Thursday, March 27, 2014

Famicomblog does Toronto - OMG retro games are so expensive here!!!!!

 Famicomblog is, for the first time ever, reporting to you live from North America!  Specifically from the frigging cold city of Toronto.

I am in Canada on the last leg of a work-related trip at the moment.  I`ve had a pretty good time so far.  I am originally from Ontario and this is the first time since the 1990s that I have been back so its kind of fun and a bit nostalgic for me.  And China Town has turned up some really cool souvenirs:

 But of course what I really want to write about is video games.  My first day when I was walking down the street just a few blocks from the CN Tower I saw this in the window of one store:

Wow, a Famicom in the wild in Canada!  So awesome.  As you might expect this turned out to be a video game shop, but unfortunately at the time I was in a hurry and didn`t have time to wander in so I didn`t get the chance to see what it was like inside.

My second day, however, while I was walking down Spadina Avenue on my way to the subway station to make a meeting I spotted this place:
A & C Games, beckoning to me with that SMB paintjob on the brick work and the promise of being able to rediscover rare and vintage games.  Oh man, was I interested.

I made a point of dropping in once my work was done and I`m kind of glad I did.  This was the first time I have ever visited a retro game store in North America and I have long been curious to see what it was like.

The store was pretty decent in terms of size and selection.  It isn`t too big but they cram a lot of games from a lot of systems in there:
 They had a Famicom system (you can kind of see it on the top of the shelf in this photo) and a CIB copy of Metal Gear, but that seemed to be the only Famicom stuff they had out.

 Thy did have a pretty decent pile of NES games, both loose:

And CIB:
The staff were quite nice and helpful too.

OK, now that I have said all the nice stuff about the shop I have to get into the elephant in the room:  the prices.

Holy crap!  I had no idea that retro game stores were so expensive in North America!  Readers from that part of the world, I am so sorry.  I just didn`t know.

My first clue that the games in this store might be a bit on the pricey side came when I noticed the other customers entering the shop:
"The Lady will have that copy of Paperboy and I will take Megaman 2.  My party will contact your party to arrange for payment, I assume you accept bullion?"
The second clue came when I looked at the shelves of NES games, which blew my mind.  On most of the games the prices started at ten dollars and just went up from there, which is kind of crazy to me.  In Japan, the prices at most game shops start at about one or two dollars per game and it is only the really popular or hard to find stuff that goes for more than ten bucks.

As I was reeling from the sticker shock one of the staff asked if he could help me with anything.  In reality he was a pretty nice guy in a sweatshirt, but in my mind I felt like I was being confronted by the snooty waiter from Ferris Bueller`s Day Off:

"You're Abe Froman? The Sausage King of Chicago?  I don't think so.  Get away from those Genesis games."

I asked if he had any Atari 2600 games and he hauled out a huge plastic container with a couple of hundred  random loose carts in it. 

"Great." I thought to myself, "this must be their junk games, they probably sell these for some fixed price and I can find a deal in there."

"Just consult with the guy at the front about the price of these."  He said.

"Oh."  I replied, feeling a sense of doom.

I picked out a few games that I knew were really common and took them to the guy at the front.  "How much for these?"  I asked.

He looked at them and then started looking stuff up on his computer, which I thought was a bit odd.  After a couple minutes researching them he told me it would be 10 bucks each for some and an astounding $19 for a loose copy of E.T., possibly the worst and most common game ever made.

"Ummmm"  I said, feeling obliged to buy something "I'll just take this one" and grabbed a copy of Raiders of the Lost Ark which I could have gotten for $4 off of Ebay.

I'm so weak.

Anyway, I feel bad to be complaining about the store because they seemed like really good guys running it and I actually don't mind dropping 10 bucks to support a place like that.  Still though, holy crap.  I SO appreciate living in Japan now and I am SO sorry for having ever complained about any prices in any Japanese retro game shop on here.  I had no idea what it was like elsewhere until now.


