Tens of thousands of years ago the very first humans survived as hunters and gatherers. Our ancestors went out into the wild with basic tools and weapons to hunt for meat, and they scoured the forest for fruits, vegetables and berries. At the end of a hard day at the office these simple people would sit around their camp fire dividing up the spoils of the hunt. One of the cavemen always took a little bit more food than he could eat because he figured he could then use it to trade with later. If he didn’t want to tidy up after himself he’d just bribe someone else with a little meat. Didn’t fancy going out and hunting a mammoth? Why, he’d just offer up a handful of berries for any man who’d go in his place. Once the other cavemen noticed what he was doing, some of them kicked off about it, and a never ending argument began.
Okay, now my understanding of the dawn of our civilization might not be one hundred per cent accurate, but the point is that if we fast forward to 2016 then essentially the same thing is going on today. No matter how far we’ve come as a species, there’s always conflict, and there’s always somebody who seems out to get ahead at the expense of somebody else. But who is in the right and who is the wrong? Is somebody doing you ill or is that just your perception of the situation because you’re not getting your own way? These are important questions, and when it comes to the subject of collectors and resellers in the retro gaming community, there’s no easy answer.
The idea of retro game collection is a simple one. The collector wants old games. Perhaps they want to preserve video gaming history for future generations. Perhaps they just really like playing old games that remind them of yesteryear. Maybe they just think that retro games look cool on their shelves. Whatever the reasons behind it, the collector just wants to collect.
There’s something about collecting that most of us can relate to. When you’re at school there’s usually something that’s popular that all the kids are into. When I was in primary school all those years ago it was Garbage Gang trading cards. Man, we loved garbage Gang. We were crazy for them. Practically everyone in our class, boys and girls, collected Garbage Gang, traded Garbage Gang, and played with Garbage Gang on our lunch break. That mentality sticks with many of us as we grow, only most of us don’t carry on collecting Garbage Gang into our adulthood (I sold my complete set in 2010 and put that to rest). As adults our houses become filled with movies, music, books and a lifetime of photos and memories. We have shelves filled with books. Maybe it’s photographs or paintings or furniture. I have a thing for my travel photography and hang them everywhere, but I will always have a gaming collection as well. There’s just something satisfying about having a collection of things you like.
The idea of reselling is, again, a simple one. Like our caveman friend from earlier, somebody will always notice that there’s a gap in the market. Value is, essentially, whatever someone is willing to pay for something. You might not think that a handful of berries are enough compensation for going out and facing a woolly mammoth in battle, but if someone is willing to fight that mammoth for you then that’s what the berries are worth. The principle hasn’t really changed over the years. If somebody is willing to pay top dollar for something, then that’s what it’s worth.
But at what point does selling something on become morally questionable? Well, what if our caveman friend with the berries knows his friend just really loves berries and knows he’ll work for them? Is that fair? What if his friend is starving to death and he’s putting him into a dangerous position because he knows he needs the food so badly? Then it’s a little more questionable, surely, and you can understand why some might find that tactic to be aggravating.
Collecting versus reselling is an argument that has arisen within the retro game collecting community in recent years precisely because of this moral grey area. Collectors want to collect because that’s what they like to do. Whether they’re doing it to play the games or to look at them or to preserve them, they’re doing it because of a love for collecting and not for their own personal monetary gain. Resellers have noticed that old games are highly sought after by these collectors, and so they seek to acquire games, particularly rarer titles, to then sell them on to the collectors for profit.
It’s easy to see why the collectors might find reselling so contemptible. Reselling effectively drives up the market value of games, which makes it more difficult for collectors to do what they love to do. A reseller might go to a garage sale and spot some old games that they know are worth serious money to the right people, but to the people selling them, they’re just junk that they’re selling for pennies. Have you ever seen Toy Story 2? It’s essentially what the chicken man does when he spies Woody in the garage sale. He knows that the cowboy toy is worth big money and so he wants to try and trick Andy’s mother into selling him for next to nothing so he can maximise his profit. The chicken man might be a comedy animated villain (voiced by Wayne Knight, no less) but there’s people out there doing that every weekend to try and make money from video game collectors, and so isn’t that something we should be annoyed about?
