Want to build a gaming collection on a budget?
It’s taken me years, but I’ve managed to amass what is a rather interesting and large collection. Being rather proud, I post pics of my collection every year, with recurring questions often surrounding how much I’ve spent over the years on my obsession… I mean hobby. Whilst I would rather not remind myself of the many partings I have seen between me and my wallet, the actual total is much lower than it should have been. This is basically because of how cheap I am. It has also resulted in me learning little techniques that greatly reduce the cost of the games and related that I want. Make sure to look through here to save your wallet from being brutalized as you enjoy the hobby of game collecting.
An issue I tend to see with other collectors, and even myself at times, is that it can be easy to fall in the trap of wanting everything and anything. Despite how alluring it feels to shrink the space on our shelves and increase the size of our gamer ego, this is an easy way to spend money on things you may not actually want. The trick here is to carefully consider what you want to collect: consoles, genres, franchises, etc… Sit down and compose a list of the games you genuinely want to play, then slowly build from that. Really enjoy JRPGs? Fine, start there, buy a couple of Final Fantasy games and in no time you will be wondering where to stick that large Chocobo plush you found in Goodwill. This keeps collections cohesive to a point where the bulk is comprised of items you genuinely enjoy owning, rather than mass spending and dealing with a high quantity but low quality collection. Of course, there will be discoveries that lead you down an entirely different path in the collecting scene.
Know your hobby and understand its market
A key to any hobby is being firm on what you want and the price you are willing to pay. This knowledge grows the more you’re in the hobby. Simple actions such as checking eBay or asking those in-the-know can provide insight into general pricing and trends surrounding an item.
Pre-order your Collector’s Editions
A mistake I see many collectors do is fail to pre-order an item they want. With AAA releases and other large releases, pre-ordering isn’t always necessary to get a copy as it is nearly guaranteed to be available everywhere. Collector’s editions are a different story. You may need to be around as soon as the pre-order becomes available to secure a copy. Scalpers will take advantage of the perceived scarcity and either pre-order many to sell after release, or sell their pre-orders. As a rule, don’t bother with them. Plan accordingly as some colelctor’s editions are readily available but some quickly become scarce, like JRPG or Nintendo games. If you miss out on a pre-order, play the waiting game and they will likely show up at some point.
Shop around and stalk potentially good places
Like with any sort of product, shopping around is a great way to make sure that the deal you’re going to get is the best possible. With newer games, it is easy to frequent multiple shops as many stores carry games these days. Online, it is just a matter of looking through deal sites and checking out all the major sites you know of. Don’t forget, it’s not always the price. Some sites may have better versions of the game at a slightly higher price, but with things such as DLC or pre-order bonuses.
Secondhand games are a different ordeal. Although many retailers are moving away from pre-owned goods and dedicated stores are also moving away from older consoles, it takes time to work out where may stock what you’re looking for. Look for as many second hand dealers as possible, such as pawn shops and charity/Goodwill shops. These places may hold the best deals, but finding these deals is a rare occurrence, and there is increased competition from collectors and resellers. To make proper use of these places, write down a list of the shops you wish to look through, then make it a habit of checking these places whenever you can. I do this on my Saturday mornings. With some stores, try getting to know the owners or staff. Repeated visits and purchases will typically lead to this relationship happening naturally. If these people like you, they may help you out and hold back items that may pique your interest. Otherwise, just get accustomed to asking employees to check for new stock.
Stalking on eBay
eBay is the easiest place to find games, with the majority of people using the site as a way to sell off their games. As retrogaming has become more popular, many users are exploiting the resale opportunity. This makes eBay hunting that much more difficult. Still, there are a few ways to get good deals on eBay.
The first involves searching for what you’re looking for and hoping a good deal is available. “Buy it Now” items will near always be the most expensive, but auctions can lower the cost down a certain amount. Keep checking auctions, at some point there will be a listing that gets lower exposure and attracts less bidders. Some games may also just be rare, meaning lots of high fixed cost listings, but wait for an auction and you may get that game for a tiny fraction of what others are selling it for.
The second tip requires messing around with the search tools. Set the search to “auction only”, “ending soonest” and keep it within the country. This way you can scroll through each listing as they end, with many deals being easy to spot since they are coming to a close. Check this at less popular hours (early morning, late night) and you will end up catching one or two great deals since hardly anyone else is around to bid on them.
Lastly, you can also do the opposite. Search for newly listed, fixed listings. Some items go up for sale and are not thoroughly researched beforehand, resulting in loads of expensive games and items going up for sale at cheap prices. This requires frequent checking, as these deals get snapped up fast. This has worked for me a lot in the past and allowed me to obtain games I would definitely not be able to afford otherwise.
Keep these tabs pinned on your browser (along with one or two deal sites) and check them now and then to catch a couple of bargains.
Facebook stalking video games
Facebook can be a treasure trove for deals. It just requires joining a good amount of groups. Selling groups are a large part of Facebook in the current age, serving as a more populated Gumtree or Craigslist. Make sure to join any local classified groups, check it every now and again and you will end up finding a good deal often. These tend to be newer games though, but it is a good way to find certain games and consoles dirt cheap. On the other hand, there are rather large game trading groups, such as Ultimate Traders or Retro Game Trader on Facebook (UK only, but there are groups in every country). This is a good place to find like-minded collectors, many of which will sell games under eBay value and may even trade as well. Scammers do prey on these groups occasionally, so be wary, but most groups will have a feedback system of sorts. Price gouging and scalping are slightly prevalent as well, but look through it and you may find some of the games you’ve been looking for cheap.
