Protecting Your Investment
by Jeff Cooper

Ever stop to think about losing your videogame collection to fire, flood, theft, tornado, angry spouse? What's that collection worth, and what is it worth to you?

I would guess that most DP readers, like me, are into both classic and "modern" videogaming. And by now, practically everyone understands that our stuff costs money and is worth money. The money factor can add an extra element of fun to the hobby. It's fun to find and extra Vectrex and some games at a flea market or swap meet, and then to make enough money selling it to purchase a few Dreamcast or Playstation games. I read about people who like to get the videogaming collectors guides and tally up how much their collections of classic games are worth, maybe even tracking appreciation over time.

Still, I can't think of anyone that I've met in the hobby that I would describe as being in it mainly for the money. Videogames are worth more than money. I mean, which would give you a higher rush, discovering that your tax refund is going to be a couple hundred dollars more than expected, or finding a boxed Crazy Climber at the local thrift for a couple bucks?

Videogame collecting is like any other hobby in the sense that if it reaches the point where you're into it mainly for the money, then it's no longer a hobby. Because the money factor is pretty distant for most collectors, most devote less thought to this practical issue then perhaps they should.

Chances are that between the money you've blown on modern systems and the value of your classic stuff, we're talking about a sizeable chunk of cash. I just spent $550 on a PS2 and a few games. My PS1 was also $299 and over the last few years I've surely purchased over fifty games for it at $40 a pop. The initial bill for my Saturn and a few games back in 1995 was over $600. The Dreamcast was $199 and I probably have twenty games for it. Hell, that's just the beginning; I must have blown six or seven thousand dollars on "modern" videogames and systems over the last five years. Anyone else out there that can echo that sentiment?

Then there are the classic games. I wrote a column a couple years back on how I was able to build a really large collection of 2600 games without primarily relying upon purchases. But that doesn't change the fact that classic games are worth money. I sold my first 2600 collection for nearly $7,000, and it would have gone for a lot more had I sold it piece by piece. And it would sell for yet more than that today. I remember when, years ago, some people prophesied that classic game collecting would become somewhat like collecting baseball cards, and that some games would sell for literally hundreds of dollars. My response was laughter and disgust. I was wrong.

Many of us, of course, collect across systems. Our collections include 2600, 5200, 7800, Intellivision, Colecovision, Vectrex, NES handhelds, old videogame books magazines, Activision patches, maybe a poster or two . . . for some of us that list only scratches the surface. Add everything up and you might be surprised by its "market" value.

So what if you lost all or some of your collection to natural or man-made disaster? It is not as far-fetched as you think. Two members of DP's small staff have lost significant portions of their collections, one to flood, one to burglary. Where I live, I do not widely publicize what I have in my game room. I live in a very low crime area, but teenagers have broken in to several cars on my street over the last few months, even though the cars were in the driveway and the owners were home. Now if these kids knew about my Dreamcast stuff and PS2, don't you think they might have an eye on my house when we go off on vacation?

Then of course there are tornados. No, we Okies do not spend every night ducking and diving for cover like in the movie "Twister." But the possibility of getting hit did motivate us to have a small underground shelter built into our new house. The shelter would save life and limb, but the videogames would be strewn everywhere from Texas to Kansas.

And so, after all these years, I've given some thought to having my collection insured. I recognize the principal "pain" in losing some or all of ones collection wouldn't be the financial loss. And a chunk of cash would not make it "worth it" to lose my stuff. But it would be better than nothing, and it might serve as a starting point in trying to reacquire some of the stuff.

I contacted Allstate and explained the situation to an agent. No one in the office had ever heard of anyone insuring videogames before. And this seems to be reflected in Allstate's policies. Allstate does not place videogames in the categories of "collectibles" or "valuables." Collectibles (e.g., stamps, coins, I presume baseball cards) must be inventoried and "listed" separately from personal property. The same holds true for valuables like jewelry. Routine homeowners insurance does provide some coverage (they did not offer specifics) for collectibles and valuables that aren't listed; if the value of what you have exceeds that limit you have to list the items in question and pay an extra premium.

Videogames simply fall under the classification of personal property, like your TV or couch. I was told that if I lost any videogames to theft or whatever, I would simply have to inform Allstate of what I lost and its value. My homeowners insurance covers the contents of my house for something like $100,000. If the value of my collection means that the contents of my house is worth more than that, I was informed, I should buy more insurance, though I need not specify that this extra insurance is for videogames or anything else. Extra insurance seemed very inexpensive to me. An additional $10,000 is only twenty bucks a year.

I asked about people living in apartments. I was told that the typical policy for a two bedroom apartment includes coverage of $22,500 for personal property. If a videogame collection pushes the total value of your stuff above that, you should purchase extra insurance. The extra insurance costs a little more for apartment dwellers than for homeowners.

Having related all this, I remain skeptical. If my place were burglarized, I'm fairly certain Allstate would pay me $35 a piece for Playstation games. That's what many go for at the local Walmart. But somehow I doubt that they would uncritically hand over $200 for the loss of a boxed 2600 Halloween, just on my say so. I'm guessing that the first thing they'd ask is, "An eighteen-year-old game cartridge? How much did it cost new?" I tried to explain that some of these old games are worth $5, some $300. I was told simply not to worry about it because videogames are not classified as collectibles. But I'm not going to let it rest there.

I am going to assume that I need not do anything extra for my modern systems and games. Their value is pretty easy to establish. But I am going to list 60 or 70 of my most precious collectibles, and seek special insurance for them. My guess is that even though Allstate doesn't recognize videogames as collectable, they won't turn away my money. It's a good compromise. If they asked me to inventory and value all 2000 of my various games, it would never get done. My irreplaceable classic games will be specifically covered, and the insurance will cost very little. My newer stuff will be covered as personal property. That still leaves a lot of stuff in a gray area. Are they really going to let me tell them how much a boxed 2600 Taz is worth, or a #2 issue of Electronic Games magazine? I'm going to have to make some more calls to get to the bottom of this.

Another very obvious point is that other insurance companies may look at the issue of videogames in a radically different fashion than Allstate. You might consider making a call to find out how your company handles this issue. It really isn't that big of a chore.

Finally, I'm hoping that our editor will add a note to explain how his insurance company handled the loss of some classic videogame collectibles. Joe? Have you invested in that security system yet? Mine came with the house.

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Last updated: Thursday, May 27, 2004 01:59 PM