How to find classic video games in the wild!

Finding classic game cartridges around town for your Atari, Nintendo, SEGA or any other retro console is becoming tough. You can always go online to places like eBay, or better yet a quality private online seller, but nothing beats finding a good game cartridge offline, in the real world.

I have been hunting games for dead consoles since the late 80s. When the NES and SEGA Master System were available, I would still look for ColecoVision games at the flea market. Over the decades I have honed my keen senses and sharpened my spear to a fine point, ever on the look out for the rare game sitting on some forgotten dusty shelf. So like any Troglodyte hunter from a bygone era, you must pass on your knowledge to the trog-pups, so that they too can carry on the hunt.

With that in mind, I have compiled here a few tips and tricks you can use when searching for classic video games while out and about. Let’s start with the basics.

At the time of this writing it’s still pretty easy to find Nintendo disc based games starting with the GameCube. Major games stores still carry these used titles in many cases. The original Xbox and PlayStation 2 games are starting to disappear from many game stores, but PS3 and Xbox 360 titles can still be easily purchased. So this guide mainly concerns cartridge-based systems with a few exceptions like the SEGA CD, SATURN and PS1 games.

So let’s take a look at all your options when hunting for games in the wild and break down to good and bad with each.

Local Classic Game Stores

When trying to find old games offline the easiest place to start is local used game stores. I’m not talking about GameStop, but privately owned retro stores. Most medium to large cities will have at least one of these around. Here on the GameTrog website I have actually started compiling a list of them by state!

The Good:

I always endorse helping out a local small business and would recommend you do the same! What’s great about these stores is that you can call and see if they have a title you’re looking for, and if they do, drive over and buy it right away. They also normally have a good selection of games to choose from.

The Bad:

When it comes to the prices at brick and mortar stores they tend to be close to eBay pricing. The owners do their research and you won’t find a rare game for cheap. I tend to think of eBay prices as being too high. I don’t expect anyone to sell a game for ½ the cost they could get on eBay, but when buying from my local stores I look for about a 10% savings or so. Everyone is different though so if you have a few stores in your area, check each of them out. Get to know the staff and pricing and one of them will usually stand out.

Tips:

  1. When it comes to bargaining you may have some wiggle room at your local retro gaming stores. You most likely will not be able to talk them down on the price of a single cart, but when buying several games it never hurts to ask! This will only work though when you are talking to the actual owner. Employees don’t usually have the clearance to make deals.
  2. Another thing, when you are trying to make a deal, don’t do it when other customers are around. An owner will not want to be seen giving you a special price in front of 5 other customers, who would then all want a special deal. Go to the store at off hours and find out when the owner normally works.
  3. These stores may also be a good place to trade in games. Again, each store is different, so check around. And when trading in games you will normally get more value when you trade-in towards another game, than when you are just looking for cash.

Thrift Stores

Thrift stores are one of my favorite hunting grounds. But you have to be patient. Not all thrift stores are the same. In my neck of the woods we have Goodwills, Charity based stores and privately owned stores.

The Good:

When it comes to thrift stores I find that almost all of them have little idea about the value of games and systems. This means if you do stumble across a rare game, it will often be the same price as all the other games they have.

Many thrift stores have special days where certain items are discounted (all RED sticker items will be 50% Off, for instance). But, if you do find a game at these stores you should probably go ahead and grab it now, don’t wait one more day to save a couple bucks, as it will most likely be gone.

In addition to video games, thrift stores are a great place to find extra controllers, cables and power supplies. I always visit the cables sections and see what I can find. You can even find nice HDMI or other cables for a fraction of the retail cost.

The Bad:

When searching thrift stores you can have long periods of finding nothing before you find anything. You have to be patient and visit the stores often.

The employees normally have no clue or care about the games they mark for sale. This means you will sometimes get a price sticker placed right over the label. And Goodwill price stickers are a real pain to remove and can tear the label!

If you are in a big city, you are not the only person looking for video games. There will be a few others that are doing the same thing; you’ve got to get there before they do.

Most Goodwill stores are no longer selling video games at the store and instead send them to the Goodwill online auction site. This site, while a good place to hunt for games, is often the same price as eBay, and is visited by lots of game hunters.

In most thrift stores you will not be able to bargain on price. You may be able to at a privately owned store, but even then it is unlikely. Your best bet is if you are buying a lot of items, you may be able to get a rounded down price.

Tips:

  1. Thrift stores inventory can vary based on their location. Stores closer to wealthier neighborhoods will normally have higher-end items than stores in lower income areas of town. This doesn’t affect games very much, but I have found a set of $1000 speakers for $5 at a store close to the rich folk, so hunt for games, but always be on the look-out for other items.
  2. In my town there are thrift stores everywhere, and they are spread out all over the place. So I like to set up a route. It takes time to go thrift hunting so set up a plan of attack. Pick the area of town with the highest concentration and hit all the stores at once. The lower income sections of town normally have more thrift and pawn stores. I will take a path that has me visiting several Thrift Stores and Pawns Shops all on the same day.
  3. The weekend is when everyone goes shopping. If you can, try and hit a thrift store during the week. There may be a couple by your work that you can hit at lunch, or one near your kid’s practice. It doesn’t take long to run into a store and see what they have.
  4. As you visit a store more frequently you will know the layout. When you enter the store, go straight to the game/electronic section. Don’t waste time. Many times I’ve seen another me walking into the store, don’ t let me beat you to the section! And if you see a game you’re not sure about, pick it up anyway. Carry it around while you shop so that you can make the final decision to buy before you leave.

