ďYesterday, I traded all my 2600 carts awayÖĒ
Just about every collector I know has told me how much has changed since they started out in this hobby. They tell me they donít find as much as they used to. eBay prices have really gone up. All those collectors are selling out! Thereís so much more SPAM on the newsgroup. There are too many new people in the hobby. I just donít buy it. I always pooh-pooh their comments. Sure, things have changed- but not that much. Good games have always been hard to find in the wild. People have always tried to get more for the stuff they paid $30 for back in the day. Vendors have always scammed and resold. eBay always cost too much.
Being a hunter myself, I constantly relate with my collector friends about our local finds. I must admit, I saw a lot more classic stuff in 1996 when I started collecting. I still see classic stuff now and again, though much of it is replaced by neo-classic stuff. The time line is similar. Itís about 10 years past its late heyday, just as 1996 was a little more than ten years past the classic heyday. And when I say classic, Iím talking pre-1986 Atari, ColecoVision, Intellivision and the like. Video games, like all pop culture mass-produced consumer fodder, will be passing between hands in volume for years. As long as you see 8-track tapes wherever you hunt, you have a chance of finding some classic games. Why do you see so many more 8-tracks than 2600 carts? Simple. Less people are picking up 8-tracks - a format that simply doesnít withstand the test of time very well. Not to mention the hideous artists you see accumulating. The Hendrix 8-tracks donít sit long. Collectors and aficionados snap them up. We all know how stiff the competition is amongst bottom feeding video game history buffs. Classic carts in resale situations donít sit anywhere too long. Thatís the main thing that has changed- quicker turnover of classic items that you do see out there. And if you can accept the availability of neo-classic stuff in substitute, things are still pretty good hunting wise.
The fact is, video games have never been easy to find dirt-cheap (Iím talking a quarter you cheapos.) You have to work very hard, and if your time is worth anything - because you are paid reasonably, because you have a family, because you detest the hunting experience, or because you have a dust allergy - just hit the well known sources (the internet) and donít waste your time scrounging around like fools like me. The really amazing finds are few and far between and the dry days are frequent. They always have been. I remember driving for 6 hours shopping around the Bay area and finding a few token space age polyester shirts and nothing more. Itís a desert out there folks! But there are rivers of scores out there if you can handle the heat. Iíve had the hunting bug since well before I collected game carts. If it wasnít CDs it was wacky kitschy shirts or old bar paraphernalia. Since I ran out of closet space and realized I wasnít really that serious about mixing drinks, Iíve stopped looking for that crap. Now itís on to the black plastic, and now silver discs. In order to keep finding stuff, I have had to diversify. I did something I meant never to do- I started collecting CD based software. Since Sega got out of the hardware business, disc based software seems all the more interesting to me. And it makes me feel like things just havenít changed - I can still find new titles for my collection in the wild.
Prices have climbed a little. They are worse in some areas. eBay has affected the market outside of eBay. No doubt, in the silliest way. The fact is that people have always had bad prices that we have to walk away from. I donít think itís anything new. I walked away from a $35 Vectrex during my first year of collecting, because I just felt like it was too much. I walked away from some Timex 2068 carts new in box back in the day, too- since the lady wanted $8 apiece. Would I walk past those items again? No chance. But, those were excessive prices for their day. And to most of my more discriminating friends, they still would be. Prices have never been what you wanted - way too cheap. We all come across something here or there that we think is a score. Someone on the other end felt they had a score too - some sucker wanted to buy their junk! Everybody wins. And eBay wasnít even a factor 6 years ago. Prices still can suck.
Iíve always had pet peeves in collecting. These could fill another article altogether. And they probably will soon. What I must bring up is the flea market (and now eBay) vendors that scour the market (or eBay) in the early hours for stuff to buy and resell at a profit. Being a bit of a purist, for some reason, I see this as a painful thing. The jerky vendor who buys games for $0.25 and sells them at a booth 25 yards away for $7. Of course, these things donít sell for their initial offering (hopefully), but itís so pathetic that I have to feel a tinge of frustration. Since the dawn of eBay, people have bought stuff there and resold it in auction for more. Is this so bad? It shouldnít be, but it irks me that someone else who personally wanted stuff for his collection could have gotten a nice deal on stuff that would stay in his house as a proud piece of his collection - and a proud deal at that. After seeing a crazy $800 2600 bundle go to a vendor on eBay, to be resold for more than triple that, itís a little depressing. Even more so as I was the second highest bidder. Itís not like there were a few Quadruns in the bundle - weíre talking stupid import crap. Anyway, Iíve since recovered, but the profiteers keep on gobbling up the scores, artificially raising prices, and making things a hint less fun for most of us. This hasnít changed either.
