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.