How Zero-Sum Game Collecting Got Me All This For Free

As a collector, the most important part of any deal is the price.  Yeah, we all want a copy of Little Samson and may never find it at a local garage sale, but this isn’t 1995 anymore.  There’s eBay.  Everything is on eBay!  In fact, if I want to buy Little Samson right now I only need to spend, let’s see here…hang on just a minute, uhhhh…oh, there we go, $930.

Obviously, the game is available, but it’s the price that’s restrictive.  That’s true for collecting more than just rare games, too.  You might find a big box of goodies that’s worth about $500 for only $300, but still that kind of cash isn’t unlimited.  If you spend that money, it’s no longer available in your bank account and is now invested into your collection which, yes, is now worth $500 more. However, the only way you can realize that profit is to sell it back. So, price matters.  The lower the price you can get, the more opportunity you have to buy other games!

Recently, my wife and I made some changes to our monthly budgeting and I decided that for the next little while I’m not going to spend any cash on retro game collecting.  Does that mean I won’t be buying anything anymore?  No.  It just means I won’t spend any net cash.  Whatever money I spend has to be re-claimed in some way.  Whatever money I take out of the ATM has to be returned in a reasonable time frame.

How difficult will this be to do?  Well, the last 2 weeks have been among the best collecting I’ve done in a while!  Every deal I made was with the idea of getting my money back either immediately or soon thereafter.  Every game I got had to go into a “keep” or “sell” pile.  I had to get creative with Craigslist want ads and buying large bundles.

In the last 2 weeks, I made six different purchases and not only was I able to return all the money I pulled out of the bank, I made a profit that allowed me to buy even more games that I specifically needed!

Here’s how it all played out…

1. The SNES Bundle from the Seller with Bills To Pay ($75)


Among the games I didn’t previously own were The Terminator, Pinocchio, Super Street Fighter, Biker Mice from Mars. and Yoshi’s Island.

My first foray came from an inquiry to my wanted ad.  It was a young guy who was looking for some extra money to cover some bills. He’d dug up some old SNES games from his mom’s basement and offered this to at least a couple of collectors on Craigslist.  I had the best offer of $75 and snagged it.  The console had writing on it and the games were all pretty rough and needed cleaning.

I never buy bundles purely for resale profit, and this was no different.  I’ve never had a copy, nor even played, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island and I was stoked to get it!  I just recently completed Yoshi’s New Island on the 3DS and loved it, so I’m excited to play the original now.  Also, there were several games here I didn’t have that I’ve added to my collection.  After that, I re-sold the console and the few games that were doubles.  Amazingly, I was able to get $99.99 for the console and a couple games via eBay.  The value of a cleaned up SNES is getting really high these days and the system looked really good when I was done scrubbing it down.

In general, when I want to get maximum value for things, I sell on eBay.  When I want to avoid expensive or complicated shipping, I go to Craigslist.  When I want to sell things fast, I take my stuff to friends and collecting buddies.  I aimed to maximize on the SNES, and did, because the games were fairly beat up.

2. Clean NES Games That Were Garage Sale Bound ($120)

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This NES bundle popped up on Craigslist and I jumped on it quickly.  It included an NES console and several games with all of them being very clean and with several quality games included. I agreed to the offer price of $120 but was surprised to see many of the manuals and posters were also included when I picked up!  A nice little bonus and I kept every single one of them!

There’s nothing quite like a set of clean games.  Unfortunately, as I’m an avid NES collector with nearly 600 licensed games in my collection, nothing here was anything I needed, but I was able to use many of the games as label upgrades to some of the scroungy versions I owned.  I re-sold the top valued games on eBay and used that money to buy up NES games I didn’t have.  I call those resale-assisted trading. :-)  You’ll find it to be very useful when the games you’re hunting for are virtually impossible to find in the wild.  You’ll lose some value in eBay fees and shipping, but it’s really the only way to find games like The Untouchables as you’ll see later.

3. Old Rental Store Games ($200)


What a heap of games! Most of them all had stickers that needed removing and I’d already removed all the white labels using a hair dryer when I took this picture. A lot of work, but a lot of games! Worth it.

Every so often you do a deal that has you a bit worried and requires some gambling.  This was one such deal.  I’d been contacted by a woman who was selling a whole batch of old games that made their rounds being rented out at a video store years ago.  Ironically, my wife was texting with the woman while we were driving to pick up the lot above.

The games’ conditions were hard to assess via pictures.  Many of them had white labels covering the end labels and it took a while before I realized that they weren’t replacing the end labels so much as providing rental store codes for them.  The front labels looked really great, but the seller wasn’t so keen on my $150 offer.  I ended up bumping it to $200 in exchange for adding the two Gameboy games seen above.  That ended up being the best deal for them versus several potential buyers who were only trying to pick out the gems.

That’s a big time tip I always like to share.  Try to buy everything from the seller.  It’s easier and less risky for them, so they’ll give you a better price.

Upon picking them up, I was disappointed to find that the end label of Return of the Joker was the only one that was actually torn off.  I made a ton of great deals with buddies in my gaming group to recoup the cost.  Everyone won on this deal.  I got a great deal on a large quantity of stock, the seller was able to sell all this old (and often bad) stuff off, and my buddies got great deals on games they specifically wanted such as the Mega Man games and more.  I even sold the NES with several games for just $20 because the door was missing!

