I'm taking a one day break from retro game reviews to talk about something that has been on my mind a lot the last year or so. I wasn't really going to write about this, but another article I stumbled upon actually triggered my desire to do so.
Let me just say this. I have been a gamer all my life, and have been obsessed with them since the age of three. Ever since I first laid my chubby little fingers on an Atari controller, I knew I was never going to stop gaming. I had hundreds of video games growing up, and most of them I received as gifts from my parents or relatives, but others I paid for with my own money from working odd end chores, or taking jobs. Hell, my first job was when I was sixteen and I ended up working at Electronics Boutique (remember that place?). Unfortunately, when I moved out and went to college, I needed all the money I could so I sold off basically my entire old video game collection. At that time, people weren't spending that much money on old video games, and I don't even think I made $500 off selling hundreds of NES / SNES / GENESIS games. The value today of all those games I sold would be $5000. I am not even joking about that. Think about how I feel now as I try to get my collection back. It's a rough road...
Before I even get started with my rant, I'd like to point you in the direction of the article I read that spurred this on, just you can understand the basis for this blog post. You can find it HERE, over at the COLEXIONS WEBSITE.
Mind you, the stories I'll be telling you in this long (yes, it will be long, so I'll have a TL:DR statement at the bottom), won't be as bad as the one you're reading in that link, but it all adds up to one major theme:
There is an epidemic.
A retrogame re-seller plague. They swoop in like vultures, spreading their pestilence throughout the retrogaming community, and giving many of us collectors horrible names. Let me put it bluntly. Something has to be done about it.
The above image should look familiar too if you have ever stumbled upon a store that specializes in retrogame selling. Let me state outright, that not all of these stores are reflective of the greater whole. Some stores like this have been around far longer than this retro boom that we're in now. In New York City, there quite a few of these that I have known to have been around for ages. Hell, I know they've been there for at least 15 years since I remember vividly going to them during my weekend trips into the city with friends.These are stores that were part of the gaming community for the most part, having a strong and faithful customer base thanks to their ability to find what your average gamer was looking for and sell them at a reasonable price.
The below image is of one such store that has been around for ages. It used to be a landmark in St. Marks place until moving to a new location. Over the years though, I have seen them change. They've been forced to keep up with the market of ever growing popularity of retro games, and the abundance of new people seeking them out to open stores of their own and sell them at exorbitant prices. I used to love this store, but now, I can only go in their to window browse. My wallet is pained to see what happened to the prices.
Still, it's one of the only stores I can even remotely trust in NYC. That, and J&L games. They're the only stores that try to maintain reasonable pricing. I only hope it lasts. But I am doubtful.
Think about it this way, these companies charged an amount based on their workload in finding the game, and having a store front to display them. Sure, you might have been able to get the same copy of the game for a few bucks cheaper on eBay, but these stores have already done all the legwork for you. So a $5 game might be a $7-$10 game in these stores. Keep in mind though, you're also keeping them in business by buying through them and maintaining a strong customer-merchant relationship. It's friends helping friends with these small number of stores. And unfortunately, most of them are dying out now thanks to the surge of retro-game re-sellers arriving in the market today.
These villains are forcing their way in, and driving the good guys out. The good guys have obviously been losing money, and they have been forced to charge even more for their games that were dollars upon dollars cheaper only a few years ago. Not much can be done. They aren't making money like they used to, and if they want to survive they are going to have to start selling their items in bulk, or continue to use methods such as internet auctions just to get rid of their product. Where there used to be one or two stores that sold retrogames, now you'll find ten to twenty more popping up. And they aren't gaming stores. No, they're far worse. Their the money swindling thrift stores and consignment stores that are seeking to rob the innocent blind.
You may be asking yourself, "What's the big deal? Why is it so wrong for people to want to make money off a booming retro game market?" I'm not saying it's wrong, and by all means everyone has a right to make money, but it's how you go about doing it. These up and coming re-sellers are the scumiest of scum, and I have plenty of examples to tell you how. Let me remind you again, that you should REALLY read that link I posted up at the top of this entry. It justifies everything I'm about to tell you, and my stories are just the tip of the greater iceberg.
Death of the Thrift Store
The first story I'm going to tell you is something that I am praying is not true. However, with all the evidence I have seen at these particular brand of thrift stores, it's something hard to dismiss. When I first started getting back into collecting old video games roughly five or six years ago, one of the most common means of discovering new games to add to my library was to go to my local thrift stores. Salvation Army and Goodwill were my go to spots, and every Friday or Saturday, I would swing on by to a few of them in hopes of finding new games that were donated.
It was usually a hit or miss. Some days I would find a few NES or SNES games, and more likely Playstation games. Most days I would find nothing. But the good thing was, was that when I actually did find games at these thrift stores, they would only be $2-$3 each. It was an absolute gold mine sometimes, and I found a slew of treasures in my early days of thrift hunting. My collection grew exponentially in a few short weeks thanks to these stores.
