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Cash in the Attic: the Life of a Retro Dealer 17.07.17

Fran*, 35, lives in suburban Dublin these days. He gave up his homeland of Catalonia over a decade ago but doesn’t regret a thing. After all, he met his girlfriend here and Ireland’s appetite for gaming, young population and tiny dwellings make for a retro dealer’s paradise.

“I started playing games on a Nintendo (NES) but I didn’t play many games because they were very expensive. But then I got a Sega Mega Drive, I started to make a little collection with my cousin. We had around 40 games, including some Japanese games like Strider. And I still have this at home - I don’t want to sell that one.”

The virtue of renting games wasn’t lost on the mainland: “Renting was great because you finish a game over a weekend and it was much less risky than buying one. The Mega Drive was definitely the strongest console to get me into gaming because of the rental market.”

We then talk business or specifically, what made Fran a full-time retro dealer/part-time photographer. “It’s a funny story because it was like an accident. I wanted to give a collection of games to my little cousin about 4,5 maybe 6 years ago, he had a PS3 which was popular at the time. So I started to look into prices of PS3 games and going backwards and realised there was a market for old games.”

Fran’s train of thought didn’t stop there. “So I started to study the different markets, America, Europe, Australia etc to observe prices and tastes. I was aware of the different TV standards and region locking so I knew, for instance that Australia uses the same standard (PAL) as we do and games didn’t sell very well there back then because of high prices - this was a good place to sell retro games.”

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“And I noticed a few other things like the game’s value bottoms out after a few years, it then increases quickly (relatively speaking) until it reaches 20 or 25 years old, like ‘vintage’ - then if it’s in good condition and boxed, it can be worth more than it was new and sometimes, a lot more.”

“This was before the boom that started in retro games. Now, GameStop and CeX have started to sell old consoles. In America, GameStop are dealing in GameBoy games which they haven’t started here yet.”

All of this slowly gave Fran his lightbulb moment. He could probably make a living exploiting people’s childhoods - but in a good way. “All I needed was to invest a little money and be a little patient - when I started to see a profit, I knew it was something I could do professionally.”

Fran began his collection in what was then last-gen games - at the very bottom of the value. “I started with GameCube, the games were only a few years old and were available second-hand everywhere. I used the money I made to buy older items with higher values like Nintendo 64 and Super Nintendo.”

Fran shows me the highlights of his collection. He is most proud of his ‘steals’, disencumbering faceless retro trading corporations of their overlooked treasures - U.Four.ia for NES set him back €10, it’s worth €150.

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Dragon Blaze for PS2 was similarly picked up in a chain store for €10, eBay currently has 18 people circling over a copy at €170. Postage not included.

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He is also a bit romantic about it all - his collection includes rare items that he may never find a value for, much less be able to sell. One such item is a ‘memory card emulator’ for Nintendo GameCube which was a developers-only tool he happened upon while working in the industry a few years ago.

Despite his buy-low, sell-high philosophy, his own nostalgia influenced another pride and joy. A boxed late-life Super Nintendo with Donkey Kong Country - he paid €250 but the lure of his primate childhood friend and the promise of a little profit in the process made him trump up the cash.

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Fran’s collection is neatly packed in almost every nook and cranny of his home. He has multiple copies of certain games waiting to mature in storage containers, on shelves or in drawers. I ask him what his collection is worth and his eyes widen with contemplation. “I have never really thought about the entire thing, more about what is popular or unpopular or will fetch a good price but I would say the very, very least would be €10,000.” I suggest an alias, he laughs and accepts.

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I ask Fran for some advice for readers who have come across a potential treasure trove of retro games or consoles. “Three things. Give them as a gift to somebody, tidy them up and sell them, preferably online after consulting Google to see what they are worth or keep them, start collecting. Whatever you do, don't leave them in your attic to rot.”

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“If you decide to collect, great. Get to know Google, Google is your friend.” He chuckles. “Atari, Nintendo, Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 games came in cardboard boxes so you can buy box protectors online for about a euro each in sets of 25 or 50 - you need these.”

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“Older is usually better but tastes change so sometimes you have to wait for something to come back into fashion. Boxed games are worth double, at least. If you have a collection of boxed games from a single franchise, it can be worth more together. There are sometimes opportunities to buy empty boxes for games but it’s rare so buy them when you see them. If you can’t easily find info online and the game is not expensive, buy it now - it is almost definitely worth a lot of money.”

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“For me, the best bargains come from jumble sales, car boot sales and charity shops. Always keep an eye out for these - they are cheap and always a great place to start collecting from.”

“Retrocollect.com is great for anything to do with retro collecting. You can talk to dealers and collectors, network and get advice. They have a database of games to check what is selling and for how much.”

*Fran is not his real name.