Discussing The Results Of The Nintendo Playstation Prototype System Auction

March 20, 2020

On March 6, the infamous Nintendo Playstation prototype system crossed the auction block at Heritage Auctions. The system ended up selling for $360,000 including the 20-percent buyer’s premium that Heritage charges. This was well below the original $1 million plus offer the original consigner received before deciding to go the auction route. As a result of the sale, the video game collecting community appears to be divided. After all, this was a heavily advertised and promoted sale, and a lot of collectors in the video game collecting community were either ecstatic at the price received or disappointed because they thought this was going to be the first seven-figure video game collectible. I wanted to give my thoughts on the final value price and why this was never going to be a million-dollar item and what it means for the market now.
I have written before about the historic status of the Nintendo Playstation prototype system. The item was created out of a joint venture between Nintendo and Sony in an effort to create a CD-ROM attachment to the Super Nintendo Entertainment System back in the early 1990s. Unfortunately for Nintendo, Sony caught light of the fact that Nintendo was also cutting a deal with their closest competitor, Philips, and pulled out of the deal. This left Nintendo stunned, and they never did create a CD-ROM device for their coveted Super Nintendo Entertainment System. That didn’t stop Sony from going on to create the Sony Playstation line of systems in 1995. To this day, Sony is one of Nintendo’s fiercest competitors and has even been more prominent in the world of home video gaming than that of Microsoft, makers of the Xbox series of home video game systems. If there ever was a company who wished the history of the Nintendo Playstation could be rewritten, it is definitely Nintendo.
The world of vintage video game collecting for Nintendo and later systems is in a state of mass speculation and confusion at present time. We now have companies who grade and encapsulate video games much like they grade and encapsulate coins and comic books. Thanks in part to the fact that some of these companies are quietly working behind the scenes to manipulate the market for some of these pixilated treasures, vintage video games are incorrectly being seen as financial investments rather than collectibles. Prices are soaring as uneducated speculators enter the market en masse.
When the Nintendo Playstation prototype system was discovered, it is and was believed that this was the only prototype of this system in current form. One-of-a-kind items with no track history of being sold either privately or publicly are extremely hard to appraise and evaluate. I have spoken to many other well-versed antique and collectible enthusiasts, and they have all told me that most likely this item would not get anywhere near the coveted seven-figure mark at auction.
Compounding problems for the outcome of this item was the fact that roughly two weeks before this item was supposed to end, bidding activity popped it up to $420,000 with the 20-percent buyer’s premium included. It was later discovered that perhaps some of those bids were suspect, and Heritage Auctions did the right thing and cancelled those bids. A lot of video game collectors who are not versed in the aspect of auctions or have had any relevant experience in the greater antiques and collectibles trade overall were left stunned. Commentary on video game collecting forums showed that a lot of collectors felt the auction was a bust. After all, the original consigner publically stated that he had a million dollar plus offer and decided to test his luck by taking an item like this to auction instead. His inability to understand the market for an item like this cost him well over $540,000.
Other video game collectors who were monitoring the auction were very pleased with the results. I had more than one collector reach out to me and tell me that had this item sold for under $100,000, then it would be a true disappointment. Personally, I think video game collectors are too concerned with discovering the first seven-figure video game collectible at present time. It almost seems like a lot of collectors and enthusiasts in this collecting category are doing everything they can to legitimatize the market for these items while completely ignoring the fact that the market is already at record highs. I strongly urge collectors who are paying substantial premiums to acquire vintage video games at present time to take a wait and see attitude. I consistently review completed and sold items from Heritage Auctions that deal with WATA graded factory sealed video games. WATA came on the scene just a few years ago and is already the leading third-party grading company of vintage video games.
By comparing the market of vintage video games to that of comic books and coins, you can see that people have been collecting coins and comic books much longer than that of video games. It should also be noted that both comic books and coins have had their fair share of massive speculative bubbles throughout the past several decades. When coin grading appeared in the 1980s, it ushered in a new gold rush (pun intended) for high-grade classic coins. When CGC (Comics Guaranty Corporation) started grading comic books in the early 2000s, the market for vintage comic books caught fire. What most starry eyed speculators fail to realize is that when respectable third-party grading is first introduced to any collecting category, it is generally the worst time one can start speculating in that market because the market is still struggling to stabilize and find its equilibrium.
In conclusion, however you view the results of the Nintendo Playstation prototype auction, collectors need to learn that this auction means very little in the grand scheme of things. Expect other prototype video game systems and games to cross the auction block in the coming years. The winning bidder of the Nintendo Playstation prototype system has already come forward and stated he will be putting it in a video game museum he is designing. I’ll save my thoughts on egocentric collectors who wish to create their own personal museums for an upcoming article. Until that time, just recognize that video game collecting is here to stay, but the prices currently being paid for a lot of these items is not sustainable for the long term. Both coin and comic book speculators can attest to this fact.

Shawn Surmick has been an avid collector since the age of 12. He currently resides in his hometown of Boyertown, Pa., and is a passionate collector of antiques and collectibles. His articles focus on various topics affecting the marketplace.


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