Spot trends in the game collecting ecosystem
Trends, which can be difficult to catch on to early, can be a great way to collect at a lower price. For example, when a new game in a series comes out, the older games tend to jump in price, as was seen with Fallout 3 after the release of its sequel. Youtubers can often increase the notoriety of a game or item as well, driving people to seek it out, such as games featured on The Angry Video Game Nerd, or PatTheNesPunk and his effect on the price of Danny Sullivan’s Indy Heat.
Other trends tend to be more long term, such as the case with nostalgia based collectors. Going back a few years, Atari games were far more expensive to collect than they are now, this was because many collectors were fixated on getting their childhood classics, whereas now they’ve given up collecting. The trend is starting to further move on, slowly moving away from NES, with a current emphasis being on SNES and N64.
Frequently attend car boot sales, swap meets, & garage sales
The truth is that there are games out there people haven’t got a clue about what they are worth a lot to the likes of you and me. These types of sales are the best way to get games cheap. They’re also the most fun as there is a sense of ‘hunting’ when perusing through people’s junk. You also never know what you might find. As with all the methods I’ve mentioned, there are tips to getting the most out of this. Being efficient is the main factor, other people will be out doing the same thing, so make sure you get there bright and early. Like 6am early, even before. A common, but irritating, technique a lot of collectors do (usually resellers) is to bother sellers as they arrive and attempt to get first dibs on what they have. Personally, I think this does take the fun away and it just annoys the seller, but the option is there if you’re desperate. If you’ve been collecting for a while, then you will probably have the eyes of a gaming hawk, being able to spot games from a distance and easily find things of value. This also increases efficiency, decreasing the time taken to walk around and letting you get to the deals first.
Don’t buy consoles unless they are priced at an offer you just can’t refuse. Classic retrogaming systems are safer, but newer systems have more that can go wrong with them. There is little a buyer can do once they’ve figured out the item is wrong. If it’s a portable, try checking it before making a purchase and leaving. I carry AAA and AA batteries with me to check Gameboy and Game Gear systems at these places before I buy them. I’ve heard plenty of cautionary tales about the likes of this, so if you want to buy consoles take these precautions.
Buying games in lots
Occasionally, the games we want appear in lots with other games. Buying in lots can be a great way to obtain an item you want or selling off the stuff you don’t want to make the money back. The other great thing about obtaining games this way is how the listing appears on eBay. Lots rarely list everything contained and elusive or rare games don’t receive the exposure they would get otherwise. Contrary to this, resellers often jump onto these lots for the profitability involved. Be wary of people trying to snipe auctions on you. Lot buying does take a keen eye and a bit of research to make the most out of this method. Being able to quickly identify the game you want, then trawl through the listing to see what else is of value (to make the money back) takes decent knowledge of game collecting and prices, otherwise you will have to sit and research each game.
This method also relies on being savvy. Many sellers try to box off their junk. Junk can refer to many things, but the most common are sports titles (Fifa, Madden, etc…) and ‘untested’ items. The former is very easy to spot, as many of these large game lots only contain either sports titles, shovelware, duplicates, and a couple of alright titles peppered throughout. Don’t buy into these, it may seem like a great way to boost up a collection, but you are going to end up with a lot of shelf space being taken up by near worthless items. Additionally, stay away from any of the ‘Japanese gaming lots’, they always put the good games at the top and then make up the grand majority of the listing with shovel ware.
Untested items, is a newer trick sellers use to sell off broken items without receiving grief from the buyer. Most of the time, these items are broken; so I urge you not to bother with them. There is always the few sellers that genuinely can’t test the games, or consoles. Check their past listings and current listings, if they are selling other games often. Then determine from their history if it’s likely that the items in the lot are broken. Otherwise, if they are selling random things, it may just be a clearance firm and it is potentially a safer bet to buy the lot.
Overall, I would say buying in lots is one of the better techniques, if done right. Many of my rare and more expensive titles have been obtained this way, seeing me pay much less than the actual value of the items. Just remember to keep the hobby fun and sell off, or trade, what you don’t want at a fair rate; this will result in quicker sales for you and better deals for other gamers.
Buy your game in pieces, assemble it over time
This may seem like an odd one to many, but it can be a seriously cheap way of getting the game you want. There have been times when I have seen a game I really want to play, but it is missing the manual or the case. Still, I’ve snapped up some games when the price was right. Over time I’ve managed to find the missing component to complete them at a much lower price than CIB (complete in box). Boxes are the hardest to come by cheap. It is possible to buy reproduction boxes that are brand new and good quality. However, don’t try to sell the game on eBay as ‘complete’ if has a reproduction box. It is unethical and ruins the hobby for the rest of us.
Importing can be a difficult task for some consoles, but much cheaper when possible. This is more effective with consoles that aren’t originally region-free, and require some sort of tampering. Older systems with lockout chips like the NES, SNES, & Megadrive are easy to bypass. They only require steady hands and a bit of common sense to get around. A lot of systems also had peripherals that allowed for the playing of import copies, such as the Gamecube freeloader disk and the N64 Passport. I would only recommend importing if you are only interested in playing the game and paying less to do so. Adding imports as a subset to a collection will make them stick out.
Homebrew and system hacking is also an option on some systems, but this is technically unethical and can affect the console’s performance or make it cease to function.
Like everything, good things come to those who wait. Collecting is a timely process that involves care. It can be rewarding when done right. It seems to be a growing trend where anyone with a large enough wallet and a lack of restraint might go out and buy up a collection in months. Nothing quite beats finding a random bargain every now and then. There we have it, all the tips I am willing to divulge to those who want to collect on a budget. My methods may not work for everyone. With practice, you will develop your own strategies and nuances to furthering your collection.