Xavier’s Guide On Game Collecting: Part 1 — Getting Started

Image via Wikimedia Commons/NaBUru38

Part I – An Intro

Hello! I would like to wel­come you to the world of Retro Game Collecting. That is why you clicked, right? Either way let’s us have a talk, dear read­er, and you might find some­thing that catch­es your fancy.

Retro Game Collecting (re­ferred to as RGC far­ther in) is a hob­by that is only grow­ing in pop­u­lar­i­ty these past few years thanks to Youtubers like The Angry Video Game Nerd, Game Grumps, The Game Chasers, and in oth­er spots like Twitch Streamers with a retro fo­cus. And as the AAA in­dus­try seeks to shove every­one into mul­ti­play­er shov­el­ware that is less game and more a method to pry hard earned dol­lars from the safe­ty of your wal­let, more peo­ple are turn­ing to retro games as an out­let to keep play­ing games, while also get­ting some­thing dif­fer­ent — even if it’s older.

I’ve been a part of the hob­by, and it’s ab­solute­ly a hob­by, for about four years now. I start­ed off with the to­tal of all the games I col­lect­ed over the years just play­ing nor­mal­ly and nev­er sell­ing any­thing, mi­nus what was lost or stolen from a va­ri­ety of mov­ing days. Starting off, I had rough­ly 126 games across 9 sys­tems (SNES, Genesis, Sega CD, N64, Plastations 1 through 3, Dreamcast, and Game Boy), and it had been an item on my buck­et list to col­lect games since I was in mid­dle school. Which is kind of messed up, if you think about it. 

Since then I have added new con­soles, and now I have al­most 800 games (cross­ing that line any day now, fin­gers crossed). I know what it’s like to go into a brick and mor­tar shop not know­ing what you’ll find, and the gid­dy feel­ing when you find trea­sure. It’s a hell of a drug.

That said, I have been around the block a bit when it comes to col­lect­ing games, and while there are peo­ple who have done this longer than I have, they aren’t here. Are they? I’d like to of­fer you my tips, sug­ges­tions, and se­ri­ous con­sid­er­a­tions to take to heart be­fore you dive into the world of RGC. It’s my hope that this se­ries will give you what you need to make smart and in­formed choic­es. The stuff that I to­tal­ly wish I had when I started.

For the pur­pos­es of this se­ries, I’m go­ing to as­sume that you’re new to col­lect­ing. Hey, I know it’s not nice to as­sume, but work with me here. I’m also go­ing to as­sume that you haven’t start­ed yet. Maybe all you have is your cur­rent and last gen con­soles. That’s fine, we all start some­where! Before you be­gin col­lect­ing for any one con­sole, or be­gin col­lect­ing in gen­er­al, I have a few ques­tions I need you to ask your­self. Trust me, you’ll thank me lat­er. These will help give you a frame of mind for your ap­proach to col­lect­ing, so you won’t dump mon­ey into dumb shit you don’t even want just for the sake of collecting.

Let’s also as­sume for sake of ar­gu­ment you have de­cid­ed to be­gin col­lect­ing for the Super Nintendo. The SNES Mini just came out af­ter all, so it’s fresh in your mind, re­mind­ing you of your child­hood. The first cou­ple of ques­tions to ask one­self is:

Why do you want to col­lect games? And why do you want to col­lect for this machine?

You only need to an­swer the first one once, and the sec­ond one is more or less a start­ing point of any con­sole you’re con­sid­er­ing col­lect­ing for. As I men­tioned be­fore, I start­ed be­cause it’s been some­thing I’ve al­ways want­ed to do. There were a lot of great games that came out when I was a kid that I nev­er got to play, ei­ther due to a lack of funds or be­cause the game sim­ply was­n’t made avail­able in my area of North America (it’s more com­mon than you think). This is my chance to play games I’ve only read about, or find gems I nev­er heard of. To ex­pe­ri­ence all those great sto­ries that so many peo­ple worked hard on, and be­cause mak­ing the ship fly across the screen and blow things up is just plain fun.

Pictured: European only gem.

But why are you col­lect­ing games?

As I men­tioned up above, some peo­ple are tired of the crap from the cur­rent in­dus­try lead­ers, and they want to reach back to the of­fer­ings of a dif­fer­ent era, when big game stu­dios lit­er­al­ly lit­tered the coun­try. When you could­n’t throw a rock with­out hit­ting an ac­claimed stu­dio. Before EA bought the stu­dio and closed down the rock. 

Some peo­ple just want to go back and play the games they re­mem­ber as a kid that they don’t have any­more, so some­times it’s as sim­ple as nos­tal­gia. Some peo­ple want fresh ma­te­r­i­al to stream on Twitch to hope­ful­ly score some tips for the tip jar. I won’t judge, that’s a tough gig af­ter all and I’m not do­ing it. Knowing why you are do­ing this from the be­gin­ning will help set you into a frame of mind that should keep you from blow­ing cash on any­thing retro you see ly­ing around; keep­ing you fo­cused and your dol­lars con­served un­til need­ed. Let’s say you just want to play the old games you used to have, eight re­al­ly good ones. And if they are fair­ly com­mon, then great.

