With the passage of time, it becomes harder and more expensive for game enthusiasts to find those elusive titles that simply must be a part of their library. Mom & Pop stores are disappearing at a rapid rate, and even the most outback of flea market sellers seem to be increasingly aware of the true value of their wares. Yes, the magic of the hunt is most certainly gone when some dude wants to sell you Marvel Land out of the trunk of his car for $40, all the while singing the praises of what a great deal he’s offering you. What’s next? Is he going to tell me that it fell off the back of a truck?
In the face of such adversity, gamers are left with fewer options than ever before. In truth, retro gaming is beginning to remind me of the comic book industry of the mid ’90s, where vultures would snatch up every available copy of every single poly-bagged, foil-covered, special edition, shrinky-dink, colorform-enhanced comic that was sure to be a “collector’s item” sometime in the future. Genuine fans of a series often had to suffer gaping holes in their collections because there were no issues left to buy. The fact that many of these collectible carpetbaggers never even read the very series they were gobbling up only made things all the more infuriating. All they were interested in was swooping in, making a quick profit, and leaving. Never once did they stop to consider the damage they were doing to a legitimate hobby. At least we got back at them with that whole Death of Superman spiel. How much are those issues worth now, guys?
Nowhere is this growing trend more evident that eBay. The amount of seller lunacy that one finds on the world’s premier online auction site can be both saddening and frustrating. Sometimes it’s almost as if everyone has a rare game for sale, and the blatant false advertising one can run into is incredible. For the educated retro gamer, finding a particular game in the right condition can be akin to finding the proverbial needle in a haystack and often, what you get isn’t what you thought you were buying. Imagine finding that needle, only find out that it’s old and rusty. Then you prick your finger on it and get a bad case of tetanus. Yeah, blind buying sucks sometimes.
Of all the ailments afflicting the still-fledgling online auction business, there are a few that particularly stand out, and while these aren’t blanket statements applied equally to all sellers (there are indeed some great ones out there), just about everyone reading this who’s used the service has run into one of these knuckleheads at least once.
- The “OMG RARZ!” Guy: This fellow has a metric ton of Madden ’96 copies that he needs to get rid of, so he adds this to each auction title. Look, there is nothing, absolutely nothing rare about anything that has the word “Madden” in it. Heck, my local Toys ‘R Us is selling the collector’s edition of Madden ’07 for the Xbox 360 for $25 new. Why people think that adding this one little word to their auction automatically gives it an air of credibility is beyond me. (Note to sellers: adding the word “rare” to your auction title is also much more effective when you actually spell the word right. Just my two cents.) You really want to sell them? Then throw out the inserts, manuals, and cartridges; and sell the empty boxes in lots of four or five. I guarantee you’ll get more sales from collectors looking for new boxes than you will for the actual games themselves.
- The “Duh, I Don’t Know Where You Live” Guy: They say they’ll ship anywhere, but then come down with all kinds of restrictions as soon as they get your zip code. I had a seller once tell me that she couldn’t ship to Puerto Rico, because she only shipped domestically. I informed the kind woman that PR was indeed a part of the U.S. (true story, look it up) and was considered domestic by the USPS. Her response? “I’ll have to check and get back to you.” Yes, kind madam! Please do me the favor of investigating whether or not the place I’ve lived for twenty years is eligible for domestic shipping. God knows I’ve never had to mail anything from here before…
- The “I Only Take PayPal” Guy: I know that PayPal is considered by many to be the fastest and most convenient way to pay for things on eBay, but do I have to use it to pay for three Genesis manuals? No, scratch that. It sucks that I should have no choice but to use it at all. Power Sellers love it, but I don’t live on eBay, nor do I make a living from it. Being forced to tie a service I’m not totally at ease with to my bank account or credit card doesn’t make me happy. Moreover, my postal money order shouldn’t be a problem, since you can cash it at the very post office you go to when you mail out my order! How hard is that? Many of my friends have used PayPal without any problems so far, but when they tell you to tie it to a separate account with no more than $50-$100 available at any given time, something’s wrong.
- The “I Sell Cool Shit, but I’m from Thailand” Guy: Ooh, how I want that copy of Gleylancer! The price is perfect, but the auction description is written in the worst Japanglish you can imagine, and the seller has a feedback of five. Also, he only takes PayPal. Do you take the risk? Not likely…
- The Horrific Misuse of the Term “Mint”: Few things piss me off more than clicking on an auction for allegedly mint copy of a game I want, only to find that the seller’s referring only to the condition of the bare cart he’s selling. People, people, people….”mint” to a collector or retro gamer means “includes box and manual”, as in “intact.” All you’re selling is essentially a sticker-free cartridge.
- The Horrific Misuse of the Term “Sealed”: Here’s another one that gets my blood boiling. A sealed game is not one that you stripped of its box and manual, and then re-shrinkwrapped yourself. Yes, technically the game is “sealed,” but no one with an ounce of intelligence thinks that when they see the word in an auction title. A sealed game is one that has never been opened. To be fair to both sides, perhaps eBay should require a field in the auction template that allows for differentiating between “sealed” and “factory sealed.” At the very least, sellers should make the distinction in their auction titles.
- The Mystery Auction Title: I scan for a complete copy of Mega Bomberman and have to click on twelve different auctions before I actually find one. The reason? Because brilliant sellers don’t mention it in their titles. It costs nothing extra to write the word “complete” or the term “cartridge only” in the title, and I don’t see the logic in not doing so. What, do they think they’ll coax me in, and I’ll decide to buy that bare cart anyway? All they’re doing is making me waste my time. Even worse is when they get the auction category wrong, and you end up looking at Game Gear and Turbo Grafx-16 games for sale. My favorites are the ones like “Sonic Game for Sega! Cheap!” Gee, that only describes about a million games for about a half dozen consoles.
Now, these in no way describe the everyday eBay experience. I’ve purchased dozens of games from great sellers since 2000 without ever being screwed, lied to, or taken advantage of. The majority of those pitching their wares on the site are honest people who want to get your item safely and quickly to you. I’ve managed to avoid headaches by specifically looking for the these problems and then doing my best to avoid them. The things I described above may be common on the site, but they shouldn’t be a problem to the discerning gamer.
That being said, today’s retro gamer has to be educated, wary, and above all patient. It’s true that eBay is perhaps the greatest buying tool ever afforded to the hobby, but unless you know what you’re doing, you’re going to have to wade through a ton of useless crap. It’s not as dangerous as it is flat-out annoying sometimes, and your best bet might be to add a great seller (when you find one) to your favorites list and allow email notifications whenever he gets new merchandise. The alternative, while a great way to kill some extra time, can be a real tedious experience. Long live eBay!