28 February 1997

How to Start a Classic Video Game Collection Part 4: Where to Find Classics (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

This time, I'm going to discuss where to find classic systems and games and how much you should expect to pay for them. Since they're no longer sold in stores, you'll have to get them second-hand. The best places for this are thrift stores, pawn shops, yard sales, flea markets, dealers, and your fellow collectors.

A thrift store is one that sells used merchandise. They are usually run by charities, such as Goodwill and the Salvation Army. In these cases, the goods are usually donated and sold "as-is" (working or not). Many collectors frequent their local thrift stores (which is called "thrifting") as there is new merchandise daily. If a lot of collectors frequent a store, you will rarely be able to find anything other than common cartridges. Expect to pay US$0.25 to $2.00 for cartridges and US$1.00 to $20.00 for systems. Prices can vary greatly from store to store. In some cases, it helps if you come to know the people that work there. To find the stores in your area, look in the yellow pages under "thrift stores" or "second-hand stores."

Pawn shops are stores that buy merchandise from people and sell it for a profit. Today, only the older, junkier stores will have classic video games and they'll cost more than at thrift stores. It doesn't hurt to go if the other sources in your area are played out. Find them under "pawn shops" in the yellow pages.

Yard sales (a.k.a. garage or car boot sales) are where people gather a bunch of their possessions that they no longer use or need and try to sell them outside their home. If you don't see any video games, it never hurts to ask. (Until they tell you they just sold their old Vectrex system to "some guy" for $5 just 10 minutes ago.) The prices are generally a little lower than thrift stores. You also have the advantage of haggling. Most people price things slightly above what they will accept for them. You have more bargaining power if you buy a lot of items. Unfortunately, when it comes to video games, people often want to sell the system and all their games as a unit, which means you can end up with duplicate games. Check the Friday newspaper's classifieds to find that weekend's sales.

Flea markets tend to come in two kinds. The "professional," in which the same dealers are there every week, usually selling new merchandise; and the "non-professional," which is more like a giant yard sale. The former are generally not worth going to if all you're looking for is classic video games. Look under "flea markets" in the yellow pages. Other than that, the rules of yard sales apply.

Classic video games have become a big enough hobby that there are people who have made a business out of buying and selling them. Some of these people are on the net, such as Jerry Greiner and Steve Reed. Although they usually have a large selection containing some of the rarer games, you'll pay a premium for any game you buy. Also, because they know the rarity of the games, they'll charge accordingly for them (from US$2.00 to $20 and up).

Lastly, you can buy, sell, and trade with fellow collectors. You can meet them through the rec.games.video.classic newsgroup or maybe run in to them at a thrift store. Trading is easier if you can meet in person, but the members of the newsgroup are generally trustworthy. If they're not, people will publicly complain eventually.

This concludes this series of articles on how to start a collection. I hope it has been helpful to anyone new to the hobby.

Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.

[April 27, 2013: "Thrifting" was not originally linked because that article wasn't written until almost six months after this one. Atari2600.com is still around, but is no longer run by Jerry Greiner. Steve Reed is still around, but the link above is now invalid and only provided for historical purposes. He's now at steverd.com, but is only selling games on ebay, not his site. As for rec.games.video.classic, that's a topic for many posts. Actually, it already is, in a way. Look for other posts marked "pre-blog."]

01 February 1997

How to Start a Classic Video Game Collection Part 3: The System Choices - Non-Atari (originally for Suite 101)

[Suite 101 articles introduction]

In this article, I'll continue my look at the most popular consoles. Last time I covered the three Atari systems, so this time out I'll cover the three major systems not put out by Atari: the Magnavox Odyssey², the Mattel Intellivision, and the Coleco Colecovision. As in the last article, I'll be using the Atari 2600 as the yardstick against which to measure the capabilities of each system.

The Magnavox Odyssey² was an early competitor with the 2600. This system is rather underrated with collectors, which makes it easier to find. The graphics and sound are generally on par with early 2600 games, but unlike the 2600, the games did not improve much over time. The games are, however, often unique to this console. You would be hard pressed to find any controllers other than the joysticks the Odyssey² comes with, and many of these systems do not allow you to unplug the joysticks. The Odyssey² is probably a good choice if you know it has games you enjoy or you find a large initial supply of cartridges.

The Mattel Intellivision was the primary competitor of the 2600. It was released slightly later and has better graphics and sound than the 2600. The games are easy to find, but have a sports bias while the 2600 has an action/arcade bias. This might influence your decision. Although an Atari 2600 adapter was released, it is very hard to find. Intellivision controllers can sometimes be difficult to work with, depending on the game. Also, the Intellivision was not designed to change the controllers, so if one breaks, you're in trouble. Note that an Intellivision II and III were also released. No real improvements to the system were made with either release. In fact, Intellivision II controllers, although they can be changed out, are often considered inferior to original Intellivision controllers.

The Colecovision was released late in the classic era, so it has better graphics and sound than most other classic systems. It competed against the Atari 5200, so its capabilities are approximately equal to it. The games are a little harder to find than other systems’, but are usually plentiful enough if you live in the right places. The Colecovision has what is probably the easiest Atari 2600 adapter to find, greatly increasing the available library of games if you happen to find one. The original controllers are generally sturdy and can be easily swapped out. They are known to sometimes cause hand cramps, but not as badly as the Atari 7800 controllers. Coleco also created some other special controllers, like the Super Action Controllers, which are hard to find, but are considered some of the best controllers made for any system.

That concludes my look at the major classic consoles. In my opinion, a beginning collector’s best bet is the Atari 2600. The 7800 is also a good choice, mainly because it has built-in support for 2600 games. The Colecovision will prove harder to find games for, but is also an excellent choice if you can find the 2600 adapter. If sports games are your passion, you'll probably prefer the Intellivision. The 5200 can be a good choice, but be sure you get some good controllers with the unit or you will become quickly frustrated with it. The Odyssey² will probably provide less competition if you’re up against other local collectors. In the end, the final decision is up to you and your tastes.

Copyright 1997, i5ive communications inc. Used with permission.