Retro Gaming On A Budget

Retro gaming can be something of a time consuming, passionate, and an incredibly exciting hobby. At the same time, it can be mentally and financially draining as you try to find those elusive games for your collection that you have been searching for or games from your childhood that you’re trying to own once more. It doesn’t help that many old games were simply thrown away by a lot of their former owners or they haven’t survived the ravages of time so some are hard to find and the prices of some games have become astronomically high. I guess that’s why it becomes all the more satisfying when you manage to acquire that long sought-after game or piece of hardware to add to your collection, but it doesn’t always have to be so frustrating – or expensive…

That doesn’t stop bargains from cropping up online and surprisingly at retail as more and more gamers are turning to second hand and charity stores to hunt down unwanted games that people may have inadvertently donated or sold to raise cash in a hurry. There are some great deals to be had on the high street if you know where to look, but gaming on a shoestring isn’t as easy or as simple as you might think…

Many of you reading this who are avid retro game collectors will already know the drill and will be actively hunting down retro bargains on a regular basis, but for those of you taking your first steps or planning on building up a retro collection you may wonder just where to start. The first thing is just where exactly should you be looking? Second hand stores that specialise in electronic goods, DVDs, video games etc like Cash Generator are usually a good starting point. Most people who take goods for sale there are just looking for quick cash, usually from clearing out entire collections of games and consoles. The reality is that you are never going to get rich quickly from selling to these stores. It doesn’t matter what you sell or how rare it might be, these stores usually pay a pittance. Sometimes products get re-sold at an extortionate mark-up closer to what their genuine value is on the collector’s market but in most cases they’re sold on at bargain bin prices, especially when it comes to media.

As a rule, these stores have set pricing policies in place when it comes to DVDs and older games so it’s not unusual to find PlayStation One, PlayStation 2, Gamecube and original XBox games for under a pound each. Older games are less common although the odd cartridge formats do crop up from time to time depending on the stores. If you’re looking for this particular generation, then this is generally a good first stop, although it has to be said that most stores will be flooded with stocks of dance games, sports titles and the like with only a handful of choice picks. It is these choice picks that do make the journey worthwhile.

I have noticed that there has been a trend amongst stores, certainly with the advent of the PlayStation 4 and XBox One, to devalue games for the PS1, PS2 and Xbox. While a couple of years ago these would have sold in these stores for £2 a time, and a year ago still commanding a blanket price of £1 or more, these prices have dropped to absurd rates. It’s not uncommon to see deals offering games for under 50p, two for 99p or even better. My best deal? PS2 titles on offer in a local Cash Generator for the astonishing price of 20p each and that included some pretty impressive titles…

PS2 Haul

Hardware bundles can be just as lucrative for the observant gamer. While some stores are well aware of what they have available and price them accordingly (I have seen the Namco Ms Pac-Man Plug & Play unit on sale for £20), others still offer genuine bargains. While admittedly it was purchased with the intention of both re-sale and adding some of the bundle to my own collection, I was able to pick up a silver PS2, controller and 41 games (including some big name releases such as limited edition releases of Ico and Silent Hill 2) for under £40. Within a couple of days I had made my money back on my investment, added a good selection of games to my collection and was still left with a healthy number of games left for resale.

Charity shops should also be high on the target list for any avid gamer, but can need a bit more effort putting in to get the best finds. First thing to remember is that the majority of charity shops won’t stock retro games beyond a certain age. It’s not that they don’t get anything donated but sadly many older items are deemed to be “unsellable” by the average charity shop volunteer and end up being thrown away or recycled. If you’ve ever wondered why you rarely see big box PC games on sale in charity shops, or never see games for the Commodore 64 or Spectrum, it’s because these usually end up binned when they do get donated. They’re just not considered to be worth anything so they don’t even make it to the shop floor.

The retro gaming experience that you will get from charity shops will vary dramatically – not because of variations in the charities but in the types of products that they are allowed to sell by law and the staff overseeing them and their general awareness when it comes to gaming. When it comes to consoles, unless a charity store has certified electricians as part of their volunteer roster or has access to them who can PAT test any electrical items donated to verify that they are safe for sale, then they are not allowed to accept or sell any consoles donated to their stores. They’re left with little choice but to forward them to some of their larger stores, refuse donations or in the worst case scenarios, dispose of them in the most environmentally friendly way possible. Sadly, there are no doubt hundreds of consoles every year simply disposed of by charity stores that just can’t make use of them.

