So, you finally realized that you can't stand to part ways with your games, guides, and various gaming memorabilia. Don't worry, you're not a hoarder, you're a collector! Unless you can't sleep because your bed is covered in stacks of Electronic Gaming Monthly... then you might be a hoarder.
The world of video game collecting is extraordinarily vast and ever-expanding. Tens of thousands of collectible gaming-related products are released every year, while a good number of those from years past have grown in value. It can certainly be overwhelming, especially at the beginning. That's where I come in! I've been collecting video games and memorabilia for most of my life, and I'm here to pass my knowledge on to you.
The first thing you need to do is...
Find a Focus (or Don't)
Stating that you'd like to start collecting video games is like stating that you'd like to start collecting cars. You probably have a preference as to the type of games, series, consoles or memorabilia you'd like to focus your efforts on. Trying to collect anything and everything gaming related can be a regrettable (and expensive) task, though it can be done. Don't feel like you can't dabble in different corners of the gaming spectrum, but you're going to find it's best to laser in on one or two overarching themes.
I personally try to focus my efforts on Nintendo-related games and items, with a sub-focus on everything Donkey Kong, Zelda and Kirby. I grew up with Nintendo and fell in love with their iconic characters over the years. Pick a series you really enjoy or a system that gave you a sense of wonder as a child; you'll likely be surprised as to the number of collectables involved. The staggering collection seen above is that of dedicated collector Aaron Norton (also known as NintendoTwizer).
The internet is, unsurprisingly, your best friend in this regard. It can help you create a checklist of every game or piece that you need or already have in your growing collection. Snooping around eBay, Amazon and Reddit's r/gaming can give you a good idea of what games are most sought after and how hard it is to find others. Make notes about the average prices and keep pictures of the titles you really want on hand so you can have them for quick reference while you hunt. The information you gather on the web can be an invaluable asset in times of doubt.
It's not 100% reliable, but Video Game Price Charts usually pins an accurate value to all actual video games, systems and peripherals. For memorabilia you'll need to do some snooping on sites like eBay. Keep in mind that many games fluctuate in value over time, so always try to stay up to date.
Be wary of folks trying to sell you replicas they claim are the real deal. If you're unsure, then don't buy. Here's a fun fact — EarthBound (one of the most sought after SNES games in North America) only came in an over-sized box. This was because the player's guide was packed in with the game. You may see people try to sell a normal-sized EarthBound box, but they're always fakes. Knowing facts like these will save you from online jerks and the misinformed.
Set a Budget
Not everyone who wants to collect has piles and piles of disposable income. Be reasonable about how much you can spend in a given month or year when it comes to game collecting. That mint condition copy of Chrono Trigger isn't gonna keep you warm at night when you get evicted for not paying rent.
That being said, don't be afraid to jump on a big ticket item if 1) you can afford it right then and there without any serious repercussions, and 2) you're willing to cut back on your gaming related purchases for a while. Back in 2012, a month before I got married, I bought a 1981 Donkey Kong arcade cabinet on a whim. My fiancé wasn't thrilled, but I made a serious effort to hold off on all other game collecting purchases for the next year. And we're still married! The system works.
Know What to Look For
Depending on how particular you are about quality there are a few specific aspects you need to look into before jumping on that "holy grail" game.
Is the label falling off? Does it have someone's last name etched across the top in permanent marker? If it's a disc, is it scratched to hell? Always always always inspect a used game or item before laying down any cash. If you're buying online you can usually request extra info or pictures from the seller if you are unsure of the quality.
Does it work? If the seller isn't sure then you may be able to haggle them down to a lower price. If you're still a bit skeptical, ask if they can pop it in its system of origin (assuming they have one) and test it out.
Though this kind of falls under "Condition," depending on the game, you should always take into account any extras that come with it. Does it have its original box? Does it have its original manual? Has it remained unopened? When dealing with these kind of details online look for the terms "Complete in Box" (CiB) and "New in Box" (NiB) and be sure to reference all pictures involved.
If you're only looking for a working copy of the game, because you care less about outward appearance and more about the gameplay itself, then you should only focus on the functionality of the title. Most collectors will shoot for a near mint copy of whatever they are currently pursuing, but keep in mind that the nicer it looks and the more it comes with the more it's going to cost you.
Know Where to Look in the Real World
Let me just start with a disclaimer that the "Where to look" sections are all about where to find older titles that are out of production. Want a used copy of Bioshock for the PS3? Snag one on Amazon for cheap or head to GameStop to grab a used copy. It's usually not too hard to track down games for current and newly last-gen consoles (unless we're talking about special editions). Just check your local brick and mortar electronics stores and chains, as well as the popular online shops.
