Why Retro Games Are So Expensive?


The other day while strolling a local swap meet, I walked by various Nintendo consoles that were upwards of $100, some of the games weren’t far off. A lot of the used games were going for the same price as a brand-new XBOX One title. Regardless, I couldn’t help but feel a bit of nostalgia come on while glaring at the once very familiar game cartridges and systems. I considered making an investment.

I walked out of that swap meet $300 later with a Nintendo 64 and games like Mario Kart, Super Smash Bros, and Legend of Zelda. Honestly, I wasn’t disappointed with my purchase.

I can’t help though but wonder, why retro games are so expensive? Retro games are high in price because they are a popular collection piece, there seems to be an increased demand for them, and marketing leaders are quite successful at breeding that demand by tapping into nostalgic emotions.

What is Nostalgia?

Nostalgia is a popular human emotion these days, and you’ve more than likely witnessed it or experienced it yourself a number of times. Merriam-Webster defines it as, “the state of being homesick,” or “wistful or excessively sentimental yearning for a return to or of some past period or irrecoverable condition”

Millennials are sometimes called the “Nostalgic Generation,” since you can find them frequently playing retro games, or sporting styles directly from their childhood.  However, contrary to popular belief, every generation experiences the same amount of nostalgia and it’s not a new concept.

The only reason why millennials seem to be the face of nostalgia is that they are more apt to share their nostalgic experiences with an audience via numerous social platforms.

Dr. Tim Wildschut who is an Associate Professor within Psychology at The University of Southampton claims that nostalgia shows itself for, “many different reasons. One reason is that nostalgia can help us to overcome psychological challenges, like loneliness or a sense that life is meaningless.”

This loneliness may be the reason why Millennials share their nostalgia with others online. It’s a way of ridding themselves of the loneliness and using it as a method for connection and positivity.

Nostalgia is Not Always Sadness

We tend to think of nostalgia as a negative emotion, as it makes us yearn for a past, possibly because we aren’t comfortable with the present, or the future. While loneliness and aversive conditions might trigger someone’s nostalgia, there is a positive purpose for this human emotion. It’s been studied that nostalgia can elevate mood, self-esteem and a sense of connectedness, it also reduces death cognitions.

The University of Southampton has a group of members dedicated to studying Nostalgia and its role in psychiatry, see some of their work here.

How Nostalgia Plays into Marketing

Have you noticed how many movies are being re-made lately? This year the Lion King remake will hit theatres and you can find many people buzzing across social media about this childhood classic and the emotions it struck within their heart as Mufasa plunged to his tearful death.

Watch this tragic and classic scene from the Lion King here, but make sure you have tissues with you.

This, “buzz,” is the reason why many big-time producers and executives in Hollywood are investing their time in remaking classics. These movies provide an audience with a sense of Nostalgia, and they know that nostalgia guarantees an audience and a market. Also, you could say they are riding the coattails of past success. If the Lion King was a box office hit when it came out, surely, it can be a hit again.

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Games are just another facet of the now giant marketing theme that utilizes human nostalgia. Here are a few examples of recent and successful strides in the gaming sector to bring back classics.

Pokémon GO


Pokémon GO is a great example of using a classic to incorporate new technology and keeping an audience who was already there, captivated. If you played Pokémon as a child or watched the television series, your dream was probably to be able to have Pokémon of your own someday. Even more so, that you could play out Pokémon battles in real life.

Using Augmented Reality (AR) technology the creators of Pokémon GO fed upon the childhood nostalgia of millennials everywhere by creating a way to use their phones to make those dreams at least somewhat of a reality, albeit augmented. By tapping into a user’s phone camera, this popular game app allows the user to see and catch Pokémon in their own reality. They can also participate in battles.

It took very little marketing for the creators of this app to stir up attention and as soon as the game was launched, it grew so fast servers were continually crashing from the influx of players. To date, this game has over 800 million downloads in the app store and it’s still considered one of the most successful mobile games of all time.

Check out the five, world records Pokémon Go won over according to the Guinness World Records.

Nintendo’s Classic Mini Consoles

Back in 2016, Nintendo announced the release of the NES Classic Edition. This mini Nintendo is a smaller version of the 1985 console, but with an HDMI of course. It was built with 30 preloaded classic games that excited long time and nostalgic fans everywhere.

