Where do I get games?

IN THE WILD

yardsaleEvery collector dreams of catching a Stadium Events at a yard sale or Goodwill, but it’s just not going to happen. I tapped every resource in both mine and neighboring cities on a regular basis for quite a while, and here’s what I came up with:

Yard sales are for old people. Anyone with NES games has internet access. Catching games at a yard sale is a billion to one shot as it is, much less any games worth a damn.

Game stores have stores to run. They’re not going to accidentally let something that’s worth $100 go for $5. They specialize in selling video games. You’re not going to find something cheaper than market value here, and usually it’s more to compensate for such a large overhead.

Flea markets have changed quite a bit since the mid-80s. When you approach the games, notice the elaborate Mario mural on the side of the booth. It’s just another game store.

Finally, pawn shops suck period. I have yet to find a deal in one, ever. And they’re everywhere, so they’ll tempt you every time, but these are people that profit from other people’s misfortune, and they sure make it a point to profit a lot. I’ve never seen a game sell for less than $25.

goodwillBut enough about where not to get games. Resale shops are actually OK. Not great, but OK. But you really need to sift through miles of junk at Goodwill to find even modern video games. After months, I discovered that it’s almost not worth it. Craig’s List is another option, but you’ll spend a lot of time driving. And also, keep in mind that if someone is advertising his items on a website, it’s safe to say he has access to the internet. If he does any research whatsoever, you’re not getting a deal unless he needs to get out of Dodge toot-sweet.

But I’ll never give up hope. I hit garage sales when I see the sign, the guy at the local game shop knows my name, and I’ll never stop supporting the charity stores. But you can’t make a collection in the wild, so the only alternative is the world-wide-interweb.

ebaylogoON THE NET

The chances of you catching a bargain on Amazon, a personal page, or a game auction site are slim. These sellers are specialists and are looking for solid investment returns. So that just leaves eBay, the auction super-market. But don’t think of this single website as one source – there’s probably more variety than you think; however, every auction can be linked to three basic types of sellers: Amateur, semi-pro, and pro.

AMATEUR SELLERS

LOOK FOR CAMERA PHONE PICS

LOOK FOR CAMERA PHONE PICS

When I told my father (who believes you should NEVER pay more than $5 for ANYTHING) about my collection, he asked, “About how much does a game cost anyway?” Well, that’s certainly a complicated question. With all the rare games, unlicensed games, damaged games, peripherals, prototypes, PAL exclusives, boxes, manuals, sealed games with a “horizontal H-seam,” and even the different types of systems, like top-loaders and Yobos and FC Twins, how much does “a game” cost? I tell him five bucks a piece. It makes him wince, but imagine if he heard I just got a deal on Little Samson for $120.

You’d be surprised at just how many people think like my father. They simply don’t understand that games could possibly be collectibles. To a seller who doesn’t know any better, they all retailed for about $50 on the Toys ‘R’ Us shelf, so out of the package with no manual, a sticker that can’t be removed, “Becky Tarwood” plastered across the back in permanent marker, and a corner peeling up should run about $10. Top Gun? $10. Mega Man 4? $10. Snow Brothers? $10.

Find these people.

I once bought a lot with no picture (a leap of faith) containing about 5 titles I needed, but the prize was a Dusty Diamond’s All-Star Softball I’d been on a mission for. I got lucky and caught it cheap with Buy It Now shortly after it listed and, surprisingly, the game was in pretty solid shape (just some marker that came off easily). But going back and reading the description made me giggle:

“You are bidding on a huge lot of original NES games for the Nintendo Entertainment System. They range from sports to action to RPG style games. They are mostly in good condition but the real catch here is the Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles game. It’s in pristine condition with absolutely no label damage and it has been stored in a plastic case since it came out of the box nearly 20 years ago. Any serious Nintendo aficionado must own this game. It would be a great addition to any collection or could be put up for resale for a huge bounty. You won’t believe your eyes.”

Well, he certainly sold me with the Turtles, boy-howdy. Meanwhile, the lot, in addition to the Dusty, came packing a River City Ransom, a Kirby, and a Mario 3, all of which were OK. But in his defense, the TMNT was in damn good condition and it ended up replacing the one in my collection (which I threw away).

Some people are in too much of a hurry to list to understand that a Flintstones 2 with no label and “Tim Loves Sara” carved down the side with a letter-opener is still worth at least fifty dollars while a sealed copy of Hoops probably wouldn’t go for more than ten.

So here’s some ammo when dealing with amateurs: When you see a sequence of games listed at about the same time, all with pictures taken with the same crappy camera phone, all resting on a cute Smurfs pillow, and one of those games is a Bases Loaded for $10 and another is a Zelda for $10, “View Seller’s Other Items” is your friend. Keep your eye on him for a little while and see what you can catch before anyone else. Then, to make yourself feel incredibly shrewd, ask him if he’ll combine shipping.