Friends and Family
You would be surprised by the number of old games that co-workers, neighbors, and family members have cluttering up their attic or extra room. They may not being willing to give the games/consoles/memorabilia to you for free, but chances are they'll cut you a decent deal. Back in high school I went around asking anyone and everyone if they had old titles I could take off their hands and the amount of free (and quality) games I acquired was staggering. It's just like they always say—you never know until you try.
Going "garage sale'n" can be one of the most effective forms of game collecting, but it can also be a huge waste of time, energy and gas. If you're going to just wing it and drive around your area, be sure to look for neighborhood/community sales. Look in your local paper or on your local paper's website for listings nearby that include multi-family sales with any mention of games or even electronics.
My favorite way to find garage sale locations worth the effort is to go onto Craigslist and search under the "garage sale" section for all things gaming. Not to bash Craigslist, but the people on there aren't always the most informed, so try a few misspellings and very general phrases like "video games," "games" and "Nintendo." To some, anything game related can be a "Nintendo" or a "PlayStation," so be warned.
Gaming finds at garage sales usually go one of two ways.
1. What you're buying is dirt cheap because the person really doesn't care about it and has no idea what it's worth.
2. What you're buying is ridiculously overpriced because the person doesn't really want to sell it, thinks it's worth what they bought it for, or actually knows it's worth something and wants to make some serious green.
If option 1 should arise, take it as a blessing and grab as much as possible. If your find is really under-priced and you actually feel sorry for the person making such a mistake, you can always throw in a few extra bucks. Don't feel bad grabbing a few games or pieces of gaming history that you don't want yourself if you feel like flipping them. But more on that later.
If option 2 should arise, you just have to pick your battles. If it's a game or item that's on the top of your list, you can attempt to talk them down. Be kind and receptive to their prices and reasoning. The friendlier you are the lower the price usually gets. Sometimes walking away and coming back is the best idea, as it gives them time to come to terms with what they could be getting out of this deal. Another trick is leaving your email address or phone number with the person so they can contact you should the item not sell by the end of the day.
The thing about garage sales is that you honestly never know what you're going to find and what it's going to cost. But that's the fun part! Don't be afraid to ask the average garage sale seller if they have any old systems or games in their house they're willing to part with. The worst thing they can say is "No."
Chance are you're closer to a thrift store than you know. Unfortunately, most thrift stores (with the exception of GoodWill) don't usually promote themselves online or even have dedicated websites. This means you need to keep an eye out for your local locations.
Thrift stores, much like garage sales, are going to be some of the most hit-and-miss real-world excavation sites. The good thing about thrift stores is that they usually don't have any idea what games are worth, so they're lumped together in a single price range. This can lead to some awesome finds (EarthBound for $20!) and some hilariously overpriced games (Shaq Fu for $20?). Just remember that you may have to dig around a bit before you find any gold, as thrift stores are notorious for being a complete disarray of anything and everything.
Used Media Stores
Long gone are the days when mainstream stores like GameStop and Best Buy carried cartridge-based systems. Luckily, used media (including games, music, and movies) is a market that has been expanding over the last decade. Depending on how large your town is, chances are there is a dedicated used media store nearby. Most of the time stores like these are privately owned, which can give them some great personal flair and a wide assortment of old-school and foreign games.
Like thrift stores, not many used media locations will have very detailed websites or much in the way of advertisement, so you'll have to be vigilant and seek them out. Many times, stores like these will advertise on Craigslist (since it's free), so browsing your local "for sale" section may be a worthy endeavor.
Know Where to Look Online
This one probably goes without saying. eBay has long been the go-to place to find just about any game or collectable in the known universe. Once you type in your desired item, it will only take a few seconds before you're wading through an overwhelming sea of auctions. Be sure to check the description and all pictures involved, as there are some tricky sellers out there who would love to scam you out of few bucks. Double check the pictures with those found elsewhere online to make sure everything matches up.
Shipping costs can also be an easily forgotten expense, especially for larger items and those coming from out of the country. Be sure you've calculated the total cost for the item before making your bid or deciding to buy.
The longest river in the world, the Amazon is home to... oh wait. If you're unfamiliar with Amazon.com you might need to jump on the web more often. The online retail giant has become much more seller friendly in the past few years, meaning that many more pieces of gaming history have found their way into the limelight. Many think of Amazon as only stocking newly-released games, but they're actually a treasure trove of classic titles. Simply search for the item or game you're looking for and compare the prices from sellers all over the globe. Some items even qualify for Amazon Prime, which means free two-day shipping! Huzzah.
