Monday, June 18, 2018

The Most Expensive Famicom Games at Super Potato



I made a trek out to Super Potato in Nagoya the other day.  I love Super Potato even though I don't buy a lot there, its just such a beautiful shop to stroll around in and gawk at the amazing stuff they have.  If I ever opened a game shop, I don't think I would do anything differently from what Super Potato has done with theirs.

I brought my camera along and in addition to the obligatory pictures of rows of Famicom games on shelves:
And stacks of Famicom consoles:
I also took some pictures of the glass case in which they store their most valuable Famicom games and thought I'd share with you the most valuable stuff they have.
The CIB stuff is, predictably, the most expensive.  Some of the highlights here include:

Battle Formula: 128,000 Yen
Over Horizon: 49,800 Yen
Gimmick!: 69,800 Yen
Adventure Island IV: 49,800 Yen
Metal Storm: 29,800 Yen

Also visible in the foreground is an oddity - the Gradius Archimendes version, which was limited to 4000 copies given out to consumers of ramen back in the day.  They want 59,800 Yen for it, which is in the ballpark, but its odd because the box is a regular Gradius box.  The Archimendes version has a distinctive label across the upper right corner which is missing on that one (otherwise it would be much more expensive).
Right next to them is the most expensive thing in the store, though I think it is a pricing error.  A CIB copy of Recca Summer Carnival 92 for 778,000 Yen (that is about $7,000 US).  That is definitely a valuable and rare game, but CIB copies usually go for about 100,000 Yen on Yahoo Auctions (and in fact there is one there now at that price).  Super Potato's price tend towards the high side, but not THAT much, so I think this must be a mistake and maybe somebody accidentally added an extra zero to the price tag.  
More goodies here, including Moon Crystal (64,800 Yen):
Battletoads (21,800 Yen) and some Rockmans with prices falling into reach of mere mortals:

A few more beauties in the 10,000-20,000 Yen or so range:

The cart only selection is also pretty impressive. Tailor Made by Bridgestone (49,800 Yen, the one with the cyclists on it) is one of the holy grails of Famicom collecting.  It was distributed only to bicycle shops and allowed customers to choose custom parts for their bicycles, thus making it one of the rarest games out there (though also one of the boringest).  Recca Summer Carnival 92 is available for the same price and is a lot more well known, though it seems to be a lot easier to find.


One of the more surprising things I noticed was actually that, impressive as this selection is, its nowhere near as awe-inspiring as it once was.  A few years ago a trip to Super Potato would inevitably turn up some hyper rarities - like my visit to the Osaka branch a few years ago where I found copies of the gold Rockman 4 (only 8 ever made) and the gold Binary Land (only about 200).  The hyper-rarities like those ones seem to have disappeared from the market as they never turn up on Yahoo Auctions anymore either.  Games like Tailor Made and Recca are certainly impressive, but they don't really feel up to the task of headlining a Super Potato glass case.

Thursday, June 14, 2018

Oh No! Japanese Retro Video Game Bars and Cafes are Getting Shut Down by the Fuzz!


A few years ago I wrote about what I thought was one of the coolest things in Japan: Famicom bars.  Basically these are bars or cafes which cater to retro gamers.  For an hourly fee they allow customers to sit at a table and play a Famicom (or other retro console) while having a drink.  Its a very similar business model to internet cafes which are everywhere in Japan.  I'm not sure when the first opened, but some have evidently been around for decades.  Some of them are really great places with really knowledgeable owners.

Or, at least that is how they were until today.  Police in Kyoto and Kobe have just arrested four individuals who ran retro game bars (Game Bar Clantz in Kyoto, Equlit in Kobe, and two others which aren't named in the news reports).  Their crime?  Allowing customers to play games produced by Nintendo and Capcom without permission from Nintendo and Capcom.

If you want to see something really surreal, check out this news clip about the arrest.  The police seized more than a thousand game cartridges (mostly Super Famicom) and several consoles, including a red and white Famicom.  They laid it all out for the press to see, the same way they do with piles of drugs and cash seized from drug kingpins.  Its weird.

