Find Classic Games for Cheap

Save lots of money in your quest for retro gaming goodness.

Retro game collecting is fun, but it can get pretty expensive. That’s especially the case now that “traditional” sources for game buys—flea markets, thrift stores, and game stores—are starting to dry up. Sometimes it seems like eBay is the only option. And sometimes this is true. But that shouldn’t keep you from going out on a summer Saturday and hitting the garage sale circuit. You can’t make finds if you’re not out there looking!

But just being out there isn’t enough. If you want to get the best deals you’ve got to strategize. Yes, you can buy retro games and save money, whether on eBay or in real life. And with the strategies in this hack—which I am presenting to you at great personal risk—you may very well emerge with a trunk full of games and a wallet still reasonably full of cash.

eBay and Other Online Shopping

You might think that your only option for buying retro games online is the auction site eBay (, but that’s not true. In fact, there are plenty of other options. They don’t offer the same sort of protection that buying on eBay will get you—but you can recoup that risk in better deals. For more specific information, as well as general eBay buying tips, check out [Hack #1] .

One important thing to keep in mind is that when you’re buying online, you are buying from a potentially global marketplace. Some games that are obscenely rare in this country are very easy to find elsewhere. For example, although the Sega Saturn game Panzer Dragoon Saga saw an extremely limited print run in the States, it is common in Japan, where it goes by the name of Azel: Panzer Dragoon RPG. Sure, if you want the game to be in English, you’ll have to pony up for the more expensive U.S. version, but if you’re just interested in checking out what all the fuss is about…

Which brings me to another point—research alternate names and spellings for the game you’re trying to track down. When you’re searching eBay auctions, try to think of alternate ways of phrasing what you’re looking for. If you’re looking for a new-style NES deck [Hack #5] and search for “toploader NES,” you’re using a term only popular with collectors. Thus, you’re searching for auctions run by collectors, and they’re going to know what their stuff is worth. You want to find a seller that has a great item with a poor description, so that you’re one of the only people bidding.

Garage Sales, Flea Markets, and Thrift Stores

Time was you couldn’t swing a dead cat in a thrift store without knocking over a mint, boxed Vectrex. Okay, maybe it was never that great, but church basements were gold mines a decade ago. Now you’re lucky if you find a few things after a full weekend of going to garage sales. But there are strategies you can use to maximize your deal-finding potential…and to negotiate with the seller once you’ve found something you can’t live without.


Making a spectacular find can sometimes seem like divine providence. According to a certain sect of collectors online, it is, though it does not come from the God of Abraham. No, it comes from Bira Bira, the God of Classic Video Game Collecting. Check out his homepage (with some “big find” stories sure to inspire envy and rage, but also hope) at

Before the sale.

Before you venture out to the yard/garage/tag sale, flea market, or thrift store, here are a few things you can do to get the most out of your day.

Plan your day out

You could just drive around and look for garage sale signs (and see plenty of them), but if you buy the newspaper on Friday morning, you’ll be able to look through the classified ads and find what sales are happening and where. Even better, you’ll be able to see what sort of things they’re selling! If you see one listing “video games,” well, obviously that might be first on your list. But “toys,” “old computer stuff,” and “electronics” might also be winners.

Go alone or with a similarly goal-oriented partner

If you go tagging (by which I mean “visit tag sales,” not “write your name in graffiti”) with a friend, you are flirting with disaster unless he or she understands that there is to be no dawdling at sales that turn out to be total duds. If you’re alone, you can speed through the sales, but if you’re burdened down with a compulsively lackadaisical browser, you might as well not even go out. If you can’t avoid it, you might want to seek out a flea market, and then split up so you can browse at lightning speed.

Bring lots of $1 bills and change

Change is a little less important, because you’ll be doing most of your purchasing in dollar increments. But I can’t stress those singles enough. You’ll see why in the next section.

At the sale.

Once you get there, here are a few things you can do to increase your chances of finding a holy grail (and getting a good deal on it).

Arrive early

Don’t pester people before their advertised start time; if the tag sale starts at 9:00 and you’re there at 8:00 while they’re still setting up, it’s considered rude. But neither should you head out for the day at 1 PM. By that time, you’ve missed everything.

Ask, ask, ask

If you’re at someone’s house, and you don’t see any video games, ask! Many people might just have decided not to bother dragging the games out of the attic or basement. “You wouldn’t happen to have any old video games around, would you?” can work wonders. And even if you see old video games out on the lawn…ask if they have any more!

The marked price is a suggestion; you’re supposed to bargain

Talk them down! If it’s marked $10, offer $5 and see where it goes from there. Maybe you’ll get $7. (Warning: don’t attempt this when the seller is under eleven years old. You’ll look like a jerk.)

Have the appropriate amount of singles in your hand

One of the most aggravating things about selling at a garage sale or flea market is having to make change, especially when you don’t have enough singles to do so. Ease their burden by having the appropriate amount ready in your hand. It’s harder to get somebody to take $5 for a $10 item when you’re brandishing a $20.

If they have many different things that you want, make an offer for the lot

But don’t say, “Will you take [amount] for all this?” The first thing you should do is ask, “What would you want for all this?” They might give you a lower price than you were about to say, just happy to get rid of so much “junk” in one fell swoop!

Finally, there’s one really awful tip that I’m keeping out of the main list. I’ve never seen it work, and in fact it might just make you look ridiculous. However, if you feel like you’ve established a rapport with the seller, pick up an item and say, “Would [amount] be too much to offer for this?”

Note that almost any answer to this question is in your favor. Of course, if you’re not really good at this, you’ll just end up embarrassing yourself. You might experiment with this at a flea market far from home.

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