Our post late last year about a complete collection of retail Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) games—listed on eBay for just under $25,000—generated a good amount of reader interest. In fact, though these kinds of eBay listings are unusual, they're not unheard of.
Video game lots this big and unique excite hardcore gamers and game collectors—but how valuable are they as investments?
But what if you're the collector or store owner sitting on a large collection of games and thinking about letting them go? Or a prospective owner considering a game collection like one of these as an investment?
In our December post, we wondered whether or not the collection was likely to appreciate in the future—a loaded question, given that analysts and pundits have recently commented on the dire straits facing the console gaming industry and culture. A half-decade of consumer financial malaise alongside the rise of mobile devices, mobile gaming, and social gaming has created a kind of a perfect storm aligned against consoles and console gaming as a hobby.
Examining the Market for Video Game Lots in General
One way to take on the appreciation question is to examine any relevant eBay categories to get a sense for how large bundles of video games are doing over the last two years. The most closely matching category isn't too far off the mark:
Video Games & Consoles -> Wholesale Lots -> Games
We'll begin to answer our question by looking at the two-year trends for this category, which will tell us something about how games are being valued in general—how game collections and lots, large or small, new or used, have done since 2011. We'll look at four important metrics: total sales volume, total listings, average selling price, and sell-through rate.
Two-year data on video game lots: total sales volume (top) and listing volume (bottom).
Sales volume and listing volume are mildly off their two-year highs and the overall picture seems to be one of a previously upward trend that is slowing. At the same time, we don't yet see a long-term, catastrophic drop in interest; both numbers remain even or slightly higher now versus this time last year and significantly higher than they were during May 2011.
Two-year data on video game lots: average selling price (top) and sell-through rates (bottom).
Sell-through rates have seen a slow, steady decline, but interestingly, average selling prices are up over the past year—either lots are getting bigger or they're increasing in value on a per-game basis. Either one could be a good sign for a very large or very special game collection, but this category-level data doesn't quite give us an apples-to-apples comparison, since the game lot we wondered about in December was larger and more unique than the typical lot sold in this category and was tied to a particular game system.
Looking at SNES Interest in Particular
To add a little depth to our research, we'll take a look at SNES interest in particular, both recently and during the 90-day period nearly a year ago. Here's what we see:
Search for (snes,"super nintendo") in Video Games & Consoles, Summer 2012
Last summer, SNES items generally did $16,000 to $24,000 of daily volume on between 700 and 1,200 listings per day, with an average selling price of roughly $22 and a sell-through rate between 50 and 70 percent.
Search for (snes,"super nintendo") in Video Games & Consoles, March-May 2013
During the most recent 90-day period, SNES items did $20,000 to $35,000 of daily volume on between 1,000 and 1,700 listings per day, with an average selling price of roughly $30 and a sell-through rate between 40 and 60 percent.
At minimum, we can say that interest in SNES gear seems to be holding steady on eBay for now, or perhaps even increasing slightly, with decent ongoing volume.
Putting the Trend Lines in Context
Trend lines are great as hard data, but sometimes "soft" data can help to flesh out and add context to a product decision. In this case, we'll start by taking a look at some web search trendlines from Google, first for the three major console gaming companies, which might tell us something about the overall direction of console gaming as a market, and then for the SNES in particular:
Web search trends for the major console manufacturers and for the SNES platform.
The first of these two charts clearly suggests declining interest in gaming products from Sony and Microsoft over time, with Nintendo faring slightly better (though still stagnant), and with holiday peaks well off historical highs. In general, the picture painted is in keeping with industry hand-wringing over the future of console gaming.
The second chart is more interesting; it shows that while SNES interest is nowhere near what it once was—something to be expected for a decades-old console—the decrease over time has flattened, with a base of interest remaining and declining much, much more slowly.
Other Similar Collections
We can also turn to recent listings for context. A quick search through the past year of historical eBay data on Terapeak, looking specifically for collector-oriented video game lots—as opposed to new or wholesale stock for retail sale—and filtering to include only those in the over-$8,000 range, adds at least three more recently sold collections to our list. It now looks like this:
- April 24th, 2013 — $34,999.00
"Collectors' dream lot" of over 800 games for the original Nintendo Entertainment System (NES)
- January 27th, 2013 — $22,900.00
Complete retail Super Nintendo (SNES) games collection
- December 9th, 2012 — $8,000.00
Complete retail PlayStation 1 (PS1) games collection
- June 19th, 2012 — $57,000.00
Collection of over 5,000 games for Nintendo, Sony, and Sega consoles
This tells us that these kinds of listings do sell, though they don't come up frequently, and that the completeness and/or the size of the collection seem to be important for its ultimate value.
But Will It Appreciate?
As with all collectors' items and investments, no amount of research can guarantee future outcomes. A foray into the Terapeak data and related context does, however, provide facts that can help us to think about the future intelligently in the case of our December listing:
- After a period of upward growth, wholesale lots of video games in general appear to have arrived at a long-term value plateau, with hints of downward movement.
- Shopper interest in ancient SNES systems, games, and accessories in particular appears to be holding steady.
- Web search trends paint a generally negative picture for console gaming products, though Nintendo is in the best position.
- Collector-oriented lots of games are marketable, and for what non-gamers might consider to be very high prices—over $43.00 per game in the case of the lot of decades-old NES games—but the quality, size, and platform of a collection all appear to bear on its value.
The conservative conclusion is that while some video game collections may well appreciate, bucking overall trends for console gaming in general, it's a collector's game. Uniqueness and completeness probably matter, as does the gaming platform in question. More fundamentally, video game collections probably aren't great investments as such, with long-term interest dependent in many ways on limited-lifetime products like particular consoles and compatible television sets, whose aging and wear are likely to narrow the viable collector base over time.
Buy such a collection because you're a collector and an enthusiast of those games in particular—and if you have a collection to sell or to complete in the hopes of selling, enthusiast collectors are likely the buyers to target if you want off-the-chart results.