NES Editorial: How the NES Helped Drive the Video Game Collector’s Market

It took a while for the world of pop culture to really come to terms with the fact that videogames were here to stay. There was almost a collective sigh of relief from the movies and TV industries when, in 1983, the burgeoning video game market came crashing down like a house of molded plastic cards. Too many consoles, overstocking of products, overpricing of merchandise, incompatibility across platforms that resulted in consumer confusion and a bevy of bad games led to a general distrust of the games market. While arcades did carry on, home gaming was done for. This is all common knowledge today, but in 1997, as the new generation of hardcore gaming emerged, there were a lot of questions about how we got so far so fast. How did video games go from toy shelves to tech stores? How did PC gaming rise to prominence after spending two decades in the periphery? How did video games survive an entire industry collapse? It wasn’t just because of the NES. No, even Nintendo could not have anticipated what would happen by 1990 as their NES not only revitalized the videogame market, but proved that video games deserve a dominant place in the annals of pop culture. The first, and most striking thing to happen in the 80’s was the phenomenon of kids enjoying the NES with their parents. Nintendo, brilliantly deciding NOT to market the NES as a games console and rather as an “entertainment system”, paved the way for games to no longer be exclusively for gamers. In Duck Hunt, anyone could pick up a zapper and take out those friggin’ clay pigeons! Grandma played with the kids on Christmas morning. I know mine did! Super Mario Bros. was challenging to master, but easy to play. Video games were accessible again! This was the legacy of gaming with titles like Pong. Even later games like Frogger had a concept that was simple enough that just about anyone could enjoy it. However, games like Space Invaders, Yars’ Revenge and Asteroids dominated home gaming in the 70’s and 80’s and these were NOT for everyone. They were faster and tougher than one might remember. What Nintendo did was actually make games for everyone. Now, that accessibility would wane in the coming years, but the bedrock intention was there.

With such a wide market for games having returned, another push to break into games in the 90’s occurred and this led to fears of another crash. This time, it could be the last! As 1994 came around, we had PC’s, the Super Nintendo, the Sega Genesis and Game Boy at the front; then there was the Sega CD, the Sega Game Gear, Atari Jaguar, the Phillips CDi & Neo Geo. The latter 4 almost killed video games. It was looking like 1983 all over again and as bad as E.T. and Pac-Man were on the 2600, 1993-1995 saw the release of some of the worst video games of all time. With a constant push towards graphics over gameplay, things were not looking good. Despite the SNES and Genesis still pushing out games of high quality, there was a growing sense of dismay among the cynical teenagers of Generation X. We were sticking to Street Fighter II, Mortal Kombat and Mario Kart. Nothing else really mattered all that much on consoles. There was even an attitude that the NES sucked! It was old, lame and out-of-date. This was in-part due to the rapid acceleration in the complexity of games around that time, but also due to the marketing of systems like the Jaguar, who boasted its superiority over other consoles due to its 32-bit processor making it more “advanced”. Retailers were taking advantage of this feeling by offering trade-in bonuses for games towards the purchase of the upcoming Sony Playstation and Sega Saturn consoles, and as a result, used NES games flooded the shelves. A decision to price these games very low (as low as $3 for titles like Mega Man 5, which now goes for about $80) actually resulted in increased demand among some, but only SOME. Keep in mind that in 1994-95, new NES games were still being manufactured and released, however, retailers like EB Games (Formerly Electronics Boutique) and Babbage’s were relegating these “relics” to the back corners of the store and toy outlets were putting brand new NES games in bargain bins sitting in the open right outside their mall gates. Nobody seemed to care about the NES anymore.

Then came the late-90’s. It started with Final Fantasy VII, released in 1997 for the Playstation. The PSX was a hit and Nintendo was playing catch-up with their belated release of the N64 the previous year and, while they would eventually come out on top in that battle, the Playstation brand’s dominance would ultimately lead Sony to victory in the coming years. It was this time, and this one entry in the ongoing Final Fantasy series, that would drive up demand for classic games.

The age of the game was never a factor here. Atari 2600 and Intellivision games are not expensive at all even with today’s ballooning prices. No, this is 100% nostalgia, driven primarily by gamers in their 30’s who wish to relive their childhood experiences as they did in their formative years, not through some emulation. Gamers, now wanting a taste of what they missed, began rummaging through retail bins for other JRPG’s that they passed on because of their taste for other genres. Gamers at the time were often off-put by things like turn-based combat in the 90’s. While it was big in Japan, it failed to catch on with US games at-large until the late 90’s. Now, all of a sudden we have Super Nintendo and NES RPG’s flying off of shelves. Retailers hustled to get these games back on stock in used form and the prices skyrocketed seemingly overnight! Other franchises (Mega Man and fighting games in-particular) saw a tremendous spike in demand and, thus, cost. By around the year 2000, games like Mega Man X-3 (Released in 1996) were selling for as much as $80! It was obscene!

Final Fantasy VII, caused a demand hike so violent that it became an instant boon to the used game market that was already slightly successful at the time. It went from being a pretty solid addition to game stores to becoming their primary source of income. As the demand for retro-RPG’s expanded, two games became the targets of fans across North America: Chrono Trigger and Earthbound. To this day, these are two of the most in-demand games on the retail market and even though they have been re-released, older gamers just want to play them on their SNES consoles. The tide had shifted. The old was the real gold in the video game retail stores and as younger gamers piled in like clockwork annually to pick up the latest copy of Madden, retro gamers were forking out double the price of one game to play one or two games from the 80’s and 90’s.

Enter the NES. As the SNES RPG’s market drove collectors’ demand, even older gamers (myself included) were wanting to relive our earlier childhood. NES games are still nowhere near as high in price as SNES games are today. The Super Nintendo was the kicker and its forebear followed, but it was the 8-bit classic that set the stage for the surge of game collectors. It all started with Nintendo’s accidental hard-reset of gaming in North America. It’s difficult to nail down why this fad has grown so quickly over the last few years, but personally I believe it is due to three things: Mega Man, Little Samson and Stadium Events. Mega Man is the nostalgic icon of gaming for a lot of people (myself included). Mario was and still is everywhere, but Mega Man was for the cool kids! The Blue Bomber represented the evolution of games from the 80’s to the 90’s almost flawlessly and we can see ourselves growing up all over again as we play the classics. Still, one series alone was not enough to nail down massive collector demand. No, that required a little help from the Internet; in-particular, one website: eBay. eBay had already made headlines in the past for being an outlet to find overpriced collectables from any niche, but around 2008, a relatively unknown game from Bandai named Family Fun Fitness: Stadium Events sold on eBay for over $7000! This was it. Later, it was Little Samson, a game released by the elusive Taito (known for rare games on the NES) that was released in 1992 and went way under-the-radar. Little Samson is an excellent game and as a result, demand went up. As more and more game reviewers online praised the game, it went up in price to over $1,000 by 2010.

Game collecting was here to stay and over the last eight or nine years, games have seen a dramatic spike in value. A spike that can only end one way. However, I will get into that in my next editorial. Expect more game reviews as they are just around the corner!