Now? Not so much. Fewer and fewer games are being donated to these thrift stores, and if they are I'm either a) beaten to the punch by retro re-sellers that stalk out these stores on a daily basis or b) they are put up on the online auction sites like shopgoodwill.com. I have no problem with shopgoodwill.com. Despite their insane shipping prices, I like the fact that people have the opportunity to bid on items they want like they do on eBay, and that the proceeds go towards the donation centers. Works for me, and it's an equal opportunity. Goodwill caught on to the fact that there is money in retrogames, so they're doing the smart thing. Sucks for me, honestly, but it's good for them. I'll take the hit.
Then there is one store that I fear, may have a bit of a darker story. Now, I don't know how true it is, as I've heard it from a source that will remain unnamed, but here it goes. Unique Thrift stores over on the east coast was another one of my go to spots for retrogame hunting. They would always have games bagged up and placed up on racks for about $1 or $2. It was amazing. My greatest find has to be Dragon Warriors 1-4 for the NES for $3, and Super Body Slam Pro Wrestling for Intellivision for .50 cents...Today, I can't find a single game sold for less than $15. Mario Bros / Duck Hunt? It's always at least $20 for the cart alone. I found a boxed game of Jeopardy for the NES....$100.....
Apparently, some thrift stores, like this one, "MIGHT" be holding their video games for "friends" that will come in to buy them for less money so they can stock their story. SUPPOSEDLY (I'm trying not to accuse, but this is what I've been told), they are getting money under the table by people who own re-seller businesses (not just video games, but other products as well for their stores), in order to buy the product. Basically, these games are now placed out for large amounts of money so no one in their right mind would buy them, and held until their "colleagues" come by to pick them up. I've seen how these registers work, and I've worked in retail. There is no real inventory system in these donation stores. A quick price change at the register, and these associates are able to assist their colleagues in getting games cheap for a couple bucks on the side. If this is true, it disgust me to no end. I pray that it's not, and I can only hope that it's the thrift stores trying to keep up with the demand of retrogames and having little to no idea what the prices are worth.
You don't realize how many arguments I've had with associates when I tell them a Super Mario / Duck Hunt is not worth $20. UGH. It doesn't end!
Thrift stores are pretty much dead to me. I'll stop in every now and then, hoping to find something, but I'll be hit with the same insane prices, or lack of inventory. The only luck I ever seem to have is stumbling into a mom and pop owned thrift store that no one seems to know about. Even then, it's more often than not an absolute bust.
The Garage Sale Vultures
It used to be, you didn't have to worry about rushing to garage sales to get a hold of any games that might be being sold. You could usually show up whenever, and just take your time browsing. But now, it's a race. And at times it could be a violent one. I have a few stories for you, but let me mention something about craigslist first.
A lot of people post garage sales on craigslist, and most people will list if they have video games at their sales. I used to just hit up those sales first, but lately it has turned into a competition and I more than likely will avoid them in fear of confrontation. Now, before I even go to these garage sales I'll typically shoot the owner an email and inquire about what games they are selling. If it's something I am interested in, I'll usually ask if they could put it aside, or offer them a deal right then and there. It works more often than not, and they usually enjoy dealing with someone who is willing to take the time to talk to them and ask....NICELY. If they don't have anything that I'm looking for, I say my goodbyes and wish them the best of luck with the rest of their sale. Now, what happens if I actually go to a garage sale that has video games and its posted on the web? Let's talk about it...
I made my way over to a garage sale roughly 10 mins away from my house, and showed up just as it opened. Another guy had pulled up ahead of me in his car, and exited making a beeline for a table that had the electronics on it. I walked over, said hello to the person holding the garage sale and made a little bit of small talk. You know, the usual "You picked a great day to do this.", "What made you decide to have a garage sale?", etc. Part of me feels like the best thing you can do at a garage sale is to talk to the person who is in charge of it. A few seconds of conversation will get you on to their good side and they won't see you as some person just trying to swindle them out of their items that they've had in their house that they need to get rid of. The thing is, you don't know why they're getting rid of them. Perhaps they've encountered financial trouble, or they need to leave their house quickly. Maybe they just want to get rid of clutter. It doesn't matter. Show some respect to them, and they'll show respect back. Re-sellers though? They have no respect. At all. (case in point I will AGAIN point out that article.)
Anyway, back to this tale. After making small talk, I asked the man who is still setting stuff up if he happened to have any video games as I noticed he posted he was selling some on the craigslist ad. The guy over at the electronics table must have had super sonic hearing because he darted over to where I was talking to the gentleman. He said he did, and he pointed over at a box of Skylanders figures and an unopened Skylanders set.