But there are huge risks buying from amateur sellers. Sometimes the copper leads are moldy and often the case backs are not pictured and just awful. At times a stock photo is used for the wrong game. It might take a week before they bother shipping it (if they ever do at all). They absolutely will not accept returns. And the worst part about all of it is they don’t know shit from shampoo about Nintendo. Buy from amateurs at your own risk. Use them sparingly, only when the money’s right. You might end up replacing a game later with one that hasn’t spent the last 20 years in a septic tank.

SEMI-PRO SELLERS

If most of a seller’s listings are NES games, but his feedback is lower than 100 or he has under 50 games listed, you should be cautious. These guys have just gotten in the game. They don’t fully understand the nuances of the marketplace or any cartridge’s fluctuating value. Sometimes you can take advantage of these sellers as they attempt to under-cut their competition right out of the gate, but they don’t know what they’re doing. Stock photos will turn into scratched cases, torn labels, connectors cleaned with scouring pads, marker everywhere, slow shipping, and awful return policies. The only thing worse than a seller who doesn’t know what he’s doing is one who thinks he knows what he’s doing. At least amateur sellers will tell you the details of the product – semi-pros will intentionally hide things from you, but it might only be something trivial, like THE GAME NOT WORKING.

PRO SELLERS

Their selections are huge, the returns are guaranteed, the games work every time because they’ve been professionally cleaned, and you’ll usually have your order in a couple of days. What’s the catch? This level of service costs money.

But these guys do know what they’re doing. They buy in volume and have no limit to how much they’ll take in. They sort out the ugly games and go out of their way to please. It’s unusual to feel safe buying on eBay. The best part is these merchants have such a large stock, you can usually get a replacement immediately if there’s a problem. If you only bought from pro sellers, you’d have the prettiest collection on this planet, but it would cost you a fortune. There’s a lot of labor invested in their businesses and people need to get paid.

But you can minimize the expense:

1) One important thing to realize is they will always have your game on steady rotation. Don’t ever Buy It Now if it has an auction price. They have had your game before, they probably have more than one copy, and the auction price is the one they intend to fetch with anything extra being bonus. For example, if Mario/Duck Hunt is $2 Auction/$4 Buy It Now, throw down $2 and walk away. You’ll probably get it easy. If the seller thought a bunch of buyers would duke it out at $2, he’d start it higher. And if you don’t get it, go back into his items, find another Mario/Duck Hunt and bid $2 again. You really never need to pay more than the starting auction price for a game.

2) Buy in bulk. Every single one of these guys offers a combined shipping discount and it can save you a ton. Make a list of games you want and get them all around the same time from the same seller. If you buy 25 games, you can save about 50 bucks.

3) If it’s not in awesome condition, return it. Trivial imperfections like the label coming up a bit are expected, but if the cartridge is jacked up, contact him and ask for an exchange. Now this is a rarity – usually they look brand new. But in the event it does happen, don’t just accept it. Be sure to be nice about it though; they aren’t necessarily obligated to give you an exchange on a used item. Present your complaint calmly and they’ll be more than willing to help you out.

Some pro-sellers I have had the best experiences with:

LUKIE GAMES: He’s been around, a member since 2000, and I’ve captured more than one great deal. He has a large selection, but sometimes his products are slightly less than sparkling, a character flaw I wouldn’t associate with pro-seller handling fees. But he will fix any mistake at his own shipping expense (I can personally attest to this), so buy with confidence.

PEDRO!: Pedro rocks. In addition to his huge selection, I have never had to do anything to the games after I get them. He’s not going anywhere and as far as I’m concerned, well deserving of the best reputation on eBay.

HILLBILLY MEDIA: He is probably the most expensive, but he’s such a great guy to deal with, and the most notable thing is his selection. It’s just astronomical. If you can’t find it anywhere else, look here.

KINGDOM CARTS: I started watching this guy’s NES tutorials on YouTube and was pretty eager when he announced he started selling games. He sports the weakest selection of the bunch, but he seems to be going out of his way to add more stock. I haven’t caught a bad deal yet.

Keep in mind that these aren’t the only pro-sellers on eBay; just the ones I have been drawn to for repeat business. You might find your own favorite seller that you just find yourself attracted to over and over. Go with the ones you trust.

There is a perfect balance of ALL types of sellers to complete your collection. Pro sellers are the safest route, but you need to take chances if you want to get this done affordably. If everyone else passes on a great deal because of a price sticker and a little marker, nab it and spend a little time with a q-tip and rubbing alcohol. Research the best ways to clean the games yourself so you can buy from amateurs and do what the pro sellers do. Communicate on a personal level with people from whom you regularly buy and they’ll throw some friend prices your way. Use that best offer button when it’s available to save a few bucks whenever you can. Figure out what you’re going to do with duplicate cartridges ahead of time.

You need a game-plan, but prepare to call some audibles along the way. How much are you willing to spend? In what order are you going to collect? Are you going to collect unlicensed games? Did you find anything in the wild that you can cross off your list ahead of time? Are you going to go after games with an “Impossible” rating? How much can you really afford out of every paycheck? And most importantly, what games are you really interested in playing?