  1. Welcome to our world, Sean! Honestly, even though there are a couple of cool retro game stores here in Seattle that sell Japanese games, I rarely buy anything from them because the prices are horrendous. So, I buy most of my stuff on eBay or through a handful of Japanese game shops with international web sites. Even then I'm sure I tend to pay more than you do in Japan, but what else is a guy in my position to do? :|

  2. I totally understand why you buy stuff mostly online! If I had to pay the kind of prices they charge in shops here I probably would only have a handful of games.

    I was a bit surprised that games for the NES were so expensive. I had always sort of assumed that Famicom games were expensive here because they had to be imported and were kind of hard to find but that North American games would be cheap. Obviously not the case!

  3. Wow. I've never been into a designated retro game shop in North America, but I feel like they're taking advantage of collectors big time.

    Back when I lived in the US, other than eBay, I bought my retro games from a local mom and pop video shop called Hollywood Video (no affiliation to the national chain). This place has been open for a looooong time. I started renting games there in the N64/PSX era when my family moved within walking distance to the place. Perfect for 13 year old me and my friends to walk down and rent games and movies and buy some Blow Pops. It's still open to this day, and it's kind of a miracle considering a Blockbuster, literally across the street, opened and closed while this place is still going strong.

    Anyway, in addition to renting games and movies, they also sell used games too. The current generation of games are sold on shelves in the front of the store, but there have always been NES, SNES, Genesis etc. on a shelf next to the counter. While the popular games (SMB3, Zelda etc.) were usually sold around $10 and put in a glass case, the rest of the games were priced $2-$6.

    As I said, this isn't really a retro game store and probably more equivalent to a yard sale of sorts (I'm sure some of the SNES and NES carts have been there since 1996 or earlier), but I kind of figured those common games prices were well... common.

    It's a shame that these specialty retro game shops can get away with overpricing these games. Sucks the fun out of it.

  4. Nate - that sounds like an awesome place! I remember I used to rent NES games at a local video store too, though mine didn`t sell them! It also makes me happy to know that your place is still in business after having outlasted the big evil Blockbuster across the street!

    With this particular store I went to, I was just looking around some forums and the consensus seems to be that their prices are way too high, so I guess these might not be typical for Toronto. They also say that the place at least gives people a good deal on trade ins so I guess it isn`t all bad (and as I mentioned the staff were pretty nice so I feel bad to be critical of them).

  5. Yeah there's a shop like this near me that buys and sells games (among other things). Their prices on NES games start at around $6 (US) and go up from there.

    They heyday of NES collecting in North America has long since past... like over half a decade ago whenever the whole retro boom started. You're just not really seeing this stuff at flea markets or garage/yard sales or thrift shops anymore, so it's hard to find a great deal. Only at specialty game shops like this with somewhat inflated prices.

    I think it's that most people who would have gotten rid of this stuff already have, so it's harder to come by. That or they've caught on to the price inflation. It's pretty tough out there and I'm glad I got the majority of my collection in the early-mid 2000s, cause there's no way I'd be able to afford it all today.

  6. It's not as bad here in the northeast US, I think part of what you ran into might be folks still pricing items at the same level they were when the Canadian dollar was only 60% of the US dollar. There's a lot of retro shops around where I live where you can get most of the NES library for $5 or less, with the only outliers being $15-20 for a gold Zelda cart or the occasional wild Bible Adventures. What tends to be expensive here is import stuff, since shipping from Japan is so expensive. I found a local shop that buys import games in bulk and that lets me get stuff like Famicom disk games for about $10-$15 each that you probably see for a fraction of that cost at the shops you normally visit back in Japan.

  7. Rab - good points. It must be a bit like it was with vintage comic books and baseball cards in the 1970s when everybody was just getting rid of them cheap and then sudddenly in the 80s the prices exploded and suddenly you could only find them in expensive collector`s shops.

    Sek - good point about the exchange rate, Canadians always get ripped off thanks to that, even though the Canadian dollar is worth almost the same as the US dollar these days. Nice to hear that there are some good shops in the Northeastern US!

