Space invaders do battle in the auction rooms

Gwyn Jones says vintage video games have become valuable collectors' items
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The Independent Online

Few children of the Seventies escaped the start of the electronic game craze. Favourites such as the first versions of Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong look very basic compared to today's hi-tech equivalents, but that doesn't mean they have no value. The childrenhave grown up into thirtysomethings with cash in their pockets - and their desire to re-live their youth makes electronic games highly collectable.

Few children of the Seventies escaped the start of the electronic game craze. Favourites such as the first versions of Super Mario Bros and Donkey Kong look very basic compared to today's hi-tech equivalents, but that doesn't mean they have no value. The childrenhave grown up into thirtysomethings with cash in their pockets - and their desire to re-live their youth makes electronic games highly collectable.

Paul Andrews, of retrotrader.com says: "Eighty-five per cent of people are buying to play and 15 per cent are buying for investment purposes; there has always been a hardcore of fans but there has been a revival because a good game is a good game - no matter how great the graphics are on the new games, if they're boring people don't want to play them."

Hugo Lee-Jones of Electronic Collectables agrees. "I wanted to buy the computers I didn't get and all my friends had at the time and years later you could pick them up cheaply at car boot sales," he says.

Lee-Jones says that while the market was once purely nostalgic, today there are some serious collectors who want mint-condition boxed items - a trend that has pushed up prices.

People who think the Sega MegaDrive was the first home games console machine are wide of the mark. "The Sega Mega Drive and the Nintendo NES were the machines that popularised the gaming market," explains Lee-Jones. "But now they are relatively cheap because they're not rare - they'll only make around £20."

In the UK, Sinclair's ZX Spectrum got children interested in gaming and spawned a community of programmers who wanted to make their own games. The home cartridge system to have was the Atari 2600 in wood effect, launched in 1978. Children were either into programming - and therefore the Spectrum - or gaming, in which case the Atari was a better bet because you just put a cartridge into the machine and turned it on. Nowadays, a boxed Sinclair Spectrum would cost £60 to £80 while an Atari 2600 might be priced at £40 to £70.

But the most popular collectables are the hand-held Nintendo Game and Watch machines. Some of the mint-condition boxed versions cost hundreds of pounds and rare examples have even made £1,000.

Game and Watch machines were produced between 1980 and 1988, there are 59 basic variants plus a few specials. The first was Ball issued in 1980 and the last was Mario the Juggler, available from 1991. The rarest is a special edition Super Mario Brothers remake which was given away in a Japanese contest in a special yellow case.

Two years ago, people realised vintage games were fetching good money and began checking the loft. This reduced prices slightly, but collectors have become more fussy.

For investment purposes, games and machines must be in their original boxes, in perfect condition. Lee-Jones's hot tip is the MB Vectrex, a strange TV-like machine with a built-in console. These were quite rare and today it is a struggle to find one in a box, sealed in its plastic with the polystyrene - doing so will double the value. Unboxed models now cost £150, boxed versions £300.

Andrews also recommends the Pong machines brought out in the mid to late Seventies by Nintendo, Grandstand and Radofin. He also likes some of the original hand-held LED games despite the fact some already raise up to £400.

"I think some of the boxed complete examples will increase dramatically as Game and Watch become harder to find and people switch to these," he says.

Some of the large companies have produced modern plug-in television versions of vintage games. And Andrews produces some older games on current formats. Such developments are likely to increase the popularity of vintage electronic games and bring them to a new, younger audience. As demand outstrips supply, yesterday's toy is set to become a serious collectors' item.

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