Game collecting is a hobby where those who partake in it have a hard time explaining why they do it. Think about it, you could very easily get a $100 computer that could emulate every console from the Atari to the Playstation 1 at full speed, with save states, and the entire library at your disposal. That being said, when you start you just can’t stop. For those who choose this insane path you could quickly be overwhelmed by figuring out where to start, and how to pick up all of the games you want on your budget. This purpose of this guide is to help you get started, and hopefully pass along some of the tips and tricks that I have picked up over the years.
The first question you probably have is where to start? There is no right answer to this question, but I would take into account your personal tastes. While a system like the Atari might be cheaper to collect than most other consoles, if you have no connection to the system then you will quickly lose interest. What I suggest is to start with a system you know you love. Personally I started with the Nintendo 64, and then went from there. I chose this system because when I was a kid this was the first home console that I ever owned. There were tons of games that I used to own, but then sold when I got older and had other interests. There were also plenty of games that I had heard about, or rented, that I never got to fully explore. I wanted to recapture those memories of playing my N64 in my childhood home, so it was a natural pick for me. Some may tell you, you are not a real game collector if you do not have an NES. Don’t listen to those people, they are just trying to put their views ahead of yours. If you grew up playing the original XBOX, or the Playstation 2, then start there, there is nothing wrong with that.
You could also easily choose to collect for a system you already own. Chances are if you are interested in game collecting you at least own a current generation system. There are hundreds of great games for the Playstation 4 out right now. Many of them are cheap, and even more are going to be cheap in the near future with the release of the Playstation 5 just over the horizon. It would make perfect sense to just start with what you already have.
Once you decide which console you want to start collecting with, you then need to grab that console if you do not own it already. This is not as easy as it sounds. Let’s take the Super Nintendo for an example. If you wanted to grab the original console then what would you hook it up to? Does your HDTV even have AV ports? Even if it did, there would most likely be unplayable input lag. If you have a CRT TV laying around, that of course is a great choice and I would go that route, but if you don’t then you need to plan out how you are going to hook up your console. There exist more modern clone systems, such as the Retron 5. This console in particular outputs to HDMI, and can play games from the NES, SNES, Genesis, Gameboy, Gameboy Color, and Gameboy Advance games, along with their regional counterparts. Something like this gives you a lot of options not only for which console you can collect games for, but also gives you the ability to play on a modern monitor or console. I would highly suggest going this route if you are new to collecting.
There are other, more serious options if you are looking to get the most out of a single console and an HDTV. This other option is what is called an FPGA console. There exist consoles, and cartridges, that instead of emulating hardware like the Retron 5 does, it instead is a modern recreation of it. These consoles are significantly more expensive than a system like the Retron, and only plays a single system. However, if you are dead set on only collecting one, or only a handful, or consoles then these will give you the best possible picture with virtually no input lag. If you are interested in these types of consoles I would suggest checking out a company called Analogue. I own their Super Nintendo console and the picture is simply fantastic on my HDTV, but it is by no means necessary for a new collector.
The next step is to start actually grabbing games. There are numerous tips and tricks as to how to grab games on the cheap, and I will go over some of those later, but at first I would suggest doing some research. I would try searching up a list of all of the games that are exclusive for the system that you are collecting for. Personally I did not do this at first, and then regretted it. Let’s take the generation of games that included the Gamecube, Playstation 2, and Xbox. Any multi-platform games that came out on all of these systems will just run better, and look better, on the Xbox. I had not done this research and spent a lot of time, money, and energy looking for games for the Gamecube and Playstation 2, and then later sold them and bought them on Xbox. I suggest that you skip this step and do your research before you waste your time.
When your system of choice is solidified then you should consider which games you want to actually get. Each system has a set of games that are basically must buys. I suggest just forking over money on eBay or your local game store to just get some of these games right away. Having those games to play will help keep you motivated to continue collecting and help you get some value out of that initial purchase. For example if you decided you wanted to collect for the Nintendo 64 then it is probably worth it to just grab Super Mario 64. Mario Kart 64, and The Legend of Zelda Ocarina of Time right from the start. While these are common games and you will eventually find them at a thrift store or garage sale for much cheaper, I would say it is worth it to just get them as soon as possible so you have something to play right away.
Another aspect where research comes into play for game collecting is finding those lesser well known games that are still worth playing. These types of games are called hidden gems. If you put the name of your console and hidden gems in the search bar of google or youtube you will find a large list of games that fit this category. A lot of time these games are priced cheaper at game stores and even on eBay, so it is good to get familiar with them as soon as possible so you do not leave a deal on the table early on. Some systems have a lot of these types of games, and others do not, so it is worth the time to put in the research and become a more knowledgeable buyer as soon as possible.
