DP Royal Archives - Building the Collection

Building the Collection
by Joe Santulli

There are two ways to go with this hobby: play the games you like until you beat them, or play as many games as possible. The way you choose basically outlines the type of person you are: the Type A person is a systematic, organized, goal-oriented achiever, while the Type B is the restless, sometimes frenzied, thrill-seeker. Of course, I always seem to fall outside of my own parameters - it’s a defense mechanism, I think - and land in something else called Type C: the guy who has to own everything. The beauty of being a Type C is that I can be a Type A or Type B on any given day as well. I have to admit, though, that I’m not alone. There are plenty of Type C's out there. This column is just for them.

Before you get overly involved with collecting video games, you should try to plan out an attack strategy. I’ve met some collectors who are quite happy with finding all of the games for a "dead" system, making their quest somewhat finite. The possiblities are as customizeable as you want. It’s realistic to set a goal to own all of the games made by Activision and meet that goal inside of six months. On the other hand, try to collect all of the games made for the Atari 2600 and you’re in for a lifetime affair. Getting all of the sports games made prior to 1990 isn’t too difficult, but getting all of the strategy games made in that time period is damn near impossible.

Cost is a driving factor for collectors of anything, and this hobby is no exception. It's interesting that there is no true benchmark reference for prospective buyers to compare deals versus scams. Baseball card hobbyists have the Beckett price guide; coin, stamp, comic and even toy collectors have their sources too. I formed a panel of experienced collectors back in 1992 and created the Digital Press Collector's Guide, aimed not only at identifying all of the games for the many "dead" systems, but also benchmarking them on a price scale. The problems with the "Guide" were that collectors felt it was setting prices too high and dealers were setting their own prices despite the "Guide" values. The truth is that you can still find hidden treasures if you look in the right places (more on that in a moment), but it’s much harder to do now than it was in 1992. We still produce the "Guide" every year-and-a-half or so, but now there’s a scarcity rating to replace the price. The jury is still out about which way collectors prefer to see the games listed. I’ll keep you posted.

So now, armed with a plan, a budget and a reference book (because now, of course, you’re scrambling for the checkbook to order this "Guide," right?), you set out to find some of those hidden treasures to build up the ultimate collection. But wait a minute. Where do you look first? Answer: everywhere. I have friends who have found extremely rare game cartridges at garage sales, flea markets, thrift shops, Salvation Army depots, discount stores, video rental stores and even in classified ads. The key to sorting it all out is to ask the person in charge. Typically, garage sales yield a few 8-bit NES games and maybe an overpriced Genesis cart or two. Walk yourself right up to the person running the show and ask them if they have any "really old" game cartridges. Prepare to be amazed. First of all, most people consider "really old" game cartridges garbage, not saleable merchandise. If I had a nickel for every time someone handed me a shoebox of "old Atari tapes" - Why do they call them tapes, anyway? There’s no tape in there, dammit! - and said "take it," I’d have thirteen dollars and eighty five cents by now. OK, I don’t know that for sure, but I know it happened a lot.

You should also keep your eyes on the local classified ads. Although they're not particularly good for snagging pre-Nintendo era software, they are more than adequate for building up a Nintendo, Super Nintendo or Genesis collection because many people are upgrading these days and trying to get rid of their "old stuff." A collector’s gold mine is out there, my friends. You just have to do a little legwork. Again, try to get past the "old Nintendo tapes" phrase; if anything, that should be a clue that the seller doesn’t really know what they’re selling. Cha-ching!!

It wouldn’t be right for me to leave out the most obvious source for video games: video game retailers. You know that buying new is never as economical as buying used, but many retailers are in the used business. Check out Electronics Boutique, WaldenSoft and FuncoLand. There are still plenty of good bargains out there, especially for systems "on their way out" like the Genesis and Sega CD. To me, any Sega game that costs less than $10 is a good deal. Imagine my delight when I find 3DO games for $15 or Virtual Boy games for $3! Have a look in Blockbuster Video if you get a chance; this may be the tail end of a wonderful dumping period, where Virtual Boy systems were selling used for $29 and games for $10 (now as low as $3). Yes, it’s a wonderful time to be a collector.