There’s something that seems inherently shady about buying games that you know are worth a lot of money from someone who doesn’t have that knowledge and is selling them cheaply, and then exploiting that situation for your own benefit. But is the reseller really to blame?
For many thousands of years gold has been a valuable commodity here on Earth. The reason that it’s so valuable is that it’s so rare. As I learned in a documentary starring Professor Brian Cox a couple of weeks ago, gold is formed when massive stars explode, and those are such rare occurrences, that if you were to collect all the gold the human race had ever found it would still only fill three Olympic sized swimming pools. Today, we attribute value to things other than shiny, rare metals we dig out of the ground.
Games and gold aren’t so different. Resellers are, essentially, modern day prospectors, heading out and looking for the precious items that they’ll then be able to sell on to the highest bidder (quite literally in many cases, since these games widely end up on eBay). Resellers are searching for a rare or valuable commodity and then they’re selling it on to make money. Collectors find it distasteful because they think it drives up the cost of the games they want to collect, and because the resellers in question aren’t buying the games for the love of collecting, but for the love of profit.
But should collectors really begrudge resellers a money making opportunity? We all make money in our lives. And we all do different things to make our money. Is making money from selling old games any worse than, say, selling your old clothes? Presumably, somewhere out there, there’s somebody that loves collecting old clothes. Are they currently on an Internet forum somewhere, moaning about people who don’t care about collecting clothes going to charity shops and snatching up all the bargains?
More importantly, do the actions of resellers actually negatively impact the ability of collectors to collect? Value is what somebody is willing to pay for something, but if they can get it cheaper elsewhere then they’ll likely do that. A reseller can’t charge too much for the game he picked up at a garage sale because, unless there’s only one copy in existence, somebody else will be selling it at a much more reasonable price and the collector could just buy it from them. That’s how the free market works. Buys and sellers, together, determine the market value of an item. And so if collectors aren’t paying ridiculous prices for the games that resellers are offering, then those resellers will need to lower their prices. It seems short sighted to believe that there are evil resellers out there buying up all of the stock of old games and making all of the poor collectors remortgage their houses just so they can afford a copy of Stadium Events on the NES or Power Strike II on the Sega Master System.
The truth, as is generally the case in this sort of conflict, is somewhere in the middle. Resellers are, essentially, buying something and then selling it on for a higher price. That’s exactly the same as what shops all across the world do, including the shops that collectors will often go to on the hunt for classic games to pick up. Collectors often pick up a handful of games off the forums or a Facebook gaming page, knowing they’ve already got most of the those games and are only buying the bundle for the one title, they then sell on those duplicate copies of the games they own, unwittingly becoming resellers themselves. I’ve done it myself. We all have…
There’s no real black and white answer here. It’s easy to understand why some collectors might hate the idea of resellers getting in there before them and finding a classic game for a bargain. But there’s nothing, fundamentally, wrong with somebody selling items to make some money. It’s no different to how any shop works. Buy low, sell high; it’s the general principle that any business across the world operates under.
Maybe it’s high time that collectors and resellers put down arms and just did their best to get along. A good friend of mine who is a proper, die-hard collector has befriended one of the said resellers and now gets offered first dibs on the minty fresh stock the guys finds each week. That seems like a great solution to me! There are more than enough classic video games out there for everybody, and if occasionally you have to pay more money than you’d like to pay for something then that’s just the nature of collecting something. If you want something that badly then you should be prepared to pay for it, and if you’re not then are you really that committed to collecting, or are you just hoarding?
Hobbies cost money. My bank balance can attest to that. Over the years I’ve spent a fortune on things that I enjoy, and I wouldn’t even dare to guess at how much money I’ve spent on video games. Do I resent it? No. Gaming is my hobby, and I’ve been collecting games for over twenty years because of that. As we talked about earlier, value is determined by how much someone is willing to pay for something. That counts for collectors too. How much will you pay for something you enjoy doing?