With more access to the past than ever before, retro gaming is a booming industry showing no signs of slowing down. With certain rare editions of games bringing in hundreds – sometimes even thousands – of pounds, it’s no surprise that some have turned hobby into business.
I recently caught up with Alex and Gemma, owners of Level Up Games in Canterbury, Kent, to see how much things have changed since they first opened shop, what makes some games worth so much, and where they see the future of games from the past.
I’ve been visiting Level Up Games for years. When did it first open?
We opened the shop in January 2011
How did you get you get into the market in the first place?
(Alex) I had been working for various companies, buying and selling equipment of all sorts for many years. I’d seen the gaming market grow during my time at one of them, and then Gemma and I had the opportunity to take over an independent store and focus its efforts towards games alone.
How has interest in retro games changed since then?
We have certainly seen an increase in the retro scene for a good few years, even before opening our doors! A good deal of this has got to do with the modern generation of remasters such as The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time on 3DS, or the retro style of newer games, like Minecraft and Shovel Knight as two of the more popular examples.
What do you think it is that makes it so popular?
The nostalgia factor is huge. Especially considering that ’90’s kids are now financially capable adults (?) who are enjoying modern gaming. It’s often them buying for themselves or their kids (to show them how it’s done!) who are our main market. The retro scene is very popular to all however, so we do get folks never having played the older machines and games looking for them after having seen their favourite Youtubers or Twitch streamers mention or play them.
Have you seen different trends in what consoles and games people are looking for?
It changes all the time actually. Certain consoles are always popular like the SNES and Megadrive, but others come in and out of fashion. It’s not easy to predict who is going to want what however. Looking at modern remasters or re-releases can give an indication of desire – Shenmue on the Dreamcast shot up in value when Shenmue 3 was kickstarted a couple of years ago.
Are those ’90s consoles the most popular?
Overall they are the most popular. The PlayStation 1, SNES, Megadrive, N64, SEGA Saturn, and Gameboy all occupy our ‘bestsellers’ list.
What are both of your earliest memories of games?
(Alex) My neighbour had ALL the consoles bought for him by his doting parents, so I cut my teeth on Street Fighter II on the SNES and any other multiplayer games he had! I didn’t actually own my first console until 2000 when I bought a PS1 from another friend so he could get a PS2 new!! Strange times…
(Gemma) My mother had a NES at home and we both enjoyed playing Zelda and Solstice. Then I moved onto the SNES and all of its amazing RPG’s
What’s the rarest game you’ve come across in the shop?
We’ve had rare games through from the PlayStation 1 and SNES mostly – those are two consoles that have possibly the most desire for ‘mint’ condition games. Castlevania -Symphony of the Night on PlayStation 1, Snatcher on SEGA MegaCD and a mint fresh copy of Turtles in Time on the SNES are the most valuable titles we’ve had through so far. We never know what may come in however!
So how much more valuable can a good condition, complete game be?
Sometimes the box and manuals can exceed the price of the game itself if they’re in good condition, especially with the SNES. The Legend of Zelda: A Link to the Past is a good example. Complete, it would have to include a manual, map and secrets guide. When everything is included, then the condition of each item comes into play, making the price soar even more. There are also Gameboy games which can be found relatively cheap on their own, but their original packaging alone costs hundreds.
Is there one particular game that you’re hoping you’ll find in the shop one day?
We suppose something like the USA version of Chrono Trigger on the SNES would be cool as it’s one we never had released over in Europe.
Which current consoles do you think will be most valuable when they’re seen as retro, if any?
It’s much harder for anything modern to become collectable today. Limited edition runs are now hundreds of thousands of copies as opposed to just hundreds a few years ago, so they can’t really be considered scarce if everyone with deep pockets has access to them. But manufacturers not releasing enough products to satisfy demand has created over-inflated prices, which can be seen with the Nintendo NES Classic Mini before Christmas. There are predictions the same will happen with the Switch. This could have a big impact on how valuable they’ll be in the future.
What sort of impact do you think digital gaming will have on the retro games market?
Digital copies are more accessible, generally cheaper and able to be played on modern equipment. Often it leads to a decreased value of the physical copy, which happened when Tales of Vesperia was released on the 360. Sometimes for games it is a shame not to have the boxes and manuals, but as the generations shift, the younger gamers don’t require that at all! If a game has the control options and tutorials within itself anyways, why need a physical manual to tell you the same thing? Companies are also becoming more aware of their carbon footprints for manufacturing costs and environmental effects, so lean more towards digital than hard copies. Not everything gets a digital copy of retro however so there will always be a market for the original hardware and games.
Thanks Alex and Gemma. Hopefully that US copy of Chrono Trigger pops up soon…
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