The legal problem is that charging the public to play on games licensed for home consoles is a violation of copyright law, since the owners of the copyright (Nintendo, Capcom and other game makers) only license those for non commercial, domestic use.  In other words, the entire business model of Famicom bars is basically illegal. According to this report, the police action was launched in response to complaints from Nintendo itself (along with other game makers).

While it was only four retro game bars that were targeted in this raid, this basically means that all of them are illegal and I doubt any will stay in business after today at the risk of the owner being arrested.  I just discovered that the link to Famicom City in Shibuya, a major retro game bar that opened in 2015 which I wrote about in my earlier post on these stores (from which the photo at the top of this post comes), is now dead.  The only way for these bars to go legit is either:

A) get permission from the makers of each game they offer to the public to do so (highly unlikely, given that the makers obviously can and will refuse such permission), or:
B) Remove all home consoles and replace them with arcade cabinets (which are licensed for use by the public and thus not illegal to use in a bar).  This is do-able, but of course arcade cabinets aren't ideally suited for cafes (except the table top ones) so doing so would really change the nature of places that do this.

This is really sad, since retro game bars were one of the coolest elements of the Japanese retro gaming scene.  It also feels quite petty  on the part of Nintendo.  While I appreciate that legally they are in the right, I don't see what purpose is served in shutting these places down.  The games involved look like they were mostly over 20 years old, so its hardly like they were eating into Nintendo's profits and turning a blind eye to technical violations of copyright undoubtedly had the benefit of throwing a lot of good will from the gaming community to Nintendo (and Capcom who were also behind this).  I think they deserve to take a hit to their reputation for this, how about you?





Monday, June 4, 2018

The Last Famicom Game: Adventure Island 4


This week I scratched another game off my Famicom want list - Takahashi Meijin's Adventure Island 4!

It was released 24 years ago this month (June 24, 1994) which gives it a distinguished place in history as the last game ever released for the Famicom.  This also makes it one of the hardest to find since it simultaneously falls into several categories that make it a high-demand item:

1. Late release with very limited sales/production making it a rarity
2. Game featuring a popular character
3. Game never released outside of Japan
4. Game generally well regarded as a game

I have wanted a copy of this since the earliest days of my collection.  Its every Famicom collector's white whale since the existence of the other Adventure Island games (all of which are much easier to find and cheaper) in your collection constantly remind you of its absence.  Its something about the numbering that plays on whatever elements of an obsessive compulsive personality lurk in your psyche - 1, 2,3.....where is 4?  Its an itch I need to scratch!!!

So I am relieved to have this in the collection now, though once again I find myself regretting not having purchased it a few years ago when I had the chance.  I distinctly remember holding my finger above a Yahoo Auctions BIN button for a nice loose copy at a price of 8200 Yen about five years ago and for whatever reason (hubris?  arrogance?  sheer stupidity?) holding fire in the mistaken belief that a cheaper one would magically appear.  I paid just under 14,000 Yen for this one and counted myself lucky.

Tuesday, May 29, 2018

The Awkward Relationship Between the Famicom and NES Collecting Worlds

I was doing a Famicom related Google image search the other day when I spotted the above picture at the top of the results.  I recognized it from this post I did 6 years ago about some of the better Famicom games I had at the time.  But the image wasn't directly from my blog, rather it was contained in this video on YouTube:

The video is by "Pat the NES Punk" who I guess borrowed my picture for some reason.*  The video itself addresses the question of whether demand for Famicom and Super Famicom games is increasing.  They emphatically answer "no" to this question.  Originally I was planning to do a point-by-point response to their arguments, which I should note were made in 2015 and the explosion in Famicom prices since then seems to have proven them wrong.

But then I realized that this was unnecessary since there is really just one common and, for reasons I'll get into further below, faulty underlying assumption behind their arguments which is worth addressing.  That is that Famicom games might be, in economic terms, little more than a substitute good for NES games.  A substitute good is one which is so similar to another good that consumers view them as interchangeable.  Thus if the price of one of those goods rises, consumers will start buying the substitute good instead.  This will cause the price of the other good to rise as well.

