Collecting video games and memorabilia based on video games can be a rewarding and highly enjoyable hobby. There’s a wide range of things people tend to end up specialising in, from older home consoles to rare imported games, even to odd and quirky merchandise. The hardest part of collecting is getting started, and that’s where this guide jumps in to help.

There are plenty of places and ways to build up your collection, but the problem is that some of these methods cost far too much compared to others. For example, the collector’s market, especially for retro systems and games, is full of pitfalls for non-collectors. Nevertheless, after more than 9 years of scouting car boot sales, markets, charity shops and websites, I have earned a lot of experience. This article will look at various starting points and give tips on how to break into the world of collecting.

Addendum: This is a guide purely for the collectors, not the people looking to make money from their investments or scalp… you evil sods.

Where to Buy

The first place most would-be collectors go to is the auction powerhouse Ebay. While it can be a good starting point, it can also be a playground for inflated prices and reproductions. The problem with Ebay is that many users tend to look for starting prices based off a similar –or the same– item, so if one user posts an item with an inflated price, the chances are that others will follow.

Another problem with Ebay is lack of information the average user has at their disposal. This lack of info normally leads people to request silly prices for common games (mainly of the sports genre) purely because they are quite old.

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When using Ebay, try to stay away from dealers (those who run stores dealing exclusively in retro/collectible goods) as they tend to ask for the highest price. It’s not worth paying £30 for a core NES unit when you can find the same item–or better–elsewhere for a cheaper price and from an average seller. Single lots can be a double-edged sword; you tend to pay towards the higher end of the item’s value, and the item is normally contested by a number of people.

Buying in bulk can be a fantastic way to approach Ebay. Bulk purchases normally consist of common games that aren’t worth too much. They are, however, a good starting point to any collection. There’s always the chance that you’ll come across a rarer game in a job lot, but sorting through all those games also gives off a bit of a buzz.

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Away from the likes of Ebay, you have the traditional places such as car boot sales, markets, and charity shops. Car boot sales can be great places to pick up rare titles for a decent price. They can also be home to older consoles that are normally bundled with a bunch of games and accessories. Given that most car boot sales are filled with people looking to make a quick buck out of stuff THEY DON’T WANT (this is key to haggling–remember that!), their goods tend to be fairly priced. Don’t be afraid to haggle, as chances are they don’t want to be taking their items back home with them, use that to your advantage.

Car boot sales offer the widest range of games and consoles from across the years at decent prices. The main problem with them (and some markets) is normally the condition of the items. You rarely have any way of knowing if the items work. The only thing you have is the word of the seller. You can always check the item itself for any visible damage or signs of a faulty system (if you can hear things rattling around inside that’s rarely a positive sign), but asking the seller questions is also beneficial too. Car boot sales can be a successful hunting ground, but if you’re willing to be a little more vocal towards the seller, your chances of success may be greater.

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Markets are mostly the same as car boot sales, only with the added trade-off of dealers being present at most markets. These people, much like Ebay dealers, will try get the top price for all of their items, and some even disregard the condition of the item. Rarely there are a few dealers who will appreciate a collector and will even cut a deal because, after all, it normally results in a returning customer. So don’t be afraid to haggle with dealers.

Finally, we get to the strange beasts known as charity shops, who have become an increasingly worse place to pick games/systems up from. Some shops will refuse to take in electrical goods without them first passing the relevant testing. When charity shops do sell games or systems, they tend to be either damaged or quite pricey.

Most shops normally have their prices set by the manager/staff in the store, thus making it hard to really comment on charity shops on the whole. Once again, haggling is an option. For example, I once spent six months working at a charity shop in which staff were encouraged to haggle to secure a sale.

For the most part, charity shops tend to sell games (PS1/N64/Dreamcast onwards, in my experience) rather than consoles. When they do sell consoles, it’s usually portable systems, especially those handheld games by the likes of Tiger, as pictured below. Haggling a price down is the only real option, after all they have stock to clear, stock you want.

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It’s always tricky to start collecting, but hopefully this entry guide will help any budding collector. It’s important to have a focus on what exactly you want to get out of the hobby. Simply buying everything in sight may seem viable, but in the long run it’s tricky and becomes more about management than enjoyment. Pinpoint exactly what you want, then go out and hunt it down. Consoles require research, learning the actual value is key to getting a good deal, researching common system faults is also important.

In terms of the games themselves, take your time to make sure you know what you want, and why you want it. Chasing down a rare game just to simply own it is not half as rewarding as tracking down a game with meaning. Research different versions released, take note of re-releases (such as PS1 Black Labels vs Platinum), make sure you know which region version you are buying. Every purchase is a lesson, but it pays to set out with a plan and a goal.

The next entry into this guide will look at the perils of buying modern limited editions, as well as looking at some of the rarer handhelds worth adding to your growing collection. Until then, set your goals and get collecting.

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