Friday, November 18, 2011

Why I like Collecting Video Games: They aren`t Baseball Cards

As I`ve alluded to on occasion here, in addition to collecting retro video games I also collect a lot of other stuff. These include things like baseball cards, stamps, coins, old movie programs, action figures and a few other odds and ends that interest me. I`m not really a serious big money collector in any of these areas, but I do like to dabble in all of them. I seem to have some sort of collector/ hoarder gene in me somewhere.

Anyway, my multiple collecting interests have given me the opportunity to do some comparative study of the various cultures that surround each of them. I have noticed that one thing which all hobbies that involve collecting stuff have in common is anal retentiveness. Collecting stuff tends to bring this trait out in people, especially when enough other people start to collect the same stuff and a collector`s market evolves. Money takes over everything and if left unchecked it can totally ruin a fun hobby.

One of the things that I really like about collecting video games is that thus far anal retentiveness, hype and big money haven`t taken it over. I hope it stays that way, but I`m not so sure it will. As a sort of cautionary tale I thought it would be illustrative to take a look at what happened to the baseball card collecting world.
Back in the day, collecting baseball cards like the ones in the above photo was actually pretty fun. They were just kind of neat things that kids who liked baseball would go for. When you look at the mainstream of the baseball card collecting world today though it is such a dreary place so devoid of imagination that you have to wonder why anybody with an ounce of self-respect would ever involve themselves in such a soul-less hobby.

To illustrate my point, take a look at this post over on Beckett Media`s website. Beckett is the largest price guide in the baseball card hobby and back in my card collecting heyday twenty years ago was considered the bible of baseball cards.

Take a look at that awful video they posted. No wait, don`t. It is too awful a thing for me to inflict on you. I`ll just breifly describe it. Not because I want to, but because I have to. It is a video of two Beckett employees opening packs of baseball cards that seem to have been sent to them by card companies for promotional purposes. These, I should note, cost one hundred dollars each, which is just an obscenity in itself. Ignoring that for the moment though, the content of the video really showcases how awful the hobby has become. The two guys open their packs and show viewers what they got.

It is a seven minute video. It is painful to watch. The banter between the two stars is almost nothing but impenetrable collector`s jargon interspersed with an endless stream of numbers and statistics. Not statistics related to the game of baseball, I hasten to add, but numbers and statistics related to the baseball cards themselves. On opening his pack the co-host on the left starts:

`All the base cards are numbered to 799, there are parrallels to 199, 50, 25 and 1....`

And it basically just goes on like that for seven uninterrupted minutes. Nowhere in the video do they actually talk about baseball or anything like that. It is just a bunch of boring, overly detailed verbal diarrhea spewed onto the internet by a hobby that has been hijacked by extreme anal retentiveness.

This, I should add, is just a random video that I only looked at because it happened to be on the top of the Beckett news homepage. Pretty much EVERYTHING on that website is just as awful and dreary.

This isn`t to say that the entire baseball card hobby is devoid of imagination. There is sort of an underclass of bloggers out there producing tremendous and hilarious stuff (this is my favorite). These are mainly produced by people who seem to have been turned off by the sheer awfulness of the mainstream and, as with me, just like old baseball cards because they are colorful pieces of cardboard with pictures of players that they liked on them.

Returning to the point of my post, the thing that I like about collecting video games is that this hyper-awfulness that has so infected the baseball card hobby is almost non-existent. Go to any baseball card collecting message board on the web and you will find it populated by guys like those in the video discussing the most inane details of whatever god awful thing they think they should be collecting. It is just painful to read.

Go to any message board populated by retro video game collectors though and it is pretty much the exact opposite. They collect games because....they like playing games. To be certain there is a collector`s market for old video games and some people like collecting mint or sealed stuff - and that is fine. The anal retentiveness that so dominates the baseball card world though is just not there in anywhere near the same quantity.

I`m not sure why that is. Probably the fact that video games aren`t produced solely to be collected plays a big part. They are made to be played and thus attract a different crowd than baseball cards do.

