Second-hand consoles prices are without a doubt inflated

As of late I have been pondering on the value of old consoles. While we all understand the value of a collectable and how it truly has value only when another person who values it in a similar manner agrees on its price. For anyone who is not into them, the machines are more or less worthless. They are relics and there are better things to use your money on at this time.

We all also learned the price of rarity when were kids. I have no doubts that trading cards taught children to value the rare cards, but in the end of the day these cards are just pieces of cardboard. Their real world value is basically nothing. It’s a really interesting trick, if you think about it. Printing a collectable card is not all too expensive, especially when these companies order them in millions. Nevertheless, these pieces fetch insane prices. I can understand when you have a baseball card from 1909, as it has some historical value and is a mirror of its time. The same can’t be said of a Pokémon card printed somwhere 1999 or later.

That what the value of an item is on a micro level; you or your group of collectors may value a thing to the heavens. This rarely is applicable to macro level, where these cards are just seen as something less stellar. Video games and game consoles fall into this category harshly, as even in gaming there is a chasm between the retro collectors and those who simply regard them worthless junk due to rereleases and emulation.

And to be completely honest, I agree with the latter while belonging to the former.

The thing is that entertainment becomes valuable only with time. This time is not twenty or thirty years, but in larger time scale. The baseball card from 1909 is over hundred years old and has some sort of cultural and historical value as it portrays a real life person and conveys information. A NES is just a console, produced in thousands and it alone does not convey historical information outside design. As a console, it always needs its partner game cartridge in order to function. A card does not. As time goes by, the console will break down if not preserved in certain state, and it may end up becoming completely inert, unable to power itself. Even now you have troubles with the TV-standards, and God only knows when television sets will lose their RC-connectors for a better standard. There are screen sets already that lack any SD-input and carry only HD sockets. Because of this it is historically incredibly important to have at least one completely accurate emulator for a console. Through this the functions of the console are preserved for future.

But collectors usually keep their machines in a good condition, that’s certain. I would even argue that some collectors are building a collection in order to create a library for preservation rather than just for gaming’s sake. I admit, I sort of all into this category, thou every game I own has been played. It’s like with toys; a toy in a box is meant to be played with, not to be stored away in a box.

Then again, there are those who value games and toys only in their mint and unopened state rather than for their actual intended purpose.

Granted, I am willingly ignoring other elements that goes into the whole dynamics of buyer-seller, collector-provider relationships to make this into a two-point argument. This is because the micro and macro elements of retro gaming are almost polar opposites at this point in time. I have no doubts that consoles and certain games will become historically significant, but they will do this only through their cultural status. That’s not sub-cultural status, but the actual, governing culture at large. Allow a bit more time to pass, and at some point these relics could be regarded as something completely else.

There has been some accusations of certain group of people, namely retro hipsters, driving price points up on older games. Indeed, I have noticed the inflation in the after-markets as well, but I would point the main reasons towards the bad economical situation next and to the fact that the actual value of these products have been lost. Objectively speaking, a console’s value is directly proportional to the games it has. A console with lower number of high quality products is automatically regarded as worse than a console with higher numbers of said games, that should be a given. This doesn’t matter to an enthusiast, hobbyists or collectors. It’s the rarity, the obscurity and uniqueness that counts the most.

Of course, rarity is a real factor of value, I am not arguing over that. And yes, there are far more factors than just rarity. However, in practical terms it should be noted that an awful product, no matter how rare, will always be an awful product and of no use. I don’t care how much I hear Atari Jaguar getting rarer and rarer these days, especially with a working CD unit, there’s no way the console is worth anywhere near hundred and fifty dollars. Not only is the console’s library atrocious in quality, but the controller is abysmally designed to boot. The same arguments apply to multiple other consoles as well, especially to the likes of Virtual Boy where you have in almost literal terms only one or two games one can argue to be worthwhile of purchase.

