On the Prowl with Ian
I got a monkey on my back when it comes to these video games. I love hunting for them. When it comes to collecting for collectingís sake, as I do with classic games, I love to see the vast variety of things people did with such little resources (4K and 3MHz), and the cornucopia of ways people tried to profit from these rudimentary programs. Each game is a realm of possibilities, past and present. So I just want more.

Too bad this monkey needs other monkeys to get more games. A great place to turn for that fix is the Internet. Weíre talking online shopping. And there are so many monkeys on the Internet, it really could be called the Information Superjungle. And if I take to much time swinging from vine to vine, Iíll have spent more money than I have, and have far more games than I know what to do with. Actually, Iím well beyond that point. But seriously, the goal is to avoid the monkeys (in life, just as in Donkey Kong.)

There are a ton of ways to get more games on the internet. Thereís eBay, other auction sites (atrophying as we speak), big online stores, mom and pop online stores, and private individuals. Each of these sources is full of monkeys, and itís very tough to sort out the chimps from the monkeys. (In the immortal words of Grampa Simpson, ĎHe used to be smart as a chimp, but nowÖ heís dumb as a monkey.í) That is, to sort out the dependable vendors from the rip off artists. For this reason, Iíve devised the utterly intuitive Bananas Rating System©ianoid. Iím gonna consider monkeys the enemy here, and the more bananas you see, the more monkeys you get. Less bananas is better, because youíll attract less monkeys.

On eBay, the feedback system is supposed to help. It does, for the most part. If someone has no feedback, you may just be sending your charity check of the year. Or the month, depending on how much you buy there. Actually, I have left one or two negative feedbacks in my eBay Ďcareer.í Which is more a statement about how much leeway I give people, and how much I want to avoid negative feedback, than about how good people are. They suck. I find that one in four of the people I deal with on eBay is twisted, although that doesnít mean that they wonít undergo a dependable transaction. Iím talking about the people who donít send you anything (no email or any contact) before they send you a check 3 weeks late. And the sellers who take way too long to send your stuff. Or the ones who pack stuff in an unsatisfactory manner, but somehow the item manages to make it to you unscathed. Of course, there are tons of items that get smooshed or otherwise degraded in quality along the way. Is it so hard to understand that I want that Music Machine box in the best possible condition?

Reminds me of a recent story. I bought 5 boxed handhelds from an Italian vendor on eBay. He seems to understand that I want the games packed carefully. I picked them up the other day and they were carefully wrapped and tightly bound. But they werenít packed in another box. So all of the boxes were kinda rounded and looked like they had been up an elephantís ass. Will I leave negative feedback? No, maybe neutral if heís a jerk about it. Will I buy from this guy again if he has something I want? Yes. Will I ask for a bonus item or shipping discount on the next order? Yes. Will I get it? Most probably.

Really, most of the monkeys Iíve dealt with on eBay have been buyers. People want to return stuff at the drop of a hat, despite the lifelike accuracy of my pictures and descriptions. Selling video game bundles can pay well if you can get common stuff cheap, but the service you are expected to provide is a setup for receiving negative feedback. Despite testing everything, people inevitably canít get stuff to work and require replacements. People always have trouble with something. I think the simplest way to deal with it is to sell everything tested, as-is. Anyway, if you arenít independently wealthy like Joe Santulli, the profits from selling common stuff can help fund buying more scarce things you canít find. Selling is whole Ďnother story, something Iíll get into in another issue.

So, how can you avoid trouble on eBay? Donít turn on your computer, for starters. If you find yourself idly scouring todayís latest auctions, you know what I mean. Second, check out the seller- look up their feedback, look up their auctions. See if they regularly sell video games. See what they buy. See if their previous buyers comment about how fast the seller is, and how accurate their descriptions are. Third, check out the auction- carefully. Look at the pictures VERY carefully. Read the description VERY carefully. I would say that more than half of problems you might have on eBay will be your own fault. You could have read that description more closely. You could have looked at how they accept payment. You could have checked the shipping costs. These are things that will lead to your dissatisfaction if you donít take the second to look. And if thereís any doubt, itís easier than ever to drop the seller a note. Of course, if youíre doing a on Stronghold for $10, donít think, just bid. And finally, lower your standards a little but. If youíre expecting things to be new on eBay, even when advertised as such (Ďshrinkwrapped,í Ďnew!í), think again. This is person-to-person interaction, and someone other than a store has owned the item and itís just not new any more. If itís sealed, remember that shrinkwrap isnít expensive, unless youíre selling the shrinkwrap to Quadrun. Itís easy to reseal anything (John Hardie keeps all his carts in foodsaver vacuum sealed pouches, in fact.) So think twice, read twice and ask a lot of questions. EBayís full of monkeys and it gets 4 bananas.

