New CIB service: all about Improperly Married Parts (IMPs)

With the new CIB (Complete in Box) service, we are introducing a more accessible CIB grading option for collectors. To differentiate, the “CIB Plus” service provides all of the bells and whistles for hardcore CIB collectors with jam-packed games that are fully complete (inserts, maps, baggies and all). Meanwhile, the new standard CIB service simplifies some of the nuances to provide more straightforward and transparent grading for new collectors and the broader collecting community.

One of the most prominent differences between the two services is how variants are specified on the label. While the “CIB Plus” service lists out the three separate variants of the Box, Cart, and Manual, the standard CIB service simplifies the naming conventions to only focus on the Box variant and simply whether the “components” (Cartridge & Manual) match or not. Through this variant specification process, collectors can still understand whether the components belong with that box variant or if they were improperly married, and are accurately identified as IMPs. To learn about what an IMP is, please read our blog post here.

So how do you prevent receiving an “IMP” on your submission? We want to share some hard-and-fast ground rules here, as well as some specific examples of the most common types of IMPs we see, so you can be armed with knowledge while finding the best CIBs to submit.


IMP Rules

The most common way to avoid IMPs is by knowing the most frequently mismatched items and ensuring that there is consistency between what variant markers are on the cartridge and manual, and what is on the box. The majority of IMPs are addressed by these categories: 


Re-releases (Player’s Choice, Greatest Hits, Platinum Hits) – Typically, re-releases have very overt markings or designs that make them easy to detect, such as the Nintendo “ribbon” or Sony’s ”green labels.” Almost all cartridges or discs that are marked as re-releases were packaged in boxes that are marked as re-releases. However, there are some exceptions. For example, some N64 Player’s Choice parts overlapped causing standard release components being packaged in Player’s Choice boxes (however, the inverse isn’t true – Player’s Choice cartridges were not packaged in standard release boxes). Despite a seeming mis-match, sometimes these types of differing components are in fact accurate.

Two examples of mis-matched carts and boxes – although both examples above have non-matching carts and boxes, per our guidelines the Super Smash Bros. cart is an IMP while the Goldeneye cart is accepted.


SOQ (Round vs. Oval) – The most common sign of mismatched components on the NES are non-matching Seals of Quality (SOQs). Almost all cartridges that have Round SOQs belong in boxes that have round SOQs, and likewise for Oval SOQs. While this general rule covers 95%+ of NES games, some exceptions exist. For example, all boxes for Contra have Round SOQs while cartridges have both Round and Oval SOQs – because there is only one print for the box, mis-matching SOQs on the cartridges would never be considered IMPs. 

Two examples of Oval SOQ cartridges paired with round SOQ boxes. While the Contra falls into the bucket of exceptions, the Oval SOQ Super Mario Bros. cartridge would indeed be considered an IMP. 


Rating (Solid vs. Pixelated) – ESRB Ratings on each of the components will typically coincide with one another and ensuring they match is a good rule of thumb. As with other variant details, there may be exceptions to this rule. For example, we have seen pixelated rating manuals and carts properly matched to solid rating boxes, and vice-versa.

While some exceptions exist, most instances of mis-matched ratings will be labeled IMPs, like the Pokémon Blue pictured above (pixelated ESRB cartridge with solid ESRB box).


Standard Release vs. NFR Pack-ins – For as long as home consoles have been produced, games have been bundled with the console packaging and typically have specific markings indicating that the game is the pack-in version rather than the standard, retail version. Manufacturers usually notate these versions with “Not for Resale” (NFR) by either adding a sticker or printing it on the game components. For this reason, components specially marked as NFR or similarly so will not be allowed to be married with non-NFR boxes. There are very few exceptions to this rule. (e.g. Halo Combat Evolved Launch Team Copy – NFR disc and manual did not exist for this variant).                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                                 

The “Not for Resale” NFR boxes and discs are typically clearly marked, such as with the green banner shown on the rightmost box and disc.


Publisher – Sometimes games were produced by one publisher and then re-printed later under a different publisher. Game Boy is especially known for having two releases of the same title under different publishers (for example, DuckTales was first published by Capcom but later re-released by Sunsoft). Since these releases are clearly distinct and no overlap exists, there are no exceptions to this rule.

DuckTales was first published by Capcom, and later re-released by THQ. All components should match according to their publisher the way the DuckTales components are all Capcom versions in the photo on the left.


Country of Origin (Japan vs. Mexico) – While it is possible for a game to have components made in varying countries, some platforms are much more predictable. A great example of this would be Super Nintendo games made in Japan versus those made or “assembled” in Mexico. We will abide by a strict adherence to country of origin-based components for this platform unless exceptions are found. In the same light, regional components should not be married (i.e. North American box with European cartridge).


Majesco re-releases of games on the SNES and Genesis were made and assembled in Mexico and are often identified by boxes and components made from cheaper materials that have a distinct look and feel, often including black and white manuals.


Exceptions to the Rule


We’ve been fortunate to have a database of over 100,000 graded items to derive learnings and trends from around video game manufacturing and packaging practices. What we’ve concluded is that while there are statistical certainties as to how some games were packaged, there are equally as many gray areas due to non-standardized practices by manufacturers. As we tried to illustrate, many manufacturers packaged older boxes with newer manual and cartridge components, resulting in a seeming mis-match of variants that may seem counterintuitive to what the “rules” imply. For these reasons, on certain games we’ve created stricter adherences as to what we will and won’t label IMPs (such as NES Black Box games and early-print key titles), and implemented looser guidelines for others. These rules apply to all CIBs whether submitted through the standard CIB tier or CIB Plus.


After reviewing all the data, some specific examples that will no longer require as strict adherence to print runs and variants include but are not limited to (with the exception of games mentioned later):

  • Codes (USA vs USA-1)
  • SOQ trademarks  (™ vs R)
  • Year (1985 vs No year)
  • Other minor variant nuances


Similarly, some specific examples that have strict guidelines and must include the exact components from a box’s printing include but are not limited to:

  • All NES matte & gloss sticker black box games
  • The Legend of Zelda – NES ™ variant
  • Mike Tyson’s Punch Out!! – White Bullets variant
  • Super Mario Bros. 3 – Left Bros. variant
  • Sonic The Hedgehog
  • Super Mario Land –  Green Screenshots variant


We wrote this guide to bring more transparency to our CIB process and shed light on the variant nuances that make CIB so dynamic.  With all the ongoing improvements we’re making to our process and service, we want to be sure that you’re fully equipped when collecting and/or making a submission. Stay tuned for a more detailed breakdown of IMP criteria and other informative content for CIB collectors!