The Nintendo World Championships Cartridge: A Deep Dive


Summary

With the video game collectibles market beginning to expand significantly alongside overall growth in alternative assets, the 1990 Nintendo World Championships (NWC) cartridge is coming back into the limelight.

While the lore and cultural significance of the game is well-known to serious collectors (see: Reddit, YouTube, and Twitter community excitement from previous appearances), ironically, the very uniqueness of the game and its resulting rarity makes it particularly difficult to value from a quantitative lens.

Recent Comparable Games and the Collectible Video Game Market

It is known that 26 gold cartridges of the NWC were distributed to Nintendo Sweepstakes winners, and 90 competition finalists were awarded grey cartridges. However, cartridges were also given to Nintendo employees and it is believed that between 350 – 400 copies were ultimately produced.

‍Of those, there are only two known 9.0 cartridges and the Otis 8.5 offering is the third highest grade known.

Due to the special circumstances of production, and the added scarcity of graded copies in good condition (the cartridge had to travel around the world to reach contestants), the NWC is inherently rarer than other iconic collectible video games. The most well-known vintage video games, like Super Mario Bros., typically derive their cultural significance from consumer popularity and mass gameplay, whereas the Nintendo World Championships game was designed specifically for serious competitors, never intended to be distributed.

“NWC is probably the most classic ‘holy grail’ in the game collecting community. The NES had such a ridiculously important impact on the game industry and on pop culture. A lot of people collect for the system for those reasons (and personal reasons) — and NWC is the most expensive ‘attainable’ game,” said Kelsey Lewin, Pink Gorilla Games Owner and Co-Director of The Video Game History Foundation.

Record Prices for World's Most Expensive Video Game
Sources: Heritage Auctions, Kotaku

Date Price Game Grade Features
7/26/17 $30,000 Super Mario Bros. n/a Hangtab
2/14/19 $100,150 Super Mario Bros. 9.4 A++ Hangtab
7/10/20 $114,000 Super Mario Bros. 9.4 A+ Hangtab
11/20/20 $156,000 Super Mario Bros. 3 9.2 A+ “Bros.” Left, First Production
4/2/21 $660,000 Super Mario Bros. 9.6 A+ Hangtab, 1 Code, Mid-Production

Sources: Heritage Auctions, Kotaku


The scarcity makes the game difficult to directly compare to other video games, but a look at the recent trajectory of record sales can begin to give us a general sense of the market and reference points for range and ceilings of value.

The upward trajectory of the market shown by the record-breakers lends confidence to the potential of any culturally significant collectible video game. Considering NWC in particular relative to this small set of record-breakers, again, the NWC game is scarcer, but it is also not necessarily as well-known or iconic as these popular consumer games.

Still, record-breaking game valuations are typically driven by the scarcity of specifically good-condition variants of the games. The recent record $660,000 Super Mario Bros was deemed “the finest copy known to have been professionally graded for auction” by Wata. Valarie McLeckie, video games director for Heritage Auctions, notes in the same report that “Since the production window for this copy and others like it was so short, finding another copy from this same production run in similar condition would be akin to looking for a single drop of water in an ocean.”

With the Otis copy of the NWC being the third highest grade copy known, we believe that it has the potential to make a similar leap in sale price as the Super Mario Bros. game, relative to its own sale history.

Multiple Analysis from NWC Recent Sales

Of course, it is important to look at directly comparable recent sales in order to better understand the opportunity. However, the sales data for the NWC cartridge is limited, and the recent sales data is even more limited.

Out of the recent sales of the NWC, there is no direct comparable to the cartridge being offered by Otis, as the Otis copy is graded 8.5 while the other two graded copies are 5.0 and 5.5. The rest of the sale cartridges were ungraded.

Recent Sales of NWC Cartridges graph
Sources: Heritage Auctions, Polygon.com, Worthpoint.com, eBay.com

Date Price Grade
2007 $21,400 n/a
2008 $15,000 n/a
2009 $18,000 n/a
7/14/09 $5,173 n/a
10/31/15 $18,000 n/a
7/30/17 $15,000 n/a
5/16/19 $26,400 Wata 5.5
11/20/20 $52,800 Wata 5.0

Sources: Heritage Auctions,Polygon.com,Worthpoint.com


In addition to grey cartridge sales, an ungraded gold copy was sold in 2014 for $100,088.00 on eBay and there is currently a Wata 5.0 Gold copy listed on eBay for $1.0M. The gold copy is more scarce with only 26 copies being awarded, contributing to its high price tag despite the low grade.

Given the limited recent sales data, the closest comp is the Wata 8.0 currently being auctioned by Heritage Auction, with the current bid as of July 1st at $93,000, with 7 days remaining in the auction. Auctions typically see a flurry of last minute bids, thus we expect this price to continue climbing. The cartridge was previously traded for a Tom Brady Rookie card that sold for almost $556,000 this year.

To extrapolate from the Wata 8.0, Otis also looked at a small sample of recent video game sales of the same grade occuring within the same few months:

A Super Mario Land 8.0 A+, Later Production sold on April 5, 2021 for $4,680.00 and the same game graded 8.5 A+, First Production had sold a few months prior (January 15, 2021) for $26,400.00, yielding a multiple of 5.6.

A Pokemon Yellow 8.0 A+ Early Production (“Pixel E”, 83% Fiber, Y-Fold, Early Production) sold on March 6, 2020 for $1500.00, and the same game graded 8.5 A+, also Pixel ESRB, Early Production, sold on January 15, 2021 for $6,600, yielding a multiple of 4.4

We thus calculate an average multiple of ~5.0x between 8.0 and 8.5 grades. With the current Heritage Auctions bid on the Wata 8.0 at $93k, this would imply a $465k value to the Otis asset.

Conclusion

Recent appreciation seen in the collectible video games market gives us baseline confidence that the value of the NWC cartridge will continue to appreciate in line with the market, as observed in recent sale records.

‍The NWC’s “grail” status leads us to believe that the trajectory of the cartridge’s value has the potential to follow that of the recent most valuable games.

‍Finally, we triangulate further with two data points based on the 8.0 graded NWC currently at auction. First, noting that the cartridge was traded for a rookie card asset that recently sold for $556k, then running a multiple analysis at the current bid, we conclude that it is reasonable to assume a valuation for the Otis asset in the range of $465k – 556k.

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