Right now on ebay you can buy a copy of Secret of Mana, cart only, for £30. There are fully boxed versions going for up to £200. If I still had the copy I bought in the mid-90s I could cash in, assuming any of these listings actually sell.
In recent years we’ve been inundated with special editions in tin boxes with collectible art books that retail at double the standard price or sometimes even more. Rarely do any of these hold their value, let alone increase in a way that makes them worth buying. I usually avoid special editions but I did get sucked in by the recent Bayonetta ‘First Print Edition’ on Wii U. Partly because I loved Bayonetta and partly because it’s one of a few games that might actually have some of the elusive internet cachet that leads to things commanding silly prices. The original game’s official guide book can be found for as much as £400, though I doubt it ever sells for that. Ico, in its original PAL cardboard arty box, was another supposed ‘rarity’ of sorts that I could have made a bit of money on had I had the foresight.
As I look at my stack of games now, I can see that almost 25 years of gaming and an obscene amount of money has left me with ten Wii U games and some worthless last gen tat, the value of which is lower than the cost of the additional calories carrying it into town to sell would consume. Everyone has their own metaphorical copy of Tiger Woods 2009 lying around somewhere. The ten Wii U games are interesting though. The fact that they’re there is due in large part to the fact that Nintendo games have always seemed to hold their value. Most of the ten are still for sale at full price, if you can find them, and it has the strange psychological effect of making them still feel relevant in a way that last year’s FIFA game never can. Another reason I still have them is because they’re great, timeless games that I want to keep and, with the Wii U being how it is, I don’t feel like I can sell them now and then pick them up again at a cheaper price when I want to play them in a year or so. They just won’t be there.
As we move inevitably towards the big, bold digital future all of this will change. Our cloud-based gaming libraries will eventually be filled with a decade’s worth of long-deleted sports games and will ultimately become the virtual reincarnation of the racks in those Gamestation stores that were full of Road to the World Cup ’98 for 50p a pop.
The point is, most games are eventually worthless. Apart from the few outliers that I touched upon above, almost everything you buy will lose all of its value, and that’s fine. As long as you get your money’s worth it doesn’t really matter, but all any of us are really doing is renting. If I buy PES 2015 and sell it a few months later, maybe to fund PES 2016, then all I’ve really done is paid the difference to rent PES 2015 for 10 months or so. There is nothing wrong with that but it does remove all value from the previous game and means that each iteration has a very small window in which to make all of its money before it’s seen as essentially worthless.
As someone who’s always traded games, right from my very first console in the early ‘90s, I perhaps have a more cold-hearted business-like attitude than someone who could maybe afford to hold onto things a little longer. I’m certainly not unique though. In the last 10-15 years trading and the whole pre-owned market has become huge and almost everyone does it. Any sentimentality about ‘building a collection’ is the preserve of the nerdy enthusiast in a world that went mainstream a long time ago. People have always said that games are becoming more like movies but so too has the way we consume them. In the ‘80s and ‘90s people regularly rented videos as a way to watch films; you might buy the odd one you really liked but amassing a huge catalogue was relatively rare. Whilst videogame rentals were a comparatively short-lived experiment that perhaps didn’t appeal to the gamer’s mindset in the same way, we’ve still ended up with a similar set-up where nothing is permanent, except for those few that really want it to be.
When you spend what is becoming the ever fluctuating £40 on a new game, what are you expecting from it? For me, it depends on the game. If it’s a football game I expect it to be my go to 30 minute bash for the next year before the new one comes out. If it’s this month’s hot new release, however, I expect to enjoy bashing through it in a week or so before quickly trading it in and maybe getting £30 back for it. I’ve pretty much just rented it for a tenner. Any extra modes or DLC will be ignored in favour of getting that maximum resale value. Occasionally though, you get a game like Super Mario 3D World (yes I know, again) which is just a masterpiece and instantly stakes its claim for permanent residency. These are the games where real world value goes out the window and something else takes hold, the games where you start to think you’ve conned someone by only paying £40 and, as such, would not accept double that yourself (were other copies not available of course). This is probably why I still have all ten of my Wii U games.
I do have other games though. My 360 sits in the front room with maybe 50 XBLA games on its hard drive, some of which are games I would have kept anyway and some of which I’d dearly love to be able to sell. In amongst my physical ‘last-gen tat’ I have SSFIV and Vanquish, both excellent games that are kept because of their quality and low resale value. As a long time game trader the digital future didn’t appeal to me but I’m starting to come around to it. I’ve had a Steam account since 2003 but never bought anything until recently as I hadn’t previously had a PC for gaming. I have 32 games in my account now and most of them were freebies, gifts, or small purchases for a couple of quid. I have no qualms about a digital game’s lack of resale value when it only cost that notional £10 or so ‘rental’ fee that I pay as a trader anyway; you’re not losing anything and always have the upside of being able to play that old golf game in 20 year’s time. Except do you? Will the servers be working? Will PCs remain compatible with older games? Well, who really gives a fuck? It’s all ultimately worthless anyway and who has the time to care? Gaming is a self-curating hobby and what’s good and matters and has value will always stick around in one form or another. What doesn’t will just fade away, and in a digital future it can just disappear into greyed out text, forever to be scrolled over as you click and load up another game of Road to the World Cup 2018