A Guide to Buying Classic Video Games at Auction

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There is a growing interest in collecting classic cartridge games thanks to the recent resurgence in retro gaming interest. Games for older systems such as the Super Nintendo, Nintendo 64, and Sega Genesis have long since stopped being sold in most brick-and-mortar stores.

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You might have trouble finding an original copy of your favorite classic game unless you live next door to the world’s largest used game store. The chances of them having it are pretty slim, and you can almost expect it to be overpriced and not in good condition. In other words, where does the retro gamer go to buy that original copy of Mario Kart 64 or Donkey Kong Country? For more and more gamers the answer to that question has been simple: the internet.

You can find classic video games that your local store no longer carries on an online auction, which is one of several great places to look. Many titles are available for purchase in almost any condition you can imagine, and just about any game title you can think of is available for purchase.

Prior to jumping into game auctions, I want to give you a few simple tips that will help you orient yourself in the overwhelming number of them. Your experience buying a game online should be a positive one for both you and the seller if you are aware of some basic guidelines. Here is what we’re going to do.

Make sure the actual item you are bidding on is pictured in the video game auction. I know this sounds simple enough, but you really have to read the fine print. Most auctions do have pictures, but many game sellers use “stock pictures” to sell their games.

In addition to online auction images, stock pictures may also be images taken by the seller of a game similar to the one being offered, or images of the game’s original box. Whatever the case, avoid stock photos. You are less likely to be disappointed with a purchase when you can see, before buying, exactly what you are getting.

You will often find terms like “a picture is for reference or education purposes only” and “condition of the game will vary somewhat from the example shown” or some other such disclaimer designed to protect the seller when you complain about the junk you just got in the mail.

The buyer often doesn’t read the fine print and is ultimately disappointed when the game they bought arrives dirty, covered in rental stickers, and has “Chris” written in black sharpie on the back. This is why you should always:

Read the item description. You would think that’s one of those no-brainers, right? You’d be surprised at how often people don’t read the item details and description in a listing. I know this because I always get questions about things that are clearly answered in the text of the auction. Look out for those sneaky disclaimers I mentioned earlier. Also, watch for any hidden charges like insurance fees and additional shipping costs.

If something is not specifically mentioned in the description, don’t assume it to be true. For instance, don’t assume that the “save game” function has been tested and works just fine. If it doesn’t say it, they may not have checked it or even been aware that it is there, to begin with.

Not everyone selling games on Online auction is a professional seller or even a gamer for that matter! It could just be that Joe Bob is selling one of Johnny’s old games that he found covered in the dust down in the basement. Other times, the seller just doesn’t have the means to test the item. There are few things worse than dropping $20 on a copy of Pokemon Emerald just to find out that you can’t save the game! That brings me to my next point:

Make sure you are clear about anything you are unclear about. Potential buyers often receive quick responses from sellers. After all, there is a reason for them to be here: to sell things. Don’t choose a seller who fails to respond within a reasonable timeframe, and who doesn’t answer questions satisfactorily. Online auctions are akin to a retail store in which not answering the phone would mean the end of the transaction. It is important to me that you respond to me as soon as possible. Depending on how quickly they respond to your inquiry, you can predict how they will respond if issues with your order arise down the road. Customer service should be competent, quick, and friendly.

Item conditions on Online auctions mean nothing – at least when it comes to video games. I have seen games listed as being “very good” and “like new” then scrolled down to see a picture of the nastiest, filthiest game I had seen in months. On the other hand, I have seen games listed as “acceptable” that looked like museum pieces. This is another reason why seeing pictures of the actual item listed is critical. If you make a purchase based on a stock picture and stated item condition, you are asking for trouble. If you want to roll the dice and take a chance, then go to Vegas.

Shipping Charges – Watch out for inflated shipping charges. Some sellers will sell a game for a penny and charge $10 to ship it. Most of the time, they are doing this to circumvent Online auction selling fees. For instance, most Nintendo 64 games weigh between 4 – 5 ounces each, and USPS postage to ship that weight in a size #00 bubble mailer is just over $2.

I understand that many sellers build the cost of shipping an item (mailer, ink, label, postage, etc.) into the shipping charges, and personally, I am fine with that. While I understand the costs of running a business, I am not looking to be gouged either! Shipping fees are capped at $4 in the games category and $6 in the vintage game category. Expect to pay more for expedited shipping or Priority Mail. Also, I look for sellers that offer free delivery confirmation and state they will send the tracking number to me.

Look at the seller’s feedback rating. Just because a seller has plenty of positive feedback doesn’t necessarily mean they are a good, reputable seller. The feedback number you are seeing could have come from BUYING on an Online auction- not selling.

The opposite is true as well. If a seller is not at 100% positive feedback or they happen to have some negative ratings doesn’t automatically mean they are bad sellers. So how do you determine which sellers are good and which are risky to buy from?

Take a few minutes and actually read the feedback left by others. Don’t just look at their feedback number in general. Click on it and read what their customers have written. Did the buyer who left the negative feedback have a history of leaving negatives on many other sellers as well? Look at the buyer’s feedback and click on the “feedback left for others” tab. If a lot of the feedback they’ve left for others was negative, this could be one of those of buyers you just can’t satisfy – they do exist!

Also, read- Tips For Buying a Vintage Watch at online auction

Sadly, some buyers try to extort refunds from sellers by threatening to leave negative feedback if the seller doesn’t comply with their demands. They attempt to get a full or partial refund based on some fictitious complaint. Sellers that don’t give in get hit with undeserved negative feedback and then have to fight with an Online auction to get it removed.

If the seller you are considering has some negative feedback, did they respond to it? Do you see a trend in the seller’s performance? Is the negative feedback recent or from 6 months ago? Answering a few questions like these can go a long way in helping you identify a great game seller and lead to a great shopping experience.

Cleaned, tested, and guaranteed to work! You will see this phrase in one form or another when shopping for games online. Just like everything else in life, this is not as clear-cut as it may seem. My idea of cleaned and tested may not be the same as other people.

You can simply blow into the cartridge a few times or wipe it with a cotton swab dampened with Windex and it is now cleaned. In other cases, sellers who specialize in selling game cartridges will physically remove the circuit board of the game from the game (which requires a security bit). The metal game contacts can now be cleaned more easily with an eraser or cleaning agent after the board has been removed. As a result, the customer will usually be able to play for many hours without any problems after this cleaning session.

Finally, I have a few random observations to offer so you can learn from my mistakes:

• Just because an item is “sealed” doesn’t mean it is new.
• Don’t assume a seller will combine shipping if you buy more than one thing from them. Ask this question!
• If you are concerned with fast shipping time, be prepared to pay for First Class or Priority Mail.
• Most cartridge games are sold as “cartridge only” and do not include a box and manual.
• If it seems like something is too good to be true, then it probably is.
• Free shipping is not really free. The cost of shipping is built into the game price.
• If possible, place your bid within the last 5 seconds of the auction. Bid once and for your maximum price.

Overall, Online auction is a great place to buy video games for old, cartridge-based gaming consoles like NES, Super Nintendo (SNES), Nintendo 64 (N64) Gameboy in all its incarnations, and Sega Genesis systems.

The vast majority of sellers are reputable and just trying to make some extra cash by providing a quality product. Knowing what to avoid and what to look for can help you minimize problems or avoid them altogether. Good luck and happy bidding

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