Gaming is lightyears away from where it began.
What started with kids huddled round an arcade game, or a single controller and a 12-inch TV, is now enjoyed on flat screens with 4k resolution and wireless connection to players across the globe.
With such a meteoric rise, nostalgia is natural. And while recapturing that childlike joy of playing an 8-bit game is - in some ways - priceless, it can also come with one heck of a price tag.
While there’s no Temple of Time to send you back to your childhood to reclaim a long-lost copy of Super Mario Bros, learning from the past might allow you to peek through the veil, and see the most valuable games of the future.
Looking at the top ten most expensive retro games for each of the 11 most iconic retro consoles, we went hunting for a pattern. Are beat ‘em ups more lucrative than first person shooters? Does the console count? And did hanging on to our favourites from the so-called ‘golden era’ of gaming really pay dividends?
We brought our learnings to Roy Raftery to help us identify what takes something from a great game to a great investment piece.
Nintendo Entertainment System – the money maker
Of the top ten most expensive retro games, 60% were made for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES). Arguably the most important video game console of all time, it kicked off franchises like Super Mario Bros, Final Fantasy and The Legend of Zelda.
Roy says, “The NES revitalized gaming - many thought the industry was dead after the great videogame crash of the late 70s and early 80s, but Nintendo literally revived the medium with titles such as The Legend of Zelda, Super Mario Bros, Mega Man, Metroid and Final Fantasy - all unique titles at the time and the first time these characters debuted. What makes Action Comics 1 from 1938 so valuable? It's the first appearance of Superman, the first time the audience got to experience the character, the same is true for the games released on the NES. The debut games from these now well established and iconic franchises were so good and evoke many a fond memory with the gamers of today.”
80’s games dominate the most expensive rankings, with the noughties close behind
50% of the 110 most expensive games across 11 of the biggest consoles were produced in the eighties. No surprise, given the decade saw the birth of gaming as we know it. But the noughties – an era that began with the launch of the PS2 and saw no less than six new consoles hit the market – came in close second, accounting for 32% of the most valuable games.
Roy says, “These eras dominate because they are the start of the retro age, the video game boom/revival and the start of the console wars between Nintendo and Sega. Another overlooked reason that greatly differentiates the eras is the number of copies made. If you compare the number of games made for the NES to any game made in the mid-2000s, the games from the later years were heavily over printed and games coming out almost weekly. You'll find the expensive games developed in the mid-2000s are either universally acclaimed games from popular franchises or games that had an incredibly low print run, like Kuon for the PlayStation 2. We as humans equate money to time, the longer something’s been out or around for the more expensive we perceive it to be, and this is true for games from the 80's/NES era.”
The Action genre stands the test of time
Escapism takes many forms, but is there any quite so satisfying as slipping into the role of a hero and battling your way to victory? Fending off Beat ‘Em Ups, First Person Shooters, Sports games, Horror, Adventure and more, 32% of our most expensive games were in the Action genre.
Roy says, “Action games offer a unique opportunity for the player to experience something they never could in real life, and they have continued to improve throughout the generations. They are also the most exciting - often in the early days before the time of the internet spoiling or reviewing games all we had to go on was the cover or back of the game. Explosions and vast unexplored worlds and possibility on the front cover win every time over someone with a golf club!
In the early days of gaming, specifically during the mid to late 80s genres weren't really defined as they are today, or at least there wasn't nearly as many genres as there are today - this is certainly a more rational way to look at sales data from the time.”
The Future Classics
Now to step inside the telepod and move into the future.
Roy Raftrey guides us through the games they think will be worth the most in years to come.
The top <10 most expensive games for 11 iconic gaming consoles were selected through information provided on GameValueNow, November 2022. The original US retail prices were taken from TechRaptor in November 2022.As the original retail price for the retro games was not available in GBP, the average closing time exchange rate from each of the games' release years was used to work out the cost in GBP. The worth today in GBP was calculated using the average 2023 exchange rate of 1.22 GBP to USD.
The games we love stick with us. So, whether you’re gaming on the go with Nintendo Switch games or pulling all-nighters to complete PS5 games or Xbox games ignore anyone who says you’re wasting your time. If you can keep the packaging as pristine as the memories, in 20 years’ time your favourites may be worth more than a trip down memory lane.