In terms of what you can find, it’s very hit-and-miss, even more so than second hand stores. When it comes to finding those hidden gems, all I can honestly say is that you really need to go into every charity shop you can find, no matter how obscure, as often as you can as stocks change continually. Inside the shops themselves, each is a challenge unto itself as well. Some will be relatively organised when it comes to games, others… well expect to have to put a little work in for your retro gaming. Some will have their games separated from DVDs, others will be mixed in so you’ll need to hunt through everything (well, games and DVDs do look the same, don’t they?!). It gets worse when you step back a generation to the PS One or older PC titles as there’s a chance that these will be mixed in with audio CDs (I’ve even seen CD-i games and Video CDs mixed in the music section of some charity shops!). I constantly live in hope of finding the odd CD32 or CDTV game amongst all the reject boy band CDs and classical albums but haven’t struck gold yet but who knows…

Once you do manage to find the games section, more often than not you’ll struggle to find that elusive video game Holy Grail amongst the millions of unwanted copies of the annual releases of FIFA and its bretheren. If a game was a multi-million copy seller, then the likelihood is that several million of these will end up being donated at some stage in their lifespan. What will happen is that from time to time, good games will get donated and this is where you need to be vigilant. Then it’s really a case of timing and blind luck being there at the right time to grab what appeals to you and hoping that people simply haven’t donated quality games just because they are so badly scratched that they’ll never work again.

Some stores will check prices and values of games and will try to price products accordingly (either at the market rate or below to offer better value for money) whereas others will – as with second hand outlets – just have a blanket price for old games, comparable to their DVD pricing (and even knocking them down in price in clearance sales!). For bargain hunters, these are the best stores to check and where you can find some stunning deals but you won’t get the best quality games consistently. It really will be down to luck.

Multiformat Haul

(These three games were picked up in a charity shop sale when they were clearing out their DVD stocks which they had classified their games with. Their normal selling price was 99p each but this sale was running at buy one, get two free!)

When you see charity stores that do charge more for the better and more valuable games, and even reasonable prices (by collectors standards) for consoles and accessories, they are well within their rights to do so. While we all love a bargain and want to get games as cheap as possible, we do not have a right to have these items for next to nothing. There does seem to be a growing sense of self-entitlement amongst many bargain hunters on the lookout for retro games at bargain bin prices. While I certainly don’t want to generalise and pigeon-hole all gamers into the same sterotype, there are many who are of the opinion that games available in charity shops should be as cheap as possible regardless of what they are.

The argument often used by many is that as these items have been donated to the stores, anything raised generated 100% profit for these causes so the charities should be grateful for every penny they receive. Sadly, this belief is widely shared and without a better understanding of the workings of charity stores generally this won’t change. The reality is that charity stores still have regular overheads just like any other retailer – rent, utility bills, staffing costs (store manager and senior staff costs), store equipment, insurance and all the daily costs associated with running a store. Despite the physical goods being donated, stores still need to achieve a minimum amount in sales in order to generate a profit for the charity. They are staffed by volunteers for a reason – to keep their overheads down.

I’ve also seen from first hand experience that gamers don’t object to paying reasonable prices for retro games in charity stores. I spent time working as a volunteer in one in my old home town and was fortunate enough to be able to persuade the store managed to give me freedom to set up a video game section covering contemporary and retro gaming. Not only did I revamp pricing from the generic 49p / 99p a game to something closer to what the games should have been selling for, but it resulted in something rather astonishing… Not only were people buying games at the higher prices but they were donating better games as well. It wasn’t longer before a black label Final Fantasy VII and Player’s Guide for the PS One appeared in the store… and sold the same day they hit the shelf. Similarly, one of our regular customers – gladf to see that we had a gaming section – donated one of the Discworld games for the PS One, which we priced up at a bargain (at the time) for £10 less than the market rate. I had to argue with the manager over the notion of pricing a PlayStation game at £20 being told that it wouldn’t sell but within a couple of days that too was gone.