One thing I do worry about though is that video game collecting is a relatively recent hobby. Thirty years ago the baseball card collecting scene was actually quite similar to what video game collecting is now - dominated by young adults re-living their childhood and not at all concerned about the money. I hope video games stay that way. I would hate to think that thirty years from now the biggest video game collecting website out there would be churning out god-awful videos like that one on Becketts.

OK, end of rant.


  1. Great post. I collect comic books and the same can also be said for them for the most part. (Thankfully not all comic collectors take it to the anal retentive collecting extremes.) The thing that bugs me most is when they seal and grade the comics and then try to charge me 10x the price for a comic I can no longer read!

  2. Thanks, Zen. I used to collect comics and would still if I wasn`t limited to Ebay for such purchases (comics are way more expensive to ship in bulk than most other things).

    I hear you about the grading too. It is a total scam with the baseball card grading, the prices people are asking are just nuts. I can see the usefulness of grading in terms of preventing sellers from defrauding people with false claims about condition for expensive things, but 99% of the time it seems to be just used to jack up prices. Its the next bubble that is going to pop. The plus side is that non-graded stuff is now much cheaper.

  3. I agree with you Sean. I used to collect comics and hockey cards hardcore back in the day. Now, while I still collect these things, monetary value comes second. I buy comics(from time to time now), to primarily read. So I will buy them even if they're not mint, just to read. Sometimes I buy them for the cover art. But again, I buy them to read them. There are a few exceptions, but 95% percent of the 1000+ comics I own were bought to be read, because they were of interest to me. I collect hockey cards because I got into hockey at a young age(as I did with comics), and it is a fun hobby. I only buy packs here and there now, because the market has become so saturated. It's nice to get an insert, like a jersey card or an autograph. But at $50-$100 a pack, just because you're guaranteed a piece of memorabilia or an autograph is ridiculous. You're not guaranteed to get one of these from a superstar though. $100 for a autographed Wayne Gretzky/Mario Lemieux game used jersey/stick/whatever card is great. But when you lay down that type of cash for a 3rd or 4th line player, who has the upper hand? Drop the guarantee and give me the same odds as everyone else at $1.99 or less per pack.

    Some games command high prices because they're rare, and that's understandable. But jacking up prices on games because they're popular is not. An example of this is Super Mario Bros. 3 for the NES. These should sell for less than $5 in my opinion because they sold like 40 million copies of this game. It's a thing called supply and demand. If you look at places selling gmaes on the internet, it's always this way. If one of my friends needed a game I had more than one copy of, a trade would work, or I would just give it to them. But with the internet now, you have to be careful and do your research. The video game market hasn't been hit like the sports card industry yet, because, like you said, they're primarily bought o be played and not collected. Sealed and graded games are nice, but I don't have $1000 to spend on a sealed mint copy of the first Legend of Zelda. To me that's just ridiculous, and in a way inane. But to each their own I guess.

    End of rant. :)

  4. Interesting post as always, Sean! I agree with you, BTW, about collectors (like ourselves) often being anal retentive to some degree. Why is that, I wonder?

    Anyway, I certainly hope the retro game 'industry' doesn't follow in the baseball card industry's footsteps anytime soon. I could see it happening to some degree, though, as there definitely seems to be a group of people out there who fit the mold you described in the Beckett situation.

  5. Jason - yeah, I`m in total agreement. I love comics too and like you I buy them to read them rather than to fret over what condition they are in. I understand why some of the really old and hard to find ones are so valuable and why people would care about keeping those in good condition, but for the vast majority I would happily pay less for dog-eared copies that I could read!

    I agree about Hockey/ baseball cards too - 2$ a pack should be the standard. Why anybody would want to pay more for cards that for the most part will be little more than landfill in a few years is totally beyond me.

    You are right about SMB3 and similar games. It sounds like some of the same `get rich quick` delusional types are trying to jack up the prices of common video games at flea markets and the like. The same type of people were doing the same thing with sports cards 20 years ago and it was probably the ugliest part of that hobby. Thank god for the internet!