There aren't many subjects that can't be found on the self-proclaimed "front page of the internet," but gaming-related goings-on are far and away one of the most popular clusters of sub-reddits. Here are a few of the best for collectors.
Kind of a no-brainer, right? While you won't be able to pick up any titles from this main hub, it's a fantastic resource of information and a superb showcase of all the lucky finds and hard work that goes into this hobby. Wondering if a local or online deal is worth your dough? Simply make a post and ask for opinions. There isn't much that isn't covered here, so be sure to snoop around. You'll find that most game-collecting regulars are stand up guys and gals.
The place to go if you have a game for sale or are on the hunt. The page is updated with dozens of posts daily and you never know what's going to pop up. If you see a [W] it means a user "wants" that particular game and if you see an [H] it means they "have" one/some for sale. Simple stuff.
Have a lot of games, but not a lot of cash? Consider swapping some of your doubles or unwanted titles/consoles for another item on your list. You never know until you try!
Just like the normal game swap, but with a retro focus. The site refers to retro as "anything prior to the PS2, Gamecube and Xbox era..." but that's really up to you.
If you know how to use it, Craigslist can be a goldmine of uninformed buyers and unbeatable opportunities. For those who don't know, Craigslist is pretty much the online equivalent of a garage sale (among other things...). As mentioned earlier, it's a prime way to stake out worthwhile real-world garage sales and locate used gaming stores in your area.
Aside from just targeting locations, it can also yield some hefty finds in the world of gaming. Find your cities' "for sale" section (or the closest one, if you live in the boonies) and start digging. As I said before, it's not a terrible idea to try out some misspellings and general gaming terms just in case a game or two is mislabeled (like they often are). Plenty of Craigslisters will haggle down their starting price if you know how to talk the talk, and it's as easy as sending an email.
It's important to remember that Craigslist doesn't always have the best reputation when it comes to clientele, so always be on the safe side. Meet with your seller in a public place during the day and bring a friend in case things get weird. I've never had a bad experience with it myself, but you're better safe than sorry.
While Glyde's catalog of used and new titles doesn't go as far back as most used games sites, it's still one of the best online entities for everything generation six (GameCube, Playstation 2, Xbox) and above. It's a simple system that lets you browse by console and gives you multiple choices as to the condition of your most wanted title. Glyde is also just as much for sellers as it is for buyers and lets the merchant set their price based on actual past sales data. The slick and simple visuals of the site are just an added bonus.
It's like Goodwill, but online! Actually it's not like Goodwill at all. Firstly because you can actually find what you're looking for. Secondly because it works like an auction site, not a your basic "buy it now" boutique. Your best bet is to head to the search page. You can search for anything you like, but sometimes it's more fun to just browse from the selections under the "Computer and Electronics > Home Electronics > Gaming Systems and Games" category. There are a wide variety of sub categories ranging from Atari 2600 to Xbox One.
The real kicker here is shipping. Depending on the size of the lot or item you can end up spending a sizable amount on shipping costs. See if there are any items at your local Goodwill center so you can just swing in and pick them up if you win. Otherwise be sure to click the "Get Shipping and Handling Estimation" link and brace yourself for the monetary blow.
Learn How to Fix/Prevent Minor Flaws
Cleaning games, systems and controllers
If you want to simply spiff up the newest addition to your collection, there are a couple of options available. Some find the use of soapy water and a dish rag a fine way to clean games, consoles and controllers, but I recommend Windex and a toothbrush on everything that's not a disc. A toothbrush (new or old) when cleaning anything is extremely helpful, as it lets you really work out the dirt and grime that has accumulated over the years. Try to stay clear of getting large amounts of cleaning solution in controller ports or on circuit boards.
If you really want to get your gaming items clean, you should take them apart, though that can get a bit advanced and requires the proper tools. For a look at this process head over to Lifehacker. Luke also has great (and simple) guide to getting your controllers all cleaned up.
Removing permanent marker
There has been much discussion in the game collecting world about how best to remove marks from games long ago tagged. The sorcery of a Magic Eraser is said to work on smoother surfaces (like the top of N64 games), but keep in mind that the Magic Eraser is basically just a very fine form of sandpaper. You're taking off the marker, but also a layer of the plastic itself, so be careful. Overuse of the Magic Eraser on older carts will result in a smoothing of their originally rough plastic.
If you're dealing with a deeper mark that's going to take some scrubbing, it's usually suggested to use a form of rubbing alcohol, nail polish remover or hairspray. Just add bits at a time and use a stiff brush to massage it in. Not all marks can be removed, but you can usually make them look much more faded.
