I don’t think there’s been a video game-related list this highly anticipated since the 1996 Christmas lists of N64-hungry kids.
But it’s here.
After months – really years – of asking, wondering, questioning, pleading, and even accusing, the video game collecting community has finally received an early holiday gift: WATA has released a population report.
The report, revealed with a host of qualifiers on future improvements and additions, includes only NES games to start and does not feature seal ratings at this time. And while the report will do little to quiet the biggest skeptics, it is nonetheless our first look at grading data for the space.
Here’s the macro picture. WATA’s report includes 778 different NES titles and a grand total of 8019 total graded games.
The most graded games, in order, are Super Mario Bros 3, with 234, Super Mario Bros, with 154, The Legend of Zelda, with 125, Super Mario Bros 2, with 116, and Friday the 13th, with 105. Together, they account for approximately 9% of the total graded NES population. The vast majority of titles have less than 20 graded copies: 681 titles or 88% of the 778 total.
There is, of course, a selection bias in grading of any kind. Generally, collectors prioritize grading items that will have the most value. For example, Michael Jordan’s rookie card alone accounts for 7% of the total PSA graded 1986 Fleer population.
It’s worth noting that this report only encompasses the very early days of a still nascent collecting hobby. With greater mainstream attention, these populations will surely continue to grow. That’s especially true of more common variants. While the most dedicated and fervent collectors have likely gone to great lengths to locate and surface the rarest grails, the matte sticker hangtabs of the world for example, there’s no telling what will be surfaced and in what volume as new collectors join the space. Could this just be the tip of the iceberg for a game like an Oval SOQ Super Mario Bros 3? It’s possible, and just a reminder that these population totals are not static.
In this initial report, WATA has bucketed all grades below 6.5 together. The distribution of grades across the total population looks like this.
64% of all graded games are graded 9.0 or higher. There are almost twice as many games graded 9.8 (6.6% of the population) than all games below 6.5 (3.4%). The most common grade is a 9.4, accounting for over 21% of the total population. While populations should of course be evaluated on a game-by-game and variant-by-variant basis, this distribution broadly underscores the importance of owning at the highest end of the grading spectrum, as the simple appearance of a “9” at the front of a score does not necessarily denote any real scarcity.
But how does this grading skew compare to other types of assets from a similar era? Sticking with the 1986 Fleer example from earlier, 84% of that population is graded an 8 or higher. 40% is a nine or higher. Of course, cards don’t have 9.2, 9.4, 9.6, and 9.8 grades, but the distribution is not terribly dissimilar, and only 6% of the population is graded 6 or lower.
Or for an asset with a similar grading scale, let’s look at the CGC census of the first issue of Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles. Here, 41% of the population is graded nine or higher. 66% of the population is graded 8 or higher, and a larger proportion of the population, 10%, is graded 6 and below.
The WATA population does skew higher which may suggest either a grading bias or a selection bias, which again results from prioritizing submissions that are more likely to attain greater value.
So, how have the fractional platforms done in selecting assets? Generally speaking, as of today, most assets are in a pretty strong position of scarcity, both in terms of variant and grade. There are, of course, a few games that will raise eyebrows and may lead investors to reconsider their positions, and others where the scarcity wasn’t fully appreciated to date.
Let’s get into it.
Commentary: There are three earlier variants of this game than the Otis copy: Hangtab, Rev-A Round SOQ, and Rev-A Oval SOQ TM. Those three earlier variants combine for 40 graded games.
Commentary: Otis’s game truly does appear to be in rare company. The No Rev-A Round SOQ is the earliest variant graded, and accounts for just three games of the total 58 game population. No game of the same variant is graded higher than the Otis copy.
Commentary: Unfortunately, the WATA report does not provide any color on the different variants of Contra, offering just a top line number. However, that may be because there is just the one Round SOQ, Rev-A variant. To date, no other version has been sold at Heritage.
Commentary: There are six variants listed in the WATA report; of those six, three are earlier than the Otis copy. Those three combine for a population of 23. There are 128 graded copies of games of later variants than the Otis copy, comprising the majority of the 157 game population.
