Technically speaking, video games have always been collector items. If you go through the stacks, you can find some faint headlines from the early 2000s about some niche archivists exchanging about $20,000 for, say, a particularly rare Nintendo game. It was a hobby for the hobbyists; never to cross over into the ubiquity of baseball cards or vintage hot rods. At least, that’s what we always thought.
Yet, over the last two years, the video game investor sector has significantly grown. $20,000 auctions morphed into $200,000 auctions. The cause? A combination of the collector boom writ large, and a very specific desire among the world’s elder millennials to treat interactive entertainment like the art form it is. In a world where Mario can compete with Honus Wagner, everything is on the table. Read our list of the 10 most expensive video games below, and get up to speed before it’s too late.
(1) Super Mario Bros. — $2,000,000
Typically, the most expensive video game in a franchise tends to be the first one that bears its name. That is true for Super Mario Bros, the most iconic video game that features the industry’s most iconic character, which sold for a whopping $2 million at auction. Yes the numbers will keep getting higher, but as far as historical esteem goes, nothing will ever supersede the original.
(2) Super Mario 64 — $1,560,000
Super Mario 64 permanently changed video games, offering basic grammar to every developer that came afterwards. From the ultra-precise controls, to the labyrinthine hubworld and the instantly iconic cast of characters, game studios have all been trying to replicate the magic of Peach’s castle since 1996. $1.5 million is a lot to pay for a video game, but given the pedigree, Super Mario 64 is a worthy asset.
(3) The Legend of Zelda — $870,000
I don’t know if anyone can recommend playing the first Legend of Zelda in 2021. It’s confusing, punishing, rife with old-fashioned scruples, and was quickly outpaced by the future games in the series. All that said, this is the beginning of one of the most hallowed franchises in video game history. No surprise it clocks in at nearly a million dollars.
(4) Super Mario World — $360,000
Super Mario World doesn’t quite possess the cachet as Super Mario 64, but the plumber’s first appearance on the Super Nintendo remains a consensus Greatest Game of All Time. The company’s level design is, as always, immaculate, but World also contains the first appearance of Yoshi — who would quickly go down as one of the most beloved characters in the Nintendo canon. Collector items need to bridge the gap between quality and historical significance, and Super Mario World has both in spades.
(5) The Legend of Zelda: Ocarina of Time — $228,000
No surprises here. Ocarina of Time was the first Zelda adventure set in 3D, and it’s frequently cited as one of the greatest video games of all time. Hyrule looked beautiful on the modest Nintendo 64 graphics card, and the control design was so airtight that now, more than 20 years later, developers everywhere are still relying on the Ocarina formula to find their true north.
(6) Final Fantasy — $204,000
A fun fact: Final Fantasy was supposed to be the last game Square ever made. The developers thought the company was going out of business, and as the name implies, Final Fantasy was intended to be the swan song. That didn’t happen, of course. Final Fantasy is now one of the most prolific brands in all of video games — ranging from movies, TV shows, comic books, and beyond. It was all thanks to this humble little NES game, which has since become truly immortal.
(7) Nintendo World Championship — $180,000
This was the first world-famous rare video game. In 1990, Nintendo hosted one of the first major esports tournaments. Kids from around America traveled to Universal Studios in Hollywood to establish, once and for all, who was the best Super Mario Bros. 3 player in the world. Participants received this strange Nintendo World Championship cartridge as a prize. It’s fairly modest — containing only a slew of NES games, edited down to fit the competition time limits — but naturally, the scarcity immediately made them a hot collector’s item.
(8) Tomb Raider — $144,000
Tomb Raider was legitimately groundbreaking. Here was an action-adventure game released in the late ’90s — an era where the industry was elbow-deep in a growing diversity problem — that stars a capable, deadly dungeoneer. Lara Croft has since been immortalized as a feminist icon in the gaming community writ large, so it’s no surprise that her original PS1 debut is racking up collector value.
(9) Contra — $150,000
Is Contra the hardest game of all time? Plenty of traumatized gamers would say so. The first level is filled with stray bullets that will immediately turn your lowly marines into a pulp, and it only gets more treacherous from there. Talk to any lapsed Gen Xer; they’ll remember the scars left by Contra, and its infamous reputation adds up to a healthy $150,000.
(10) Pokémon Red Version — $132,000
Pokémon was a phenomenon. As soon as those pocket monsters made landfall in America, the nation was subsumed with trading cards, Saturday morning cartoons, and of course, the dueling Pokémon Red Version and Blue Version — which are still the most iconic games to ever hit the Game Boy. Decades later, Pokémon continues to dictate pop culture. It feels like every couple of months we all experience a fresh wave of Pokemania, (remember Pokémon Go?) That’s enough momentum to push Red Version above the $100,000 mark.