Why Vintage Games Are Selling for Big Bucks

What was old is new again

Key Takeaways

  • The price tags for older video games sold at auction are skyrocketing thanks to a wave of nostalgia. 
  • A sealed copy of the Nintendo 64 classic Super Mario 64 recently sold for $1,560,000, the highest ever for a video game. 
  • As video games age, it gets harder to find the aging consoles to play them, one expert noted.
A retro Nintendo gaming system called "Family Computer."

Possessed Photography / Unsplash

Don’t throw out your old video games just yet. 

A sealed copy of the Nintendo 64 classic Super Mario 64 recently sold for $1,560,000, toppling the record that The Legend of Zelda had just claimed. It’s part of a heating market for collectibles that’s likely to continue, experts say. 

"There’s a perception among gamers now that physical media-based games are going to become increasingly rare, which in turn is accelerating the nostalgia market," Michael Hancock, a professor at The Games Institute at the University of Waterloo, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

Big Bucks for Old Games

Video games that initially sold for less than $20 are now selling for stratospheric prices. A sealed copy of Zelda’s Legend for the NES was recently snapped up for $870,000 at auction. In April, a copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for $660,000. 

"After the record-breaking sale of the first game in the Zelda series on Friday, the possibility of surpassing $1 million on a single video game seemed like a goal that would need to wait for another auction," Valarie McLeckie, a video games specialist at Heritage Auctions, which sold the games, said in a news release. "We were shocked to see that it turned out to be in the same one."

"As long as something has a perceived value, often because of nostalgia, it will have a market."

Bachir Zeroual, the chief marketing officer of retro-gaming company Arcade1Up, told Lifewire in an email interview that users in many areas are increasingly seeking out classics. 

"Why are sneakers released in the '90s selling again?" he said. "Why are sports cards from the '80s selling again? Understanding the audience and nostalgia behind the classic game experience is the key to this growing market." 

Hancock pointed out that the nostalgia trend isn’t entirely new. For example, Limited Run Games is manufacturing new versions of old games in vintage formats, such as Sega Genesis and Super Nintendo cartridge versions of the 1993 game, Zombies Ate My Neighbors

"The cartridges themselves are brand-new, but the combination of scarcity in creation and appeal to old systems make the business model doable," Hancock added. 

Nintendo recently re-released a version of Mario 64 for the Switch, Hancock said.  "So, it’s not very inaccessible, though admittedly the bundle that contained the game was only available for a limited time, which may contribute to a sense that the game has become 'scarce.'"

Hancock noted a shift in recent years in which games are more popular. 

"Previously, the most expensive games were driven primarily by rarity: Gamma Attack and Birthday Mania for the Atari 2600, games made especially for Nintendo competitions, and so forth," he said.

"However, all of the more recent (circa 2020) high-selling games are well-known Nintendo properties: Mario 3, Legend of Zelda, and now Mario 64. What that suggests to me is that nostalgia is driving these sales, as much as scarcity."

Retro gaming console controller.

mr_morton / Getty Images

Nostalgia Reigns

A longing for simpler times is driving the surge in prices for older games, Neil F. Randall, the executive director of The Games Institute, told Lifewire in an email interview. 

"Super Mario 64 is still a wonderful game, and if you want the original, you’ll pay for it," he said. "Of course, you have to buy an old TV set, likely, to be able to play it, but if you’re into this market, that’s part of the fun."

As video games age, it gets harder to find the aging consoles to play them, Randall said. "Technical incompatibilities creep in," he added. "If you want to collect old Odyssey 2 games, for example, you have to find an Odyssey 2 game system, or you can’t play them."

But will old game prices continue to rise?

"The general response of people in my circles is that it’s an outrageous amount for the game to have sold for, excellent condition or not, but also they would not be surprised to see this trend continue," Hancock said. 

Randall agreed the buying frenzy around old games is likely to continue. "As long as something has a perceived value, often because of nostalgia, it will have a market," he added. "Given that a new generation of gamers, one that never experienced the original systems, is now making money, the old systems and games will have their day."

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