So their assumption is that assessing demand for Famicom games can be approached by determining whether or not NES collectors, frustrated with rising prices of NES games, are turning to them as a substitute good.  They conclude that this isn't happening in part based on factually incorrect statements (like not being able to play half the games due to the language barrier, which overstates that quite a bit) or logically dubious propositions (like American collectors preferring the familiarity of NES games, which may be true but doesn't preclude them from also liking Famicom games).

But what I really want to address is the whole NES-centric view that Famicom collecting is little more than an appendage to NES collecting.  I don't think this is accurate.

Of course I have my own personal biases as a Famicom collector who has little interest in the NES.  Seeing discussions like that inspires an almost tribal instinct in me to paint my face blue, don a kilt and yell "Freedom" as I swing a pixelated battleax at the NES hordes that have dominated and oppressed my people for so long.

More objectively though I think its just plain incorrect.  So I thought I would review some of the reasons why analyzing the Famicom market through the lense of the NES market like this makes no sense (at least to the extent that you are trying to understand the Famicom market).  These observations are based in part on my time as a collector but also as a seller of Famicom games on Famicom World, Nintendo Age and RF Generation for several years (mostly from 2011-2016)

1. The Famicom, not the NES, is the most international console

This is kind of a bold statement but I think it is true.  Of course back in the 1980s the NES was the better known of the two internationally (outside of Asia and a few other markets anyway) and the version released in Europe and other regions copied the look of the NES rather than the Famicom (both the console and the carts). But this, I think, makes the Famicom more appealing to collectors internationally today than the NES is.

If you are a European collector looking for something new, the North American NES is pretty blah since it looks exactly the same as your NES, although it might have some releases which didn't come out in Europe you might want to pick up.  And vice versa.

The Famicom though?  The console and carts look completely different and are aesthetically way more pleasing than the boring grey NES ones.  The variety of games is also significantly different and there are loads of great ones that weren't offered on the NES in either Europe or North America. It also has a much more important place in gaming history as the mother of all Nintendo consoles, a title which the NES cannot lay claim to.

I think these factors combine to make the Famicom the go-to "foreign" console for collectors in most countries rather than the NES. This of course means that the potential market for Famicom games is quite a bit larger too (emphasis on "potential" since the domestic market for NES games is still way bigger).

2. The Famicom's Holy Grails are Completely Different from the NES's Holy Grails

One of the most distinctive features of the Famicom and NES collectors markets is that despite being the same hardware, there is almost no overlap between the two in terms of what collectors consider the holy grails.  They each have quite different ones.

There is a list of the most valuable NES games on Racketboy (from 2017) here.  While a lot of those games were also released on the Famicom, the vast majority of them (with some exceptions like Little Sansom, Snow Bros and the Jetsons) aren't among the most expensive and none of them really crack into pure "holy grail" territory.

Interestingly I just realized that there isn't a similar comprehensive list of the Famicom's holy grails out there(the racketboy list above has an addendum which mentions five Famicom rarities but this is just the tip of the iceberg) but I can say that most of the games that would be on it (hey, this gives me an idea for a future post) are not NES icons.  This is because so many of the rarest Famicom games have unique little histories which resulted in very limited releases.  Just off the top of my head some of those are:

Recca Summer Carnival 92
Gold Binary Land
Green Kinnikuman
Gold Punch Out
Yasuda Fire and Safety Rally
 Gold Dragon Ball Z
Gradius Archimedes
Bridgestone Cycle Tailor Made
Exed Exes Silver/ Gold Members Label
Lot Lot Silver/ Gold Members Label

This is by no means an exclusive list, I'm pretty sure the Famicom has way more holy grails than the NES does.

The important thing though is that this difference really demonstrates how Famicom collecting is NOT driven by NES collectors seeking cheaper versions of NES games since the most expensive Famicom games have no NES equivalent.  This also applies to the most expensive regular issue games like Gimmick! and Adventure Island 4 which weren't released on the North American NES.

