Japan Vintage Video Games Growing in Popularity Among Youngsters, Foreigners

The Yomiuri Shimbun
A vintage video game shop in Osaka

Japanese video game consoles and software from the 1980s and ’90s are shooting up in price, with some software titles that originally sold for around ¥5,000 now going for upwards of tens of thousands of yen on the second-hand market.

There has been up sharp uptick in purchases by foreigners who grew up playing the games, and interest has swelled among Japan youngsters, too, thanks to the current “retro boom.” Some people are even starting to view old software titles as an investment opportunity.

Game Tanteidan, an Osaka-based store that specializes in vintage computer games and hardware, stocks around 10,000 items, including original Nintendo Entertainment Systems — known as “Family Computers” in Japan — home-use video game console that was introduced in 1983.

On Feb. 3, a 41-year-old systems engineer from Kuwait visited the outlet and purchased several software titles, noting that — in his experience — it was only possible to find such old-school games in Japan. He said the old titles reminded him of his childhood and made him feel nostalgic, adding that he never gets tired of playing them.

Currently, around half the store’s customers are foreign. “The games are very popular among overseas visitors, and we expect even more people to snap up our products in the future,” a staffer said.

‘Retro-boom’ tailwind

Some of the store’s products are more expensive than others. For example, Nintendo’s Game & Watch handheld game consoles and many NES software titles sell for between ¥10,000 and ¥40,000. Popular hit series titles — such as “The Legend of Zelda” and “Dragon Quest” role-playing games — remain relatively inexpensive, but it is not unusual for limited edition software to sell for around ¥100,000. Customers have been known to even fork out several hundred thousands of yen to get their hands on certain game-related items.

Vintage games are increasing sold via internet auction, where transactions are mainly conducted between individuals.

According to Tokyo-based Aucfan Co., which operates a search site for auction information, the average winning bid for NES software in January 2020 was ¥2,328 yen, but this figure had soared to ¥3,969 by January this year — an about 70% increase.

The recent “retro boom” is believed to be among the reasons for the soaring prices: Due to the coronavirus pandemic, people spent more time at home, which gave rise to increased interest among young people in vintage video games available online. The popularity of such games has risen markedly. “[The games are] simple, but difficult to complete,” wrote one internet user.

Investment opportunity

Some observers say the recent rise in prices has led speculators to purchase vintage video equipment and games as a potential investment. “There are many collectors among vintage game fans, and it’s possible they’re buying retro games because they see them as assets that will increase in value over time,” said a Bunseki Koho Laboratory analyst familiar with market distribution.

The rising prices of old hardware and software have attracted the attention of counterfeiters, too. In Japan, a man was arrested for selling an unofficial game console containing NES game titles via the internet.

A staffer at a used game retailer said, “Recently, increasingly elaborate counterfeit products are being brought into the shop.” Meanwhile, some within in the industry have expressed concerns about the vintage video game market overheating.