How Digital Downloads Affect Values of Collectable Games

When the digital distribution model started taking off on services like Xbox Live Arcade and PSN, I had a feeling that we would start seeing affordable downloads of cult-classic games that have previously been expensive collectors pieces.  So at the end of 2006, I started tracking a handful of games that I thought would be candidates for digital re-releases.   Three years later, I decided to chart out the results of the tracking and see how affordable downloads of the popular games would affect the values of the original physical releases.

Below you will see the trends of three popular games that were re-released on Xbox Live Arcade and/or Playstation Network.   On each of the simple line graphs, I’ve highlighted the dates where each of the re-releases were rumored, officially announced, and then actually released on their respective platforms.  I think you will find that the results are relatively similar for each of the titles.   I’m also guessing that these results shouldn’t come to a surprise to most collectors, but I still think it is interesting to see the actual results graphed out.  BTW, values were determined by averaging the closing auction prices on eBay (for auctions that received bids) for a given month.

Rez (Playstation 2)

rez-values-b

The PS2 version of Rez has always been in strong demand as a cult classic, but since more copies were issued by GameQuestDirect, the values did dip quite a bit in early 2007.  I’m not quite sure if it’s a coincidence that the values of Rez spiked just as the HD release for XBLA was officially announced, but it did dip quite rapidly after that.  You’ll also notice that the PS2 version has had a few peaks in recent months.

Values:

Marvel vs Capcom 2 (PS2, Xbox, Dreamcast)

mvc2-values-b

The prices for all three versions of Marvel vs Capcom 2 practically went into freefall with the announcement that MvC2 was being ported to PSN and Xbox Live.  The PS2 version is still the most expensive, but it’s still nowhere near it’s high point in February 2009.   Less than a year later, all three versions are almost in the same ballpark value-wise with the Dreamcast version recently making a bit of a comeback.

Values (Average of Ports):

Ikaruga (Gamecube)

ikaruga-values-b

Even though it was not especially rare (and having a Japanese Dreamcast release), collectors were hoping that Ikaruga would follow the footsteps of it’s predecessor, Radiant Silvergun and its values of $200 to $300.   However, once the XBLA version was announced, the disc-based version of the game has been in a constant decline and has headed below the $30 mark.

Values:

Lessons Learned

The good news is that if you are a game collector that is at least partially in it for the money, you can avoid losing too much money in your investment if you stay informed of upcoming re-releases and act quickly.   Most buyers on eBay and Amazon don’t seem to pay close attention to announcements, so the values only dip slightly on rumors and you have just a little bit of time to sell off on a high price after an official announcement.   However, it is quite clear that digital re-releases do have quite an impact on the values of the original physical copies.

  • If you aren’t especially attached to the game, you might want to sell on a strong rumor of re-release
  • Values will start to tumble right after an official announcement
  • Prices won’t bottom out completely until it is actually re-released
  • Physical copies of rare/popular re-releases can lose around 50% of their peak values.
  • If you would still like a copy of the game, buy it a few months after the re-release as it might get a slight bump

Of course, your milage may vary from game to game, but even though I haven’t reported all major releases here, other games like Final Fantasy VII have seem similar trends.

26 Comments

  1. Covarr says:

    FF7 most certainly did. I spent $60 on a used copy on eBay about a year ago, before there was any indication that they’d be bringing it to PSN. Now there’s still people trying to milk eBay, but careful shopping can get it for as low as $25.

    FF8 saw no such thing, because you can still get it NEW on Amazon for $20.

  2. chillustration says:

    It truly blows my mind that FF7 goes for more than $20 at any point in history. It was as common or more common than EA sports games.

    In 99 I could have gone into any pawn shop in America and bought 5 copies for $2-$10. One of those things where if you had a time machine you could make a lot of money.

    The only thing I can think of is superfans who kept 50 copies for themselves, or a lot of people throwing it in the garbage. It shouldn’t be a rare game at all. From what I remember both the original version and the greatest hits version where bargain bin fodder for many years, more than any non EA sports PS1 game.

  3. Derek says:

    Sure games are taking a dip once a virtual version becomes available, but I would imagine over time that the physical copies will eventually regain their value for multiple reasons.

    1. To a collector there is nothing better than having a physical copy, with the box/manual/inserts etc. You just don’t get that with a digital download.

    2. It’s going to be interesting to see what happens with the digital downloads when the next generation of consoles comes along. Do they transfer over or do you get to rebuy it?

