Collectors are as confused as you are about that $1.56M Super Mario 64 sale

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Ars Technica 18 July, 2021 - 08:00am 44 views

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If you aren't immersed in the world of high-end video game collecting, it's probably hard to understand why someone paid in excess of $1.5 million for a single, shrinkwrap-sealed boxed copy of Super Mario 64 last Sunday. But if you talk to people who have been collecting games and following this insular world for decades, you'll find... well, they also think it's hard to understand.

Sure, Super Mario 64 is an important game in a franchise with a huge number of fans. But it's not the first home video game appearance of Mario—early printings of Super Mario Bros. are more analogous to Superman's first appearance in Action Comics #1, the holy grail of comic collecting.

And yes, it's hard to find a copy of the N64 best-seller that wasn't torn open and played immediately by some kid the second they got it in the late '90s. But it's not impossible. Over the last two years, clearinghouse PriceCharting.com lists 30 public sales of "graded" sealed copies of Super Mario 64 (i.e., those which have been evaluated and put in a protective slab by a rating agency). Dozens of additional sealed copies have been sold "raw" and ungraded in that time.

None of those sealed Super Mario 64 boxes sold for more than $38,400 before this $1.56 million sale.

"I thought that a lot of [these high-end sealed-game sales] made sense up until this last weekend," said Kelsey Lewin, co-director of the Video Game History Foundation and co-owner of retro game store Pink Gorilla. "I could understand the logic behind a lot of the expensive ones. This felt like the first one that I didn't understand the 'Why?'"

"What's basically happening is that people are getting in with a lot more money in their pockets than has been going around in game collecting so far," says former Wired gaming editor and current Digital Eclipse Editorial Director Chris Kohler. "And they're saying, 'You guys are doing it wrong.'"

Eventually, as these completionist collectors got near the end of their checklists, they all ended up competing for the same rare titles. Thus, obscure games like Stadium Events or Chase the Chuck Wagon would sell for hundreds or thousands of dollars to collectors who needed one of the handful of extant copies in order to finish their collections. For these completionists, the fact that these titles had little-to-no intrinsic value in terms of nostalgia, gameplay, or historical significance was beside the point.

Collectors who focused on sealed video games existed in the long ago days of 2018 and prior, but they were a small niche. "None of us were collecting sealed games before this," Lewin said. "Sealed games of course went for more money than not-sealed games, but it was such a small amount of traditional retro game collectors that were buying the sealed games that I personally hadn't felt like it was affecting my ability [to collect]."

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