Video Game Price Guide: No Price Tag on Nostalgia

Key Points

  • The video game industry increases prices on consoles and games to keep up with the rate of inflation.

  • Many collectors refer to a video game price guide to decide how much to purchase retro games for.

  • Many people check video game price guides to determine if old video games are high in value today.

Both novice gamers and avid video game collectors alike are constantly amazed and baffled at how expensive gaming is. In November of 2022, retail gaming revenue hit a whopping 6.29 billion dollars, making the gaming industry one of the fastest-growing and most lucrative forms of entertainment. Gaming is quite an expensive hobby leading many to seek a video game price guide to find out which games over history were the most lucrative — and to see which favorite classics have helped shape the gaming industry.  

In today’s era of gaming, buyers may refer to a video game price guide to determine if the latest games being released are worth the steep price tag. With the standard console game costing upwards of $60 per game, players are looking for top-tier graphics, storylines, and a user-friendly system before they buy. 

Collectors of the classics often check the quality of retro game cards, discs, and consoles before adding video games to their library. Sellers with rare old games also seek a high price point to turn a profit on their stash. 

So how do you tell if your favorite games are making waves in the market? Here’s the cost breakdown for both old and new games. 

Back in the Day

In 1977, the Atari console was released marking the very beginning of at-home gaming for many people.

Although it may not be the first video game console in existence (that title belongs to the Odyssey released just a few years before), the Atari console was the first console to use cartridges to allow people to play a variety of games. The Atari 2600 system was the first of its kind to plug directly into the television, and thus it marks the beginning of history for video game enthusiasts everywhere. 

At the time, a new Atari console cost about $200, and a game cartridge cost about $40. Keeping up with the cost of inflation makes this console ridiculously expensive in today's climate. 

The U.S Bureau of Labor Statistics’ inflation calculator estimates that the Atari console would cost about $800 today. Not only would the console be wildly unaffordable to most, but the average game cost of $170 per game would be enough for buyers to leave this bad boy on the shelf! 

Despite the technological advancements through the years, video game consoles for the most part remained around the average $200 price point over the next few decades. It wasn’t until early 2000 that the average gaming console jumped in price to around $300 when Playstation and Xbox became the top leaders in the gaming industry. There were of course outliers with the Neo Geo (1990) costing gamers $650 at launch and selling games at a whopping $200 per game, but overall, most gaming companies stuck to the same prices to stay true to supply and demand at the time. 

Video game cartridge prices increased much earlier than their consoles. By 1990, the average game cost was about $50. The release of the Xbox 360 was the tipping point that changed the video game industry into what is known today, and it set the precedent for prices for the games and consoles that are being developed and released for this new generation of gamers.  

Xbox Vs Playstation

On November 22, 2005, Microsoft released its most successful console to date: the Xbox 360.

The Xbox's success as a console is attributed to a variety of factors. Notably, the Halo franchise played a huge part in these sales since war games became increasingly popular with the target audience in the early 2000s. Halo 3 sold for $50 and was sold alongside more than 50 percent of all Xbox 360 consoles. 

The factor that put the Xbox 360 apart from its lead competitor the Playstation 3 (PS3) ultimately came down to price. With an almost $200 price difference, the PS3 was a vastly more expensive console. From its release in 2005 to 2016, the Xbox 360’s superior FPS gaming and community-based play sold 84 million units.

Although cost played a big factor in low sales of the PS3 at first, both video game fans and novice tech-heads began to appreciate the glamor of this console. The addition of a Blu-Ray player built into the system meant that families could have just one device connected to the TV instead of two separate machines. PlayStation found a way to flip their consoles from leisure hobbies to household staples, and by 2017, they sold over 87 million devices. 

Today, the battle between Playstation and Xbox continues. With the Xbox Series S/X and the Playstation 5 both selling for around $500, fans pay around $60 per game. 

With the cost of inflation in mind, these prices aren’t as outstandingly different from what older consoles would have cost had they been released today. Ever since the first release of the PlayStation in 1995, Xbox and PlayStation have been pretty consistent in keeping up with inflation costs and with each other. Overall, both are great, similar consoles and fans continue to give their patronage to their personal favorite based on the games available.

Consoles for the Family

With gaming being such an expensive hobby, the Nintendo company takes pride in having some of the most affordable consoles on the market. Nintendo is known to market games to families, and its success has made its consoles and devices some of the highest-grossing units in the industry.

The Nintendo Wii was the cheapest option on the market during its release in 2006, and its casual gaming type and accessibility helped it sell over 101 million units. At $150, it cost the same price as its wildly popular predecessor the Nintendo DS, a handheld device that has sold over 154 million units since its release in 2004. 

Game costs are also an average of $10 cheaper on Nintendo devices than on other consoles on the market.

Instead of tapping into the popular war game market like Xbox and Playstation, the Nintendo Wii opted for more family-friendly gaming showcasing the motion control gimmick by releasing games that motivated people to get off the couch to play Just Dance and Wii Sports. Buyers with young families were incentivized to purchase these consoles because they promoted a more active lifestyle, and Nintendo’s enticingly low price point made it a must-have console in many homes. 

Today, Nintendo still offers the lowest-priced consoles on the market. With the Nintendo Switch costing $300 a unit, fans enjoy the versatility of a to-go device as well as an easy-to-set-up docking station. Nintendo also offers the Nintendo Switch Lite for $199 making Nintendo the cheapest option over Xbox and PlayStation.