    3. One of the other contributing factors to the decline in prices is the economic situation right now. Once people have real jobs and disposable income again, it is probable that collector markets will go up again.

  4. racketboy says:

    Derek, I agree for the most part (which is why you are see some increases on the tale end of some of the charts). However, you won’t see a full recovery for a few big reasons:
    1) The physical versions used to be the ONLY ways to play the games — that’s not true anymore.
    2) Simple supply and demand. The original physical copies are in limited quantities, but the digital downloads resolve that issue.
    3) With backwards compatibility being less of a concern to companies like Sony and Microsoft, you will see less ways of playing some of these games on modern machines.

  5. Radarscope1 says:

    I’m considering selling a couple of games I have for the digital versions. I won’t get the money I paid, but I can still sell most for more than the digital version. For instance I bought SOTN for about $45. Now I think it sells for about $20 or $25. On PSN it’s $10. But, if what I have is in good condition and is a truly a classic, why sell it?

  6. Derek says:

    Racketboy,

    I understand your point, but over the long term (like 10-20+ years) their value will eventually go back up, mainly because people will want to have a physical piece rather than a digital copy. The main reason I collect isn’t to play the games (that’s what emulators are for), but because of the artwork/manuals/boxes/maps.

  7. well i dont like the idea of dlc content at all i want physical media its what i pay for.

    lets say ps4 comes out will i be able to use my psone dlc games on it?? i mean really ps4 should be doing ps2 dlc games so our ps2 games will be the next hit. there are not that many ps3’s out there playing ps2 games so ps2 hasnt been hit yet. and really ps3 doenst play all ps1 games on it i have over 15 games it will not play or they glitch too bad and 3 of them you can get off the psn store which i think is strange??? i havent seen a ps1 madden or gameday play in ps3 so i have my ps1 and a ps2 where i know they work. anr really i dont collect game for value because i dont sell any games. and honestly they cant do every old game out there so those games will most likely be the one going up in price in the future.

  8. MotoRev says:

    I was pondering this very subject the other day. Great article, nice one.

  9. dur says:

    i got Panzer Dragoon Saga recently, only to discover after i got it that Gametap holds the rights to re-release it. they are sitting on it, but I’ll be curious to see how much the price of that falls when/if it is ever re-released

  10. Refa says:

    Dur- I was under the impression that the Saturn emulation had failed.

  11. dur says:

    I’m no expert in saturn emulation, but I beleive that SSF works pretty well. Its intended to use real Saturn disks but there appears to be ways to do it otherwise (my computer will run SSF insanely crappy with real disks, so i never bothered to go much further than to pop in virtual fighter for about 10 seconds, but i bet someone else on here knows whats up)

    I decided to google to see what was up with the PDS-gametap thing. Looks like complex emulation is one of the things holding it back:

    http://www.joystiq.com/2009/05/14/gametap-emulation-complexity-holding-back-panzer-dragoon-saga/

  12. Ross says:

    For years I’d said I would never part with the original games in my collection , favouring having the original packaging and prefering to play on the console the game was designed for. In March however I’m moving to Japan and I just couldn’t justify not selling games like Gorou, Rez, trigger heart exelica.

    I know the enjoyment of opening an original game from your childhood, or a game that took you a while to find/save for. At the end of the day though its just a peice of plastic, and if i can sell that peice of plastic and rebuy the game on XBLA for a fith of the price then I cant justify not selling it in a time like now when I need to make some quick money.

    I do still have my PAL Panzer Dragoon Saga, and actually its one of the few games I think will really rise in value. I’m sure I heard that the original source code has been lost for the game so its unlikely to be ever appear as a downloadable title and the print run was relatively low. Also I’m starting to see a lot of Magazines/web sites giving panzer dragoon saga some really positive coverage, its becoming more recognised as a classic so more people will want to experience it as time goes by.

  13. Rayek says:

    I’ve been thinking about this for a good couple of years, I made a comment on my own blog kind of bashing the Wii store because, my thinking was that, in one case if you REALLY wanted to play a game on not original hardware, you could do it for free (by emulating), or if you wanted to pay money, you could just buy the console and the game, and it would be less money in most cases, unless it’s a rarer or more in demand game. But even then, if you purchase an actual copy, you can resell it in the future, which is an important reason I buy retro games. But the 10 smackers you’re laying down for some game you could buy for 5-7 dollars you won’t see back. I digress though..