It seems like every month an RGVC regular is purging his collection for whatever reason. This has been happening since RGVC started. We canít all do this forever. Itís no surprise that most of us want to go out with a bang - and pay for something major in the process. If your house is too crowded with gaming stuff to open the door to your bedroom or the wife is about to walk, somethingís got to go. People have been selling out since day one. We can all act surprised that Collector X (man, thatís a good handle - youíll have to credit me on that) dispensed of the collection he spent 10 years building. And all the power to him for making a buck or more on years of combing flea markets. The part that kills me nowadays is the limited number of eBay heavy hitters who drive up prices and then try to resell with Buy It Nows at their inflated splurge price. Itís no surprise you canít make your money back! Youíre the only idiot who would pay that much (at this time) anyway! If you bought your entire collection on eBay, plan to lose money when you sell it, unless youíre a truly discriminating buyer. And sorry sluggers, I see a lot of guys out there who bid like Atari stock is about to split. Keep your checkbooks in your pants, boys.
eBay prices. Thatís a paragraph in itself. You are already thinking about those two words. And donít grind your teeth down to a nub. Stick this in your maws and chew on it: eBay prices havenít risen. Shock of all shocks! They have changed, but mostly for the cheaper. The average prices are the same. Of course, if you are a big money spender, you may be stuck with some mighty big Visa bills if you want the really unique stuff. The fact is, you always would have paid a premium for premium bits. The heaviest 2600 collectors know this- unfortunately I know this. There are legendary deals from the first years of eBay. ($400 Adventurevision? Thatís not that cool. Most of us would pass this up at a flea market - out of self-respect.) So what? Many of the solid rare games you might have paid $40 for two years ago can be had for half that or less with a little care and eBay hunting. Really cool 2600 titles like HERO, Montezumaís Revenge and Time Pilot will always demand more money for their popularity as titles, rather than their rarity or playability (as is the case with Time Pilot 2600.) Some things wonít change. Getting $8 for Pitfall - a really common cart - isnít a surprise. Itís worth $10, because whoís kidding who, itís a great game. But 90% of the 2600 library is available for $20 or less, and mostly in the $2-$5 range. If you buy bundles, you can make your average price $1. Itís a ripe time to pick up classic bits. When it comes to premium items, those will always demand too much, especially if you must have it sealed and blessed by the pope. Drop the snob attitude and get Ďem in reasonable shape - prices are too reasonable not to!
Chant it: SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! SPAM! Itís always been burying us. The names have changed, but the volume has not. Everyoneís trying to make a buck here - whether itís off of you or, (as the seller hopes), off of someone less educated who doesnít read Digital Press or have THE Guide. Deal with it or automatically screen for it. Itís here to stay. I donít pay it much mind unless itís someone I know or itís really eye catching. I hate to admit it, but sometimes thatís the only way I know something exists. The occasional exotic may come to the block by a newsgroup regular, so I kind of appreciate the SPAM in this instance. For the most part, itís the noise you must ignore if youíre an internet user.
The dusty game collecting hobby has grown, just as video gaming has grown in general. The fantastic deluge of classic compilations for every system satisfies appetites of most of the gaming throngs. That, I am thankful for. But there are always a few newcomers every week who want a bit more of the authentic experience to recapture their childhood enjoyment. Or perhaps they want a sweet accessory to add to their home dťcor. Fortunately for the endless supply of eBay vendors, these people want to spend their hard earned euros on a setup or a console. Nostalgia is growing like a plague in some unnamed cycle of pop culture. And our woodgrain corner of the world is bound to be invaded now and again. A few of these dabblers is bound to be charmed more obsessive compulsively and take to the field. This is growth. For every few that come, there are a few that leave. Not everyone is as senseless as we are in the quest for the ultimate cart. Itís a slow growth, thankfully, and the really serious collectors who come into the hobby anew are few and far between. Many of the big spenders that you fear on eBay are old time collectors who just bit the bullet to complete some collections. Or they are the hyperfocused psycho newbie system builder who wonít be deterred by sensible pricing. In the end, there is a constant slow influx of growth. This hasnít changed, and I canít see why it would. And why would we want it to? Some of us are happy to make a living off of classic gaming (shoot me if I ever try.) And some of us can use the money from selling common stuff to buy more esoteric games (guilty!) But in the end, the growth and popularity has been steadily rising since I started. I know it was intimate before I came around, and trading was the only way to get anything, but it was never that way since I started collecting.
Nothingís changed. Everythingís changed. It doesnít matter that much. Remember youíre just a gamer or a collector. Itís supposed to be fun!
ďThe more things change, the more they stay the same.Ē
-Alfonse Karr via Rush