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Patrick Hope: Nintendo cartridge sends spike through video game collecting market

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Video game collecting isn’t exactly the most mainstream hobby out there. In terms of collecting prestige, it falls somewhere in between stamps — poor philatelists get no respect — and vintage cars.

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To be perfectly honest, most people don’t even realize video game collecting is an actual hobby. Having lots of games or particularly rare games isn’t exactly newsworthy, which is what makes a game auction that happened a couple of weeks ago a potential watershed moment.

Now, rare games are sold on eBay almost daily. At any given time, someone is gearing up to pay big money for something like Little Samson, Aero Fighters, or Panzer Dragoon Saga. It takes a special game to catch the public eye. Something like, say, a special cartridge used exclusively in a competition. Hey, that’s what we’ve got here!

Back in 1990, Nintendo held the Nintendo World Championships (NWC), a nationwide competition which used special cartridges containing Super Mario Bros., Rad Racer and Tetris. You were given 6 minutes, 21 seconds to get as high a score as possible.

The top performers in each age group in each city where the event was held were awarded trips to the national competition and got to keep the special gray cartridge that was used. Nintendo Power magazine also had a special contest, giving away gold variations of the cartridge. Originally, 90 of the gray cartridges were thought to exist, but that number has steadily increased over the years as more kept appearing in the wild. There are only 26 gold carts known to exist. As you might guess, owning one of the carts — of either color — is a pretty big deal.

NWC carts have been appearing on eBay at a regular clip for a while now, or at least the gray ones have. They usually went for a few thousand dollars, which is still a good chunk of change, but not exactly a crazy amount of money.

That all changed when the “Mario” NWC gray cart appeared on eBay.

This particular cart, nicknamed the “Mario” cart because its label had been largely torn and someone wrote “Mario” on it in pen. It’s among the worst condition for any NWC cart that’s surfaced and is really only notable as it was the first NWC that was sold in an online auction. There was nothing remarkable about it at all.

But for some reason, gaming media picked up on this auction and it was soon appearing across the Internet. The price climbed into the tens of thousands. Then the mainstream media picked up and the cart was featured on the front pages of Yahoo and Bing and got coverage through Time and the BBC. This rare video game was a huge deal. And the price kept climbing, eventually stopping at $99,902. Sadly, per the seller’s comments on collecting site Nintendoage, the top bidder pulled out, saying that “his two-year old accidentally bid on it.”

The cart was relisted late last week with a Buy it Now price of $65,000 or best offer. It had dozens of bids in the span of a few hours.

Within 24 hours of the initial auction ending, another gray cart appeared for auction. At the time of this writing, its price is at $14,150. Another one was quickly sold for $17,500, and a gold cart missing the little NWC sticker appeared. It’s currently bid up to $100,088 with almost a week left. These are exponential jumps over normal prices, so one can already see the effect this one auction and the coverage it gleaned in action. But considering there are many, many other collectible games out there besides either NWC cart, the real question is how this affects the rest of the hobby.

The simple answer is that no one really knows. On the articles about the auction, many of the comments were of the “I wonder if I still have my old Nintendo games” variety. Maybe we’re entering an era where prices shoot into the stratosphere because someone heard about a game that sold for 100 grand. Maybe a bunch of new collectors, learning about some of the really cool and unique items that are out there, will jump into the hobby.

Maybe we’ll have a brief spike and then return to business as usual in the collecting world. Whatever the outcome, it’s nice to see the hobby getting some more exposure. For me, it’s a really fun pastime and definitely has exposed me to some great games and history that I never would have known otherwise.

Also, if you happen to have an NWC cart, I will totally pay at least $10 for it. That’s two five-dollar footlongs. TWO.

Patrick Hope is Dickinson attorney and a video game columnist for The Dickinson Press. He takes a humorous approach while writing about video games of all genres, from the first systems to the latest in technology. Email him at patrick.d.hope@gmail.com.

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