Check out the NES Classic on Nintendo’s website here.

Some of the games included are:

  • Donkey Kong
  • The Legend of Zelda
  • Super Mario Bros
  • Metroid
  • Balloon Fight
  • ExciteBike

Nintendo was so successful with this retro game concept; they didn’t have enough supply for the demand and had to remove it from the market nearly immediately after it’s release. After returning in June of 2018, it proceeded to sell out faster than other popular and newer gaming consoles like the PS4, Xbox One, and Switch. 

The NES Classic is a perfect example of why nostalgia marketing is making waves. Very little has to be done to capture the already their audience, and aside from the minimal work of tapping into the shared joys of everyone’s childhood, the dollars just come floating in.

Since then Nintendo has released the SNES Classic which sold out just as quickly and has even hinted at the release of a Nintendo 64 Classic in 2019. It’s understandable why they would keep the production of these classic consoles going.

Noting the success, Sony has even followed Nintendo’s footsteps by releasing their PlayStation Classic in December of 2018, which also features 20 pre-loaded classic games such as:

  • Final Fantasy VII
  • Tekken 3
  • Grand Theft Auto
  • Metal Gear Solid
  • Twisted Metal

Check out the PlayStation Classic on their website here to see all the pre-loaded games.

Classic Arcade Style Games

Everyone knows what an 80’s arcade game looks like. Built into giant decorative box structures with screens, they featured tall joysticks with a signature red knob and several buttons for different commands. These were all the rage and kids spent endless hours after school or on the weekend beating out other players’ top scores.

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With the relative ease of purchasing a home console today, usually with the ability to connect to other players through internet services, socializing at an arcade has died over the decades. This fall in interest makes these iconic games ancient relics to past generations. While you can still hit up the local Dave and Busters to play an overpriced arcade-style game, many miss the local and retro arcade shops on street corners.

If you miss the Joystick style of gameplay at an arcade you can actually purchase one on Amazon that features an HDMI plugin and 2,350 old school games built-in. So, you can play old-school style from the comfort of your couch. These Arcade-style consoles are nearly everywhere on the market now. You can find hundreds of versions of them on the Amazon Marketplace alone.

You can even find handheld versions of arcade machines to play on like this one on Amazon. This Mini Arcade Machine features nearly 200, 16-bit games. This is the kind of technology we could have never imagined as children. If someone told me in 1985 that one day, I’d fit all these arcade games in my pocket, I’d recommend they be admitted!

Collection Value

Nostalgia isn’t the only factor for high costs when it comes to retro games. The value for collecting these pieces of our childhood are sky-high. Many of these retro games can be difficult to find, which increases their value. There is an entire community of collectors searching far and wide for top quality retro games and consoles to add to their collections and they are willing to pay a pretty penny to get them.

For some, it’s really not enough to purchase remade versions of classic consoles. Considering the fact that the Nintendo Classics only come preloaded with a small plethora of games, it doesn’t feed your complete need for the games of your past. Other factors might play into this too, such as ownership rights. A game that Nintendo released in the ’90s may not actually be their game anymore.

5 Extremely Rare and Expensive Retro Games

One of the cool advantages of collecting retro games is stumbling upon one that’s rare and worth a lot of money. Having this game is a great conversational piece and addition to your home. One day, it could even make future generations of your family abnormally rich, like, we’re talking “I found an extremely rare 1909 T206 Honus Wagner baseball card in my grandpa’s attic,” rich.

If you’re unsure of the reference, this Honus Wagner baseball card was the most expensive card ever sold and there are only 50 known copies of it.

In the future, it’s quite possible your special edition Gold NES Cartridge of The Legend of Zelda could sell for millions of dollars. If you don’t believe me, check out some of these rare console games and how they are actually worth.

5. Super Copa

This SNES game is a Spanish and Portuguese soccer game that was developed by Sculptured Software. It’s thought to be the South American version of Tony Meola’s Sidekicks Soccer.

While there is nothing remotely special about it, and the soccer game is decent in quality, it was only distributed in Latin America which makes it very rare. You can find copies of it on websites like eBay and Amazon for $150 but a sealed and unopened version can hold up to $6,000 in value.

