Retro Game Collecting, Pt. 2: Three Questions For The Would-be Collector
A Note From The Author: I apologize profusely for the long delay between posts. I have had a very hectic work schedule for the past couple of weeks but it seems to finally be slowing down enough that I can commit a proper amount of time to this blog. I'll try very hard to maintain a more regular schedule from this point on, and to also keep you guys in the loop when a update might be slow in coming in the future. Thanks for your patience! You guys and gals, rock!
Welcome to part 2 of our blog series! I'm back with more retro game collecting tips and tricks. If you read our first blog post on the topic then go right on ahead and keep reading. If you haven't then it'd be a good idea to take quick gander at part 1 of our blog series over here. It has some good information that you can use to judge for yourself whether retro game collecting is something you want to give a try. But if you feel confident in your decision to take the plunge then don't let me stop you!
If you were to ask me to define what retro game collecting is all about I would tell you, in as simple of terms as I can, that it is a personal hobby dedicated to the accumulation of video games, gaming systems, and other associated electronics that came out prior to a certain date or "generation" of gaming. The specified date or designated "generation" would constantly be in flux. Time marches ever onward, and the most current hardware and games will eventually become obsolete. After enough time has passed the best or most memorable of these are lucky enough to be elevated to the status of "retro" or "classic" and be held dear in the hearts of gamers the world over despite the availability of a massive cavalcade of ever more immersive modern experiences.
However, you might have noticed that my definition leaves out many things. The question was a broad one. Coming up with a singular definition to retro game collecting is practically impossible. Games, systems, and peripherals are the three heavy hitters of the retro gaming world, but I know many people that also love to collect retro game magazines, posters, strategy guides, and other forms of marketing material. Some retro tech-savvy collectors buy exclusively the games and hardware that others deem "broken", often for dirt cheap prices, and apply their knowledge and skills to resurrect the derelict and dejected. Retro Game Collecting can take many forms. In fact, the Game part is a bit of a misnomer. As a collector you will express your individual passions through how you choose to involve yourself in the world of retro collecting. This leads me to my first question...
What Is Your Endgame?
What is your ultimate goal as a collector? The way I see it there are three paths that any collector can take.
The first path is that of the private collector. Do you want to amass a large collection to show off to your friends at parties or gaze at admiringly while relaxing? Do you envision having a gaming room with shelves of awesome titles and collectibles, and a custom-built entertainment center for your systems with recessed programmable lighting? Do you hear a little voice in your head compelling you to check eBay for more game listings every couple of hours? Oh, no to that last one? Ok, guess that one's just me. But if you answered yes to the other two then you probably want to function as a private collector, at least starting out. The vast majority of retro collectors are private collectors. It's easy to manage and doesn't require a huge time investment, or financial investment if you play your cards right. You can focus your efforts on the games and systems you want without diluting your efforts attempting to sell your overstock or promote a business. If you think your efforts will be more casual in approach then being a private collector is your game!
The second path is the path of the entrepreneur. You may have dreams of creating your own business. It may be a brick and mortar store front filled with shelf after shelf of retro games, goodies, and collectibles, or it may be a online store front where you can hock your wares to a much larger audience but without the water cooler banter and larger financial upkeep of the former. Generally speaking your profit margins will increase drastically when going online and your initial investments are much smaller. But online businesses can easily get drowned in a flood of competition and are at the mercy of search engines and online review aggregates. Either way you're in for a big time investment that may stretch you thin and leave you with little energy to put into your own collection. Your primary focus as a collector operating a business is to work your social and commercial networks to find the best deals out there, as well as to improve your brand recognition and credibility as a vendor. Register for conventions and other events and check out any industry organizations in your local area to get better acquainted with your fellow vendors.