    I did wonder how my copy of Rez would hold out since it was released on XBLA, but this doesn’t disturb me at all. The majority of my rarities are games that probably wouldn’t get a digital release, so I’m happy about that.

  14. grittykitty says:

    racket, did you get these prices by looking at complete ebay auctions yourself, or by using a third party site that tracks that sort of thing? i’ve noticed a lot of sites for those don’t always have accurate prices.

    another interesting thing to consider for stuff like this is inflation. generally speaking, prices for retro games are still cheaper that when they were originally released. paying $30 for a sega genesis game seems like a lot of money to me, but considering how much it sold for new when it was released, PLUS considering currency inflation over the years… it’s actually a pretty good deal

  15. racketboy says:

    Yeah, I’m aware of the issues with some of the pricing sites. So, I did keep track of these myself.

  16. Monkeypackrat says:

    Very insightful. Hopefully every good game will eventually be available for download. I almost bought a Turbo Duo or a Turbo Grafx 16. I changed my mind because a Wii is cheaper.

  17. Dennis DeSantis says:

    I believe in the merits of owning a physical copy of a game, but I’ve been hearing a lot lately about disc-based media degrading over time. What if our PS1/Saturn games don’t work in 20 years?

  18. Eddie says:

    I collect games because they have special meaning to me, not because I’m trying to profit or have something of monetary value. The trend with technology has always been that with advancement brings decline with the things of the past. It sucks to read that some people spent a chunk of change on a game that lost its value though. There is nothing like playing the game on the old system with the old controller.

  19. SmartOne says:

    “Download” versions of classic games’ quality usually suffers, and when emulators are involved, they usually suck.

  20. dedalusdedalus says:

    Interesting analysis. A similar question that I’m interested in is this: how does an enhanced remake impact price?

    For example, does the impending release of Silent Hill: Shattered Memories usurp demand for the original Silent Hill, or does it increase demand for the original?

    I’d imagine that exact ports or ports that contain additional material (like FF Tactics War of the Lions) will usurp demand for the original. I have to wonder if remakes that offer a substantially different experience than the original would have the same effect on the price of the original.

  21. stric7 says:

    What isn’t taken into consideration is that we are in a recession and I think most, or all, collectable games have diminished in price over this time period.

  22. racketboy says:

    The recession had already begun well before the date ranges on this chart. I also have number for other collectible games like Radiant Silvergun and Panzer Dragoon Saga that have only increased in price during this same timeframe.

  23. V3rtigo says:

    Ikaruga is in full freefall. Gamestop just dropped their price to $19.99.

  24. Presicion25 says:

    I wonder how much emulation and such has affected value? Whats the incentive to buying a classic game when you can download them online for free? Also, what about sites that host ISO’s for Dreamcast, PS1 and 2 and Xbox games? People just download those and burn them on DVD-R’s and CD-R’s. They also play them on emulators on their PC or modded Xbox. Ive seen earlier posts saying its not the same as playing it on the “original” system. Well, When I have to spend all kinds of money to buy an “original” game, emulators are the same for me as playing on the original system. Not everyone can go out and buy all these games. So for people on a budget, emulators are the way to go. Unless of course you HAVE to have the original game and play it on the original hardware. In my experience Ive never had a problem with any emulator, theyve all worked fine for me. To each his own I guess.

  25. Brian says:

    Collectors are looking for the experience of owning the game (or the system). I still own my original Turbo Grafx, along with games that I bought almost 20 years ago, plus a few that I scored off eBay. I’m willing to pay a higher price for the total package on eBay rather than play the game on Virtual Console or an emulator.

    Plus, some classic games will always hold a great value, no matter how many times they are re-released. Legend of Zelda anyone?

  26. Z-Gradt says:

    This reminds me of the rumor that Atari took a container or two of unsold E.T carts and buried them in the desert. I just collect games that I like, and I don’t sell, so I don’t concern myself with pricing so much, but I did buy a couple Halo 3 Legendary Editions and socked them away when they got down to $30 new 😉

    I’m also a big fan of emulators. I’d much rather fire one of those up than dig out a console and cart, although that probably says more about my organizational skills than anything else…

    eBay is pretty annoying though. I picked up Panzer Dragoon Saga for $10 at a pawn shop 10 years ago. A few months later, he was telling me about how great this thing called eBay was, and I couldn’t get any good deals from him since. Also, always be sure to hit up Craigslist before bidding on eBay. I was looking to buy a dreamcast and found a guy locally with a bundle that included MvC 1 and 2, with an average price of $2 per game…