The New Gaming Collectibles
At this point, the holy grails of retro videogame collecting are pretty well established. Extremely rare games like Chase the Chuck Wagon or the Nintendo World Championship cartridge are widely sought by completist collectors, routinely fetching hundreds or even thousands of dollars on the rare occasions they're even offered for sale.
But there's a new generation of collectible pieces of gaming software and hardware that's just now coming into focus. These are the rare and sought-after pieces from the GameCube, Xbox and PlayStation 2 era that are already starting to show high resale prices, even as most games from that era stagnate in GameStop bargain bins.
This feature highlights 10 of these emerging collectibles, seeking to explain how the delicate interplay of supply and demand affects their relative value. While it's hard to predict how these games will fare as the used market evolves in the coming decades, it's a good bet that at least some of them will be coveted by the nostalgia-fueled, income-stuffed collectors who grew up with these recent systems. Who knows ... the next gaming Holy Grail could be sitting in your closet right now!
Notes: While many more rarities are available in foreign markets, this list focuses on recent American gaming rarities. Special thanks to JJ Hendricks and Matt Matthews for their help compiling this list, as well as the resources at RacketBoy.com, VideoGamePriceCharts.com, DigitalPress.com and ConsoleColors.com.
Re-Volt (Demo - Xbox)
Supply: Extremely Low. Possibly one of the rarest games of the last generation, Re-Volt was only playable by the few thousand people who managed to sign up for the Xbox Live beta test in the summer of 2002. Since publisher Acclaim canceled the Xbox version before its final release, the Re-Volt demo that was included with the Beta Starter Kit is the only version available for Microsoft's system.
Demand: Hard to gauge. While the game is no longer playable online now that the Xbox Live beta is long done, the historical oddity of the game's development, the pleasant memories from the beta days and the extreme rarity will probably lead to some prolonged interest.
Metal Gear Solid 3: Subsistence (Limited Edition) (PS2)
Supply: Very Low. When Metal Gear Solid 3 received a bonus-packed PS2 re-release as MGS3: Subsistence in early 2006, its release was split into two editions -- a relatively easy-to-find standard edition (which now resells for $10 to $20) and the extremely limited Collector's Edition. The latter included all the regular Subsistence bonus content, plus an exclusive "Existence" DVD featuring all the game's cut scenes edited together as one giant story. Supplies were so limited that Konami wasn't even able to satisfy all the pre-orders, and unlike many other popular disc-based games, there was never a reprint to help satisfy the frothing demand (After all, what kind of a "Collector's Edition" would it be if they had reprinted it?)
Demand: Very High. The huge following surrounding all things Metal Gear have already pushed the price of this rarity up to $150 and above on auction sites. The Limited Edition is likely to continue to demand such inflated prices, not just because of its rarity but also because of its exclusive content.
Marvel vs. Capcom 2 (PS2/Xbox)
Supply: Hard to determine. Capcom seems to have authorized relatively limited print runs for the PS2 and Xbox versions of this game, perhaps anticipating that the 2000 Dreamcast release had satisfied most of the demand. The Xbox version seems to be in slightly shorter supply than the PS2 version -- not surprising, given the relative installed bases for the systems when it was released.
Demand: Very High. A huge, 56-character lineup of Capcom and Marvel favorites means this game would have intense fanboy and collector interest even if it was awful. But it's not -- fighting game fans routinely praise MvC2 it as the best 2-D fighter ever made, and it's currently in heavy rotation at the EVO international fighting game championships. Gamers routinely put down over $100 for unopened PS2 or Xbox copies of the game, and the price may very well go up as nostalgia for the days of 2-D fighting dominance increases.
NCAA College Basketball 2K3 (GameCube)
Supply: Very Low. The GameCube's small installed base, combined with the relatively limited interest in college sports games, caused this annual release to have a relatively small print run right off the bat. But what pushed NCAA 2K3 into ultra-rare territory is the fact that Sega Sports actually ceased making GameCube games halfway through the game's initial print run, stopping the already limited production then and there.
Demand: Medium. While most sports games aren't even worth the silicon wafer they're printed on after just one year, the 'Cube version of NCAA 2K3 still fetches fairly high prices six years after its release. Rest assured, those buyers aren't in it for any inherent gameplay quality -- this is a pure case of a game that's collectible merely because it's rare.
Steel Battalion (Xbox)
Supply: Very Limited. Capcom never targeted this game for anything more than a niche audience, a fact made clear by the initial $200 price charged for the game and the packaged 40-button monstrosity of a controller that looks more like an airplane cockpit than a gaming accessory. Eurogamer reported that only 2,000 units were produced for Great Britain, and estimates for North American production range from 5,000 to 10,000 units. The game's strong cult following means that many owners are reluctant to give up their copies, making the game a relative rarity in auctions and sales.