Once you have done your research and you are sure you know which system you want to start getting games for you then need to decide how you want your collection to look. When you buy games you are either buying them as disc or cart only, complete with their box and manual, or in parts. Personally when a game comes in cartridge form I only care about getting that cartridge. When games come in disc form I want the game complete in its box with the manual included. The reason I do this is for display reasons. Cartridges display quite nicely by themselves, while disc games are hard to display when they are disc only. If you do decide that you want games complete in a box, you do not necessarily need to buy the complete game at once. You could, over time, pick up the parts of a complete game separately. Sometimes this will help you save money overall, so it is just something to keep in mind.
Another general tip for picking up games is to buy in lots. A lot is an auction or sale that includes a lot of games. Buying games in lots will usually save you some money in the long run, even if you do not want all the games in the lot. You could throw the games you are not as interested in on eBay and sometimes doing this will actually help pay for the games you did want. This is a general idea that also helps seal the deal at places like a flea market and garage sale when the seller just wants to get rid of it all at once.
If you are new to game collecting sometimes reaching out to family and friends can be a good way to get some games on the cheap. Maybe your aunt has a box of games in her attic that your cousins don’t play with anymore. She may one day just drop them off at a thrift store to be donated, or sell them in a garage sale. If she knew that you were interested in such things she would be more than happy to give them to you to help clear space in her house. The same goes for friends or coworkers who are looking to do the same thing. All in all it never hurts to get the word out and you may be surprised what ends up coming your way one day.
The first place I would look for games would actually be Gamestop, if the system I was collecting for was available of course. I actually have already written a complete article on Gamestop and how to get the most out of them, so I will not go into further detail here. If your system of choice is available there I would check out this link: https://medium.com/@jamestwhitlock/unpopular-opinion-i-kind-of-like-gamestop-625706753e10
My favorite places to go for my game collecting needs are my local retro game stores. Even if I do not find any games that I want, just looking around these stores and talking to other game collectors is a blast. To find these stores just open google maps and type in video games. If you have retro game stores in your area then this should help you find them. These are also great places to ask questions and get knowledgeable answers. Also building relationships with sellers could help you later on, as they might let you know if they have games they know you are looking for, and may even help you find some.
The next place I would look for games would be my local thrift shops. I was lucky enough to live near two Goodwill stores when I picked up a large part of my collection. I made a habit of going to these two stores every day on my way home from school or work. These types of stores are good because all games, regardless of what they are or what system they are for, will be the same price, which is usually under $5. These stores also tend to have random stuff that you may need for your collection such as controllers, or other random peripherals. I have even picked up CRT televisions and game guides at these stores, so they are really worth checking out from time to time.
Garage sales are also great places to pick up games when they are around. One key to garage sales is to ask if they have any more games. Sometimes if you use keywords such as Nintendo, Playstation, or Xbox then the sellers will remember that they have a box of it somewhere and come bring it out for you. The people running garage sales usually are doing so to just get rid of their stuff and make more space in their homes. If you ever go up to a garage sale and you see games lined up on a table with individual price tags, you probably are not going to get a deal. Either way it is usually worth stopping to check to see what the person has because if they have a deal it is usually a really good one.
Next up are online marketplaces like Facebook, Craigslist, Offer Up, and other similar websites. Personally I have not had a lot of luck buying games on these sites, but I always hear about other people getting great deals. The trick to getting the most out of these is to catch the person early. Other game collectors, or resellers, usually hound these apps and sites so being willing to get up and go right away is always a plus.
Believe or not, Reddit and Instagram can also be great places to buy and trade games. There are a number of Reddit boards that specialize in game selling and trading. These can be great places to make deals with sellers who are looking to skip eBay fees and share the savings with you. Instagram can also be a great place to buy games from individuals as well. If you throw in the hashtag, #claimsale, you can usually find a good amount of sellers trying to get rid of their games. These also avoid eBay fees so you should save some money that way.
Finally we get to the big one, eBay itself. eBay is the largest online marketplace where you can pretty much find any game you are looking for in seconds. The problem with eBay is that everyone else is also looking on eBay so you have more competition. There are also bots on eBay that instantly buy games that are under priced instantly so you also have to compete that way. However, there are a few tips you can take advantage of to get the most out of eBay. The first tip is you should always check what a game has sold for in the recent past. You can do this by hitting the filter that says sold listings. This will give you an idea of what other people have paid for the game, so you know not to overpay. The next tip would be filter listings by newly listed. Sometimes doing this will let you grab a game that others have not seen yet that may be a good deal. There are a ton of other eBay tips you can take advantage of, but listing them all would be a full article by itself. Keep checking back on my profile and I will eventually create an article that goes over eBay in its entirety.
Hopefully these tips have not only inspired you to start your own game collection, but have also helped you come up with ways in which you could save some money in the future. Remember that game collecting, or collecting anything for that matter, should be fun. Try to enjoy the hobby and do not be afraid to stop doing any of the above tips if you are not having fun doing them. Good luck, and happy game hunting!