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Ask GR Anything: What are the most expensive games in the world?


Ask GR Anything is a weekly Q&A column that answers questions submitted by readers (as well as questions we're particularly curious about ourselves). Got a burning question about games or the industry? Ask us in the comments below and you may just get it answered!

We’d like to preface this edition of Ask GR Anything with a brief note: We may poke fun at some of the people who spend tens of thousands of dollars to accumulate these amazing collections, but we’re massively jealous of every last one of them. We joke because we’re sad, sad people with no money. With that said, let’s scope out what these jerks are willing to pay for 2.75-by-4.25-inch pieces of NES-branded plastic.

The short answer: “In the course of my research, I've heard of private transactions that would be big news if they were public eBay auctions. So I can't really say what the single most expensive game ever sold was,” said Chris Kohler, editor of Wired Game|Life and retro-gaming expert. “The complete copy of Air Raid for the Atari 2600 that sold in 2010 for over $31,000 is certainly a contender. I think that's the highest recorded price. There was a Stadium Events that went higher, but the buyer didn't pay.”

The longer answer: The sealed copy of Stadium Events copy that Kohler refers to above was “sold” for $41,300, though as he said, the bill was never paid. A short while later, another sealed copy of Stadium Events was sold (and paid for) at $22,800.

So Air Raid is still the king of insane prices. That particular copy is still the only known complete copy of the game still around. The cartridge alone can be found in much higher quantities, but is still rare. In 2011, a cartridge-only copy sold for $3,575. Still very impressive, but it’s even more impressive that the game jumped in price by around 900 percent when in original packaging.

However, equally interesting is the question of why these are the most expensive games in the world. Obviously, rarity has a whole lot to do with it, but we couldn’t figure out why anybody actually cares that they’re rare. So we posed that question to Kohler, who helped shed a bit of light on the issue.

“People may remember the game fondly, of course, and want to own it again,” Kohler said. “This is far from the only factor that influences demand, though, and not understanding this is why non-collectors are often surprised by these high prices. Another key factor is that a lot of these games are "collection-enders." People decide to collect every game released for the NES, and after they get through all the Marios and Contras, they find that they are all competing over a small number of Flintstones cartridges. And at that point, you're more willing to drop more money just to finish the damn collection already.”

It’s definitely interesting to consider what goes on in the mind of a person with a 10,000-game collection. If you’d spent years of your life and tens of thousands of dollars (the owner of one of the largest collections – 16,000 games – says it cost him around $100,000) to collect every game except one…how much would you be willing to pay to be one of only a few people in the world who was able to complete that collection? “Rare” doesn’t quite describe how uncommon it is to see these games. Each time one comes available could very well be the last time.

“Awareness, in general, also drives demand. You see people without collections buying up rare games simply because they become aware that they are considered rare. They're speculating, essentially, that they'll go even higher. Or maybe they just want to have something cool on their shelf,” Kohler continued.

It might seem insane, but it definitely makes for some interesting stories. We’re still not 100 percent convinced that $60 is a fair price for a video game, so we’re not about to go out and drop $30K on one. That said, we’re really glad some people are. It’s great for historical preservation, and it helps add depth and history to an industry that all too often completely forgets about games immediately after release.

Submit your own questions in the comments (or Tweet them to @sciencegroen) and we may tackle them for a future Ask GR Anything.

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21 comments

  • NightCrawler_358 - December 14, 2011 3:27 p.m.

    Interesting... Okay, I've got one, how big are the largest games, storage wise? I know that in this current generation we can fit something like 25 GBs on a Blu-Ray disc, do any games fill, or exceed that?
  • ihopethisisnotantistasblood - December 14, 2011 3:53 p.m.

    i think metal gear 4 does
  • Unoriginal - December 14, 2011 4:01 p.m.

    I've heard that Audio files take a boat-load of space so that could explain MGS4
  • Fhiend - December 14, 2011 4:45 p.m.

    Yeah. I remember reading somewhere that Kojima wanted the game to look even better than it does. But they ran into storage problems on the blu-ray. Not enough space.
  • Fatbot - December 14, 2011 3:33 p.m.