Pawnshops

Pawnshops can be a great place to find video games, both old and new. If it has any value, a pawnshop will take it. At the time of writing this, my last good find was at a pawnshop. I found a beautiful NES complete with controllers, gun and hook-ups, with 16 very good games for $100. The 16 games included several Mega-Man, CastleVania and similar high-quality titles. I didn’t need another NES (I have several), but I can sell it for close to that price and end up with 16 – $20 to $40 games for around $2 each, not bad.

Like thrift stores you can find pawnshops all over town, but they tend to be more popular in lower-income areas. In a large city there will normally be 3-4 streets that will have several pawnshops very close together. These can also be found close to Thrift Stores with makes hunting a lot easier.

The Good:

Pawnshops will mostly have newer or the latest game system(s) titles. These are often a better deal than you will find than buying the same used game from GameStop. They also tend to sell at a discount when you buy several items. I recently loaded up on about 9 – XBOX ONE and PS4 titles that were about half the cost they would have been at GameStop, and they had buy 2 get 1 free!

Another great thing about pawnshops is that you can put things on layaway. Layaway allows you to drop a small amount of money on a product and pay it off over time. The shops close to me give you three months to finish paying. The pawnshop will take the item off the shelf and place it in back until you pay it off in full. This is great for when they have a large classic system bundle and you don’t want to shell out $150 all at once.

The Bad:

Finding games for a system older than 5 years or so can be hard. You most likely will not find a case full of SNES games. Whenever I come across a SEGA or Nintendo systems, they are bundled together as a single lot. This is fine, but pawnshops have Internet also and check prices of things. So while it will normally be at a discount, it’s not a massive cost difference.

Tips:

  1. Get to know some of your favorite pawn shops, let them know what you’re looking for. I have given my number or email to a couple locals guys an they will let me know when they get something in, giving me the first shot! Make friends, it can pay off.
  2. A couple of my local shops also use Facebook Market Place to post old video games, as they have limited shelf space. When in doubt ask.

Flea Markets

When it comes to hunting for games in the wild I saved the best for last. Flea markets can be a treasure trove of classic games. But, like any hunt, patience, skill and cunning are often required and sometimes just a little luck.

In my area I have four large flea markets and a couple smaller ones. Like most areas they are all pretty far from each other so planning is key. I will combo a flea market visit with a few thrift stores and pawns shops, as they tend to be in the same areas of town.

Flea markets will normally have at least one vendor that is dedicated to video games, and often there are several. Each of my local ones has about 3-4 each. Outside of the dedicated game booths you can often find booths or sections that carry anything they can find, including old games. One of my favorite finds was a complete ColecoVision in its original styrofoam (the outside box was missing). The white styrofoam has the Coleco logo pressed into it and I knew what it was from 50 feet away. The kicker? It was in a booth that was piled up with vacuums. I got it off of him for $30 and never looked back.

The Good:

Games can be found everywhere, systems too. And all items are normally cheaper than you will find on ebay. Several of the larger game vendors in my area will even have hard to find games for systems like the TurboGrafx-16 and Intellivision.

All prices at a flea market are negotiable. That doesn’t mean you can always talk them down, but when buying a few games from the same vendor you can most likely get the price rounded down. And when you find a game in a non-game area, they probably don’t know anything about what they have and will let it go for a few dollars less.

The Bad:

Not much bad at the flea market, but there are a couple things to keep in mind.

Cash is king! Many vendors will only accept cash, but some may accept credit cards. Even so, you stand a better chance of talking the price down some with cold hard cash, than you will with a credit card.

The condition of the games can be down right awful. Some venders are out in the sun, and their games, which may have been sitting there for years, will show the wear. But hey! Great time to ask for a discount!

Tips:

  1. When you go looking for games at a flea market, don’t wear your favorite Mario T-shirt. If you walk up to a vendor and are trying to act like you’re just an average Joe, who isn’t really needing to buy a game right now, having a Sonic hat on is a dead give-away.
  2. Don’t act too excited! When you stumble across a rare game don’t scream out loud, in fact don’t even blink! If it is expensive I may try this tactic (holding game in had) “I used to play this a long time ago. I can’t believe it cost this much, could you sell it for $10 less?”
  3. If you see something rare you want, don’t set it down once you’ve picked it up. I have had a game snagged up right from under me. Don’t let it happen to you!
  4. Buy a few games from the game vendors for a discount. If you grab three $15 games, you should easily be able to say “Will you take $40 for all three?” and get a positive response.
  5. On an expensive item (say $50-60 or more) walking away can work. I’ve had an item marked $60 in hand at the register. Asked if they could drop it to $50 (as it’s all I have…) and they say they can’t do it. I followed up with a “dang” and went to set it back, only to have them change their tune and accept the offer.
  6. Don’t feel bad asking for a deal! These guys are used to it, it’s part of the job! The worst thing they can say is no, and that’s OK. I’ve had them tell me no before and I still bought the game. Sometimes you win, sometimes you don’t. But you will never know until you ask.
  7. If you have the time, walk the whole flea market first. If you are looking for a fairly common game then several locations may have it. Don’t buy the first one you see.

SUPER TIP!!When it comes to bargaining, nothing is more rookie than asking for $5 off a $15 game and then trying to pay with a $100 bill. Go into the flea market with small bills. Keep different amounts in different pockets. I may have twenty dollars in 5’s in one pocket and a $10 bill in another. That way I can play the “I only have $10” card and only pull out $10 dollars. If I walk by a game and know I want it, but also know I want to get the price down, I will walk away and adjust my pocket cash to match my offer.

Well, that about sums up my hunting techniques. I hope it helps you out in the wild! If you find something awesome let me know. I’d love to hear about it! Leave a comment below with your favorite find!

-Trog

Where is your favorite place to search for classic games?