Certainly if you go into charity stores and see games or hardware on offer at bargain prices but not the 99p figures that you’re expecting, don’t let it put you off buying them. Ultimately, gamers have donated their unwanted games with the intention of raising money for good causes and if they know that their unwanted game has managed to raise a good sum of money then they’re all the more likely to donate again in the future and while we’ll still see the endless supply of WWE, FIFA and Singstar games filling the shelves, we’re also potentially going to see some real classics making an appearance and raising money for charity at the same time so everyone is happy!

It’s not just the games and consoles where you can pick up a bargain on the high street though. Charity shops and second hand stores are an ideal way of picking up old CRT televisions that are perfect for getting the most out of your 8-bit and 16-bit computers and consoles and astonishingly you could walk out of a shop with a portable set for under a tenner. Don’t be put off from a bargain set that’s got a few flaws such as a VCR or DVD combo with a faulty unit. Remember, that’s not why you’re buying it and accepting a fault like this is a good way to bring the price down. Equally, don’t rule out a television that is missing a remote control. A quick trip to Poundland will get you their own branded universal remote which will work a treat, saving you a tidy sum in the process!

For those of you with your own transport, the willingness to get up early, and spare cash in hand, then car boot sales are another great hunting ground. You need to be the proverbial early bird at these to grab whatever bargains may be on show, but consoles and games do crop up regularly. A quick scan of some of the more popular retro gaming groups on Facebook and you’ll see gamers recount tales of their car boot victories, telling stories of their spoils from trips out. Some sellers are becoming more aware of the value of retro consoles and games so not everyone will be eager to sell you a console for next to nothing so bear that in mind before trying to haggle to get an original Atari 2600 for a fiver! Remember to inspect whatever you’re buying as best as you can even though time will be limited as you’ll have little scope to return it and ask as many questions as you need to about what you’re buying. Be prepared for some faulty consoles / games / accessories if you’re buying in bulk this way, but the rewards can be worth it.

The last few options, and again this is best if you’re able to travel around relatively easily, is looking online at local ads either through Facebook selling groups, sites like Gumtree or other selling sites. People are often selling consoles, computers and games and there are often cases of people selling older systems that they simply don’t want or that they have found lying around in their attics that they don’t want and just want to get rid of them. Selling them and getting money in many cases is a bonus! Some people even give away old systems, usually through groups such as the recycling network Freecycle where people simply give away unwanted items to other members of this global community. Whether it’s household items, electrical goods, toys… people have given away almost anything for decades using Freecycle. Does it work for retro gamers? Well I’ve regularly seen consoles on offer over the years on various groups and been a recipient myself on several occasions so it’s worth a try!

When you step back, it’s certainly a lot easier – and more affordable – to enjoy retro gaming and while you won’t be able to collect every game or console that you might want to add to your collection, you’ll still be able to build up a great selection to keep you entertained for hours… and isn’t that what gaming is supposed to be all about?

The important thought that springs to mind that I should mention when looking for deals is why you want to take these steps in the first place? Are you simply buying for your own collection and trying to save money – whether you are after games you want specifically or to add volume to build up a vast collection of games and consoles? Or are you buying with the intention of re-selling. There’s certainly nothing wrong with the latter and if you choose to do so you wouldn’t be the first – or last gamer to do this. In fact, it’s not uncommon for people to buy games this way and almost immediately trade them in to stores like CEX at an instant profit but there is the moral question of whether it’s something you feel comfortable doing. There are countless other gamers out there looking for the same bargains and deals that you are and if there is a game, console or accessory you genuinely don’t want but buy it anyway just to make a profit then you’re depriving another gamer of the chance to grab their own special deal, in the same way that someone else has no doubt done to you.

As long as retro gaming is still a big money business I doubt that this practice will go away, but it would be refreshing if people did leave the games behind that they didn’t want.

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What’s YOUR best retro gaming find? Let us know in the comments below.

About Simon Plumbe 214 Articles
Husband, father and lifelong geek. Originally from the West Midlands, now spending my days in South Wales with my family and a house full of animals. Passionate about video games, especially retro gaming, the Commodore 64 and PlayStation Vita. Love pro wrestling, sci-fi and I'm an animal lover and vegetarian. Enjoyed this and my other articles? Why not buy me a coffee:

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