focus on playing the games they purchase, reliving their experience in the original condition.

By establishing this focus, you’ll be able to narrow you search, potentially saving you money and countless hours of searching in the wrong places. Collectors who are most interested in playing games, for example, can avoid purchasing expensive games in perfect condition and instead look for cheaper, used versions which would serve this purpose but tend to cost less.

Learn how to take care of them

If you collect more modern, disc-based video games, taking care of them will be a relatively simple proposition: you can clean the discs quickly with a soft, microfibre cloth and keep the cases in a dry storage space, without worrying about tarnishing or the games falling into disrepair. This process becomes more time-consuming, however, when collecting older, cartridge-based games.

The simplest way to clean your cartridges is by using a toothbrush and a small amount of warm, soapy water, being careful not to get the water into the circuit boards. Patience and cleaning gently is an important aspect of this process, as you will otherwise run the risk of permanently damaging the plastic.