A Guide on How To Find and Buy Retro Video Games
Here are my best tips and tricks for learning how to hunt for retro video games alongside real life experience!
I love video games: I assume you do too if you are reading our site. Outside of playing games, one of my favorite parts of the video game industry is collecting. Whether it’s the games themselves, player guides, memorabilia, or statues, I love building up my own collection of gaming memorabilia and displaying it.
Over the years, I’ve learned a few things about how to find the games I want, especially when it comes to retro games. I’m still learning new tips, tricks, tools, and secrets all the time, but I thought it’d be a fun and useful tool to share what I know with you. So I’m whipping up a series of articles to provide my best advice for you to collect the games you want.
These articles will range from keeping track of your collection, protecting and storing the games, playing them on modern TVs, and this one, which is all about finding and buying the games you want.
Besides this advice from my own experiences, I wanted to point you in the direction of people, articles, and videos that have helped me along the way on building a retro game collection. I am by no means an expert or have a massive collection, but I do feel like I can offer some solid advice.
Without further ado, here are my best tips, tricks, and pointers for finding and buying retro video games.
Figure Out What You Want
Before storming the donation shops or hiking up a bid on eBay, it’s really important to hone in on what you are actually looking for. I’m a pretty organized guy and love having a plan or goal to chase after. I usually look for games I used to own as a kid, critically-acclaimed titles, or a franchise I adore, but I’m not hunting down mech peripherals for the original Xbox or early SEGA games.
Your goal may be NES games or a snazzy Pokémon Game Boy Color you had as a kid. It could be the white whales like a boxed copy of EarthBound. Heck, it could be to just get one of everything in a series. Whatever your goal is, make sure you establish it first.
With that goal laid out, you may or may not want to make a hit list. If it’s a smaller, more focused goal, a list can be a huge help to establish exactly what you are looking for. My wife’s cousin has her hit list packed with rare Spyro games and some N64 gems. I find that using a note on my phone is easiest, but some people use spreadsheets, websites, or apps to keep track of their hit list for collecting retro games.
One last tip before striking out that I can recommend is creating a budget. Come to terms with exactly how much you’d be willing to pay for certain copies or systems, as it can get pricey very quickly. This will help keep you grounded when the bidding gets heated or you happen to see a boxed copy of The Legend of Zelda: Oracle of Ages in the wild.
Another helpful pre-hunt idea is to research the games that you are looking for. For a decent idea on what a game should cost, I recently have discovered Price Charting. It’s an extensive database that checks recent sales of every game and provides a snapshot of what the game should cost in various conditions. Combine that with a look at the current going prices on eBay and you should have a comfortable idea of what retro games are going for these days.
The biggest piece of pre-hunt advice I can offer you is to learn how to spot a fake copy. Especially when dealing with GBA games or other handheld titles, reproduction carts can really ruin your day. Bidding online can make this especially tough. Check out the photos and compare them to the real deal before bidding. In retro stores, ask if they authenticate games or if you yourself can open them up in the store.
Here’s a short story the hammer this point home. I saw this bid item on Goodwill’s auction site for a copy of EarthBound, and thought I stumbled across a real win. EarthBound was in the bundle, but not directly named. I put in a $150 bid. Later on though, I started thinking about the cart’s authenticity. I looked into it and realized that the label was a dupe, making me extremely uncomfortable about the game’s authenticity. I ended up calling Goodwill and retracting my bid. The bid ended up going for $173.
Moral of the story? Authenticate and research the best you can!
Where to Look
Now for the part of the editorial you probably came here for—where can you find some cool, old games! I’m going to be sharing from my hands-on experience, but there are plenty of options that I haven’t done myself. A flea market is one option that comes to mind for example. In the suggested reading at the bottom, there will be other ideas for you to try out too!
All hail the mighty eBay. This is most likely your first stop on the hunt for an older game or console. It feels like everything is there and the convenience is alluring. I feel like the prices can be pretty on the nose, if a little on the high side. The “Buy It Now” (BIN) feature sucks me in too.
I typically look for BIN items, solely for the convenience. Despite being the king auction site, I have rarely bid for items. I think the only bid I participated in and won was my Famicom-colored Game Boy Micro. BIN is great if the price is within a fair tolerance.
Another great part of eBay is the ability to buy things in piecemeal. I was given a copy of The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time Master Quest for the GameCube once as a Christmas gift, but it was just the disc. After getting complete-in-box (CIB) copies of all the other Zelda GameCube games, I decided to hunt down the box and manual. I was able to find each on their own in BIN bids. I paid a little more than if I had hunted down a separate CIB copy, but decided the extra money was worth the convenience.