3. The Japanese market still exists

Its perhaps also worth noting that there are 127 million consumers in Japan who don't really give a shit what foreigners collect, except for the fact that they are making everything way more expensive, which is annoying.  The dynamics of Famicom collecting in Japan among Japanese collectors is significantly different than it is outside.  Japanese collectors have much different tastes in games, and the fact that a game wasn't released outside of Japan, a major driver of a Famicom game's value on the international market, is of zero interest to them.  While the run up in prices on Famicom games I think can mainly be explained by foreign demand, Japanese collectors have (some happily, some reluctantly) jumped on the bandwagon, and stuff like TV shows highlighting the collector value of games are now common place.

If anything though, this chronology puts the horse before the cart (HA!  Get the pun?).  I think shops in Akihabara and Den Den Town were selling Famicom games as collectors items long before NES collecting became mainstream in the US.  Mandarake and Super Potato have been around a while now.

4. Famicom Collectors Come in all shapes and sizes

Returning to the international collectors market here,  it seems to me that people have a pretty wide range of reasons for buying Famicom games and very few do so to avoid high NES prices (even fewer now that Famicom prices are getting so high).

So what are the types of Famicom collector, and what determines their demand?  And how does this relate to the NES market?  We can create a hypothetical band of collector types, from "extreme Famicom collector" on one end to "Extreme NES collector" on the other.

1. Extreme Famicom collector - only collects Famicom games
2. Regular Famicom collector - collects mainly Famicom games, but also other stuff from other consoles.  Has interest in NES, but mainly just in stuff that isn't available for the Famicom.
3. Neutral collector - has lots of consoles including Famicom and NES but does not have a preference for either and collects both equally.
4. Regular NES collector - collects mainly NES games, but also stuff from other consoles.  Has interest in Famicom, but mainly in stuff that isn't available for the NES.
5. Extreme NES collector - only collects NES games.

I think most  Famicom and NES collectors fall somewhere on this spectrum, but the problem with
analyzing the market for Famicom games through the lense of the NES market is that you arbitrarily eliminate consideration of collector types 1, 2 and 3 from the equation.  The relative numbers of each of these groups is an open question which  I don't know the answer to, but at the very least there do appear to be a non-trivial number of people in those categories out there who are spending money on games, so they shouldn't be ignored.

Conclusion

So these are just a few of my thoughts on the folly of judging the market for Famicom games primarily based on an analysis of the idiosyncrasies of NES collectors, which is what Pat the NES Punk does in that video.  I'm not trying to criticize those guys particularly, I watched a few of their videos and found them entertaining, more I'm just trying to add a more Famicom-centred perspective since it seems to be lacking in a debate that is fundamentally about Famicom games (an odd omission).



*On that topic, what is the accepted protocol in the video game blogging community with respect to borrowing pics?  Just borrow away?  Or borrow with acknowledgment?  Or only borrow when you’ve obtained permission? 

I have a lot of photos on this blog and I’m generally OK with people using them, though I think common courtesy demands some form of acknowledgment (which, ahem, was not forthcoming).  That, at least, is what I do whenever I use a photo that I’ve gotten from someone else.  I think this is especially the case when a “big” social media entity (they have more than 230,000 followers)  borrows from a “small” one (I have 113).    I'm not sure I'm in the majority here though, what does everyone think?







Friday, May 25, 2018

Kyorochan Land and Delayed Effects Product Placement

 I bought Kyorochan Land the other day.  Its the first Famicom game I have scratched off my want list in over three years and I'm quite happy with it.

I have been aware of this game for years because it is one of the somewhat rarer and more sought after Famicom titles in Japan.  The lead character is Kyorochan, who is a mascot for Morinaga Corporation's Chocoball snacks.  I had always assumed that this was some sort of limited release product tie-up with Morinaga which explained its rarity, but it turns out it is just a regular Famicom release.  Its status as a high priced game seems to come from the fact that it was simply released late in the Famicom's lifetime (it was released in December 1992, despite the 1991 copyright date on the cart) and thus not many copies were sold.