Retro Gaming Is Getting Lucrative

Collectors and hobbyists rejoice every time a game or console stops being manufactured. Popular games being off the market means that their worth only goes up. Retro gamers would be wise to look through their old collections to see if some of their childhood favorites are in high demand!

Games that once cost a few dollars at the store are now worth a pretty penny, and some of the rarest games around are quoted to be worth thousands. 

With so many games being created every day, it’s lucky for collectors when they find a game that wasn’t as widely produced as other cartridges on the market, so these rare retro games are always the ones that are bid the highest for. Here are the top five rarest video games ever sold:

Nintendo World Championships (Gold)

Made as a prize to give away at the Nintendo Power contest, 26 gold Nintendo World Championships cartridges were manufactured in 1990 for the NES system. The gold cartridges are the rarest in the NES system, and one game sold for $100,088 on eBay in February 2014.

Gamma Attack 

Gamma Attack is the rarest game for the Atari 2600 console with the only physical copy belonging to a collector named Anthony DeNardo after he bought a large number of games from a family friend. Not thinking much about this game, he happened to check with the AtariAge community and was shocked to find this game was something of a legend.

There was lots of speculation at the time around this elusive game with diehard Atari fans speculating that perhaps the game never existed at all and that it was all a conspiracy. Finding a copy of this mythical game created quite the buzz, and this elusive game made waves in the collectors’ circles by being valued at $50,000. 

Stadium Events

Released in 1986, Stadium Events' heyday was short-lived as it was quickly rebranded as World Class Track Meet for the North American version of the NES systems in 1987. The North American copies of Stadium Events are now some of the rarest cartridges on the market with the valued price at $20,000 a game. In 2017, a private buyer purchased a shrink-wrapped copy for $41,977 — doubling its valued price.

Birthday Mania 

Developed for the Atari 2600, Birthday Mania was a game that allowed the player to complete various birthday-themed activities such as blowing out candles or popping balloons. The game was only available through magazine orders, and customers were to mail in the money for the game and the information of the recipient.

The developer, Robert Anthony Tokar, would then add your name to the title screen and ship the game to you in a personalized package. Adorable, right? The game only sold around 10 copies and for this reason, became extremely rare for collectors to track down. This game is valued at $35,000 and many collectors are hoping their birthday wishes come true so they can get their hands on this retro game!

Air Raid 

Two copies of this Atari 2600 game were found and sold making this game extremely rare for collectors. This Space Invaders-type game sold at auctions, both for over $30,000, in their original packaging. More recently, an employee at Goodwill in Fort Worth, Texas found a playable copy of this game in 2021 and was able to sell it on eBay for $10,590.79.

Is Your Old-School Game Worth Anything?

Rare games aren’t the only high-selling items on the collector’s market. Fan favorite classics such as Super Mario 64 and Final Fantasy VII are frequently selling for high prices at auctions and online. Keeping cartridges in mint condition is a huge factor in giving these at-home names such a high price point. It goes to show that there is no price too high to pay for a bit of nostalgia! 

So how do you tell if your dusty box of old games has some hidden gems? Here’s how you value the prices of your old games:

Look for Unopened, Sealed, Like-New Games

Games in mint condition are like a look back in time. The value of the cartridge increases drastically if it is pristine with the manual still in the case. These games — and especially rare ones — are the hardest to find and the easiest to sell.

Check for Damage

If you did happen to open your games and enjoy them in your childhood (the collector’s greatest shame), they most likely aren’t going to be in mint condition. So try and buff the sparkle back into the cartridges! Collectors want to purchase games that are still playable, have labels that are still intact and aren't peeling, and have vibrant colors that haven’t faded.

Version Numbers

Although a publisher rarely prints version variations between different print runs and regions where the copies are sold, there are distinctly different copies of popular games that collectors search for.

These differences may be harder for the average person to spot, so you’ll have to look closely to see if there are any trademark variations, color markings, or labels that look different from your version versus the same game on the market. In 2020, a copy of Super Mario Bros 3 was sold for a whopping $156,000 all because the word "Bros” was printed on the left side of the box instead of the right! 

Get the Game Appraised

Looking to sell some games at an auction? There’s no harm in getting a second (or third or fourth) opinion on your collection to determine its value! There are plenty of free price charting websites available to the novice collector, but if you think your games are really something special, it’s always best to have an evaluator who is an expert in game knowledge pass an eye over your stuff.

For the Die-Hard Fans

With gaming becoming more and more digital, the rarity of physical game cartridges continues to increase. The gaming community continues to grow at a staggering rate, and in keeping with the cost of inflation, so do the prices of these games. Between an influx of collector’s items on the market and limited edition games not actually being limited, how do you know if some of these retro games are really increasing in value?

Price charting apps and websites keep a comprehensive list of the cost of video games that help users determine the value of their collection. People also turn to video game price guides to help them determine if their games have increased in value over time.

Overall, the time it takes to research, locate, and purchase lucrative retro game cartridges is a tedious and arduous task. Die-hard fans devote much of their lives to creating the perfect collection of games.

No Price Tag

For most people, the collection of games they choose to have is not about rarity or keeping it in mint condition. Video games are about having fun, and many collections players keep are just the games that make them happy.

At the end of the day, joyful memories and good experiences are resurfaced through games played in childhood. No matter if your collection is filled with rare copies or simply a couple of your favorite games, these are the games that raised you, and you can’t put a price tag on that.

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