Some likely places have become deserts for us as well. Flea markets around the country have really "dried up" over the past two or three years. At one time, these were the places to go. I remember swap meets where I could have my choice of several now-collectible game cartridges. It just isn’t like that anymore. Now I just steer clear of them, since the unfortunate turn of events leaves us with dealers who are only into making money and asking ridiculous prices for anything even suspected uncommon. The same rings true for some of the dealers who have set up shop on the Internet. Sure, there are some really great items out there on the 'net, but are there any "finds"? I haven’t found one in years. You can just forget about those auctions; they’re not good places for collectors. I often bid at a reasonable value, only to find my feeble offer tripled, quadrupled or more a day or two later.

This seems like a good time to mention some of the cornerstones of collecting, the games that you just won’t find anywhere for a bargain, and if you do, you’ve perpetuated this hobby’s thrill. One of my favorite collectibles is Chase the Chuck Wagon for the Atari 2600. "Chase" is a miserable maze game where you control a dog chased around by a bone, but if you own one, you’ve got a gem. "Chase" was never available in retail stores. You had to buy a bunch of dog food and mail in your proofs of purchase to get one!

Another favorite is the elusive Tetris for the Nintendo 8-bit. If you’re thinking "I've got that one! I've got that one!," just settle down. The "Tetris" of which I speak was not manufactured by Nintendo, but by the Atari-related outfit Tengen instead. Tengen had a magnificent two-player version of the game, but unfortunately did not have the rights. Big problem. Nintendo forced them off the shelves, and no one knows where they went. Hopefully, they turn up en masse one day, but until that time, don’t expect one to fall into your lap.

The Mattel Intellivision features a library chock full of easy-to-find titles. In fact, you can probably get 80% of the library with very little effort and at very little cost. The snag for most are the Parker Bros. releases "Tutankham" and Super Cobra, both of which were only sold overseas. There are plenty of these floating around, still new in their packaging, but some greedy dealers are hording them and won’t part with them for less than a song. Sorry.

There are many more rare titles, some even rarer than the ones listed here. I’ve stumbled onto several one-of-a-kind items over the past five years or so (when collecting really began to take off), including a Space Invaders ripoff used to promote Coke called, inventively, Coke Wins. Even the more contemporary systems are finding their niche in collecting. Military Madness for the Turbografx-16 system has had collectors paying much more than its original retail price. Even now, many prototype offerings have turned up in the northern California areas, presumably shuffled out of Atari's labs. Former game designers are crawling out of the woodwork on the Internet, revealing never-released ROM boards of games we collectors are just drooling to own. We shall, my friends. We shall.

What a perfect moment to plug the latest release of the "Digital Press Guide"! The "Guide" features systems for which games are no longer being developed, including Atari models 2600, 5200 and 7800, ColecoVision, Intellivision, Odyssey2, Vectrex, RCA Studio II, Adventurevision, Arcadia 2001, Bally Astrocade, Channel F, Sega Master System and Turbografx-16. Each section contains an informative intro and a complete list of cartridges in "checklist" format, each with manufacturer, product number, date of release and a "scarceOmeter" (a rating for how difficult it might be to obtain that game). In addition, I’ve reviewed hundreds of titles in capsulized "psychOphiles," which are aimed more at the gamer than the collector. Several entries even have pictures to describe what words simply cannot.

In addition, there are pages and pages of essays by Digital Press writers and other collectors, musing over their fond memories of these classic systems and enthusiastically detailing "the great finds" of their lives. There are also complete sections devoted to Atari 2600 games and catalog variations, rumored game releases and a huge list of collectors and their addresses. The whole thing is topped off by a 25-page "psychOpedia," which is something like a glossary of important people, companies, systems and games, with entertaining tidbits on each.

If you’re interested in the "Guide" or just want to share some hallmark moments, drop me a note!

Go to Digital Press HQ
Return to Digital Press Home

Last updated Tuesday, February 13, 2007 06:01 PM