Now, as you are se­lect­ing the con­sole that you will be in­vest­ing mon­ey into for the next for­ev­er, ask your­self this next question. 

Why do I want to col­lect for this machine?

Always ask this be­fore pick­ing up a new con­sole to start col­lect­ing for. Using our ex­am­ple from be­fore, this is the game sys­tem you had as a kid, with those eight games you re­al­ly liked. Good ol’ SNES. And you nev­er would have thought about it if not for the SNES mini. You are col­lect­ing to get those eight games you liked, they’re com­mon and you find them fair­ly quick­ly and cheap­ly. So are you done then? 

Really quick, I’d like to re­mind you that the SNES had over 700 games give or take, plus or mi­nus some European only re­leas­es. If there are eight games you know you like out of 700… well re­al­ly bad and slop­py math says that there may be as many as 100 games in that li­brary that are just as good that you might like just as much, or even more. Gems that your par­ents did­n’t even think to get you be­cause you were a dumb kid, and a SNES was cheap­er than a babysit­ter in the long run.

What 721 SNES games look like. (Via Ebay/kaisetsuna)

My next rid­dle to ask your­selves, dear read­er, is such:

What do you want to collect?

When you start col­lect­ing for a con­sole, you to have a goal. Something at­tain­able, some­thing you hon­est­ly be­lieve you can do. You want to find the games that you know you would like, you don’t want to waste mon­ey buy­ing games you would prob­a­bly hate, like We’re Back! A Dinosaur Story (fun movie, shit game, I re­gret buy­ing it very much). Keeping this frame of mind, you want to have a fo­cus only on the ti­tles you know you want now, or at least know you want and can rea­son­ably get with­out much is­sue. You’ll have plen­ty of time to ex­plore the rest of the cat­a­log lat­er. But let’s say that, thanks to a few Youtube count­down lists, and the lat­est batch of Let’s Plays you watch, you found 25 games that you re­al­ly want for the SNES be­cause they look like your cup of tea. And all you had to do was stay fo­cused, and do a bit of re­search that some folks on Youtube were kind enough to do in ad­vance (thanks guys). Now that we have our goal, we know what games we want to look for and try to add to our new spiffy col­lec­tion. So what are you wait­ing for sport? Go get ’em Tiger!

But while I have you here, I have an­oth­er im­por­tant ques­tion for you. This is for the long-term future.

How far do you want to take your collection?

You’ve de­cid­ed you want­ed to look for more games like the ones you liked, or at least look for leg­endary gems that are def­i­nite­ly with­in your wheel­house. But how far are you will­ing to go? Working with our orig­i­nal gues­ti­mate of there be­ing 100 games that might be some­thing you like, and we’ll as­sume 30 are good, 30 are great, 10 are just ok, and 30 are kind of shit. So are you go­ing to col­lect just the great ones? The great and good ones? Or are you gonna say fuck it, and col­lect all 100 and see why peo­ple hat­ed those oth­er ones for yourself?

Even if we back up a lit­tle and don’t work with­in that frame­work, and you are sim­ply look­ing for games from the en­tire li­brary of 700 plus… Are you go­ing to col­lect them all, know­ing that some of them are things you would have nev­er even played as a child, let alone an as an adult? Will you spend mon­ey to make sure you get that copy of Barbie: Vacation Adventure to sit next to your copy of Bebe’s Kids on the shelf, all while track­ing down a copy of Super Caesars Palace de­spite be­ing able to get casino-like games much more cheap or even for free on mobile? 

Naturally you will have your col­lec­tors who are push­ing for a com­plete col­lec­tion, and there is noth­ing wrong with that. But if you’re go­ing to start col­lect­ing to com­plete the col­lec­tion, it’s im­por­tant to have this de­cid­ed for cer­tain and to ap­proach your col­lect­ing ad­ven­tures as such.

Personally, I don’t care for sports games. As such, I’m not about to bend over back­wards to track down all the sports games for one of the con­soles I’m col­lect­ing for. Except for NBA Jam, that game is cool, but that is a digression. 

There are two con­soles I am col­lect­ing to com­ple­tion for cur­rent­ly, Sega CD and Dreamcast. This means I have many sports games, and games I nev­er would have bought even when the hard­ware was new. Titles like San Diego Zoo, Wheel of Fortune, and Sega Kids Club for Sega CD are among many. But I’m not about to spend mon­ey on games I know for a fact I’m nev­er go­ing to play, such as any of the Playstation Madden games, RBI Baseball, or Ken Griffey Jr. Baseball for SNES. But that also means that the mon­ey I might have oth­er­wise spent on them I can in­vest else­where. For the cost of every sports game on SNES, NES, and Playstation, I can get a copy of Snatcher for Sega CD still in the case. And that brings us to our next question.