Demand: High. The controller alone makes this game a literal centerpiece for any decent Xbox game collection. The game still retains much of its initial $200 price in resale, especially if the controller is unopened or in good condition. General historical interest in the odd controller seems likely to keep interest high for years to come.
Limited Edition Game Boy Advance systems
Supply: Varies. It might seem odd that anything about a system that sold over 100 million units could be considered "rare," but the various "limited edition" colors and case designs for the ubiquitous portable are getting difficult to find. Exact production numbers are hard to come by, but the limited-edition colors seem in shorter supply by than the standard-issue colors, and most of the special-edition variants even rarer than that. The rarest GBA of all, though, might just be the Miyamoto-signed gold Zelda Limited Edition SPs, 30 of which were made available at the grand opening of the Nintendo World store in New York.
Demand: Varies. Demand for original Game Boy Advance units dried up practically the moment the flip-top, backlit SP was released, and seem unlikely to recover in a serious way. Among the many, many SP variants, I'd expect nostalgia-driven collectors to continue to have high interest in those with Pikachu, Mario, Zelda or general NES themes. Also be on the lookout for a possible demand spike for the tiny Game Boy Micro, which still commands mild interest despite selling nearly a million units in North America.
Limited Edition Xbox systems
Supply: Varies. In addition to the well-known black Xbox units, a few differently colored versions of the system were produced in limited quantities for special promotions. Green is, unsurprisingly, a common theme in these designs, featuring heavily in the relatively easy-to-find translucent green Halo special edition (approximately 200,000 were made), the much rarer Mountain Dew lime green edition, which was given away as a prize to 5,000 contest winners, and the ultra-rare Bill-Gates-signed version, which was given to 60 members of the Xbox launch team. Various other unofficial, airbrushed rarities exist, the pinnacle of the form probably being the one-of-a-kind orange Atari edition, which was given away at the 2004 Leipzig Games Convention.
Demand: Not astounding, but even the decently supplied Halo edition routinely goes for up to twice as much as a normal black system in online auctions. I'd look for the systems signed by Bill Gates to draw a premium from Microsoft fanboys if and when the lucky employees ever part with them (a situation that might be more common soon, given the recent recession-based layoffs at the company).
Pok?mon Box (GameCube)
Supply: Low. While exact production numbers aren't available, this "game" was only available for a limited time in late 2004 at the short-lived Pok?mon Center store in New York. Nintendo described the game as "the most exclusive Pok?mon software ever offered to North American Pok?mon fans" in press materials, so there probably aren't millions of the things floating around out there.
Demand: Relatively Low. While the game's rarity routinely fetches it a resale price in the high double-digits, and the Pok?mon name still carries some weight, there's nothing about this glorified Pok?dex that makes this a "must-play" part to anyone's collection. IGN's review may have described it best when it called the game "ultimately unnecessary. If it was produced in even moderate quantities, it'll likely be clogging up bargain bins across the country by now.
Zelda: Collector's Edition (GameCube)
Supply: Low. Never available as a standalone release, you could only get this collection of four classic Zelda games (the original The Legend of Zelda, Zelda II: The Adventure of Link, Ocarina of Time and Majora's Mask) by buying a special GameCube bundle, subscribing to Nintendo Power, or filling out an online form that required proof of purchase from two other Nintendo-published games. These hoops prevented the game from being produced in any major numbers, though it was by no means impossible to get and is still not impossible to find.
Demand: High. The immense popularity of and nostalgia for everything Zelda-related makes this collector's release likely to retain its value long into the future. While the four games available on the disc are relatively easy to obtain in other forms (including the Wii Virtual Console), the enhanced graphics and GameCube controls provide a genuine reason to want to own it besides the rarity alone. Imagine that!
Dance Dance Revolution: Mario Mix (GameCube)
Supply: Low. The only DDR game on the GameCube was released in extremely limited quantities during the 2005 holiday season, given a tepid reissue in early 2006, then promptly discontinued in the face of disappointing sales. The game's large box, which included a special GameCube-compatible dance pad with a breakdancing Mario silhouette in the center, also helped limit its availability at brick-and-mortar stores, where shelf space is always at a premium.
Demand: High. Mario games and Konami's Bemani releases both command a lot of collector interest on their own -- putting the two collectible categories together and limiting the production numbers is a recipe for sustained collector interest. The general flimsiness of the included dance pad, which tends to take a lot of abuse during high-level play, could also increase the value of units that are in unopened or mint condition. Plus, the pad is compatible with DDR games on the Wii, so, hey, bonus!