Level 17: Peak Retro? 

Has the retro market reached peak saturation? We may be at a tipping point where the demand no longer warrants the price on many items now with some exceptions like Pokémon and some rarer titles. 

Every finite resource has to reach a peak at some time or another before the market will no longer bare the price being asked. It only takes a quick trip onto your local kijiji or Craigs list, etc to see that retro games that used to sell quickly at a high price are either sitting there longer than usual or seeing price drops before it will finally move. 

Many serious collectors have already built up all or the majority of what they need/want and the resellers are really just trying to get the highest price possible off those who have don’t have it or new collectors entering the hobby who want to have some of these prestigious items for their collections. 

Some games will always carry a higher price due to factors like rarity, etc but over the last few years prices on common games continued to rise as more people entered the hobby. With the popularity of YouTube shows like the Game Chasers, Pat the NES punk, Angry video game nerd, etc the interest in retro games caused the market to explode and games that once only fetched a few dollars started to climb to 5, 10, 15…until a wall would be hit as to what people would pay.

A good example of this that I ran into was Atari 2600 cartridges, there was a time  when 2600 games were a dollar or  less even on “premium” titles and as people starting becoming interested in them again the prices began to go up to 3, 5, and beyond despite the fact that there are always boxes and boxes of these carts laying around every game store, junk shop and flea market. 

Even though the demand for Atari games quickly dropped off again after the initial resurgence in interest the prices have remained high as stock starts piling up as people lose interest and start trading them back in. I’m using the Atari as an example because it’s a niche market in retro gaming, the hardcore fans already put complete collections together back in the 80s when stores were blowing the stock out during the crash and even they they were getting factory sealed games for a dollar.

So these games that have been sitting around gathering dust and for the most part are usually in poor condition only saw a price jump because of a renewed interest which was short lived. The dealers seem to be in denial that these games continue to hold a value, I frequently see Atari consoles trotted out on game sale pages with similar listings like: “vintage rare Atari”, “Atari 2600…RARE”, and far too frequently “no hookups not sure if working but it’s a rare game system”. None of these statements are true, Atari 2600 systems are a dime a dozen, finding a working unit can be harder but there’s just not much of a demand for them to claim them as rare. 

The frustrating part is always the price tag ad it’s usually in the $100 range, for a working unit with controllers, paddles, and decent games…maybe, but for your dusty old Atari 2600 jr that’s been in the garage for 30 years with no hookups and some basic games…no chance, but as long as people see these as valuable the prices stay the same. 

One person sees one on ebay for $100 and the assumption is that theirs is worth the same, with no research you may not see that the system has been sitting there for months because:

A: the price is too high

B: there’s just not the demand for a 2600 compared to other retro systems that do sell for $100. Being 40 years old does not a valuable system always make. 

The same is starting to happen in the NES market as well, I recently popped into a local game store and they were telling me that they couldn’t believe that they had been sitting on an NES for weeks now seeing as it was only $45. This doesn’t surprise me as many NES guys like me already have multiple NES consoles for backups and most people who jumped into the hobby during the resurgence have already purchased systems so without new collectors nobody is clamoring to get one even at half the price they were a year ago. 

I see a lot of people watch online auctions go over $100 who later list their system and don’t see it sell. Again they don’t understand why the other item went so high because they are not in the hobby and didn’t realize the auction went nuts because there was a copy of the Tengen Tetris with it, not because people are just willing to spend $100 on an NES. 

I have found recently that more NES titles are wandering into second hand stores, many at lower than previous prices but that also means you have to jump on it because resellers are using the lower prices at the retail level again to corner the market for pricing on games they don’t want to see go down on like Contra but even resellers are finding themselves with more and more copies without customers to buy them. 

Many collectors I know have reached a point where there’s only a certain amount you’re willing to part with for games, I know myself and others that have no problem passing on games that will at a later time show up at a better price. I know a few resellers too who are starting to get out of the NES market for this very reason, the money just isn’t there like it was the last few years and are often looking to just squeeze the last few dollars possible out of them before having to offload them. 

So if we have reached peak saturation and there is a breaking point coming we should start seeing more and more stock coming into stores and being offloaded online and as more stock arrives the balance in price/demand will have to shift as well. Don’t plan on seeing the good old days of dollar games again just yet but at least the days of reasonable prices is dawning again. 

I’m always interested to hear how the market has changed or not in other people’s areas so feel free to drop me your thoughts on the topic. 

May the deals be with you. 



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