Let’s be blunt for a moment. The Mega Drive is a very old console now. Some of the oldest Mega Drive hardware has been around for nearly 17 years and all of it is a good number of console generations old. Collecting for it isn’t as easy as it was five years ago, simply due to the passage of time. If I were to enter a computer game shop now, I would have to be lucky for them to stock anything that is older then the Playstation, and it saddens me to see the memories of the older consoles fading away. Ten years ago I was playing Mega Drive games at people’s houses like they were going out of style. Now, I have to explain what a Mega Drive IS.
Sadly, this has led to a sort of exodus concerning the stocking of Mega Drive games and retro hardware in computer game stores around where I live. What isn’t of this generation of games or the last is relegated to either a tiny amount of shelf space in the back of the stores or simply isn’t stocked at all. A store’s idea of “retro” is buying games off people in bulk for a pittance and selling them off at inflated prices with a sticker on it. They don’t care about the game; they care about the money, and it shows. The few places that do stock Mega Drive games and hardware slap outrageous price tags on the games in the hopes that people desperate enough to remember past classics will fork out the money they did in the past to play them.
So when I decided on New Year’s day at 2 a.m. that one of my New Year’s resolutions was to buy a Mega Drive and re-live those happy memories of my childhood, I knew that buying one locally would be impossible unless I wanted to pay a kidney for it. Some of the stores where I live don’t even know what the console was, so I gave up hope on getting one locally pretty quickly. That left only one place to which I could look to find what I wanted: eBay.
It certainly is the world marketplace it claims to be. One can find anything one desires there, especially Mega Drive items. It only made sense that people would want to bypass the computer game stores that would give them nothing for their games and sell to those who actually wanted them. These treasures didn’t have to sit dusty on a shelf waiting for someone to snap them up; they could go straight from one owner to another and give someone else happiness and entertainment at a fair price. At first sight, it seems akin to a Mecca for all lovers of the little Sega console to come together and trade in harmony. My eyes were nearly popping out of my head with all the things that I could purchase, just at the tip of my fingers. There’s no time like the present, and as soon as I had won my Mega Drive, I began to slowly work to expand my collection.
At first, everything couldn’t have gone better. I won what I wanted to bid on for prices I wanted, but that was because what I had wanted at first was a select few games that I had always played in my youth. When I began to look further a-field, I saw games that I had played recently and had tested that I wanted, games that were recommended to me, games I didn’t have on from other consoles that I had wanted. That was when I began to lose. At first you take it in stride; the first few losses, you think nothing of.
Of course, as with all good things, they are not what they seem. It only takes time to realize that what could very well have been a haven has ended up being less, much less. Although some people were sincere about what they had, there are many on eBay who place items up and bid without a clue to what they are doing. Without doing research, they are led to believe that their seven copies of Fifa International Soccer are worth a fortune and slap on a “rare” at the end of every other item. Games that people would actually want are jacked up to prices that you wouldn’t even pay in a specialist shop which puts off those that want to simply relive their memories of days gone by. Believing to have found the next Holy Grail, they will sing the praises of Dark Castle while asking for £14.99 on “Buy it Now.” No, stop laughing – I actually saw this. Dark Castle is as much a rare, classic game that will keep you spell-bound as it is a guide to quantum mechanics.
And then there is the hype, again from lack of proper education. Phantasy Star, Shining Force, Streets of Rage, and many others have prices inflated so much that it makes collecting your dreams seem a chore. Some say that it is supply and demand that create the prices that exist, but that isn’t true; there are many copies of these games at any time on eBay and yet all of them are dear. Popular games they are, which means that sellers take all their liberties and sell them for fortunes. It is one of the few situations I have considered purchasing a game from a store for £20 when on eBay it always goes to nearly double the price. The buyers have little choice unless they want to hunt brick and mortar stores in desperation and in vain, for thanks to eBay the price inflation of otherwise fairly common games have spread to infect the real world market as well. Just type them into Digital Press if you choose not to believe me on that one.
And then there are the ones that will take you to town for games that they simply know they can sell for money, without any interest in playing the game at all. Buying low and selling high, they are the high street stores in digital form and they are merciless. Up at hours most sane people are asleep, they will snipe and snipe for items they wouldn’t ever want just to sell for £5 more on a “Buy it Now” which no one will ever click on. They deny the real collectors and those that desire the item for themselves the privilege of getting a decent deal just so they can earn a little more money and raise prices just that little bit more. And when they do send it there is always the chance it’ll come in more bits then a jigsaw puzzle, as they packed it in a glorified origami paper airplane. It makes what should have simply been akin to a shop more like shark-infested waters where only those that struggle remain afloat.
When eBay is your only main source of Mega Drive hardware, it adds strain that you didn’t want to the hobby; you only wanted to have your games and enjoy them. That is all I wanted that New Year’s Day and I had to learn the hard way that the market for retro games can at times be more cutthroat then any real marketplace. Of course, most of the time it is none of these things, but every time you have something you really wanted snatched away at the last moment, you feel as if the fickle winds of fate wish to deny you your entertainment and satisfaction. At first, I was despondent at my losses and when I failed in a bid, I would be sad that I had had another thing taken from my reach when I had been so close.
That was at the beginning however. Over time, that attitude changed. The market had changed. No longer was this 1996, where Mega Drive games were abundant and you could still buy them off the shelves of stores easily. Now you have to hunt for your prize and, when I looked at it like that, it changed my opinion on what I was doing. The prize of the item wasn’t the only thing to be cherished anymore; the thrill of the chase became almost as good as the prize itself.
Now, five months down the road, my collection is over 50 games, a lot considering the humble beginnings I had. With hindsight, I can say fully that actually buying quite a bit of my collection off eBay has been more enjoyable then the items I have found in real life. The thrill of the hunt is still there and the buzz of victory is just as potent, especially when it is in the face of adversity. To get what you want despite the wishes of others and despite the growing forgetfulness of those that seem so fickle with their consoles gives me a pride that I cannot fully explain, but is similar to when you get a nice birthday present.
So, my advice to those that are forced to use eBay to collect? Don’t look at it as a tyrant, the world against you. The glory days where Mega Drive games took pride and place on store shelves may no longer be with us, but they live on through the online community and through eBay where, just like all those years ago, you could go and buy what you wanted. You still shop, just through cyberspace instead of real space. If you do your homework and stick to your guns, just like when you shop in real life, you won’t come out worse for wear, you’ll get what you want, and you’ll enjoy it more then ever.
Now, where did I put that track I had on that game…?