The guy next to me, we shall call him "Hugh Jass" says, "Is this all you have? These aren't the kind of games I want. You really need to post what games you have instead of wasting peoples time."
I didn't even know what to say, and it made me feel incredibly awkward just being next to the guy. The man holding the sale obviously was getting red in the face. I mean, his sale just started and he was already getting crap some guy. He raced back to his car and sped off, obviously heading to the next sale that listed video games. I small talked the guy again, trying to ease him out of his pissed off state, and ended up buying a few ninja turtles figures for a dollar. I left the sale being somewhat disgusted, not at the fact that I didn't get any games, but the fact that someone had the nerve to give the seller attitude just because he didn't have anything he was looking for.
I arrived at another sale where video games had been listed, but this time there were also pictures of old Atari systems, Nintendo Systems, Game boys, and a box filled with games. I knew, even while I was driving over there, that this was going to be a crap fest. I pulled up, and there was already a line of people waiting to get into the garage sale. Mind you, it was a huge multi-family sale. The yard was filled to the brim and everything was covered up with a tarp. I didn't see any familiar faces waiting, so I assumed I was going to be safe to browse in peace.
Side note - I see a lot of familiar collectors in the Long Island area that hit up garage sales much like I do. For us, it's a friendly competition. We send each other texts every time we find some garage sale gold, and we'll even trade if one person has what the other needs. It's a love hate relationship, but at least we respect each other for what we do.
Anyway, the garage sale begins, and I make my way over to the table where I see two Atari systems set up, a dreamcast, a game boy, and slew of other nerdy things. I'm not running. I don't do that. But APPARENTLY some guy next to me just has to get there before me so he rushes ahead, (pushes me mind you) and starts filing through all the games in a box with his grubby little fingers.
I stand next to him, casually picking up a few of the awesomely low priced systems and carrying them to the side. I ask the guy holding the sale if I can just put these down for a second as I keep browsing, because after all I saw some games that I wanted to pick up. He lets me put them down in his garage and says out loud "Garage is a safe zone if you have too much stuff you're carrying."
Making my way back to the table with all the games, I see Mr. Polite pull out a giant canvas bag and start dumping everything into it. I kid you not. The guy is literally grabbing everything off the table and dumping them into the bag without even looking at it. Oh, did I fail to mention that he is still in his pajamas? I'm catching glimpses of the games he's picking up, and there are a lot of doubles and nothing I really want so I'm not really caring. I ask him if I can take a look inside the box, but he ignores me and once again pushes me aside in a way that makes it seem like he is just readjusting his position. But no, it was a push. The guy holding the sale seems like he sees the guy getting a little bit too greedy and says out loud again "There's enough for everyone, so take your time."
I manage to reach in and grab a few games I know I needed (a few boxed nintendo games that for some reason he ignored, and a few game boy games..nothing crazy). The guy walks away with his filled canvas bag and makes his way into the garage, where he actually starts eyeballing what I had previously set down for safekeeping. He picks the Dreamcast up and asks the guy holding the sale how much he wants for it. The man, thankfully, says that those are mine and he put them aside for me. I can't even describe the look that skeevy man gave us. It was as if we insulted him in some way. He pulls out a wad of crumpled cash, and opens up the bag for the man to look at so he can count through the games, and he literally starts rushing him that he has to go to the next sale.
The man holding the sale, much like in my previous story, is irked by the way he is being treated. He counts up the games quickly, collects his money and the "re-seller" is on his way, most likely calculating how much he is going to charge for the games. I walk up to him next, and start with my usual small talk asking him why he decided to sell all his games. To me, it always interests me when people tell me why they're selling their games. Usually, it's a parent selling the toys of a kid that has moved out or gotten married, and sometimes it's their own that they just decided to get rid of because it was just collecting dust. Sometimes its a more touching story (like the one...I REPEAT in that article I mentioned above). In this case, his son was handicap and couldn't play them anymore. I did notice the young man in the wheelchair earlier by the door talking to what I thought was his mom, and he obviously had lost mobility in his hands. The guy turned back to me and asked me why I was buying the games, and I just said I'm collecting again so I can relive a bit of my own childhood. He tallied up my bill, thanked me for the small talk, and basically gave me most of the games I purchased for an insanely discounted price telling me to enjoy them like his own son used to. A dreamcast, an original gameboy, roughly 20 games (a few boxed) for $20. The other guy? Spent over $100 on garbage, just because he was rude and in a rush. My guess? He's charging $10 each for those crap games.
Here is a situation where I wasn't even PRESENT. How is that possible? Well, my mom occasionally goes to garage sales over the weekend, and I happened to tell her to stop by one if she had time. The woman had listed on craigslist that she had an N64 and games for sale. Unfortunately, it was on a Friday and I was already at work so it was impossible for me to find out what she had. My mom however, was nice enough to do it for me.
