The Best Time to Collect Gaming Hardware (and software)

I just bought a PS VR in 2022. I paid under 100 dollars for it, and it came with 2 move controllers. It was, in fact, the same package Sony still sells on their website for 350 dollars. It was a deal, I have to say, because it’s a great piece of tech and the exclusives for it are unique and fun, and though it was a used piece of equipment, it was barely touched. I like to collect unique tech, especially gaming tech when I can, and timing can make that a whole lot easier when it comes to my bank account. The timing is part of a pattern I noticed way back in the 1990s.

Flashback to 1996. Everyone is hyped over the PlayStation, the Nintendo 64 (with its imminent launch in North America), and the Sega Saturn. Flashy new 3D graphics are getting all the attention, and every kid is talking during lunch about the latest PS1 game they want.

I didn’t have one of these consoles at launch. By 1996 I was more on the PC side of things, but I still had my SNES and my NES, and I found that everyone was rushing to dump their old consoles to get some cash for new PlayStation and Nintendo 64 games. Games that initially cost 60 or 70 dollars could be had for 5 or 10 at a garage sale. Blockbuster was liquidating their old stock of Genesis and SNES cartridges at every store at a steep discount. Buy one get one was common. It became a pattern I noticed repeating over and over, with each successive console launch.

1997, oddly was when I started to get into RPGs, and it was cheap SNES titles bought with my lunch money that did it, not Final Fantasy VII. That interest carried over into the PC space as well, but it was a great time to be off the bleeding edge of console gaming. The superiority of PC graphics helped me with perspective on the PS1 generation as well. I wasn’t as wowed by the choppy, low-res, low-poly environments of the new consoles as my peers, having similar or better things on the more robust (and expensive) computer. I did notice that the new games were often not as fun as the old ones, or at least the old games were just as much fun to play as the new ones. And the old games were dirt cheap.

With that in mind, there are two great times to buy console hardware:

  1. Right when the console launches, or
  2. When the console is fading, either right before or right after the launch of its successors.

If you buy a console right when it comes out, when you can enjoy the hype of new technology and can use the hardware through its entire life cycle. There’s a tacit promise with consoles that you, the user, will be able to buy functional and optimized software for it for several years before publishing ceases. It’s a selling point of consoles I never see mentioned, but I think that’s the big value of the buy-in with the “obsolescence” cycle.

On the other side, buying during the fading of the cycle is where you can maximize your value, even more so if you understand that consoles don’t actually become “obsolete,” and games don’t stop being fun just because new hardware with more capabilities comes out. A good game in 1994 is going to be a good game in 2022. So, in terms of fun for your dollar, the time to buy is later, when users are wanting to dump their hardware and games, and when stores discount unsold inventory to prep for the next big thing.

People big into the hobby can always do both: buy the new console at launch, then buy the competing or handheld hardware during the last part of its software cycle.

There are a few reasons why I think its best to buy at the end of the console’s cycle rather than even later:

First, after a certain amount of time a console enters the retro collecting space, at which time both hardware and software can get significantly more expensive. Right now, backwards-compatible PS3s are holding their value, and are certainly more valuable than they were for the years surrounding the launch of the PS4. 60GB of hard drive space was undesirable, and playing old games wasn’t on the average gamer’s list of needs, but now it’s quite cheap to swap the hard drive (even for an SSD) and the ability to play PS2 and PS1 games on a modern display without a bunch of extra scaling and filtering hardware is highly desirable. I got my PS3 for a hundred dollars and it came with a tall stack of games.

Second, when you buy at the end of the console’s lifecycle, you can get many components, including the console itself, both cheap and new. I have a small cache of new PS3 games still in their wrappers waiting to be played, bought for a few dollars each, and I could probably resell them for at least what I paid if I wanted to. Many times, console accessories (like the Move, or various consoles’ light guns) are liquidated at bargain prices, which means the cost of the novelty is very low. That’s why I bought the PSVR. For many, the novelty of virtually reality wore off quickly, but early buyers paid many times more for the opportunity than I did. This strategy was how I bought the Wii U (which has turned out to be my favorite Nintendo console, bar the SNES), the 3DS, the PSVita, the PS3 (as I mentioned), and the GameCube. There wasn’t a big reason to have a Gamecube and a PS2, but at a low price, all the cool stuff on the GameCube, exclusives like Windwaker or Final Fantasy Chrystal Chronicles with Gameboy Advance connectivity, was suddenly much cooler.

As third reason, consider the available stock of both hardware and games as time goes forward. Old consoles still circulate, but their reliability begins to wane. When you buy a new console, you’re the sole owner of it and know how it’s been treated. A used console that is still near the original cycle you can guess will have been treated reasonably since it was useful. When you pick up an original NES in 2022 the history of the console is uncertain. Has it been sitting in an attic for 20 years collecting dust while its caps leaked everywhere, or has it been kept in an air-conditioned space? There is certainly no shortage of NES consoles, but ones that are 100% reliable? Not as much. Consider there is at least one fellow who makes his living making guitars out of old, broken NES machines. This goes for games as well.

But why buy old hardware at all? Newer hardware is capable of doing so much more, playing old games at higher framerates or emulating old machines. And then there are all the HD or 4k remasters of old titles. Why would anyone bother with original hardware?

Emulation has come a long way over the last 20 years, that is true, but there are many reasons to look for original hardware and games. Emulation isn’t always completely accurate, and new systems don’t have 100% backward compatibility. The strange architecture of the PS3 was, until recently, a good example of why original hardware is useful. Many games were “stuck” on the PS3 because nobody had bothered to port them to newer systems.

 Many of the peripherals of the past cannot be emulated. Take the NES light gun, for example. That requires original the gun, the system, AND a display from the period to function. If you want to know what Duck Hunt or Gotcha really is, you can’t just fire up an emulator on your PC. Even newer things, like the PS move, require the original hardware to work correctly, even though PS3 emulation has become accurate and fast on modern computers.

There are also consoles, like the Wii, Wii U, and 3DS, whose libraries rely on the design of the hardware itself. While a great deal of the Wii U library was ported to Switch (and I believe responsible for some of its success), titles that use the gamepad screen in tandem with the TV don’t really work on any modern system. The 3DS utilizes 3D and dual screens, which means emulating its library with the intended effect of the original games is nearly impossible. Those design decisions are what made the hardware originally unique and worth purchasing, therefore anyone wanting to dabble in their libraries would do best to do so on the correct hardware.

Paying attention to this cycle is how I’ve managed to collect as many systems and games as I have without losing a lot of money. I usually try to stay current with one thing, which right now is PS5, so I can play any new games that really excite me, but I find that I tend to explore older games just as much, if not more. Just because a game is older or has simpler graphics doesn’t mean its less fun and therefore not worth your time.

PSVR is one of these things, something between a system and a peripheral, and at the tail end of its own cycle crossing the PS4 and PS5 generations. Of the people who originally bought it, many have moved past the novelty and lost interest. Sony itself sells it with more peripherals (move controllers, namely) and at a lower price than release. Most of the games are on clearance for physical copies and their digital versions are frequently on deep discount. The PSVR 2 (or whatever they end up calling it) has already been announced, but is coming likely in 2023, which means that there is still a year of relevancy for the original hardware. It’s a good time to buy. I don’t know how many games will end up being exclusive to the original (probably not many), but it’s a bargain to have a fully-functioning (and it does function well) VR setup for 100 dollars with lots of cheap games available right now, plus the possibility of a large library if/when I ever get the next gen.

So far, the games are plenty of fun, and in the end, that’s what matters the most. Plus, it looks cool on my shelf.

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