What is Graded Video Game Collecting?
The concept of certifying collectibles originated in the 1980s with rare coins and picked up steam in the 1990s with sports cards. The practice hit its stride in the 2000s as grading services began certifying comic books, paper money, and Pokémon cards. Today there is a grading service out there for virtually all fungible collectibles that are small enough to be encased in plastic. Even niche hobbies such as stamp and Funko Pop! collecting have established and reputable companies providing certification services.
One of the most exciting and fastest-growing collectible verticals getting the certification treatment is rare video games. Hobbyists have been collecting video games since their advent, and the process of grading video games isn’t entirely new. The certification company Video Game Authority (VGA) has been grading games for over a decade. But only with the formation of WATA grading service in 2018 did certified video game collecting truly rise to prominence alongside sports cards, rare coins, and comic books.
WATA is now owned by Collectors Holdings, the world's largest certification company and parent company of PSA sports card grading and PCGS rare coin grading. In the fall of 2022, CCG (the parent company of CGC comic book grading and NGC rare coin grading) is launching video game grading under the name CGC Video Game Grading. Collectors Holdings and CCG are easily the largest two certifiers of collectibles in the world. As companies add video game grading to their lineups, video game collecting hobbyists are enjoying these exciting developments.
Certified collectibles generally all share the following three characteristics. Graded video games are no exception:
- Certified games are encased in a tamper-evident holder.
- Each certified game has a grade, or rating, assigned by a third-party group of experts, who have also verified the genuineness of the item.
- The video game can now be commoditized. While no two collectibles are exactly alike, having reputable grading services means we can comfortably assume that, over time, certified items of the same variety and grade will trade at similar price levels. Higher-value items can thus be traded more frequently and with greater confidence.
Today you can collect certified video games across dozens of different game systems, including modern systems such as the Playstation PS5 and the Nintendo Switch. There’s something for every level of collector when it comes to graded video games. You need only look as far as your favorite childhood games for your initial collecting inspiration!
Sealed games are the pinnacle of video game collecting. These video games retain all of their original components, most notably the original seal around the box, typically plastic wrapping. Vintage sealed games are extremely rare in terms of the percentage of the total video games manufactured as well as those still in existence. Many of the most popular games, even those that saw production runs of millions of copies, have only hundreds or, in some cases just a handful of sealed copies in existence today.
The third-party grading service WATA uses a rating system to evaluate the quality and intactfulness of each game's seal. Ratings can be as high as “A++” for a nearly perfect seal or as low as “C” for a seal with substantial problems or is barely intact.
While most sealed games manufactured for US markets are shrink wrap sealed, not all are. The most notable exception was the first release of Nintendo NES games, the highly collectible black box series of games. These games initially came with matte sticker seals in their first print, and gloss sticker seals in their subsequent print in lieu of plastic wrap. Additionally, the European and Japanese variants of many popular titles feature either different plastic wrap or no seal at all. Many early Atari games also came without plastic shrink wrapping when originally manufactured in the 1980s.
Determining the authenticity of an original shrink wrap seal is one of the most difficult aspects of verifying the genuineness of a video game. While no grading service is perfect, having your sealed video games graded and authenticated by a third-party service such as WATA is quickly becoming a “must-have” when it comes to maximizing the value of your sealed video game collection.
If you want the best of the best and the rarest of the rarest, consider sealed video game collecting as the prime option when collecting video games. An exciting part of the video game market’s growth in the coming years will be seeing rare finds and great collections emerge from attics and basements across America. Sealed games are so rare in fact that collecting a complete set of sealed games for a popular system such as the NES or Game Boy would be a decade’s-long endeavor.
Video games experts generally agree that when it comes to vintage games the total population of sealed games is relatively small and not likely to increase dramatically over time. For example, WATA has graded a few hundred sealed copies of each of the highly collectible first entries into the Pokemon series for Game Boy: Pokemon Red, Blue, and Yellow.
Despite each of these games being highly popular with print runs that ran into the millions, it may take a decade or longer to identify 1,000 or more known sealed copies in existence. When you compare the potential number of sealed games with the known number of popular rare Pokemon cards and comic books, you can imagine an exciting future for sealed video game collecting.
A CIB (Complete in Box) game is similar to a sealed game in every respect except for the seal itself. A CIB will have the same original game box, manual, and cartridge found in a sealed game, except the seal was broken or removed. In many instances, the game was opened and played. Despite being opened and usually having been played, CIBs are often still of an order of magnitude rarer than just a lone game cartridge of the same title.
Only a fraction of gamers kept the original packaging their games came in. Fewer kept that packaging in pristine condition. When you got the new Zelda on your eighth birthday, did you tear it open in excitement or did you meticulously preserve all of the original packaging and contents?
The availability of CIBs compared to carts of vintage Nintendo games from consoles like the NES and SNES show us that the vast majority of players didn’t keep the boxes and manuals as kids. This fact led to a scarcity of better-condition CIBs today.
CIBs offer all the visual appeal of a sealed game but often at a fraction of the cost. CIB collecting allows the collector to tell the same “story” about their collection passions as sealed games do but without breaking the bank. Additionally, CIB collecting means you can find older and rarer games that may otherwise have been unobtainable if one is collecting only sealed games.
For example, matte-sticker sealed, first-print 1985 Nintendo NES games such as Super Mario Bros. and Duck Hunt routinely sell for over $100,000, In many instances, a CIB copy can be had for 1/50th or even 1/100th the price!
As the name implies, graded carts are the simplest form of certified video games. These games have been evaluated and graded as stand alone carts and do not include the boxes, manuals, or outer seals that accompany sealed and CIB games.
Graded video games as a whole are still a relatively new concept, but the idea of collecting graded carts is even more recent. So far, some of the rarest NES cartridges like the Nintendo World Championship cart and ultra-rare low-print games like Stadium Events have been certified. But graded copies of more common titles are seldom sent to grading companies for certification. Over time, collecting certified cartridges is likely to become more popular as corresponding sealed and CIB copies of the same titles become scarcer, especially in higher grades.
Cart collecting also includes collecting Not For Resale (NFR) carts, another variant which was not manufactured with a box and manual. These games are significant collectible variants of popular Super Nintendo and N64 carts.
Not to be overlooked, cart collecting offers attractive price points and classic aesthetics on one end of the spectrum, and some of the rarest and hardest to find games in existence on the other end. Some of the rarest and most sought-after games ever made, such as Nintendo World Championship carts, were not manufactured with a box or manual, making just a cart the only way to collect these desirable games.
If you’re looking for entry-level graded games with great displays or some of the rarest games in existence, collecting certified carts is a promising segment of the graded video game market that is likely to grow in popularity over time.
The contents of this guide were made in an effort to provide up-to-date information for popular certified retro video games. New variants of video games are discovered nearly every day. If you see any errors in this guide or have any information regarding additional possible variants of this game, please reach out at Info@StandardGaming.com.
Looking For More General Information on Graded Games?
· If any of the terminology used in this guide was confusing or new to you, please refer to our convenient Glossary of terms here.
· Need more information about graded games in general? Check out this intro to the different types of certified video games here.