You used to get a copy of Super Mario Bros. for the NES for five Finnish marks back in the day. That would be 84 eurocents, but with the devaluation Euro has seen the price is more like 1€. Nowadays the exact same cartridge fetches ten Euros of more. This sort of price translation happened everywhere, e.g. a cup of coffee used to be 5mk, now it’s 5€. It’s total and complete bullshit, but in this light the heightened prices can be accepted grudgingly. Or they would be, if this wasn’t a global phenomena. Same applies to used consoles, and the amount of the on the second-hand market has no diminished. Perhaps it’s more because the old consoles have become rarer sight at fleemarkets and such places and people with more ambition on the price.

Opinions may vary, but I’d like to ask anyone purchasing something collectable to stop for a moment and question whether or not the product is really worth the price it goes by. Never think for a second that so-called professionals don’t inflate prices to insane heights if they can. Diamonds, for example, are not as expensive or valuable as people are told.

10 thoughts on “Second-hand consoles prices are without a doubt inflated

    1. The first ones going are the cartridges that feature some sort of on-board save feature. Broke my heart when the Secret of Mana cart I have could not save or load games anymore.

      1. Battery-powered saves are easy to save with battery replacement while feeding the correct juice to the board. I would be more worried about floppies and such, which are more at the mercy of the elements that the covered PCBs.

        1. Yeah, but a lot of luds like me might not be up for that sort of thing. Floppies can be an issue, but fortunately a lot of those have already been backed up digitally over the years. Unfortunately, they aren’t always readily available, especially if they are more obscure bits of abandonware.

          1. Such things happen in any industry or field. Even nowadays we are losing material that could be saved for future generations, but that also raises the question whether or not everything should be preserved. From a historical account we could say that for absolute comprehension everything should and needs to be preserved and saved, but do we need to preserve e.g. random flash animations or GIF loops? Lost media in itself would be a good thing to write upon, but Lost Media Wikia already offers pretty good look on lost content.

  1. The biggest value that a console has is access to older media that would otherwise be inaccessible. As hardware clones have become better and better, the actual value of ‘vintage’ hardware is significantly reduced, except in cases where the hardware itself is scarce, which just isn’t the case for most of the NES generation of mainstream 8 bit consoles and beyond.

    I would argue that the most collectible portion of vintage gaming is the packaging and documentation. For all of the thousands of vintage gaming cartridges in serviceable condition, there are maybe a handful of surviving game manuals. When we consider the content of media to be what is valuable, it’s worth noting that we have the “All there in the Manual” trope for a reason: lots of backstory, character names, and content in general may have only existed in the now lost and discarded game manuals.

    1. The media, however, is most likely already preserved elsewhere. Piracy in that sense is extremely positive that it preserves history sometimes more efficiently than the companies themselves. Then again, we also need to question why the software is not accessible in modern days. To use Rival Schools as an example, it had hurdles to get a PSN release despite the only people wanting it for modern consoles was the core fans of the product. Despite the PSN release, the game’s value still kept itself somewhat high, whereas it could be argued that the product is far more available the old release’s price should have dropped now that, objectively speaking, a superior release was out there.

      Clone consoles will only replace the original hardware as the emulation they can do is accurate. For example, Commodore64 has seen few physical emulators that are superb and are completely viable solution against the inflated price of the original units. I would argue that Atari 2600 is still a common console to find and same goes to other mass produced machines with even a slight worldwide presence.

      I agree with the manuals and packaging. This is why we can thank the multiple projects going worldwide that document and record boxes and manuals. All in manual trope is accurate, but it also carries another notion we should keep in mind nowadays; most NES games have no tutorial how they’re played, but anyone could learn them by just playing. They were incredibly intuitive and despite their simplicity they could offer large amount of depth.

      There could be argument that the lack of manual and other similar things allowed people to create their own terminology and whatever backstory games could have. While standardization is overall a positive thing in most cases, when it comes to things like creativity I would expect large amounts of differences between entertainment products to keep the field becoming homogeneous. Well, this sort of is happening as even fighting games have started to use such simple things as HP instead of Energy or Vitality. But this is a whole another subject.

  2. When your Pokemon Yellow can’t keep a save file anymore….. I had to sit down and cry for a bit, goddamn.

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