    I've got a collection of more than 2,400 games from the 2600 to present day and if I had a bunch of extra money, I'd definitely pay big bucks for ones that are one-of-a-kind. That said the most I've paid for a game is 200 for an arcade machine. Other than that it was 150 for Dead Space: Ultra Limited Edition.
  • mattmanmcfee36 - December 14, 2011 3:47 p.m.

    not a knock to the article, but i was expecting a list of the most expensive games, haha. ive heard that the old mickey's speedway usa is pretty valuable, and i have a copy still for the n64 (that still works!)
  • jmcgrotty - December 15, 2011 3:36 a.m.

    Re:"ive heard that the old mickey's speedway usa is pretty valuable, and i have a copy still for the n64" Not to burst your bubble, but no. It's actually considered "very common," with over 100 games that are considered more rare. www.nintendoage.com/index.cfm?FuseAction=Element.View&pId=5&egID=10145&lgID=10145&sID=10145
  • tyler_14_420 - December 15, 2011 12:08 p.m.

    Eugh, Mickey's Speedway USA. $100 New.
  • winner2 - December 14, 2011 4:57 p.m.

    31k for a game? Speechless
  • Net_Bastard - December 14, 2011 7:55 p.m.

    I have a question: Why don't modern PC games have CGI-quality graphics? Sure the system requirements would be massive, but it's possible. Also, there were games like Driller for the ZX Spectrum that ran at 1FPS but were still released back in the day, so why can't there be a modern PC gaming equivalent of that? I would kill for a PC game that looks like the UE3 Samaritan tech demo. And I know that it isn't because of consoles because even PC-exclusive games released recently don't come close to that level of visuals. I want to see things like 128K textures, realistic deformation, and good-looking small objects.
  • Fiirestorm21 - December 15, 2011 1:20 p.m.

    Because it'd be as expensive as hell to make, and it's hard enough to make money on a PC-exclusive game as it is even when most people can play it. That's why. Patience, padawan.
  • ChaseByKO - December 14, 2011 9:20 p.m.

    I totally should have kept those Blockbuster copies of The Flintstones: Surprise at Dino Peak for the NES. Ask GR idea: How companies design and choose their controllers.
  • Craza - December 14, 2011 9:33 p.m.

    That's actually a pretty good question. I wanna hear the answer.
  • dvdsucks - December 15, 2011 2:09 a.m.

    agreed
  • AuthorityFigure - December 15, 2011 12:40 a.m.

    Didn't someone pay heaps for a pre-release CoD MW3? For the money in relation to its age, this has got to be one of the most expensive purchases. I believe that manuals are more valuable than the carts most of the time.
  • Net_Bastard - December 15, 2011 5:23 a.m.

    The N64 version of Tony Hawk 3 is considered the holy grail of N64 collectors, because it was released so close to the end of the system's lifespan and because of that under 400 copies were made. There's also the gold Nintendo World Championships cart. And there's Pepsi Invaders for the A2600. It was a Space Invaders reskin with the invaders being the letters to PEPSI instead of ships. I think it was advertising Coke. There's LSD Dream Emulator for the PSX. That one is also known to be a collector's holy grail.
  • Nintendophile - December 15, 2011 10:31 a.m.

    Tony Hawk 3, brand new on Ebay, $21.99. Must not have gotten the memo. -_^ http://www.ebay.com/ctg/Tony-Hawks-Pro-Skater-3-Nintendo-64-2002-/9268?LH_ItemCondition=1000&_dmpt=Video_Games_Games&_pcategid=139973&_pcatid=2&_refkw=tony+hawk+3+n64#
  • phade3 - December 16, 2011 8:40 a.m.

    True ! Stadium Events is another rare game that was recalled shortly after release on the old NES system !
  • Foodperson - December 15, 2011 8:29 a.m.

    How about all-time lows? There are good games that sell on eBay or Amazon for just a penny (plus shipping and handling).
  • phade3 - December 16, 2011 8:37 a.m.

    I sold a an unopened copy of both Tomba 1 and 2 for just under $300 bucks ! The guy who bought them wanted those games that bad I suppose ! Funny thing is I found them at a garage sale one Saturday afternoon and paid $10 bucks for both of them !

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