The Ryan Lambie column: antique video games?

Ryan readies his best tweed suit and monocle as he ponders whether video games could ever become legitimate antiques...

Samba de Amigo

The words ‘investment’ and ‘video games’ aren’t often mentioned in the same breath, unless you’re a terrible hoarder like me, vainly trying to explain why it’s necessary to have quite so many cartridges and DVDs lurking in every corner of the house. But as gaming crashes into its third decade, the first genuinely valuable and collectible video game ‘antiques’ have already appeared.

If you believed most sellers on eBay, you’d be forgiven for thinking that all games are of some value, with descriptions for the relatively ubiquitous Sonic the Hedgehog trumpeting ‘RARE!! COLLECTOR’S ITEM!’. The reality is, of course, that the vast majority of games will be worth little more than a few pence in a few year’s time – that copy of John Madden Football gathering dust under the bed will almost certainly be worth as little in ten years as it is now – just as the lion’s share of books are relatively valueless.

There are, however, a number of titles that have become particularly sought after by collectors, and the advent of eBay has seen these games sell for absurdly high prices. Many of these games are so rare that the broader game playing public are unlikely to have heard of them: a prime example is the Japanese-only Sega Saturn title Psychic Killer Taromaru, which had an absurdly low production run of around 7,500 copies. It’s unusual to see a copy of the game go for less than a hundred pounds.

High prices aren’t peculiar only to obscure titles; Tetris, one of the most recognisable and ported games in history, can also be worth a small fortune – providing you have the right version, that is. Following some lengthy and bitter legal wranglings between Tengen and Nintendo in 1993, Sega were forced to withdraw their Megadrive conversion from sale. It’s not clear how many copies remained in circulation after its withdrawal, but Megadrive Tetris is now one of the most collectible titles of all, with an estimated value of well over fifteen hundred pounds.

Ad – content continues below

Limited editions can also command some jaw-dropping prices; copies of cutesy shoot-em-up Panorama Cotton, complete with commemorative teacup, have been known to change hands for several hundred pounds.

Other games have appreciated in value because of a perceived rarity rather than low production runs; the Saturn’s Radiant Silvergun is something of a holy grail for shoot-em-up collectors, and regularly fetches high prices even though it’s not an uncommon game in its native Japan.

If buying a game as an investment is beginning to sound like a good idea, it should be pointed out that most games have retained much of their value rather than appreciated. A boxed and complete copy of Final Fight for the Super Nintendo, for example, may regularly command prices of around £30 on eBay, but this is still less than its RRP back in the nineties. Most Neo Geo titles also command high prices, largely because they cost so much to purchase when new (around a hundred pounds).

By the same token, a game can be collectible (and therefore valuable) one month but less so the next; Fumito Ueda’s beautiful Ico for the PS2 is a case in point. A slow seller on its release in 2001, Ico only began to build a cult following in the years that followed. This belated increase in demand saw copies regularly change hands for as much as seventy pounds. However, prices fell dramatically in 2006 when Sony re-released the game to promote Ueda’s follow-up, Shadow of the Colossus, and Ico can now be picked up for as little as a fiver.

So while it may not be a good idea to invest your money in video games rather than stocks and shares, there is at least the outside chance that one or two titles in your collection could one day fetch a tidy sum. And who knows, if video game collecting continues to increase in popularity, maybe we could see the first games expert appear on the Antiques Roadshow. If anyone from the BBC is reading this, I’d like to be the first to volunteer…

‘Ooh, a mint Samba de Amigo boxset for the Sega Dreamcast, complete with maracas. Has it been in the family long…?’

Ad – content continues below

Ryan Lambie will be back again next Thursday; you can read his last column here.