Why Are Retro Video Games So Expensive?

Why Are Retro Video Games So Expensive?

Something very interesting happened with the retro video game market  in the last decade. While video game popularity was always on the rise, many people became interested in retro video games.

People who played games in the 1980s and 1990s became more interested in video games from those eras. But as the masses ran out to relive their childhood they realized it’s not going to be cheap. So why are retro video games so expensive?

Retro video games are expensive because an increasing number of gamers want to buy and play these old games while the supply is becoming smaller. As time passes many classic retro games are being lost, damaged, or hoarded by collectors.

But that is not the whole story. To understand why retro games are so expensive we have to take a look at what caused this renewed interest in video games from the past. What made many gamers want to take this trip down Memory Lane?

Why Are Retro Games So Expensive?

The “Nostalgia Factor” Has More People Buying  Games

One cause for the high price tag is the fact that many people want to play these games from the past because of nostalgia. There are good memories many people have when playing an old game and we want to relive those memories.

We all had fun when we played the original Super Mario Kart on N64. We all remember the matches we had with friends or family when playing Street Fighter or Mortal Kombat.

Playing Super Mario Kart on Nintendo 64

Unfortunately, as life goes on, friends move away and our families aren’t around forever. So if gamers want to relive those moments, you can reminisce while playing the same game, and you might even make new memories.

The market for retro gaming is larger than it was 10 years ago and because these games are no longer made, the supply is going down not up.

Game Rarity Can Have An Effect On Price

When talking about old classics, there is an interest from a business standpoint depending on the game. One may wonder how did some games become rarer than others in the first place?

An example to explain this would be looking at the lineup from Nintendo when the Super Nintendo came out.

In North America, the Super Nintendo hit retail in 1991. However, video games continued to be developed and produced on the NES until 1995.

In the early ’90s, when we bought our Super Nintendo, we looked at the Nintendo like it was old news even though games were still being released for it.

Since these games didn’t sell so much because they were released on a previous generation console, these cartridges didn’t have as many copies made as to the popular video games that everyone knows of.

That’s why people are charging a lot more for Duck Tales 2 on Nintendo when you compare it to how much people are selling the original Duck Tales on Nintendo.

A list of the most rare games on some of the more popular systems

Atari 2600Air Raid, Pepsi Invaders, Atlantis II
Nintendo Entertainment SystemFamily Fun Fitness Stadium Events, Nintendo World Championship Gold, Nintendo World Championship Gray
SNESDonkey Kong Country Competition, Star Fox Super Weekend Competition, Exertainment Mountain Bikerally Speed Racer
Sega GenesisBlockbuster World Championships II, Outback Joey, Crusader of Centy [Cardboard Box]
Sony PlayStationSyphon Filter 3 (911 Edition), Klonoa Door To Phantomile, Persona Revelations Series, Suikoden II, Elemental Gearbolt (Assassin Case)

Condition And “Completeness” Will Affect Cost

People will always pay a premium for a superior product.

Unopened, factory sealed, boxed, or mint condition titles are more valuable than a loose one, but they are more in demand and can be harder for a collector to get their hands on. At the same time, some fans like the thrill of the adventure and the challenge created when searching for that special find.

Then there are unique products you will never find boxed, Demo disks or carts, promos, and prototypes, where there is a game but no box or documentation exist. Quite often these are in high demand regardless of condition, due to their limited release.

Popularity Can Affect Price

When I was selling games in the early 2000s the common games were cheap. I mean really cheap. The original pack-in Mario Bros for NES sold for $1-$2 and a loose cart of  Super Mario 3 could be easily found for under $10.

The retro craze had not yet started, and super common titles flooded the market. That has changed.

As more and more people started to seek out retro games, they would often start with their favorites, or try to rebuild the collection they had as a child. The demand for popular titles skyrocketed, and the price followed.

Collectors Be Collecting

Some people collect video games and they love the ones they had when they were young because of nostalgia. Those gamers may also have an interest in trying out the games they couldn’t afford or didn’t know about during the original run of these consoles.

However, there are many collectors out there that collect because they want the whole collection for a specific console sitting on their shelf. Some people also collect because of the monetary value of these games.

This “gotta catch ’em all” mentality takes thousands of products off the market for players who simply just want to play the game, or have a real interest in them besides just being able to check them off a list.

The Rare Stadium Events Game for NES

The cost of a rare game like Stadium Events is pretty crazy. A complete in-box copy of the game is sold for thousands of dollars at auction, and that’s if you can even find one. While eBay is still the best source to find a rare or sealed game at a good price, some only pop up from time to time and are often not worth the cost.

With all the different reasons for large game collections and so many people collecting them, it’s not hard to see why the values of video games has risen over the past decade.

You Can Actually Increase The Value Of A Game

As mentioned above, the collector market is hot, and as with most collectables your product will become more valuable it is confirmed and graded by a professional.