For that shopping in a corporate jungle feeling, try any of the bigger chains, like www.amazon.com, www.ebgames.com, www.bestbuy.com, or even www.compusa.com. Of course, you wonít find classic games there, but you can get some nice deals on yesterdays releases. I highly suggest you look at all of those sites for prices on any one item (actually, www.mysimon.com is a reasonable place to check for cost comparison.) The selection at all of these places is variable, and their prices even more so. Since Iíve been getting into Dreamcast stuff lately, Iíve found these sites to have bountiful deals on releases even a few months old. Youíre probably the only monkey in this case, for not supporting small business, because most of your transactions will be trouble free. Return policies often require that you pay for shipping, and customer service can be a problem, unless you like spending eternity on hold. But if youíre careful about what you buy, you probably wonít have too much to return. A one banana smoothie for the big guys. Internet shopping isnít always perfectly smooth, but these guys are the best we can get. Of course, you ainít gonna get classics this way.

In between flat out retail and eBay is eBayís acquisition, www.half.com. Also mainly good for more recent games, you can get some nice deals there. One limitation is that you have to pay shipping on each individual item. Another is that descriptions are paltry. You have to check feedback like on eBay, because some idiots are selling CDRs (copies) of games as though they are originals on Half.com. Three bananas for these monkeys.

A step down on the food chain are the small business vendors of the web. Iím talking about minor Internet video game vendors (like www.videogamedepot.com, www.toysnjoys.com, www.atari2600.com, www.telegames.com or www.unitedgame.com.) If youíre into imports and weird modern stuff, these can be the best source. Some of these vendors carry classics, and the selection can be a real advantage. I still recommend you shop around, since many of these places have inflated prices, but some can be very useful in getting you stuff just canít find elsewhere. Some items these guys carry are unusual enough that eBay doesnít have them listed with any real frequency, and going for these mom Ďn pop operations may be your best bet. How can you tell the monkeys from the chimps? Itís tough, but the longer a site has been around, the more likely youíll be okay. Commonly, opinion sites attract the gripers, but might be useful if youíre dropping a wad (try www.epinions.com or www.planetfeedback.com.) Monkey factor? Two or three bananas. Most are respectable, dependable businesses, who are willing to help with additional information where needed. And most of them have specials, so the more you check the sites, the more deals youíll find. I highly recommend the Telegames email specials list. If anything on their site tempts you, the bimonthly discounts they offer will certainly help defer their upper end prices.

In the jungle, there are always huts. Sometimes they are full of monkeys, too. Thereís no way to know if these primates walk upright or have opposable thumbs. Buying from random people on the web can be very risky. The quality of their website is an indicator (although Iím rock solid and my web site looks like crap.) References are key. Sometimes youíll have a friend who worked with the seller before. Or perhaps you can ask about them on your favorite newsgroup. I would be very careful with random sellers on the web. Four bananas to start, and with repeated good experiences, youíll find a few one banana people actually do exist.

One source of feedback about traders is www.UGTZ.com. Members leave feedback about trades (including sales) between members only. So, if youíve never used their site, youíll have no feedback. But itís never too late to start. It also has a neat trade-matching engine, that works OK. A lot of people use it as their primary trade list locale. My tradelist is way too long to enter every game, but if you have less than a hundred items to list, UGTZ has a neat inventory entry system that lets you enter which system each item is for using a pull down menu.

I think UGTZ (Used Game Trading Zone) is a great site, but I think itís also a reasonably high risk, by experience. I find that you can get nice deals, and occasionally find unusual stuff there (although there is a definite bent toward the modern stuff), but the people can be rather flaky. If someone has 100 positives there, they are probably ok, but youíll find that most people donít have feedback records so itís not as simple of a situation as you would hope. Again, ask for email references, the more the merrier, and make sure the person is responsive to email for more than two days in a row. I would say that the faster you set up a trade (or sale) there, the more risky it is.

Frankly, as a community, I think UGTZ is relatively risky. I once traded for a complete copy of Custerís Revenge from a guy on UGTZ with 15 or so feedback, all positive. Aside from the smooshed and worn box (I can live with that), the cart was dead. The guy really didnít have anything similar to replace it with, and then came up with this story that he was closing his account on UGTZ. I have no idea why. And before we could work something out, he was gone.

Another person on UGTZ offered me a Laseractive system with the Sega module for a sealed System 3.0 card for TG16. That would have been a great deal for me, but in checking their references, I found a problem. They claimed to have 800 feedbacks on eBay, but when I emailed that username thorough eBay several times, I got no response. I had no reason to believe they were credible, so the trade never happened. It almost would have been worth the risk. Overall, Iíve got more than a dozen positive feedbacks there, but many of them were initiated off of UGTZ, so I guess that doesnít completely count. I give UGTZ 5 bananas. Itís a nice site, the largest of itís kind, but it attracts monkeys galore. If youíre not careful, you will get taken for a ride. As long as that ride doesnít take you to New Jersey, youíre probably alright.

Watch out for those simians! The internet isnít for the faint of heart, or monkeyphobic. Transactions in cyberspace are all risky, but you gotta gamble to win. Overall, with a little care, and knowing what to expect, youíll avoid any strife accompanying those monkeys and get right down to gaming.


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