10 Tips for buying retro games on eBay!

Looking at prices for retro games and memorabilia on eBay right now, I know I’m not the only one trying to buy some comfort in video game form! Though eBay isn’t usually the cheapest option, it’s very convenient, especially when you’re stuck at home. I’ve managed to find quite a few great deals shopping on the site recently. It just requires a bit of patience and strategy!  Here are 10 tips for buying retro games on eBay that I’ve found very helpful as a collector of many years.

1. Research going values ahead of time

You’re going to want to know roughly how much the game or game-related item you’re looking for is generally selling at. I use PriceCharting! It aggregates completed sales from eBay and Amazon for different conditions of items even charts the change over time. It’s not perfect, but it’s a valuable start (you can also search recently “completed” items on eBay itself for a more updated idea).

Castlevania Aria of Sorrow box art, cart, and manual
I knew the Aria of Sorrow box was just going to be too expensive. I’m glad we have Custom Game Cases!

2. Try a variety of search terms

Not everyone selling games knows what “CIB” or “complete” means! Some sellers may just use the name of the game alone, or add words like “box” or “case”. “Instructions”, “manual” and “booklet” are often used interchangeably. Try synonyms! And be sure to search both very general and very specific criteria-a lot of sellers don’t list the full subtitles for games (like “A Link to the Past“) or gaming items!

Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga box art, cart, manual, and Nintendo Power player's guide
This guide for Mario & Luigi Superstar Saga wasn’t in the title for the listing but was included in the auction! I see this happen with box inserts a lot too.

3. Auctions are almost always the way to go

It’ll require more time and patience, but you can nearly always snag a better deal if you’re bidding rather than “buying it now”. Resist the urge to bid early, and set an alarm if you need help remembering when the auction ends!

Nintendo Power Link to the Past and Link's Awakening Covers
My Nintendo Power subscription was primarily through the N64 era, but I wanted the cover issues of earlier Zelda game releases since it’s my favorite series! I got both of these in a single auction at a great price.

4. Look for auctions that end during “business hours” on weekdays

Especially in the morning! A lot of folks collecting retro games seem to surf the internet towards the end of the work day, in the evenings, and on weekends.  But weekday morning auctions (roughly 8am-11am) attract very few bids in my experience-I’ve gotten some absolute steals!  Again, set an alarm-you’re more than likely busy during this time too.

Nintendo Power Guide for Metroid Fusion and Metroid Zero Mission
No one else even bid on this awesome set of Nintendo Power guides for the Metroid GBA games-the auction ended just before 10am!

5. Carefully evaluate item condition

This is where buying online as opposed to a local store can get tricky. I’ve found there is often a mismatch between the condition that sellers list and and what collectors would evaluate an item at! Use a big screen (not just your phone) to thoroughly inspect your item and check for authenticity. Read the detailed description (double check what’s actually included) as well as the return policy. Don’t be afraid to ask follow up questions, especially if there is only one photo or if the seller’s feedback score is less than stellar! Remember that even if a cart is rough shape, you can often clean it yourself, and save money in the process.

Fire Emblem Path of Radiance with Nintendo Power Player's guide
GameCube collecting is out of control right now. Take extra time to inspect itemsthis might be the most important of tips for buying retro games on eBay!

6. Decide on a spending limit

This should happen after you’ve evaluated the item condition. It is crucially important that you know the limit of what you’re willing to spend on an auction ahead of its end time!  And check what other sellers are listing as a “Buy it Now” price.  I’ve occasionally seen an auction skyrocket past the Buy it Now prices for the same item of equivalent, if not better, condition!

Zelda Hand Drawn Game Guide, NES cart, and NES controller
There are so many original Legend of Zelda carts on eBay! Having a set price limit helped me navigate all the auctions.

7. Put your “final bid” in with 3 seconds to go

Pretty self-explanatory! I’ve found this is the sweet spot of not cutting it too close but still giving you a pretty nice edge in the final bid. Ride the wave of adrenaline!

Gauntlet Legends N64 Box, Manual, and Cartridge
I managed to get in a winning bid at the last second to win this excellent condition, complete copy of the underrated Gauntlet Legends. And for quite a bit less than the PriceCharting value!

8. Always bid a little above an even dollar amount

For example, instead of bidding $30 even, I’ll bid $30.79. Or better yet, something like $31.29. This sounds unnecessary, but it may give you that ever-so-slight edge you need to outbid someone making a similar last-second bid!

9. Give new sellers a chance!

It’s tempting to go with a “tried and true” seller to ensure you’re getting a fair and authentic deal. Yet I’ve found a good amount of success with sellers new to the game (pun intended!).  They generally list games at a lower price in order to help bolster their own feedback, and you can capitalize on that!  Of course, do your homework to ensure they’re accurately describing the item and that it’s authentic (see tip #5). There are several references online to help too!

Hylian Shield 2DS XL
The Hylian Shield 2DS XL is one of my favorite items in my collection. It took a lot of patience, but I eventually got it from a new seller who had incredibly reasonable starting bids for a lot of high quality items!

And do be sure to leave a positive review afterwards (as long as the seller earned it) to help get their storefront going!

10. Keep items that have an “or best offer” option in your watchlist

If an item simply isn’t selling, there’s a good chance you can get it for less than asking price!  Don’t get greedy/crazy with what you offer-I’d generally suggest no more than 20% below the asked price, unless it’s completely absurd.  Sellers will also sometimes take the initiative to send fairly generous offers for discounts that are valid for 48 hours!

Jungle Green N64 Funtastic Controller
A seller offered me this awesome Jungle Green controller with an OEM controller pak for more than 20% off!

Bonus tip for buying retro games on eBay:

Have a detailed question about an item? Want to see if they’ll combine shipping? Or maybe you make an offer even though there’s no option for “best offer”? Send a kindly worded message to the seller! I always try to be as enthusiastic and kind as I can (that’s my personality anyway-you can see how many exclamation points are in my posts!). Sometimes sellers won’t message back or aren’t interested in any sort of deal, but I’ve found the vast majority of them are willing to help you out in at least some capacity. I recently was able to get this amazingly high quality guide for Ocarina of Time from a local seller who helped me out with shipping:

Ocarina of Time Nintendo Power Player's Guide
I never owned this when the game came out. It’s now a very special part of my collection.

Have you had success with any of these suggestions? Do you have additional tips for buying retro games on eBay? Or some awesome success stories? Please share in the comments below!

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