  6. Bryan - yeah, I`m not sure about why we are so anal retentive. It is kind of a chicken and egg argument - are we anal retentive because we collect or do we collect because we are anal retentive? Beats me;)

    One other positive thing about retro games which your comment reminds me of is that strictly speaking there is no retro game `industry`. By definition retro games are old games which are no longer produced by the industry (at least in their original form). The industry makes new games, which don`t really become retro until after the industry abandons production of them. Er, in other words the thing that the industry produces (new games) are not bought by collectors, they are bought by people who want to actually play them. They only become collectible after a few years by which time they are only available on the secondary market.

    That sort of distinction doesn`t really exist in the baseball card world. The industry there is producing stuff that people buy new solely for the purposes of collecting them. Its been at least 20 years since new baseball cards lost whatever intrinsic value they once had as objects of interest to children and now they seem to only exist as objects for guys like the ones in that video to amass for the purposes of having lots of things that they think are valuable. The industry has done a lot to foster this absolutely stupid development.

    Thankfully the video game industry doesn`t really care about video games as collectibles and, if anything, seems to view it as a subersive threat to their bottom line since old video game sales might be reducing the market for new video games. The bottom line though is that at least they have no interest in screwing the hobby over by catering to our anal retentive natures, so that probably places some limits to how badly the hobby might ultimately get.

    I`m not sure if any of what I just wrote makes sense but there it is:)

  7. Nice post as always, Sean :) I can see how super-annoying such a desecration of an otherwise enjoyable and innocent hobby could be. I don't think it will happen with videogames though. Firstly, the games themselves won't even work for ever - Amiga discs, for example, are already starting to fail and the ones that do work won't for much longer. Emulation and DLC for current consoles (such as Wii Virtual Console) are the future for retro gamers, I think. Of course, there's bound to be some collectors who will want the physical games and consoles even if they no longer work so I suppose that's a potentially dangerous area, but overall I think gamers will always be able to play old games, talk about them, and share their hobby with like-minded friends for many years yet :)

  8. Simon - thats a good point about the life span of the games. I have heard that discs have a finite life span and will definitely fail after a few decades. I don`t know if the same applies to carts, I hope they will last a bit longer!

    I think that collecting per se, while dangerous, isn`t the main problem. It is collecting taken too far that is! Like you say though,there are some built in defences to that in the video game world!

  9. I think that retrogame collecting is already corrupted. Maybe you dont see it this way because you live in Japan, and collect japanese stuff, which is abudant and cheap there.

    In the last years, I see more and more people on the internet that dont have an emotional connection with the games of the past, that wants to find expensive games on the wild to sell it online. All that they talk about is the price, and not the pleasure of play it.

    Buying something that you particularly dont want, but you know that is in demand, and you found cheap, like you (and I) do sometimes, is normal. But to many, it became the main aspect of the hobby.

    And about the videogame industry dont caring about the games as collectibles, it clearly change in the past years. With every release we have special editions, collectors editions, platinum editions, that people buy and keep sealed, to not undermine the value. And they buy a simple one to play. And even when there are no special edition, they buy 2 copies, to keep sealed, hoping it will be the next Stadium Events.

    These two things, the artificially industry created "collectors edition", and the "buying to make money" instead of play with, are exactly what happened with baseball cards and comic books.

    Its already gone.

  10. Thanks for the comment, David!

    Its too bad that this sort of stuff is going on with gaming too. I don`t buy new games so I have never noticed this trend with special collectors editions of new games being released. It is quite silly for people to be buying multiple copies of those, that type of thing (in any collectibles market) never becomes worth anything.

    The only good thing I see about this is that people who buy stuff as an `investment` generally drive the price of the high-end stuff up really high, but the prices of everything else usually doesn`t go up. Most of my Famicom collection, for example, isn`t really considered valuable as the games are incomplete and a lot of the carts have some damage to them. So they remain dirt cheap, which is great because I mainly value them as things I can explore and play around with rather than as things with money value (same with my baseball card collection BTW).