  8. Hello Sean! I'm a longtime reader, first time poster. I totally agree with your review of A & C Games. I moved to Toronto a few months ago and one of the first things I did here was check out that game shop. They're prices are just horrendous! Even the game cartridges and systems from there aren't even cleaned that well, for such a high price it should be pristine! I asked the owner if they had any Japanese imports, and they did have a bin that they had to get from storage. When I looked through it, everything was at least $10. Games like Famicom Baseball, Mahjong, and junk games were $10-20 in crappy condition. Decent games like Dracula Kun went for $50+!! I personally prefer getting games online from eBay because of these expensive prices. It's extremely hard to run a retro game store in Canada because paying expenses like labor and paying rent for the store really hikes up the prices, which is impossible to compete with ebay sellers.

  9. Anonymous in Toronto - thanks for the comment! I was actually curious if they might have had some Famicom games in the back in storage but I decided not to ask - if I had seen baseball and mahjong games priced at 10$ to $20 I think my head would have exploded.

    I totally understand why you get your games online rather than in stores, do other shops in Toronto price like that as well?

    I`m kind of sympathetic to store owners since like you say they have a lot of expenses like wages and rent which ebay sellers don`t. Still though, its hard to justify selling stuff for that much over what they go for online!

  10. I haven't been to a game store like that before, but for the most part when I buy in person, nothing's that expensive! Well, some games get that high, but there's always some at $3-$5. And NOTHING has ever gotten to $19 except VB stuff! That's not North American prices. (Yes I do realize I'm combining Canadian/US dollars - they're close enough that it works here.)

  11. I know the Canadian dollar isn't doing so hot now compared to a few years ago but sheesh. You can't charge eBay prices in person! Those prices should be $7.50 easy. But here in NY, you can't go to many stores without paying that much for retrogaming. There's a store that actually sells Famicom games but charges like $8 for Soccer, but has reasonable prices in somewhat uncommon frequency.

    That's why I usually try to stick with forums and yard sales most of the time.

  12. Only in Toronto do you come for the retro games and leave with a Rob Ford shirt... :)

    Times are tough for Canadian collectors! There are more variables to supply and prices that we have come to expect, but there is salvation in knowing that we can purchase cheaper carts from the USA (especially when our dollar is strong!), and there is also a ton of good supply coming from Japan as well.

    I thought I was one of the few import collectors in Western Canada, but some local shops have been importing small batches of Famicom and Super Famicom games/systems, it really is starting to scare me a little! The prices are so high that I'm not bothered by it, I figure one day even the most expensive items will sell to the right customer. :(

    A & C looks like a cool hole in the wall shop, similar to a lot of flea markets here. It pains me to see how they stack the complete NES and N64 titles, though...

  13. Logan - That is the way it should be, all shops really should have games starting around $3 or so for bargain hunters and the like. $19 for ET really threw me off, as did $25 for DK Jr for the NES loose and a few others.

    Angryrider - yeah, forums are definitely the best (we don`t have yard sales here in Japan but if we did, I`d be at them too!

    rgallant - yeah, the Rob Ford T-shirt was by far my favorite thing I bought in Toronto!
    And it kind of pained me the way they stacked the CIB games too, a lot of those probably have crush damage as a result!

  14. It's even worse in Europe, over here it's like these old things are gold :D
    That's why I buy most my stuff from Japan on eBay (I haven't tried Yahoo yet, it's a bit scary to me :) ). As Crazy as it is it's like 2 to 5 times cheaper even with shipping (even more than that for some Japan exclusives), go figure...

  15. Great post. I guess I'm glad it's like this all over North America: retro gaming stuff is really difficult to come by here in LA, at least as far as I can tell. The prices here are terrible, and Famicom stuff is pretty much a no-go. The only Famicom game I've ever found here is Portopia Serial Murder Case, which I bought for $5 just because it was there.

  16. It's a really tough time to be a game collector in North America. I live in Toronto and I have visited A&C and their prices are up there. But most stores in Toronto are not any different. It's difficult now because there is a retro game boom going on and people think their games are worth tons more than they actually are. Both on kijiji and especially in the stores. It's a double edged sword because I love having retro game shops in the city, but I never buy from them because of their prices. So what is the answer? I buy exclusively from kijiji sellers and off ebay, but only when I can ship it to my sister in Texas and have her bring it in. Shipping from the states to canada is super expensive now.

    All this to say, it's an expensive habit to collect in Canada. Best bets is a US mail box and good kijiji finds that go quickly if you are not diligent.