Kotaku‘s Chris Kohler made me aware of a technique/tool called sniping; I’ve never done it myself, but you can read more on it in his article. It seems a bit like the bid system for the next website, Goodwill.
Really, eBay is a whole beast that I have barely dipped my toe into, but it definitely needs to be mentioned if you’re looking for older games.
Goodwill’s online auction site is where I got my first real jolt of excitement for finding and buying retro games. I snagged a copy of Super Metroid with a partial instruction manual and have been hooked since. I pop in every few months and search for keywords on my hit list; “Mario,” “Super Nintendo,” and more.
The way Goodwill auctions work is that you enter your highest bid price in up front. This is great for forcing yourself to stay within your budget. If you beat out the previous bidder or are the starting bid, your bid price will be the lowest value. If someone underbids your higher value, the bid will automatically bump up to the closest price bid. For example, I was bidding on a SNES in its original box; my max bid was $30. I beat out the previous high bid of $25 and the new visible high bid was $26. I was beat out by a $32 bid, which raised the visible high bid to $31.
If you win at a price below your max bid, then that is the price you pay. Goodwill won’t automatically bump you up to your max offer. One factor you should pay attention to and factor in is the shipping cost. Goodwill uses FedEx a lot, and I find the average shipping cost to be $9-10. The site lets you calculate your shipping, so just check that before you put in an offer.
Goodwill can be a great place to find great deals. I once got a CIB copy of Twilight Princess for GameCube for $9: it was bundled with a broken Xbox 360 and a couple PS1 games. Goodwill can also be a fingers-crossed sort of deal since the only real evidence to go off is a picture. That copy of Twilight Princess may have come with everything for $9, but the disc wouldn’t load past the file name screen. Just know you are taking a chance with anything you get.
This may or may not be a shocker, but GameStop actually has an okay selection of retro games. While their brick-and-mortar stores don’t outright sell the classic games, their website does. If you aren’t in the market for the case, manual, or any other goodies that came packed in with a game, GameStop may just be the route for you. They won’t always have the games you want in stock and there’s no way to verify the authenticity or condition of the game beforehand, but it can be a super convenient way to get older games.
Sometimes their games are more expensive than the average going price for a loose cart. Older stuff may be on the expensive side, while more recent games are more fairly-priced. SNES games are typically more expensive, and GBA games can be on the money or a smidge less. Like Goodwill, you’ll have to pay for shipping, so factor that into your cost as well. I got my copy of Metroid Fusion from them and it was in great shape, but your mileage may vary.
Retro Video Game Stores
My favorite place to find games is at my local retro video game stores. I’m fortunate enough to live near five different stores. If you live near some too, you’ll definitely want to pop in and out from time-to-time. If you aren’t sure if there is one near you, type “video games” into Google Maps and see what pops up. It’s totally worth a shot!
If you are on the hunt for a very specific title, you can simply try calling ahead to see if they have it: I did this for Four Swords Adventures and found one store had just the disc, while another had it CIB. If you have a wider range of targets or just want to see what tickles your fancy in the moment, just swing on by and browse what they have in-store.
You can also see if the shops have a Facebook page or websites where they show off their inventory. My wife told me to follow our most recent shop discovery on Facebook, which has been dangerous for our bank account. It also did lead me to find my CIB copy of Ocarina of Time with almost all the original shrink wrap still around the box. It is a blessing and a curse.
Retro game stores are also just rad to explore. You can see stuff you never knew existed, like banana edition N64 controllers or a rare SNES game about evolving from nothing. You can also make connections with your local community and swap collecting stories. It’s fun to get out and hunt in person.
Like I said before, I’m no tried-and-true expert when it comes to hunting down video games: I’ve read and researched a bunch, plus had a little success finding games I really wanted. Plenty of articles and videos have helped me along the way. At the bottom of these posts, I’d like to share content* that I’ve used that has taught or helped me along the way for retro game collecting. These folks know more than I do, and you should read their tips too. It can never hurt to have more knowledge.
- “Five Best Places to Buy Used Games and Consoles” by Alan Henry on Lifehacker
- “A Beginner’s Guide to Collecting Video Games” by Ben Bertoli on Kotaku
- “Video Game Collecting Tips For Beginners” by Chris Kohler on Kotaku
- “The Best Places To Buy Old Games” by Chris Kohler on Kotaku
*Yes, I’m aware all four of these are from the same network, but each has different tips and takes.
Hopefully, all of this helped you jumpstart your hunt for the games you want the most. I’d love to hear your success (or failure) stories, along with your own tips and tricks! Where do you like to shop? Let’s chat in the comments!