I kind of like the game's cover art, which looks like the cover of a Chocoball box.  I like it so much in fact that I went down to the conbini and bought a box of them for comparison:

26 years after Morinaga somehow finagled their way into the biggest instance of product placement in Famicom history, their efforts to induce purchases of their snacks continue to pay dividends (84 Yen dividends in this case).

I chose the caramel flavored ones which have  a different color scheme than the Famicom game (which uses the chocolate flavor coloring).  I like caramel.

The box opens on the top:
 The chocoballs themselves are significantly different from what is on the cart, which looks more like chocolate covered almonds.  Chocoballs are...well...balls, not ovals.
The game itself I should mention is a straight up port of the NES game Nebulus with just a few adjustments (like making Kyorochan the main character),  So if you like that game, you'll probably like this one.

This is one of those games that I really regret not having purchased a few years ago as it has gone up in price quite a bit.  I was browsing my old posts and came across this one from 8 years ago (how time flies) which shows a copy of it available at the old Mandarake in Fukuoka for 2900 Yen.  I ended up paying about double that for this copy!  D-oh!






Tuesday, May 22, 2018

Bringing the Blog Back to Life


Not sure if anyone is still out there but hello, my name is Sean and I like Famicom games.  This is, or at least was, my blog.

I have been out of blogging for a few years now.  I started this blog almost ten years ago.  At the time I was a graduate student in Japan with lots of free time, very few responsibilities and also very little money.  The perfect time to start a blog about collecting Famicom games, which at the time were extremely cheap and plentiful!

Then I graduated, got a full time job, had two wonderful kids and bought a house in the suburbs (still in Japan) and Famicom collecting, and blogging about it, had to take a back seat to everything else.  So the blog has gotten extremely dusty as I haven't really posted regularly in the past four years.

But now I want to dust it off and start blogging about the Famicom again. Two things have prompted this decision:

1) When I started this blog I had the goal of collecting all 1051 officially released Famicom carts.  I never reached that goal during the blog's original lifetime but I have decided to re-start that quest and that naturally gives me something to blog about.

2) Being a father now gives me a different perspective on things than I had a few years ago and I hope this will give me something useful or at least interesting to write about.  My kids have never played Famicom but I'll probably introduce it to them in the not too distant future so that will likely be another focus (for privacy reasons I won't be putting pictures of them here but you can take my word for it that they are insanely cute and awesome kids).

So we'll see how this goes!

One initial thing I am of mixed emotions about is what to do with my antiquated blog list.  One of the best things about blogging isn't your own blog but reading those of others.  Its kind of disheartening to try to get back into the blog and look up all the other blogs I used to follow only to get either blogs that haven't had an entry since 2013 or, worse, pop up ads telling me that the domain of a former blogger's site is now for sale.  Looks like about 80% of the blogs/sites I followed 5 years ago are now defunct!

On the other hand I am delighted to discover that a few are still at it, like Simon and Bryan  and I look forward to catching up on what they've been writing about.

Still though, not sure about that blog list.  Its kind of an interesting archeological record of what the retro game blogiverse looked like circa 2012 so I''m tempted to leave it intact.  On the other, its mostly a bunch of dead links or links to discontinued blogs and not much use to anyone.

Minor point.

Anyway, I hope to do about a post a week from now on and see how long I can keep that up!

Friday, March 24, 2017

Yes, I'm still alive after over a year

Its amazing how time flies, its been over a year since I updated this blog, which is usually a good barometer for declaring a blog "dead".  But this one isn't, its just in hibernation as its curator raises a family.

Which is a cool thing to do in Japan because sometimes you find coin operated Mobile Robot suits like the one in the above photo which was taken over the weekend.  I need to get one of these for our living room.  I was thinking it would have been the most awesome Famicom controller ever, and I hope Nintendo will release one, maybe for Formation Z or some other game, in the near future.

Will be back in 2018 with another update, maybe sooner.  I haven't bought a video game in over a year, which is really the main reason for this blog's inactivity.  When the occupant of the above Mobile Robot suit is old enough, I'll probably break the Famicom out again and find some more reasons to post :)