Commentary: The Otis variant is the second most common – but the most common with 19 copies is the earlier Oval SOQ TM variant. There are just 4 9.8s in the total population. Seal grade, when released, may be handy here, but one of the other 9.8s is known from Heritage sales to be only 9.8, A+.
Commentary: No additional variant info necessary here. The Otis copy ranks among the top three games graded, and again, at least one of those games is graded 9.8 A+, coming up shy of the Otis game on seal grade.
Commentary: Otis’s game is of the earliest variant listed on the WATA report, which is also the most common, accounting for approximately half of the total population.
Commentary: There are four earlier variants than the Otis copy, each of which has just one game graded. The Round SOQ and Oval SOQ variants account for 23 of the 27 total graded games, and there is no Oval SOQ graded higher than 9.4. Otis’s game is the lone 9.8 in the population.
Commentary: Super Mario Bros 3 is the most graded game in the report, and the Otis variant is the most graded variant. The two earlier variants have a total population of 26. “Bros” Left is indeed a relative rarity, at just 16 games of the 237 total population.
Commentary: Rally’s copy is in the second earliest variant on the report, which is less common than the Oval SOQ TM variant. Still, with 19 graded copies and 6 copies in the same grade, that scarcity pales in comparison to the No Rev-A variant.
Commentary: There are two earlier variants than Rally’s on the report (TM and R) which account for just seven copies. The Round SOQ variant remains much less common than Oval counterparts, and Rally’s game sits at the top of that stack. The record setting $870k sale in July was for the highest graded “R” variant at a 9.0. An even earlier print, the “TM” variant, sold for $705k in October, though that 8.0 has two higher graded copies sitting above it.
Commentary: Rally’s copy is of the earliest variant in the report and sits towards the high end of the spectrum. The Round SOQ makes up about a third of the total population.
Commentary: There is just one copy of the six that is a “No Rev-A” variant (graded 8.5 – sold for $32.4k in January), and the population is quite low to begin with. Rally’s game sold at Heritage in November of 2019 for $7,800.
Commentary: Interestingly, the Hangtab has been graded more than the Rev-A Round SOQ variant. Just two of those variant were graded, with the highest being a 9.4. Rally’s copy is the earliest variant in the report, and is at the highest grade of any DK3 copy.
Commentary: Rally’s copy is of the earlier variant, with “Matt Groening” printed high on the back of the box. This variant has just 4 graded copies (versus 19 for Groening low), and Rally’s is the highest graded. There is one 9.8 of the Groening low variant.
Commentary: No additional variant information here. Rally’s game is among the three highest graded copies.
Commentary: The earlier, Round SOQ variant is the more commonly graded, and a 9.6 is the highest grade in either variant – Round or Oval SOQ.
Commentary: The earlier, Round SOQ variant is one third the population of the Oval SOQ. The Oval SOQ features ten 9.8s and seven 9.6s, while Rally’s 9.6 is one of three Round SOQ 9.6s, with just one 9.8.
Commentary: Rally’s copy is the highest grade in the earliest variant, assuming that their pack-in copy is indeed included in the Hangtab population. The majority of the population is Rev-A Round SOQ, accounting for eight copies.
Commentary: The population is different than Duck Hunt here, as Matte Sticker Seal and Gloss Sticker Seal variants are the other inclusions, accounting for a total of 8 copies. There are three higher graded copies between those variants.
Commentary: There is just one copy in the earlier Gloss Sticker Seal Hangtab variant listed in the report, also graded a 9.2.
Commentary: Among the least rare games offered fractionally, this game is the most graded variant of the most graded game, and there are 24 games graded higher in that variant alone.
Commentary: Rally’s copy is of the earliest possible production – one of just two such copies, with the other also graded 9.2. The later Hangtab variant has been graded twice, as has the even later Rev-A Round SOQ print.
Commentary: The record setting, $2mm buyout game attained that status for a reason. Just one game from an earlier Gloss Sticker Seal version has been graded (a 9.4). Rally’s game sat at the very top of the next earliest version's population.
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