It seems almost inevitable that I’d arrive here, writing up a guide on how to start collecting retro video game stuff. I’m the first to put my hand up (and my NES controller down) and say I’m by no means an expert at the hobby (if such a thing even exists). I write this merely to share what I’ve learnt over a period of time that might help you get started. Little tips, minor tricks but most of all just good old fashioned observations.
So if you’ve looked through collections like mine and flirted with the idea of plunging into collecting your own gear, or you’ve stared at your old Sega Master System and thought it looked a little lonely, this is the place for you. Seasoned collectors probably a) know all this stuff already or b) disagree with me violently on a number of points (we can be a rowdy lot) but feel free to read along anyway. Once all the parts are done I’ll post links to tie them together.
Part #1: Getting in the mindset
It’s going to seem a little faux zen to say, but before you buy your first piece of hardware you should have a think about what you want to collect. Some people – like me – just collect anything that falls into that loose definition of retro gaming, so I have a room full of Nintendo, Sega, Atari, Commodore, Tomy and more. I collect this way because to me every piece of gear is enjoyable in its own right, a connecting line back to the infancy of gaming history. Some people though, like to get really focused. Nintendo only. Cart based systems only. Handhelds only. Often, being particular about what you’re after results in it taking longer to amass a sizable collection but also makes decisions on what to get or not get, crystal clear. As a generic collector of all things retro gaming I often find myself buying random items simply because they’re in front of me at the time, creating the beginning of many unfinished ‘sets’ of gear while not keeping money aside for the few items I really crave. There’s no right or wrong here, but knowing what you want to get out of the experience early, will help. Have a look around your home too, you might have the beginnings of a retro collection shoved away under the house in boxes, or in the garage, a few old games or consoles from your youth that inspire you to go further. I know that it was my humble Amiga CD32, A1200 and A500 – machines I’d had for a while – that turned me from normal human being into rabid retro collector.
Also have a think about whether you’re a “boxed and as mint as possible” kind of person or a “I don’t care as long as it’s not on fire” person instead. Basically, if you want to collect boxed consoles, boxed games, things still wrapped etc then you need to come to grips with that early on. Collecting things in boxes or in mint condition is going to rapidly escalate your costs, but you do not want to get 6 months into collecting loose SNES carts only to realise you want boxed games only and be left with 6 months of carts to offload.
Lastly, start thinking about money – specifically your money, and how much of it you have to throw around. I’m not saying you need to start brushing up on your Excel formulas and mapping out a weekly budget (because God knows if you’re anything like me you won’t stick to it) but at least have a rough idea of how seriously you want to sink cash into this hobby. Collecting retro gaming gear can be as cheap or expensive a hobby as you want it to be. Sometimes it’s about finding bargain bin cartridges for your 8-bit Nintendo Entertainment System at $3 a piece, other times it’s facing the purchase of a Vectrex as it gets all True Blood and sucks hundreds of beans from your wallet. Make sure you know your limits going in, or you’re going to come out broke.
In summary, know what you want, how you want it, and how much dosh you’ve got to spend on it.