Tens of thousands of years ago, the first humans survived as hunters and gatherers. Our ancestors went out into the wild with basic tools and weapons to hunt for meat, and roamed the forest for fruits, vegetables, and berries. At the end of a hard day at the office, these simple people would sit around the campfire and share the spoils of the hunt. One of the cavemen always took a little more food than he could eat because he thought he could use it for trading later. If he didn’t want to fix himself, he would just kill someone else with some meat. Didn’t you feel like going out hunting a mammoth? Well, he would simply offer a handful of berries for any man who went in his place. Once the other cavemen noticed what he was doing, some of them got going and an endless argument started.
Okay, now my understanding of the dawn of our civilization might not be one hundred percent accurate, but the point is that if we fast-forward to 2016, essentially the same thing happens today. No matter how far we’ve come as a species, there’s always conflict, and there’s always someone who seems to get ahead at someone else’s expense. But who is right and who is wrong? Is someone doing you wrong or is it just your perception of the situation because you’re not getting your way? These are important questions, and when it comes to collectors and resellers in the retro gaming community, there is no easy answer.
The idea of the retro game collection is simple. The collector wants old games. Perhaps they want to preserve the history of video games for future generations. Maybe they just like to play old games that remind them of yesteryear. Maybe they just think retro games look cool on their shelves. Whatever the reasons behind it, the collector just wants to collect.
There is something about collecting that most of us can relate to. When you’re at school, there’s usually something that’s popular and that all the kids like. When I was in elementary school all those years ago, they were Garbage Gang trading cards. Man, we loved the trash band. We were crazy about them. Pretty much everyone in our class, boys and girls, collected Garbage Gang, traded Garbage Gang, and played with Garbage Gang on our lunch break. That mentality sticks with a lot of us as we grow up, it’s just that most of us don’t continue to collect Garbage Gang into our adult years (I sold my entire set in 2010 and put it to rest). As adults, our homes are filled with movies, music, books, and a lifetime of photos and memories. We have shelves full of books. Perhaps they are photographs, paintings or furniture. I love my travel photos and hang them everywhere, but I will also always have a collection of games. There is something satisfying about having a collection of things you love.
The idea of reselling is, again, simple. Just like our caveman friend from before, someone will always notice that there is a gap in the market. Value is essentially what someone is willing to pay for something. You might not think that a handful of berries is enough compensation for going out and taking on a woolly mammoth in battle, but if someone is willing to fight that mammoth for you, then that’s what the berries are worth. The principle hasn’t really changed over the years. If someone is willing to pay a lot of money for something, then that’s what it’s worth.
But at what point does selling something become morally questionable? Well, what if our caveman friend with the berries knows that his friend loves berries and he knows that he will work for them? Is that fair? What if his friend is starving and putting him in a dangerous position because he knows he needs food so much? So it’s a bit more questionable, surely, and you can understand why some might find that tactic aggravating.
Collecting versus reselling is an argument that has come up within the retro game collecting community in recent years precisely because of this moral gray area. Collectors want to collect because that’s what they like to do. Whether they do it to play with, look at, or preserve, they do it for the love of collecting and not for their own personal monetary gain. Resellers have noted that vintage games are highly sought after by these collectors, so they look to acquire games, particularly rarer titles, and then sell them to collectors for a profit.
It’s easy to see why collectors might find resale so worthless. Reselling effectively increases the market value of games, making it harder for collectors to do what they love to do. A reseller might go to a garage sale and find some old games that they know are worth a lot of money to the right people, but to the people selling them, they’re just junk they sell for pennies. Have you ever seen Toy Story 2? It’s essentially what the chicken man does when he sees Woody at the garage sale. He knows the cowboy toy is worth a lot of money and so he wants to try to trick Andy’s mom into selling it for next to nothing so he can maximize her profit. The chicken man might be an animated comedy villain (voiced by Wayne Knight, no less), but there are people who do that every weekend to try to make money off of video game collectors, isn’t that something that we should be upset?
There’s something inherently shady about buying games you know are worth a lot of money from someone who doesn’t have that knowledge and selling them cheaply, and then exploiting that situation for your own benefit. But is the reseller really to blame?
For many thousands of years, gold has been a valuable commodity here on Earth. The reason it is so valuable is that it is very rare. As I learned in a documentary starring Professor Brian Cox a couple of weeks ago, gold is formed when massive stars explode, and those are such rare occurrences that if you were to collect all the gold the human race has ever found, it would still only fill three olympic sized pools. Today, we attribute value to things other than the rare, shiny metals we dig out of the ground.
Games and gold are not that different. Resellers are essentially modern-day prospectors, going out and looking for the precious items that they can then sell to the highest bidder (literally in many cases, since these games usually end up on eBay). Resellers look for a rare or valuable item and then sell it to make money. Collectors find it off-putting because they believe it increases the cost of the games they want to collect, and because the resellers in question don’t buy the games for the love of collecting, but for the love of profit.
But should collectors really begrudge resellers an opportunity to make money? We all make money in our lives. And we all do different things to make our money. Is making money selling old games worse than, say, selling your old clothes? Presumably, somewhere, there is someone who loves to collect old clothes. Are they currently on an internet forum somewhere, complaining about people who don’t mind collecting clothes, going to charity shops, and taking advantage of all the bargains?
More importantly, do the actions of scalpers actually negatively impact collectors’ ability to collect? Value is what someone is willing to pay for something, but if they can get it cheaper elsewhere, they are likely to do so. A reseller can’t charge too much for the game he bought at a garage sale because, unless only one copy exists, someone else will sell it for a much more reasonable price and the collector might buy it from him. This is how the free market works. Buyers and sellers together determine the market value of an item. So if collectors aren’t paying ridiculous prices for the games that resellers are offering, then those resellers will have to lower their prices. It seems short-sighted to believe that there are evil scalpers who buy up all the old game stock and make all the poor collectors re-mortgage their houses just so they can afford a copy of Stadium Events on the NES or Power Strike II on the Sega master system.
The truth, as is often the case in this type of conflict, lies somewhere in the middle. Resellers are essentially buying something and then selling it at a higher price. That’s exactly what stores around the world do, including the stores that collectors often go to for classic games to pick up. Collectors often pick a handful of games from forums or a Facebook gaming page, knowing they already have most of those games and are only buying the bundle for one title, then sell those duplicate copies of the games they own. , unexpectedly becoming resellers. I have done it myself. We all have…
There is no real black and white answer here. It’s easy to understand why some collectors might hate the idea of scalpers getting in before them and finding a classic game at a bargain price. But there is nothing, fundamentally, wrong with someone selling items to make some money. It’s no different than how any store works. Buy low, sell high; it is the general principle under which any business operates throughout the world.
Maybe it’s time for collectors and resellers to lay down their arms and do their best to get along. A good friend of mine, who is a die-hard and correct collector, has befriended one of said scalpers and they are now offering him the first dibs on the fresh mint stock the guys find every week. That sounds like a great solution to me! There are more than enough classic video games to go around, and if you occasionally have to pay more money than you’d like to pay for something, then that’s the nature of collecting something. If you want something so badly, you need to be prepared to pay for it, and if not, are you really that committed to collecting or just hoarding?
Hobbies cost money. My bank balance can attest to that. Over the years, I’ve spent a fortune on things I enjoy, and I wouldn’t even guess how much money I’ve spent on video games. I am sorry? No. Games are my hobby and I have been collecting games for over twenty years because of it. As we mentioned earlier, value is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for something. That also counts for collectors. How much will you pay for something you like to do?