Removing unwanted stickers
If your sticker, or sticker residue, is on an all-plastic surface, you'll be good to go with a smattering of Goo Gone. Smear some on the sticker or sticky spot and wait a bit. Goo Gone harnesses the awesome power of oranges to remove all stickiness in seconds. Other cleaning products will do the job, but Goo Gone is a collector favorite.
If you're dealing with a sticker that is sitting on top of a cartridge label, you have to be careful. Tear it off and you incur the possibility of tearing the label along with it, so that's not always the best option. My personal approach to this is to dab a bit of Goo Gone on the label and let it sink in for a few minutes. This should cause the sticker to lose a good amount of its grip on the label. Very carefully peel it off when it has become saturated with the goo and wipe it clean.
Preventing/reversing yellowing of plastic
Chances are you've seen a Super Nintendo or old Famicom system that has turned a strange yellow color. This comes from gaming companies using a plastic that is high in flame retardant chemicals. These chemicals react to light and heat over time and cause the plastic to slowly yellow. Reversing this process can take quite a bit of effort, especially for game carts (due to their labels).
For a good idea on how to un-yellow your favorite console head over to Retro Fix or How to Geek. If you're worried about your current systems going all bananas on you, just remember to keep them out of direct sunlight and out of warm areas like the attic.
Manage the Madness
More than once I've peered into a display case and thought, "Oh! I need that game. I... wait, do I already own that game? Or am I thinking of the sequel?" Starting out, it's not hard to keep track of all the titles you've picked up, but down the line you may find yourself straining to recall every last game in your arsenal.
A written list or spreadsheet can be useful for beginners with a small collection. Once you've put some serious time and cash into your collection, you should spring for an online organization system or app.
If you're going to go with an online resource I would recommend VGCollect. This site was made by Redditor "MadK" and features a huge database of games, systems and accessories from all over the globe. You can even make wishlists of your most-wanted titles and hobnob with other collectors.
Rocking an android phone? Try My Game Collection. More of an iPhone aficionado? Give MyStuff2 a whirl. Neither are perfect (and MyStuff2 doesn't have a database) but they're great resources on the go.
Display How You Like
Assuming you don't only buy games on Steam, odds are pretty good you already have a spot sectioned off for all your gaming goods. But it's probably not big enough. Now that you've begun collecting games and the like, you are going to need some dedicated space to display them or simply to store them. No one has to see your collection, and you can shove it all in a drawer if you like, but most collectors want to show off their best finds. Though, if you want to throw all your games in a suitcase and push it under your bed, then more power to you.
Buying or clearing off a whole bookshelf to hold your collection is ideal if it is growing quickly or already consists of numerous games and memorabilia. Keep your shelves clean and organized so you can find a game at a moment's notice and so your collection looks presentable to others.
Have games or items that need to stand up to be seen? Grab a few wire display stands for a measly six bucks. They're adjustable and make boxed games look fantastic (especially NES titles).
Obviously you can go all out by making custom shelving, stands and whatever you like, but that may be a step for further down the road. Your personalized shelf is going to look sort of ridiculous if it's sporting all of three games. Here's an example from Mr. Norton (mentioned earlier) of how to do it right. Yowza.
Flip if You Want
In the world of video game collecting, it's not hard to pick up on what games and items are highly sought after. You may have the desire to add some of these to your own collection, but that's not always the case. If you're willing to put in a bit of extra work, you can even flip games for a decent profit. The key, of course, is finding games or memorabilia that are in high demand or are simply dirt cheap.
Find a box full of SNES titles for $10? A quick look-see will reveal if that box is worth a flip or if it's just a tribute to John Madden. eBay is the obvious choice for game flipping, as it extends to the whole world. The key to eBay is remembering that you are in competition with every other seller who is hawking their wares. Be competitive with your prices and always, always provide plenty of images and details about your products. It's an easy way to make a quick buck.
My personal choice is local used media stores. The reason being that they usually will give you more in-store credit than cash, which you can in turn spend on games you actually want. The odds of you flipping for more cash online are likely greater, but it could also take some time. Of course, there's no reason why you have to flip anything. You can certainly just collect what you're interested in and leave unwanted gems for another collector to stumble upon.
As you can see there is a great deal that can go into collecting video games if you're looking to start. People in the game collecting community are usually very vocal about their choices when it comes to hunting, buying, selling, displaying and all other aspects, so listen up! Are you a veteran collector with some tips for a newbie? Drop your words of wisdom below.
Ben Bertoli (better known on Kotaku as GiantBoyDetective) is a teacher and writer from Indianapolis who has played too much Donkey Kong. He can usually be found posting on Kotaku's sister-site, TAY. You can read the silly things he says on twitter and contact him via his personal site.