I was fully ready to embrace the digital future. Despite nagging doubts that said digital purchases aren’t “owned” in the traditional sense, and any digital property can disappear forever at any time, I purchased a giant Micro SD card for my Nintendo Switch and prepared to download everything. Carts and discs, I decided, were out. In was the convenience of having every game I’d ever want to play available at the push of a button, no messing with boxes, no finding more shelf space, no dust or dirt ruining my only way to play. But then something happened. I think it began with the introduction of the Analogue Super Nt, a system that would play all your old Super Nintendo cartridges. I’d only held onto two Super NES carts from back in the day — Chrono Trigger and Final Fantasy III — but something about the sales pitch made me want to play more. It made me want to rebuild my collection.
That’s how it started. Since its humble beginnings, I’ve gone from re-buying my entire Super NES collection (admittedly not too difficult, as I only had a few dozen games as a kid) to filling holes in my back catalog I never got around to owning. There are scores of games on older systems, from the PlayStation 2 to the PSP to the Nintendo DS, I simply never got around to playing. I converted half my basement into a gaming room, with a flat-screen TV for more modern systems and a big, old tube TV for retro goodness. A game collection that could at one time fit in a tiny cabinet now spans multiple shelves and keeps getting bigger all the time. True, most of the games I’ve purchased I haven’t played yet — who has the time? — but they’re there when I’m ready for them.
I’ve done a ton of research on game collecting, seeking out the pros to get their advice on where to find the best deals and how to handle the minutiae of collecting, things like storage and cleaning that I’d never really thought about before.
There are tons of resources out there. Check out Metal Jesus Rocks for general console game collecting goodness and PushingUpRoses for a more PC/Adventure game focus for starters. For tips on getting great deals, I like SeeJayAre. The first video I watched on care/cleaning of old games was this one, from Metal Jesus and Kelsey Lewin, and I highly recommend it.
But with all that aside, here is the single most valuable piece of advice I’ve come across. If you’re looking to start a game collection, this is imperative.
Decide exactly what you are collecting.
Early on, I made the mistake of casting too wide a net. If it seemed remotely cool, even if I knew little to nothing about it, it went in the cart. Maybe I was chasing the collector’s high, that adrenaline rush that happens when you find a great deal. It took me some time to learn that a great deal is only great if you actually want the thing you’re buying.
Now, some people set goals for themselves that include games they don’t particularly “want.” Say someone wants to collect the entire NES game catalog. That’s doable (and very expensive), and while there are of course gems in there that anyone would enjoy, there are plenty of pretty terrible games, too. Still, if you’re going for the full collection, you’ve gotta have them.
But if your aspirations are not quite so lofty, there’s no reason to go nuts. Focus in on exactly what you want. For me, that ended up being RPGs from the Super NES to modern-day consoles. A single genre across multiple generations. Still a lofty (and, again, expensive) goal, but attainable. And the vast majority of what I’m looking to collect fits well within my interests, so not only will I have a cool collection, I’ll have a bunch of games I want to play.
There are a lot of tools out there, most of them free, that can help you hone your list and keep track of where you’re at. I started out using Google Docs. I put together a spreadsheet with several tabs and a master sheet that listed every game still on my list. That’s proven itself useful when at retro game stores and swap meets, as you might feel rushed and need to be able to check quickly if a game you’ve spotted is actually on your list. Pull up the list on your phone, and there you go. I’ve also been able to give it to store clerks to get their assistance — game stores aren’t always the most well ordered, so having the expert be able to check at a glance if my desired games are available is super helpful.
I’ve also used GameValueNow quite a bit. They offer a fairly robust pricing feature, whereby you can quickly check the going price for any game. Besides that, they offer a collection tracker. Create a free account and you can quickly and easily add all the games in your collection, including the components you have for each game (instruction manual, box, etc.). Using a similar format, the Wish List function gives you another place you can create a list of games you plan to add to your collection.
There are other collecting apps and websites, like PriceCharting.com and Gameye, but I’ve had such a good experience with GameValueNow that I haven’t strayed far from that.
If your goal in collecting is to simply amass the biggest collection possible, it’s important to ask yourself one question: Why? I’m not saying there aren’t legitimate reasons to want to put together a huge collection. But if your reason is “to get rich,” you may want to reconsider. While many games have shot up in value, it’s extremely difficult to predict which games will do that. Also, keep in mind, something is only valuable so long as there’s someone out there that wants to buy it. While we may love classic video games, there’s going to come a point in the future where old games will not hold any sway over younger generations. They’ll be playing the newest games, games that are objectively “better” than many older games simply because developers have learned, iterated, and grown from their experience with previous games.
At the end of the day, your collection should bring you joy. If you’re happy grabbing every Xbox game under the sun, go for it. Want every racer on the PlayStation 3? Make it happen. Focused intent is key to keeping your collection from ballooning into something unreasonable and unsustainable.
Whatever it is you decide to collect, I wish you luck. It’s an expensive hobby, but it’s a ton of fun.