The last path is a blend of the previous two, a hybrid of a private collector that still operates on some levels as a business. You'll often work as a middle man to fellow collectors and businesses by orchestrating deals, hunting down products, and getting a cut for your efforts. You'll have some time dedicated to your own collection while also promoting your services, either online, by word of mouth, or through networking events. These types of collectors are becoming more and more common as those private collectors that have had years or even decades to accumulate very large collections and as well as pools of knowledge branch out to share their skills with others and promote the industry and culture. You may find you have the time, finances, and stock to jump straight in as a middle man collector. The hardest part is growing your reputation, but a good place to start is to create a business image for yourself through simple marketing materials such as websites, business cards, and social media presences. It takes time to cultivate but soon enough you'll find yourself with a steady list of potential clients and orders. Additionally, you aren't anchored down to a documented business that has to pay taxes and pour money into maintenance and upkeep. You also don't have to deal with pesky things like landlords and rent.
Now that we've covered what your endgame can be as a collector, let's jump straight into the second question, which is...
What Is Your Focus?
Your focus is what you want to have in your collection. It doesn't have to be all encompassing. It doesn't even have to specify a system, manufacturer, or style of game. You can be a JRPG collector, or a SNES collector, or a SEGA collector, or a Games With Neon Purple On Their Label collector. The sky is the limit! And it need not be permanent either. You can start out focusing on one thing and within a few weeks focus on something else. This is the part of your collecting entirely within your control, and at your personal whimsy. Personally, I am a jack-of-all-trades collector. I want it ALL! And I want it NOW! Haha, well I would, but personal time constraints and a limited budget prevent me from doing so.
You can decide on your focus, if you even have one (which I don't), whenever you please and it may change several times over the course of your collecting, but you may want to put at least some small amount of research into it before you dive in. Prices will vary wildly from system to system. You can start out the true blue classics like NES, SNES, and Genesis which provide you plenty of stock to peruse and at relatively reasonable prices, and your collection can grow very quickly as a result. Or you can go for the rare systems/games like the Turbo-Grafx 16 (PC Engine in Japan) or Neo Geo. The most "common" games on these systems can go for ten to twenty times market value of the most available NES games. I won't try to sway you one way or another, but your choice might rely heavily on the answer to the third question, which is...
What Is Your Budget?
This is the MOST important question, honestly. Your collecting should be driven primarily by what you can reasonably afford, and THEN driven by your desires. Too many times I have seen fellow collectors blow too much money on collectibles and forget about the real life consequences that they come up short for bills or much needed groceries and supplies. I'm not saying it happens often, but even just once is one times too many to me. You may think that to be taken seriously as a collector you need to keep up with the social elites and self made millionaires that have thousands and thousands of dollars to throw down on a limited editions whosa-whats-its, but you don't. I find most of these types to be rather gauche, anyway; only posting their amazing finds (i.e. what other people found for them) to spin up their already over inflated egos. The truth is a collector can accomplish great things even on a very modest budget.
It may take more time to do so, but your journey will be richer for it. You'll meet more vendors and fellow collectors by taking the time to find the best deal or track down a rare cartridge, and you'll compound that rewards with the experience and wisdom you gained through your research and planning. As the saying goes, life is what happens to you when you're busy making other plans. The same goes for collecting. You may start off with one objective and over the course of your trials you come to a completely different finish line.
Personally, I try to limit myself to a monthly budget of between $100-$200 dedicated to just game collecting. This doesn't count any money I make off of trade ins and sales and can be adjusted depending on things like if I'm attending a convention that month, or if I've been doing a good job putting money away into savings and retirement funds. I'm a bit of a penny pincher and I set very conservative restrictions for myself, but I also allow myself to splurge every now and then.
Set reasonable expectations and goals for your collection, learn to identify and create milestones to promote your progress (e.g I'm very close to hitting 200 individual NES games and I'd like to find a specific, rare game, Ninja Gaiden 3, to be my 200th title), and track your finances carefully. I shouldn't have to tell you this but I will anyway. Your life is not collecting. Collecting is a part of your life. Keep the bigger picture in focus while you're out there having fun, and only buy the things you can 1) afford at that time, and 2) are within the scope of your current focus.
This concludes part 2 of our blog series. Part 3 will finally start to get into some of the nitty gritty details such as some of the resources I use to find rare and exciting items! Check back soon for Part 3 of our series, "Fantastic Games And How To Find Them"!
Until next time, gamerguys and -gals!