According to Game Sniped graded games first started hitting Ebay around 2008, so they are a relatively recent trend in the video game collecting world. In the baseball card world they have been around a lot longer, probably since the late 90s if I recall correctly.
I take their entry into the video game collecting world as a huge negative for the hobby. They represent everything that I dislike about collecting hobbies in general - anal retentiveness, greed, obsession with something as superficial as condition and people looking at the thing they collect as an investment rather than something to be enjoyed for what it is. All bad stuff and all of it perfectly personified in the video game grading service.
Metaphorically speaking, these services represent the "end of the innocence" of a hobby. They literally put the thing beyond its intended use. You will never play that video game again - it is permanently sealed, never to be touched by human hands. It is the physical manifestation of the process by which an item goes from being whatever it actually is - a video game, a comic book, a baseball card - to nothing more than a sterile piece of investment. They might as well be government savings bonds from the moment they get graded, because they are no longer good for anything other than being a repository of value. And bad ones at that - they don't even pay interest.
I have two other specific gripes with these services that I want to talk about here. The first has to do with the economics and the second with the visuals. Lets start with the economics.
1. Graded stuff in general does not obey economic logic. It is a pyramid scam waiting to collapse.
I just took a look on Ebay at the prices for sealed copies of Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES. I found 6 copies of it sealed, 5 of which were ungraded and one graded. The ungraded ones were selling for between 109.95 and 300.00 Buy it Now.
The single graded one was selling for 1800.00 Buy it Now, six times more than the most expensive of the ungraded ones.
That makes absolutely no sense. They are all sealed - which to me means they are all mint and thus all the exact same (there was no damage noted in the ungraded ones). Grading services from what I've found cost about 25$. So if we are generous and say that the most expensive of the ungraded games represents the true value, then logically the graded one should be worth $300 +$25 = $325. Maybe we could add another 25 for the hassle the seller went through to get it graded. That still leaves us with a price of $350.
There is really no rational basis for a premium of $1500 on this thing just because it has been graded. The increase in value has just been created out of thin air.
Of course, there are a lot of variations in sellers on Ebay and this is just one example, a rather striking one at that. We would need to look at a lot more to firmly establish the argument. Still though, from just looking around Ebay you can pretty much pick any popular NES game at random and you will notice that in general the premium sellers are charging for their graded games are totally out of whack with what common sense dictates they should be. There is just no rational basis for this and it can only be explained as a speculative bubble that will burst just as dramatically as the real estate bubble did a couple years ago when people come to their senses.
Bottom line: do not buy graded games as an investment.
Now, on to my complaints with the visuals.
2. Grading a Game robs it of its aesthetic qualities.
As I've said before, I'm not totally insensitive to the condition of my games. I like a game in a nice box that is in good condition, and sometimes I'm willing to pay a premium for it. Also, when I get a game that is in good condition I am usually careful with it and do my best not to let it get damaged.
Why? I think most of you will agree that the reason we might pay more for a game in good condition is simply because they look better that way. Particularly with boxed Famicom games, they look really great when they aren't all creased up.
Lets take a look at what those expensive NES graded games look like though:
(Image source: Joystick)
Pardon the expletive but these look like shit. Who designed these slabs? Michael Bay? I don't even know where to begin with what is wrong with these things.
First, just putting them behind plastic robs them of a lot of their character. One of the things I really like about NES and Famicom games is that most of them came in cardboard boxes. Cardboard is softer and has a more natural look than plastic. The ink on the cover looks different than it does on plastic and it reflects light in a different way. These are all positive things. Put cardboard under plastic though and you rob it of all of that.
Second having these labels with the condition number and hologram (I hate holograms) and other info visible on the front is just idiotic. It distracts from the game itself. If you are going to display these games then you want the games themselves to be the only thing showing. With these plastic cases the games are always under these sterile looking labels that are only functional if you want to sell the game. They look exactly like the labels on my contact lens boxes.
The bottom line is that these things have no class. I love having shelves filled with loose or boxed Famicom carts. Over the years these things have come to have a bit of style to them. They look great, either alone or in a group.
Graded games though I would actually be embarrassed to have visible anywhere in my apartment.
You might say that encasing them in plastic and putting a label on them is unavoidable given the nature of grading services - they have to convey the information somehow while at the same time making the case tamper-proof. This is correct. But that is exactly my point: if there is no way to permanently grade these things without robbing them of everything that makes them worthy of collecting in the first place, then what is the point of having these services around?
Oh yeah, money. On that, see point 1 above.
I just really really dislike the fact that these services even exist. That is a very high level at which to dislike something. Existential dislike. Can't beat that.
As a closing cheap shot, I'll note that this is another thing that I like about collecting video games in Japan: I have never seen a graded video game in any store here. Even stores like Mandarake that have games selling for hundreds of dollars don't use these dreary services. Good on 'em, I say.
-Famicom Cart Condition: Why Good is Bad and I'll Never Collect Sealed Stuff