AFTER STELLAR SALES, EXPERT EXPLAINS WHY RED-HOT VIDEO-GAMES CATEGORY IS GETTING ITS OWN AUCTION
By Steve Lansdale
It is often said that collectors take up their hobby because the items they want to collect – comic books, baseball cards, old albums – take them back to some earlier stage in their lives. Priorities and responsibilities change as we grow older, but owning a card of a favorite player from your childhood or perhaps an issue of Spider-Man that you read as a kid can evoke fond memories of yesteryear. At that age, such collectibles were worth having just for that reason: because they were worth having. They brought enjoyment … and years later, they still do.
Viewed through that lens, it is no surprise that video games are soaring in popularity among collectors, and that Heritage Auctions is at the forefront of the surging category of collectibles. In July 2020, Heritage became the first auction house to reach six figures for a game sold at auction; in April 2021, Heritage smashed the auction world record for a video game when a Super Mario Bros. (Wata 9.6 A+ Sealed, hangtab, 1 Code, Mid-Production), NES Nintendo 1985 USA, soared to $660,000.
Because of the massive surge of prized video-game consignments, and soaring interest from collectors around the globe, Heritage is holding its first standalone Video Games Signature® Auction July 9-11. The event has drawn a record number of consigned games, and one in which the quantity of lots is matched by the exceptional quality. The trove of prizes ranges from high-grade collector’s games to apex collection centerpieces.
Steering the rocket ship that is the Heritage Auctions video-games department is Video Games Consignment Director Valarie McLeckie, who visited with The Intelligent Collector to discussing the video-games market and her own experiences as a collector.
Why are video games getting their own auction?
Over the last two years, we have experienced a huge influx of interest in this particular collectible, and, in turn, that seems to have increased the number of high-end games trading hands on the market. We have come to a point that a standalone venue was needed to properly showcase all of the excellent pieces that are coming through Heritage.
Did any one event or the sale of one specific game in the past year lead to this, or is it more a reflection of the growing market overall?
In short: both. It’s safe to say that the goal was to eventually spin off video games into their own auction at some point, which seemed to be fast-approaching based on the growing market. However, I would say the sale of the Wata 9.6 A+ Super Mario Bros. with cardboard hangtab for an all-in price of $660,000, was the catalyst for this change.
What are the trends you see happening this year?
It seems that collectors have been drawn to collecting high-grade sealed Nintendo Entertainment System games ever since we began offering video games in our auctions. While I don’t anticipate that will change, I do believe that collectors will also begin paying just as much attention to other consoles.
What lot sale in the past year really surprised you?
It no longer holds the record for the game we’ve sold for the highest price, but it’s definitely the Wata 9.4 A+ sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. that we sold for $114,000 in July of 2020. I have always believed in the potential of this collectible and its market, but that was the first game we had sold at auction above $100,000. Of course (if we’re just discussing monetary milestones), passing half a million was certainly a bigger feat price-wise, but I think finally breaking past the five-figure point into the six-figure range organically was a big eye-opener for a lot of collectors – myself included.
What sparked your personal interest in video games, before they became your profession?
Something about Nintendo’s characters just drew me in. It may sound kind of superficial, but they were just so cute. Of course, I was a very small child when I first started playing, so I guess that’s probably to be expected!
What was the first game you bought … and do you still have it?
Honestly… I can’t remember what the first game I bought with my own money was! More than likely, it was Resident Evil 4 because I can’t imagine my mom willingly buying that for me. However, I do remember that the first game I was ever given was Pokémon Yellow: Special Pikachu Edition and it came with the Pokémon edition Game Boy that has Jigglypuff (my favorite), Pikachu and Togepi around the screen. And I absolutely have every game I just mentioned! The Game Boy went everywhere with me as a kid though, so it is definitely not “collector grade,” but it does mean a lot to me.
What characteristics in games – rarity, condition, unusual variants, unusual backstory, etc. – appeal most to the collector in you?
For me, it’s the nostalgia factor. Of course, I am extremely proud of the trophy pieces I do have, but the games in my collection I love the most are the ones that I played as a kid and later was able to track down a sealed copy as a keepsake.
Super Mario Bros. has produced some spectacular results and garnered international headlines recently. Are there other games from that early era of video games that you see enjoying a similar rise in demand and popularity as high-grade copies are uncovered?
Super Mario Bros. is one of the most universally popular Nintendo franchises, after Pokémon of course, and there are a few Nintendo IPs that I believe should be valued on the same tier as Super Mario Bros. However, it’s hard to say when and if that will happen.
What suggestions would you have for someone who is interested in starting to collect video games?
Focus on what you like the most, and do your research before you finalize a decision to make a purchase. Value expectations are highly dependent on grade, variant and state (sealed versus complete in box), so it’s important to be well-informed.
STEVE LANSADALE is a staff writer at The Intelligent Collector.
This article appears in the July 2012 edition of The Intelligent Collector magazine.