  17. defcon - wow, even worse in Europe? No wonder Ebay is so busy!

    Jory - thanks. Interesting that even in LA Famicom stuff is hard to come by, the 5$ for Portopia isn`t a bad deal!

    Daniel - I totally understand your predicament, loving having the stores around but not buying from them. That sucks about the shipping to Canada too, us Canadians have always had that against us.

  18. In europe, theres also retro video game stores. But they don't have the Famicom/NES, just 6th generation consoles like the Original XBOX, PS2 and GameCube.

  19. It was so much better going from Canadian game shops to Japanese ones than I imagine it would be the other way around. I mean.. I thought Super Potato was reasonable compared to what I was used to, and that's the upscale price-gouge-city of Japan!

    I know this is a Famicom site but: Super Nintendo in particular. I feel like that console never had its moment to be cheap in North America. The games were relatively expensive in the late 90s and early 2000s... and then they went up in recent years! :( I was shopping around the whole time... there was never a moment to grab dirt cheap carts. It just got worse.

    Still... I did amass a decent NES collection in 2009-2012 just by checking thrift stores. Not Japan-cheap, but you can still buy loose NES carts for a few dollars if you are patient and play the long game.

  20. Anonymous - Interesting, I guess the meaning of retro must be different with them!

    Alex - I know what you mean, the transition from Canada to Japan is way easier than vice versa! Good point about the SNES too, I wonder if the same might be said of the N64 generation too?

  21. American here in the south-midwest region. I spent a few weeks in Japan in summer '06 and was delighted at how inexpensive Famicom games were (actually purchased a Famicom and several games while there).
    But I've always considered $5 to $10 for an American NES game to be fair depending on quality, while anything higher than that should be reserved for something a bit less common. For example, I'd expect to pay $15-$20 or more for loose samples of any given Megaman game. That Canadian shop sounded like a racket but it is interesting to me that those prices are considered unfair from a Japanese perspective.

  22. Jonesy - $5-$10 for decent NES games sounds reasonable actually. In Japan I would say the notion of `fair` pricing you could expect at stores would be:

    Unpopular sports/Mahjong games: About 100 yen ($1) each
    Common RPG/Action/puzzle (etc) games that weren`t major franchises: about 300 yen each
    Easy to find (ie not rare) games that are very popular (SMB, Donkey Kong, Rockman 3, 4 and 5, etc): about 500-1000 yen each
    Slightly harder to find games that are very popular (Rockman 1, 2 and 6, Akumajo Densetsu, Zelda, etc) 1000- 2000 yen each

    And above that the prices would be more specific to each game.

  23. I am also a long time reader and first time poster, A&C games just seems to have the ability to unite us all, although not for the right reasons unfortunately.

    They are definitely super expensive, although as they are one of the main retro video game stores in downtown Toronto I suppose they find that they can take advantage of people. I have actually been in there a couple of times and witnessed some people buy some games for horrible prices, presumably because they just don't know any better. It took every ounce of strength in my body to stop from yelling out that they could easily find the games for half-price elsewhere.

    It is a shame that you didn't get to many other video games stores in Toronto, as they aren't all that ridiculous. Although since Toronto is a massive city and rent is quite high, I suppose that most stores do have higher prices than if you were to go to a store in a more secluded area. Overall A&C is good if you're looking for one super specific thing and you have to have it today regardless of the cost, otherwise there are definitely much better places out there to do your retro game shopping.

    And as this is my first comment ever, I just want to say that I absolutely love your blog. Thank you for all of the great work that you put into it, and keep the awesome posts coming!


  24. Hi Z,

    Yeah, I wish I had had a bit more time in Toronto to explore and see some other game shops. It is at least encouraging to hear that A&C prices are considered high rather than typical. I guess they might appeal to more casual or new retro gamers who just don`t know how stuff is priced elsewhere.

    And thanks for the nice comment, it is very encouraging :)

  25. Hi, just stumbled your blog and i love it! anyway i subscribed to a youtubers called 'the game chasers'(you should definitely check their videos out and maybe u can get how expensive retro games is to them) and they went on a road trip to toronto and went to this shop too( go youtube search episode 36: canadian quest part 4).