By avoiding eBay and staying local, I was able to sell things quickly.  It left with me a lot of “trade box” games that are too cheap to sell on eBay but will find interested parties later. I can’t wait to trade these down the road!

4. The Quick-Cash SNES Lot ($50)


A humble bundle, but Final Fight 2 is a rare game I wanted to add to my collection!  Two-player mode, go figure, right?

I ran into a guy looking to sell a few pieces for whatever he could to get some extra spending money.  I’m not sure where these came from, but they were pretty dirty and all of them took a lot of cleaning to get working again.  The Super Game Boy was in nice shape, though.  I found it odd that a second Yoshi’s Island came across the wire in a week as I’d never had one before, but it was also in pretty bad shape.  In the end, I kept Final Fight 2 and sold everything else as they were all doubles.

Funny story, the seller and I did a lot of back and forth before meeting up the morning that we did.  He had a strange schedule that saw him working til 1 AM and being up all night.  We were going to meet at Union Station in Denver but he got confused and ended up in the wrong place.  After a lot of texts, we finally did meet up, but he did a lot of walking.  Not my fault, but really felt like he put a lot of effort into a $50 deal.  Anyhoo…

5. The Room Clearing Gameboy Gems ($40)


I adore Game Boy Advance and have been hunting these Metroid games forever.  Plus, to get Minish Cap back in my hands after years of regret? Priceless.

This GBA bundle caught me the most by surprise.  I saw it on Craigslist without a price and the seller had their address in the location field which is really not a smart thing to be doing.  I asked how much he wanted for all of them because I really, really wanted the Metroid games and Minish Cap.  I loved Minish Cap back in the day but it was before I was officially collecting so I sold it when I was done with it.  I’ve always regretted that!

Well, the guy got back to me several hours later, long after I gave up hope, and offered them all for $30.  I was so shocked by the price that I thought he may have been saying $30 per game.  I was nervous to even clarify.  This leads us to the whole ethics debate about collecting, though.  The $30 price is clearly under-valued, but how do you communicate that to the seller?  I don’t want to pay full price because otherwise I’m not going to buy it.  In the end, I bid him up to $40!  Still a good deal and I felt better giving him more.

The deal went smoothly.  He was a younger guy living with a dad that drove a Porsche, so $40 seemed like a perfect price to me.  I re-sold the two Zelda Gameboy Color games to recoup some costs (they were doubles) and kept everything else.  I’m so happy to have so many of the games!

6. The Guy-Bored-With-His-3DS Starter Set ($225)

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The final deal came about when a buddy of mine, Nick, texted me a link to a Craigslist post advertising a New 3DS System and 6 great games.  The game that stuck out to me the most was Xenoblade Chronicles 3D.  I have wanted this game badly since the day it came out because I don’t have and haven’t played the original Wii version.  Plus, Shulk is one of my favorite Amiibos. :-)

I originally passed on it, but I later came back to it after considering how much money I could recoup from the system and games that were doubles to me.  It could work out, I thought.  In texting with him, he was eager to let it go and wasn’t getting any other offers of his asking price, $250.

Ultimately, because he was far away and I was trying to make numbers line up, I offered $225 and I would drive 35 minutes to pick it up.  He accepted!  When I got it, I kept Xenoblade Chronicles 3D and Monster Hunter 4 (a game I have digitally but not physically) and put the rest on eBay as one big bundle.  In the end, it sold, and I ended up with $220 of cash back after eBay fees.

I’m thrilled to have these two great 3DS games in my collection and will be playing with Shulk and friends very soon!

What I’m Left With for “FREE”…

Alright, so I’ve made these six deals, kept everything that I didn’t have, re-sold the high-value doubles on eBay and to my buddies, and used the extra money to buy NES games I didn’t have. As of yesterday, I was able to put every single dime that I took out of the ATM to buy this stuff back in.  That was the most important thing in all of this.  Everything was zero-sum.  In effect, I paid nothing for what I kept.

So, what did I have to show for free all my time, effort, blood, sweat, tears, and risk?  This:


Common and mid-range NES games are in the back for trading. I bought 5 very uncommon NES games that I needed with extra money, kept 6 SNES games, a bunch of manuals and posters, the two 3DS titles, the Gameboy stuff, and the Action Replay DS!

Zero-sum collecting is possible with a little seed money (I’d say $300 is good), buying the biggest lots you can, and a lot of effort.  When I do it, I try to keep some ethics intact, too.  I don’t like to rip off anybody who doesn’t know what they have to start with.  It really depends on the seller and their demeanor.  If they’re grumpy, all bets are off.  If they’re very nice, I will add money to my offer or, if they’re ridiculously underpriced, sometimes I’ll tell them as much and see what they say.  I rarely ever buy game lots that have nothing I need, but I made one exception this time because I effectively traded some games for ones I did need.

All in all, a great week and a half.

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About John Blanco

John Blanco is an avid game collector and loves to write about his hobby as much as he participates in it. He run the Denver Retro Gamers Facebook group in Denver, Colorado, and coordinates swap-style meetups with dozens of other collectors every couple of months.

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