Everyone probably knows about a local comic book shop in their town. In Atlanta, we have Oxford Comics and Games and Book Nook. They not only have comics, but board games, vintage books, toys, and collectibles. Although many opt to read comics on their e-readers, many Atlantans flock to these stores to get their comic book fix. For video game collectors, the independent game stores are far and few between. As of October 2013, there are no games stores beside Gamestop inside the Atlanta perimeter. The problem is not a lack of video game collectors, but a blatant aversion to shopping at a video game store.
I’ll be honest, as a collector, I would rather buy all of my games at a flea market or a garage sale than buy everything on Ebay or Amazon. It is quite rare to find great and collectible comics or unopened toys at a garage sale or a goodwill, but it is becoming increasingly common to find games worth hundreds of dollars for around $5 at thrift stores, garage sales, and flea markets. My best find was MUSHA with a ripped label for $5 at a flea market; a somewhat rare genesis game worth upwards of $100 on eBay. Independent game stores, however, are my absolute favorite place to go when i find them.
Video game collectors are among the most frugal in the collectible world. Unlike comic books which have ebbed and flowed in popularity over the century, video games have been continually produced and improved upon since the early 1980’s. As a result, many people don’t think of their old video games as anything valuable; they see them as outdated technology like their old VHS or LaserDisc player. Collectors love these people and take advantage of their naivete at times, offering to pay a couple dollars each for their Super Nintendo games worth 50-100 dollars each at fair market value. For those who research the prices of their games, or sell them in a video game store, they are often labeled as resellers.
Resellers are the big bad wolves of the video game collector world. They are seen as heartless swindlers looking to make a quick buck on nostalgia. There is some truth to the stereotypes. Flea markets, craigslist, amazon, and eBay are littered with people that travel to Goodwills, thrift stores, storage units, garage sales and the like to pick up games cheap and turn a profit. These people are easy to spot out, they often have no knowledge about video games at all and can’t even guarantee their games to be in good or working condition. I once tried to sell off some extra games at a flea market and the only people who bought my games were the ones with booths full of video games across the market. I would sell Super Mario/Duck Hunt for $2 and see it at another booth marked up to $15. Resellers take advantage of the collectible market and prey upon the naive and desperate collector. Many resellers even go as far as “sitting on” a pile full of valuable games waiting for the price to rise up. This happened to Xenoblade Chronicles before the Gamestop reissue. While I have distaste for the majority of resellers, I know how to distinguish between a hobbyist seller and video game reseller.
I have seen many collectors lump in video game store owners with the reseller stereotype. Although there are a few independent game stores owned by businessmen who only see dollar signs over their video games, a growing number of store owners are hobbyists that get a real enjoyment out of helping people find great games. While many collectors complain that video game stores markup their prices way above FMV, they fail to see the inherent benefit at shopping at a game store. Although I agree that retro games should never be more than 50% over current FMV, I understand why a store would need to price a little higher than an eBay seller. One, a store must price a little higher to keep up with the fluctuating internet prices. Games like Earthbound and Demon’s Crest have skyrocketed in price over the past ten years to a high of $230 and $80, respectively. When prices aren’t set competitively, a video game store can quickly go out of business. Two, eBay and Amazon prices are so low because the people selling them are most likely not making a living off of them. Fair market values for newer games include a retail price from Gamestop, but retro games don’t usually include a retail price in the average. Three, video game stores don’t take advantage of the market like resellers do.Their stock comes to them in the form of trade-ins and sometimes wholesale lots on eBay. They will offer lower than FMV for trade-ins, but a great store will let the customer know how valuable their games are and whether or not they should sell it themselves, a reseller would never do this. Four, video game stores provide a unique experience for collectors that an online seller cannot. A video game store can offer tournaments, disc repair, custom cases, and can do holds on games when they come in. Most importantly, the customer can SEE the actual game and test it, instead of waiting four days for a game they’ve only see as a picture. My go-to store in Georgia, Video Game Trader, offers custom NES and N64 boxes for just about all the games they carry. Lastly, video game stores, when run well, offer a community for local collectors and, in a way, popularize the somewhat unknown hobby.
Why do independent video game stores matter? Why should collectors come out of their game rooms and shop in the real world? Because independent video game stores bring life to our hobby. Video game collecting isn’t a fad like collecting Beanie Babies, it is as legitimate as collecting sports memorabilia or comic books. When collectors become so closed minded towards people that make money off of their hobby, it loses a bit of its integrity. As video game enthusiasts and collectors, we shouldn’t be seen as strictly thrift store hunters. Why do we need them? Because game stores are the ideal place for games to end up. They won’t sit around at a flea market, storage locker, attic, or in the hands of someone who doesn’t care about them. They will be cleaned, tested, and sold to someone who will appreciate it. So instead of buying that NES game on Ebay, check out your local store first!
Where do you buy your retro games? Answer my poll.