If you're into video games, you're probably aware of the white whales. Earthbound for the Super Nintendo, Stadium Events for the NES, that impossible-to-find Nintendo World Championship cartridge that sold for $US100,000 ($133,804) on eBay a couple years ago despite a torn label.
All of those make sense. They're either great games or carry enough historical baggage to ascend towards untouchable Honus Wagner status. But video game collecting is a weird hobby in the sense that legacy doesn't always matter. If you collected baseball cards, you'd never find yourself dropping a ton of cash on, like, a Cameron Maybin rookie card. It's Cameron Maybin. A totally average player with a totally average career. But with games, sometimes a replacement-level product can demand a ton of money.
The following eight games are ordinary. Some of them were popular, some of them controversial, and some of them carried absolutely no relevant cultural opinion whatsoever. But through a combination of limited print runs, accidental scarcity, or newfound significance, they have all become incredibly valuable. Yep, even Clayfighter.
The Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak
From the Rare Games Wiki
I've never played The Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak, but I'm going to go out on a limb and say it's probably bad. If you do your research, you'll find a pretty standard slab of NES shuffleware pasted over with Flintstones sprites. There were thousands of games like this in the early '90s. People complain about first-person shooters ruling the roost today, but at least there's options.
When you're limited to an 8-bit processor, all you can really make are pithy action platformers. Dinosaur Park gratuitously borrows from Mega Man II, and occasionally punctuates levels with an inexplicable sports mini-game. I don't know why a Japanese developer was making a Flintstones game with ice hockey in it, but I'm not asking questions.
Today, The Flintstones: The Surprise at Dinosaur Peak is one of the rarest Nintendo games in the world. Sealed copies routinely go for upwards of $US1,000 ($1,338) on eBay, and nobody really knows why. There are rumours that Dinosaur Peak was only available to rent at Blockbuster, which would explain the limited run, but that's never been officially proven.
What we do know is that there are hardly any copies on the open market, and for a fetishized console like the Nintendo Entertainment System, that puts it in high demand.
Yes, it's a video game called Softporn Adventure. Maybe just "porn adventure" wouldn't make it past the censor? I'm not sure.
In the early '80s a ton of pervy text adventures were on the market, but Softporn Adventure stands head and shoulders above the rest because of its amazing cover image of a Burt Bacharach-esque butler standing half-submerged in a hot tub with a bunch of naked ladies. It was actually decently popular! I mean it was gross and stupid, but it had a certain sardonic wit that you couldn't deny. Years later designer Al Lowe encouraged Sierra to build a graphical remake of the game, which was subsequently named Leisure Suit Larry: In the Land of the Lounge Lizards.
Yeah, the first Leisure Suit Larry game — undoubtedly one of the most important releases in the history of interactive entertainment — was entirely lifted from an old, horny Apple II floppy disc called Softporn Adventure. It makes perfect sense, right?
Naturally the historical relevance has made Softporn Adventure pretty pricey. There's a copy on eBay right now asking for $US2,500 ($3,345), and in the past loose Atari 400 versions have moved for $US600 ($803).
NCAA College Basketball 2K3
From the Rare Games wiki
Alright, you're probably confused. How on earth is an officially licensed college basketball game valuable? Well, it's not if you're talking about the PS2 and Xbox versions. But for whatever reason, the Gamecube box fetches a considerable fee on eBay. Sega (rightfully) didn't expect the game to move many copies on the machine people were using to play Luigi's Mansion, so they didn't print many copies.
If you're one of the few who wound up with a box, there's a legion of collectors willing to shell out a couple hundred bucks. Yearly sports games are among the most disposable of products in the industry, so it's nice to think that one of them carries some actual cachet more than a decade later.
Clayfighter: Sculptor's Cut
From the Clayfighter Wiki
I wouldn't expect a re-imagining of Clayfighter any time soon. It was one of many (many!) ill-conceived fighting games, with a central gimmick being that the cast was made out of clay. It gave the game a weird, delirious, 2.5D vibe. In 2016 Clayfighter would probably look visceral and awesome, but that wasn't the case with the choppy polygons of the late '90s.