The Video Game Authority has become the go to place to get your rarest “treasures” graded. But it comes at a cost, so it is important to make sure you really have something special before you send it off to them.

Reliability/Value/Security

It is interesting that value would come up when discussing why retro games are so expensive, but you get what you pay for.

It’s no secret how tough cartridges are. Disc-based games like on the PlayStation and Xbox can become scratched and unplayable. You don’t have to worry about playing cartridges too much because they rarely just give up and stop working. Cartridges can take a lot more abuse than discs could.

Investing in a cartridge base collection that has a proven record of durability makes more sense to some, and I would have to agree.

Comparing cartridges to discs is one thing, the argument gets even more compelling when we compare them to digital downloads. 

I have dozens of games that I have downloaded to my Wii. When my system goes, my collection will go with it, as Nintendo has ended support for the Wii store and does not offer any way to redownload what I have paid for.

Some Games Are Being Lost

As durable as I just stated these games are, they are not invincible. Every time a game stops working, that is one less copy out there that will never be replaced. I have even seen working games been thrown out and destroyed.

Gaming CD Damaged By Disc Rot
Disc Rot is a real thing.

The quantities of actual retro games out there is shrinking and will continue to do so.

What If You Can’t Afford Retro Gaming?

There are alternatives if you don’t have a lot of money to spend but still want to play. Not every gamer cares about owning the original version and companies are bringing more and more classics back for the masses.

Here are some alternatives to owning actual physical copies of your favorite retro games.

Compilations/Anthologys On Newer Console

One of the best ways to grab a bit of the past is to pick up a compilation collection. Publishers will take a bunch of their best releases, bundle them up and re-release them on newer systems.

This practice has been around for a long time, and if you are actively looking for these titles you can get a really good deal on a bunch of popular titles for a low price.

While some companies focus on franchises like the “Mega Man Legacy Collection” or the famous “Orange Box”, others highlight several titles from the same company like the “Capcom Classics Collection” and “Data East Arcade Classics”

Now and then you will find a compilation that attacks a whole console like the amazing “Intellivision Lives!” or “Sonic’s Ultimate Genesis Collection”. Compilations like this are great because they not only contain a wide range of game types, they often focus on more of the popular titles.

Digital Downloads

Many consoles from the previous generation and the current generation allow you to play older games. On the PlayStation 3, if you have internet capabilities, you can log onto the PlayStation store and buy original PlayStation games. The Xbox One can play original Xbox and Xbox 360 games that you can buy from the Xbox store.

The Nintendo Switch has a limited selection of retro games available for Nintendo’s Online subscribers. Many of these favorites have new features add that actually make them better without taking away from the nostalgia

Definitely, a good option if you are just looking to play the occasional game here and there.

Mini / Classic Consoles

There have been several mini consoles released with games built-in that you play right off the console without needing an actual game cartridge. This option is a wonderful solution for those who are limited in space. You can have one or two tiny consoles by your tv that contain an entire library.

Atari has released many of these consoles under the Atari Flashback banner. Every Atari Flashback has different games built-in so you could revisit some of your old Atari favorites.

Sega also released a Sega Genesis with 40 games built in. 20 were quick pick up and play type games and 20 were more mainstream Genesis classics including franchises like Sonic and Shinobi.

Other miniature consoles have done well like the Nintendo mini and Super Nintendo mini. The SNES mini even included a game that was never released before.

Here is a list of some of the better mini consoles

This new way of playing has become a cheap alternative to an expensive hobby.

Retro Gaming With Emulators

Most video games are available to play through emulation. Emulators have been around for years so you don’t have to worry about them not working if you’re not playing on a high-performance PC.

There are  ROMs available for most anything that you would want to play on emulators and it’s not hard to find these ROMs on the internet.

You can download the emulator for just about every console and every game to go with it. The problem is downloading ROMs to games you don’t own a physical copy of is not exactly legal. So if you are a rule follower, stick to one of the other options.

You Can Still Build A Collection For Cheap

Retro gaming does not have to be expensive. There are cheap games out there for just about every console, and cheap does not necessarily mean bad.

You can build a nice collection for just about any system even when on a budget, however, it may take time and patience. Just understand that if you are not willing to put down some cash, you may not get everything  you want.


No one expected retro video games to become sought after again but there are many reasons why that is the case.

At the end of the day, it is simple supply and demand. Several factors are increasing the demand for and an equal amount of factors reducing the supply. Since the supply will continue to shrink as time goes on, prices will only go higher unless the demand levels off or reverses.

Even if you don’t happen to have a lot of disposable income, it is good to know that there are alternative ways to enjoy the games from your childhood.

Last update on 2021-07-24 at 16:28 / Affiliate links / Images from Amazon Product Advertising API

Written by Shaun

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