She gave me a call roughly 15 minutes after I told her to go check it out (it was a few blocks away from her) and she told me that the woman was going to take a picture of what she had and show me. My mom went on to say that she's too busy to talk to my mom personally about it because she is dealing with two guys having a bidding wars over it.
A bidding wars? Did I hear that correctly? If there is one thing I have yet to see, it has been a bidding wars at a garage sale. Sort of wish I saw it in person, but not really. Well, a few minutes later the woman texts me a picture. It's a doozy. A N64 system, 4 controllers, and around 10 boxed games. Conkers Bad Fur Day being one of them. And we all know about the worth of that game. I hesitantly asked the woman through the text message what the current bid is at. She says $200. I cringe, but I throw in a bid anyway. I love boxed games, and was in need of Conker. I also send her a personal message, and I tell her to real value of these games and how much everything is potentially worth. This surprised her. First of all, she didn't realize how much it was all worth, and secondly she was surprised I was telling her.
Long story short, I outbid the people who were bidding, but the woman decided to hold on to the system for now. We texted each other back and forth for a bit, me telling her why I'm collecting and her telling me that my mom was sweet (lol bonus points for a sweet ma, eh?). She then told me if she decides to sell, she would sell it to me. The kicker? She would sell it to me at the price she originally had it at - $50. All due to my honesty, and the fact that she outright said she was disgusted with the way the other guys were acting and broke off all contact with them after the sale. She told me that they had even gotten to the point of harassment by coming to her house to she if she had it for sale after the garage sale had ended.
She hasn't sold it yet, but she has kept in touch and is actually keeping the look out for me for relatives or friends that are getting rid of their systems. Networking my friends. Networking. All from a little respect.
3 minor situations, but tell tale signs of how immature, and down right disrespectful some of these re-sellers can be. They care nothing about the people who are selling these retro games, but rather how little they can get it for, how much they can get, and how much they can make off it.
Flea Markets of DOOM / Consignment Stores / Thrift Stores cont.
Where do you actually see these re-sellers? Well, most of them set up their own shops. Little run down stores that are basically junkyards carrying everything they've collected off estate sales and garage sales or from ads on craigslist. Their games can be found secluded to the side in little glass cases with price tags on it. You know what I'm talking about. The stacks of NES games that are selling for double, sometimes TRIPLE what they are worth. I walk out of those stores downright flabbergasted.
But then I realize, some people actually DO buy them. The people that don't do the research on the value of a game, and think they've stumbled upon something from their past. This is how they make their money. They prey on those who lack the knowledge.
I've seen it in person at a local flea market that happens every Sunday at a railroad station parking lot. There's at least three or four vendors there that sell old video games, and all of them are priced to rip any unfortunate soul off. I've saved a few people from buying games at insane prices, and I've also been chased off and even threatened by vendors there. But I can't help it. It disgusts me. I don't mind if you're trying to make money, but don't do it by ripping people off.
One guy I had seen there one weekend was attempting to sell games at honest prices. Only a few bucks more than what you can get them for on eBay. I was happy enough to buy a few games I needed and wished him luck, hoping I'd see him back there again. Do you know what he told me? He said he wouldn't be coming back. He said HE was being harassed by other vendors who sold video games there as well, saying that they were moving in on their territory basically. What the hell is this all about? Why is this suddenly a competition? Why can't there be more people just willing to trade and communicate rather than steal your wallet? It's absolutely disgusting.
The Solution to the Retro Re-Seller Rampage
So how do we solve this? How do we get rid of these people who insist on taking over what we once enjoyed doing? Easy. Stop buying from them. Ignore them. Let them hold on to their inventory for ages until it collects dust, and their little shops collapse. That's the only thing we can do.
Join forces with your fellow retro game collectors. Trade. Talk. Become friends. Only as a community of retro games are we going to be able to survive this disease, and get back to collecting and treasure hunting like the way it was 5-10 years ago. Trust me, I miss the excitement of stumbling into a thrift store and finding gold, or going to a garage sale without worrying about being stabbed by some guy who wants to take control of a table full of games before me.
Another key? Be friendly to those who do sell games, because you'll most likely be rewarded. When you go to those garage sales, talk to those who are running it. Find out about their gaming history. You'll be surprised at how willing they are to talk, and how happy they will usually be to find someone who will respect the games, rather than try to milk them for every penny their worth. It's worked out for me, and I guarantee it will work out for you.
I apologize for the long post, and if you've sat through the whole thing than props to you. In case you couldn't, here's my TL:DR -
Retro Re-sellers are a plague. And they must be stopped. Don't buy from them. Don't talk to them. Let them drive themselves into the ground.
Happy collecting all - hope to run into you one day at a garage sale. I'll fend off the re-sellers for you.