It was still decently popular, enough to get a sequel called Clayfighter 63 ⅓. Today, when even triple-A titles like Call of Duty are haemorrhaging sales, it's hard to believe that straight-up bizarre ideas like Clayfighter were greenlit by major publishers like Interplay.
Clayfighter's lasting legacy might its collectibility. In 1998, Interplay released a special version of Clayfighter 63 ⅓ called Clayfighter: Sculptor's Cut which was a rental exclusive. The new edition included a few new characters and a couple superfluous gimmicks like extra taunts. Why would you iterate on a game and not sell it to the public? What exactly are you gaining by restricting its release to five-day intervals for bedraggled parents? I don't know, man, the '90s were crazy.
Naturally Clayfighter: Sculptor's Cut's weird limited nature made it incredibly rare, with unpackaged cartridges routinely running for $US500 ($669).
World of Warcraft: Collector's Edition
Image from WoWWiki
Let's be clear: There are a ton of World of Warcraft: Collector's Edition boxes floating around the ether. It's not hard to find people willing to spend money on a fancy pre-order for a Blizzard game. These boxes are worth about $US300 ($401) on the open market, but there's one specific wrinkle that can drive that price up to the thousands. The Collector's Edition came with a scratch-off code redeemable for an in-game pet Zergling, Diablo, or Panda Cub.
As World of Warcraft morphed from popular MMO to life-defining obsession, the price for these vanity items hit the roof. If you've never redeemed the code, you can exchange your Collector's Edition for a high of $US5,500 ($7,359).
It makes me think of all the pre-order bonuses and tiered special editions that accompany every game in 2016. Maybe GameStop exclusive skins will be ridiculous assets in a few years.
Image from StarCraft Wiki
StarCraft 64 might be my favourite curiosity in video game history. The idea of playing a technical real-time strategy game with that chunky, fundamentally broken N64 controller is horrifying, but I suppose we did make it through a generation in split-screen, standard-definition Goldeneye battles with a single analogue stick. We really did put up with a lot in the late-'90s, didn't we?
Anyways, StarCraft 64 was Blizzard's last flirtation with consoles for years before they ported Diablo III to current and last-gen machines, and in the years since it's become pretty rare! It will take you about $US600 ($803) to acquire a factory-sealed copy, and honestly the novelty of seeing a Blizzard logo on a Nintendo box might be worth it.
I'm consistently amazed at how beautiful some of the original Game Boy games are. The idea of coding in black and white on an 8-bit processors is enough to make a programmer cringe in 2016, but developers constantly churned out remarkable titles for the tiny handheld. One of the better games on the Game Boy is Sunsoft's oft-forgotten Trip World, a Kirby-esque platformer where you run around putting flowers on enemies' heads in a peaceful forest.
You could beat it in about 20 minutes, but the vision is impressive. Seriously, go look at it. Weirdly enough, Trip World never got a North American release, which has driven the prices up considerably. Loose cartridges routinely go for $US300 ($401) on the open market, and sealed boxes eclipse $US1000 ($1,338).
Rule of Rose
From the Rule of Rose Wiki
Nothing drives up the price of a video game quite like the ongoing localisation culture wars! Rule of Rose was a Playstation 2 game that was released by Atlus in North America back in 2006. It's your classic mid-decade Japanese survival-horror fare. You control a helpless young woman in a creepy orphanage and deal with looming psychosexual ennui and a bad camera. It was marked by significant controversy when it was gearing up for a European release a few months later.
Culture czar Franco Frattini blustered that the game contained "obscene cruelty and brutality" and looked to reform the PEGI rating system. PEGI later gave the game a standard 16+ and implied that Frattini didn't know what he was talking about, but he kicked up enough dust to prevent the game from getting a release date in the UK.
The funny thing is, Rule of Rose isn't very good, especially when you compare it to Silent Hill 2 or even Siren. But the enduring drama and the limited manufacturing run means that the game fetches a solid $US400 ($535) on eBay. To put that in perspective, your old copy of Manhunt 2 is only worth $US10 ($13).