How in depth do you plan to go for your collection?

Now I know this seems like a re­peat of the last ques­tion, and it is a vari­a­tion of it, but I need you to hear me out as it’s im­por­tant to keep these sep­a­rate. Most games come in a re­tail box with a book­let, and hav­ing all three (game, box/case, and book) is called “Complete In Box” or CIB. 

Back to your fig­u­ra­tive SNES col­lec­tion. You are col­lect­ing that 100 games we guessed are up your al­ley. Are you hap­py just hav­ing the game? Or do you want the game and the book? Will you in­sist on CIB for all of them? For only some of them? Then which ones? 

A game sold CIB is much more ex­pen­sive than buy­ing the game loose, ob­vi­ous­ly, but you can usu­al­ly as­sem­ble a CIB form with in­di­vid­ual pieces rather cheap­ly. But it can take longer. What do you want to do? Suppose this game has two edi­tions with dif­fer­ent la­bels, and the ver­sions are slight­ly dif­fer­ent. Such as on the NES with Mike Tyson’s Punch-out!! and Punch-out!! fea­tur­ing Mr. Dream; they are tech­ni­cal­ly the same game but the la­bels are dif­fer­ent and the game sprites are slight­ly dif­fer­ent. Which one do you want? Would you get both?

Another lay­er: Do you want the game sealed in the orig­i­nal wrap­per? Sealed games are in them­selves their own hob­by with their own mar­ket and their own rules, but it is most cer­tain­ly a path you can go. Do you want all the games you have sealed? Do you want cer­tain games sealed? 

Then there are re­pro­duc­tions to think about. As time has moved for­ward, it is now pos­si­ble to buy hacked ver­sions of games for these con­soles on re­pro­duc­tions carts. Do you care if the copy you buy is a le­git copy? Does it mat­ter to you as long as you get to play the game and there is noth­ing wrong with it or dif­fer­ent about it? Or do you just have to get that real ver­sion or it does­n’t count? For that mat­ter, what about your con­sole? Do you have to have an orig­i­nal SNES? Are you ok with just hav­ing a SNES Jr.? Do you need both? Or are you ok with a Retron con­sole that will play it just as good as the orig­i­nal? Remember, each de­ci­sion you make in this re­gard means mon­ey. Money spent or mon­ey saved. And col­lect­ing all comes down to money.

I’m per­son­al­ly a bit ec­cen­tric in that I in­sist on play­ing the games on the hard­ware they were built for, but I take it a step fur­ther. Not only do I play on old con­soles, but I also play us­ing CRT tele­vi­sions sim­ply be­cause these are the TVs these games were built to be dis­played on, and typ­i­cal­ly old­er games look best on these tele­vi­sions. There are ex­cep­tions, of course, thanks to mod­ern hard­ware. RetroUSB sells the Nintendo AVS, which is an HD NES with HDMI out and ac­tu­al­ly beefs up the sprites and makes them look fan­tas­tic on HD tele­vi­sions. Otherwise I can’t play old games on new TVs. 

But you don’t have to take it as far as I do… or you can take it fa­ther. It is up to you, I just want you to think about it, and maybe look into it a bit be­fore you com­mit se­ri­ous mon­ey to RGC. I have com­mit­ted hun­dreds of dol­lars in find­ing and stor­ing old TVs when they aren’t in use, and even more track­ing games that are in a con­di­tion I prefer.

I in­sist on hav­ing le­git copies of my games, so I don’t ac­cept re­pro­duc­tions ex­cept in cas­es where the game was nev­er re­leased in North America and the re­pro is trans­lat­ed and for­mat­ted to run on NA con­soles. I only buy sealed CD games, and only if the game costs as much or less than it did brand new, and I typ­i­cal­ly open them to play them. My thought process is that this copy has no mileage on it which means it will cer­tain­ly last longer. The only time I don’t open my sealed games is if I some­how wind up with a sec­ond copy be­fore I can open it. It can happen. 

Of course can do as you want with your col­lec­tion. It’s your mon­ey and you’re free to piss it away how­ev­er you see fit, like me.

Holy shit, this was longer than ex­pect­ed. But we’ve cer­tain­ly learned a lot to­day, haven’t we? You learned a lit­tle about me, and hope­ful­ly learned a lit­tle about your­self. I’ll have some more to share with you about this hob­by next time around. It’s my hope to turn this into a three-part se­ries to share with you every­thing I re­al­ly wish I knew when I start­ed col­lect­ing. Things I wish I knew ear­ly on af­ter start­ing, and some things that are help­ful to think about in gen­er­al. I’d also like to dis­pel some mis­con­cep­tions that some might have de­vel­oped thanks to ar­ti­cles from oth­er publications.

Until next time!

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Xavier Harkonnen

Game Dev work­ing on ac­tive project at [Undisclosed Studio], Center-Left, I post ran­dom thoughts and goofy shit that amus­es me. Support Spacenoid Independence.

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