What Is Game Collecting (101)?

What does it mean to be a video game collector?

When people say that they “collect” something, it usually just means they have a lot of a particular thing, whether it’s state quarters, squishmallows, or portraits of Brendan Fraser from the 1999 cinematic masterpiece, The Mummy

In the gaming world, though, collectors are more like Mario searching for the keys to the Mushroom Castle. They’re on a mission with a specific target in mind: games they loved as a kid, games they never got the chance to own, games that have great packaging or artwork, games with rich lore or contentious fandoms, games that complete a set, games that give them the ultimate bragging rights in their vintage gaming Discord server . . . and the list goes on and on. 


What kind of games are “collectible”?

Whatever reason a person may have for getting into game collecting, video games have been around long enough that collectors can get certain games authenticated, certified, and preserved as valuable pieces of art and history. 

The market for video games is unique in that you don’t need Bruce Wayne levels of wealth to get in on the fun; there are various ways to get involved depending on your budget. 

Here are the most common types of games that collectors buy and sell:

  • Loose cartridges: This is a great low-cost option for folks looking to get started with game collecting. (This would include things like those random NES games the former 80s and 90s kids have laying around!)
  • Complete-in-Box (CIB): This is the next step up from loose cartridges; these games come with the original box, manual, and cartridge (and sometimes even the extra components or “inserts” that came with the game, such as maps, posters, warranty cards, etc.).
  • Factory-sealed: This is the cream of the crop in the world of game collecting. Factory-sealed games are unopened and in the same state in which you’d have found them on the store shelves back in the 70s, 80s, 90s, 2000s and beyond. 


Why would I get my games graded?

Grading is the process of having your games professionally authenticated and assigned a grade based on its condition.

Game certification creates a consistent standard of authenticity and assessment that provides confidence to collectors, sellers and buyers alike. This means that grading your games doesn’t just preserve them for your own benefit, but it also gives you the option to eventually sell them to the highest bidder for some cold, hard cash (or even cryptocurrency, if that’s your thing!).  

But what if you want to play the games you collect without diminishing their market value? 

Thankfully, game technology has advanced to the point where we have tools like the Everdrive that allow you to play your favorite vintage video games without needing to source the physical discs or cartridges. And over the last decade, companies like Nintendo have rolled out a number of offerings such as the Wii Virtual Console, the NES and SNES Classic, or the Nintendo Switch Online NES, SNES, and N64 suite of digital downloads that allow you to relive your retro gaming experiences with ease.


Getting started 

Ready to make the jump from “game owner” to “game collector?” Here’s a quick summary of some things you’ll need to know before you dive in.

#1: Grade your game: get the highest score

At WATA, our grading scale can be broken down into two parts: 

  1. A numerical grade of 1-10 that rates the condition of the game itself. 1 is the lowest grade, and it increases in increments of 0.5 from 1-9. Between 9-10, the grades are assigned in increments of 0.2.
  2. A letter grade that rates the condition of the factory seal that was used to package your game during production. These letter grades range from C, C+, B, B+, A, A+, and even A++ at the high end. (Don’t worry, we also grade games without a factory seal, including loose cartridges and CIB games.)

Using this scale, 10 A++ would be a perfect grade for your game. Practically speaking, though,  9.8 A++ is about as close to perfect as most people can get. That’s because we have to open your games in order to grade them, and doing so introduces an extremely minor (but unavoidable) amount of wear to the game.

There’s a lot that we take into account when assigning a WATA grade to a game—more than we can cover in this post, so stay tuned for an in-depth article on everything that goes into the WATA grading process. Until then, you can always find more info about our WATA scale.


#2 Game variants: pick your weapon

Once your game is graded, you have a couple of options. Some people will keep their authenticated game as a piece of memorabilia for their personal collection. If, however, you want to sell your game, you need to understand what you have and just how valuable it is. 

When it comes to trade value, not all games are created equal (and not all versions of the same game are created equal, either). 

Many of our favorite vintage video games were released over the course of several years, and game manufacturers may have made changes (big and small) to different game components during that time. Each version of a game that’s been changed over time is called a variant, and the variant you have will impact the rarity, desirability, and value of your game.

Here are some of the major game variants that you’ll come across in the vintage gaming world:


    • Hangtab: These specifically refer to the cardboard perforation on vintage game boxes that was intended to be used for hanging games on a store display. (For example, you can find these on the boxes of certain classic NES games). Don’t confuse hangtabs with the thick plastic stickers that you’ll find on the outside of sealed games!
    • Seal of Quality (SOQ): NES games produced before March 1989 have a round SOQ printed directly on the game box. For games produced after March 1989, Nintendo started using an oval SOQ. This oval SOQ is present on all licensed Nintendo products, even through today (just check the back of your Switch games!).
    • Rev-A vs No Rev-A: In January 1988, Nintendo started producing NES game cartridges with a 3-screw design, instead of their previous 5-screw design. NES games from Jan 1988 andlater have “Rev-A” on the box to indicate this change in design.

      Cardboard hangtabs appear on highly desirable, earlier prints of NES games
      Plastic hangers are applied to the outside of the box and neither add to nor detract from value
      Earlier prints of NES games like the copy of Super Mario Bros. on the left had the original Round SOQ, while all games Nintendo produced after March 1989, even through today, bear the ubiquitous Oval SOQ


  • Player’s Choice and Greatest Hits: Players Choice was a promotional marketing label used by Nintendo to promote games that sold over a million copies. Greatest Hits was a similar program that Sony used to promote reprints of popular PlayStation games. Because these games are always later prints, they are typically much less valuable than the original prints or variants.

    Players Choice copies of N64 games, for example, can be indicated by the gold emblem in the top right corner as well as a change of the box’s side color from Red to Gold.
  • Made in Japan vs. Made in Mexico: This is a Nintendo game variant that refers to where the game was produced. Sometimes games were only produced in either Japan or Mexico, while other games were first produced in Japan and later reprinted in Mexico. For SNES games that were made in both places, Made in Japan is always considered the more desirable and valuable game variant.


#3 Selling your game: convert to coins

Now that you’ve gotten your game graded and know what variant you have, you’re ready to put your game up for sale! 

While you could do this through an aftermarket site like eBay or Facebook Marketplace, graded games are more typically sold through online auction houses. You can also use these sites to see previous game sales to give you an idea of how much money you might expect to earn.

The major online auction houses used for selling and buying graded games are Heritage Auctions, Goldin, and ComicConnect. More recently, there are also sites that offer immediate purchase/selling like Standard Gaming.


What’s next?

These are the basics you need to know to get started as a game collector, but this is just the starting zone.

Game collecting is our passion and obsession; we’re a bunch of nerds who eat, sleep, and breathe this stuff, so we’ve got all sorts of content up our sleeves that will get into the tutorial of game collecting and grading. Stay tuned for more!