4. Super Mario Bros.

While you can get a used Super Mario Bros for the NES around $50 online or at your local swap meet if you happen to have a factory sealed and shrink-wrapped version, you’re looking at a jackpot of $30,100 like one seller in Pennsylvania netted in 2017.

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If you haven’t played Super Mario Bros. This 1985 classic is frequently considered one of the greatest video games of all time. There were nearly 40 million physical copies sold, and it’s pretty rare to find an unopened version. Being released following the Atari Shock of 1983 happened, which caused a recession of video game sales and production, Super Mario Bros. was credited to leading a strong revival of the industry.

3. Air Raid

Air Raid was a game published by Atari 2600 and it had a surprisingly similar layout to that of the infamous Space Invaders. The reason this game is so rare is that it had limited distribution and as of today there is only one copy known to exist that has the cartridge and box still intact. In 2012, it sold at an auction for $33,433.30.

2. Gamma Attack

The publisher of Gamma Attack, Gammation, was known for their rapid-fire like controller modifications and adapters for the Atari console. Their Fire Power 100 joystick produced up to 30 shots per second for users.

In a special offer to their newly released Fire Power FP-1 controller add-on at the time, they offered a Gamma Attack game cartridge with the order of FP-1 units. Gamma Attack was produced by company owner Robert L. Esken, Jr. He had some background in video game programming so he decided to test the waters with his offer.

The ad only ran once, and only a handful of Gamma Attack cartridges ever sold before he closed up shop, this makes it one of the rarest video games in the world. There currently is no record of one ever sold, only an attempt on eBay for $500,000. They are valued at around $50,000.

1. Gold Cartridge Nintendo World Championships

In the 90’s Nintendo actually organized a global video game tournament called the Nintendo World Championships. This entailed them manufacturing and producing a custom NES cartridge to use in the game. Some of these were actually gold and given to participants in the Nintendo Power contest as prizes.

Check out this cartridge and the gameplay on this YouTube video of an unboxing.

YouTube player

Only 26 cartridges were gold in color. As of 2014 one of these cartridges sold on eBay for $100,088.

Vintage Arcade Collections

Many folks actually collect vintage arcade games themselves. These large and space-consuming relics from the past hold a high value in the hearts of game enthusiasts everywhere.

Arcade games can actually be traced back to the end of the 19th century. They began with the familiar target-shooting games that many events still use today. Pinball machines made an appearance by the 1930s and in the 1970s shooter styled electronic scoring games showed up.

Some of The Most Popular Selling Arcade Games

 Donkey Kong: This 1981 classic saw a total revenue in its first year of 280 million dollars. If you adjust that figure for inflation, you’re looking at 686 million.

Mortal Kombat: Mortal Kombat is one of the most recognized fighting style games in the industry. It made its debut in arcades around 1992 and by 2002 had obtained revenue of over 1.2 billion if you combine Mortal Kombat and Mortal Kombat II sales. Adjusted for inflation that’s about 1.6 billion.

Asteroids: By 1991 this 1979 space war arcade classic had made a revenue of 800 million, nearly 1.4 billion in today’s figures.

Defender: In the early 80’s Eugene Jarvis and Larry DeMar released a game they based off of their favorite aspects of Asteroids. Little did they know they would outsell the iconic game with over 1 billion in revenue by 1993. Inflation-adjusted, that’s about 1.6 billion.

Ms. Pac-Man: The offspring of the original, Pac-Man, Ms. Pac-Man racked in 1.2 billion in sales by 1987. Today’s dollars would put that at 2.4 billion.

Street Fighter II: Arguably the most popular fighting arcade game in history, Capcom saw revenue of 2.3 billion dollars in 1995, or over 3.5 billion if adjusted for inflation.

Space Invaders: This is a classic that will never die. The history of this arcade fame spans back from the ’70s and makes its way through the ’80s. By 1982 Midway had obtained a revenue of 2.7 billion or what would be 6.6 billion today.

Pac-Man: Of course, coming out on top, Pac-Man, was known as the mascot for arcade gaming everywhere. The Popularity of this game that was released in 1980, won Midway an astounding revenue of 3.5 billion dollars by 1990, or 7.6 billion for inflation.