Image provided by Byuu.
Byuu, a revered SNES emulator developer and game archivist, had a plan. With the help of an avid collector from Europe, he would archive hundreds of SNES games, some of which are exceedingly rare. Unfortunately, that plan recently hit the skids when a package worth thousands of dollars went missing in the mail.
Byuu's goal was to digitally preserve all games ever released for the SNES, regardless of region. "I have already purchased all 725 SNES games sold in the USA," he wrote. "This set me back well over $US10,000 ($12,987). After preserving this set, I sold it and used the proceeds, plus an additional $US10,000 ($12,987) of my own money, to purchase all 1450 games sold in Japan." (We reported on one of his sales a while back, and it appears to have gone off without a hitch.)
Obtaining and archiving all games from PAL regions (Asia, Africa, Europe, South America, and Oceania) was the obvious next step, but Byuu was low on money from buying so many other games. He planned to receive hundreds of games from a European collector who goes by the handle Smarthuman, 100 at a time, and then send them back once he was done archiving. They encountered no problems with the first shipment. The process took ten days, something I was able to verify via USPS tracking information Byuu provided me. The second, however, appears to be gone for good.
"On January 5th, a package containing 100 PAL games were [sic] sent to me to dump [into a digital format]," Byuu wrote in a post on his message board. "The United States Postal Service has either stolen or lost this package. Most likely the former."
In a separate post, Byuu alleged that he did everything he could to locate the package, from calling USPS and visiting his local post office in Ohio to reaching out to friends and social media contacts in Jersey City, where the package suddenly stopped, according to tracking info Byuu provided me. "Regardless," Byuu added, "this much is certain: the SNES preservation project is officially and permanently dead."
The package, which Smarthuman sent to Byuu, contained 100 games. Byuu told me the total value of those PAL cartridges is somewhere in the neighbourhood of $US7,500-$US10,000 ($9,740-$12,987), in part because PAL games are most valuable of all regions to collectors. The most costly among them were Castlevania IV, Castlevania: Vampire's Kiss, First Samurai, The Firemen, Demon's Crest, Mega Man 7, Mega Man X, Mega Man X2, Mega Man X3, Ninja Warriors, and Incantation. "Perhaps someone will catch them going up on eBay or popping up in a local New Jersey used game store," Byuu told me via email. "[You] never know."
These games were especially valuable because, as Eurogamer points out, many of the SNES ROMs in wide circulation have been edited in some way. Even some of the games on Nintendo's own Virtual Console are copies or revisions, rather than the original article. There are also bad dumps out there with piracy groups' names in them, corrupted sprites, and other issues.
Byuu wanted to do things right. Now he probably won't be able to complete his project at all. His main focus, at this point, is getting the package back. Failing that, he plans to reimburse Smarthuman by setting aside money from his paychecks. He said he might start a funding drive of some sort, but he's not sure yet. "I also want to be clear, the donor never asked for reimbursement upon loss," said Byuu. "It was my decision and it's going to happen, because I can't live with myself if it doesn't."
I reached out to USPS for comment on the incident, but as of writing they had yet to reply.
While Byuu feels like USPS is mostly to blame, he confesses that he and Smarthuman could've done a little more to try and end up safe, rather than sorry. They didn't split up the deliveries in such a way that they could insure packages for their full value, and Byuu's kicking himself for that.
"Obviously, it should have been insured for the full value," said Byuu. "But please understand that hindsight is 20/20. The sender chose the insurance amount, and had no reason to suspect the package would be lost, and that we would be given no help on the matter. It's not unreasonable to believe a mail carrier would try to avoid the need to pay out 1,000 Euros worth of insurance by not losing said package."
Byuu's offering a cash bounty to anyone who locates the package for him, but even if it does turn up, his project is over. He's done putting other people's collections on the line. "It was a terrible mistake have him trust the mail system," he said. "I'm not going to risk anyone else's games like that again."