Graded video game collecting has surged in popularity over the last few years. While maybe not at the frenzied, fever pitch of mid-2021, the category is still cultivating interest from collectors old and new. Given the increase in popularity, more parties are pursuing the business of video game grading. Today, there are three main competitors in the space: Wata Games, VGA, and CGC. By exploring the attributes of each service, we'll set out to answer a few key questions:
Okay, let's start with a little background on each.
Wata Games was founded just a few years ago in 2018, with Wata-graded games quickly finding their way to the auction block at Heritage Auctions (controversially, some allege). With the explosion in popularity of video game collecting and the headline six and seven-figure sales, video game grading became a sought-after service. In 2021, Collectors (which owns card grading company PSA) acquired Wata. Over the course of the past few years, the company has begun grading games from more modern systems, while also refining population reports, game holders, and branding.
VGA is a part of Collectibles Grading Authority (CGA), which was founded back in 2000 and also features toy grader AFA. The company expanded into video games in 2008, making it the longest tenured player in the space. In late 2021, CGA was acquired by Diamond Comic Distributors. Since then, the company’s website - a common pain point for collectors - has been rebranded and modernized.
CGC was founded way back in 2000 to grade comic books. It’s part of a broader business - Certified Collectibles Group - which features grading companies in coins, paper money, stamps, sports cards, and more. Since its founding, CGC has built a dominant position in comic books, operating essentially unchallenged - almost every high value sale has featured a comic book in a CGC slab. As other pop culture collectibles have grown in popularity, CGC has expanded its services to grade more items like trading cards and, yes, video games. The video game expansion was announced in mid-2021 and officially launched in late 2022, with CGC-graded games only recently finding their way to auction.
Wata recently had turnover in the Chief Grader role (more on that in a moment), elevating Andrew Shelton from the role of Grading Finalizer to the top job. The company was co-founded by Deniz Khan who now serves as President. Khan is a prominent collector and figure in the category, though recent accusations have made him somewhat of a lightning rod for industry controversy. Whether the company can benefit from grading best practices at fellow Collectors company PSA remains to be seen.
After the recent acquisition and website re-launch, little is publicly shared about the composition of the team, its experience, and its expertise. That’s not to suggest that VGA is necessarily lacking in this department, being the longest tenured provider in the space, but those details are not publicly available at present. The lack of public visibility, though, has been a common complaint in the past.
CGC tabbed Matt McClellan to lead CGC Video Games. McClellan was tasked with hiring, establishing grading standards, and developing a holder. Prior to CGC, he operated an independent video game store, where he built his expertise in authentication and his collection. As of February 2023, the company also counts Kenneth Thrower as a Grading Finalizer; Thrower was a Co-Founder and Chief Grader at Wata, and according to his LinkedIn, created the company’s grading scale and grading standards. Finally, Grading Finalizer Jason Brassard also boasts 20 years of experience as an independent video game store operator.
Wata utilizes a 10 point scale that goes up in increments of 0.5 points from 0 to 9 and then in increments of 0.2 from 9 to 10. Handily, Wata provides photographs of boxes, carts, and manuals that would meet the criteria of each score, though it doesn’t define the criteria of each grade.
Seals are graded from A++ to C, with A+, A, B+, B, and C+ in between. Here’s how each is described:
VGA’s website currently appears to display a grading scale that only relates primarily to AFA. However, the “Standard” scale is what has been utilized for VGA games in the past. Unlike the other two, it’s a 100 point scale, increasing in increments of 10 from 10 to 70 and in increments of 5 from 70 to 100. At each step of the way from 70 to 100, there are also “+” grades, an “85+” for example, which is a higher grade than an “85”. Additionally unlike the other two, there is no separate grade for seals, with it incorporated in the single number.
Grades from 85+ and up are considered to be in the “Gold Level”, meaning they have only the smallest of flaws, which are very minor and difficult to discern with the naked eye. Below that, from 75 through 85, is the “Silver Level”, which plays host to a much larger number of submissions. Items in that tier are described as follows:
The highest grade within this level, an 85, could most often be described as being near ‘case fresh’, with the lowest grade within this level, a 75, being somewhat ‘shelf worn’ but still relatively nice. As a general rule, an item which receives the grade of 85 is a fantastic display piece and can often be right on the edge of Gold level condition. The term ‘case fresh’ is certainly justifiable, as the average item pulled from a sealed case would grade an 85 due to small flaws which occur when items are packaged or shipped from the factory. An item which receives the grade of 80 represents a nice example with minor to moderate flaws apparent upon close inspection. As a generalization, the average item which has spent time on a store shelf being moved around prior to purchase, but has otherwise been handled with relative care over the years may score an 80. The lowest Silver level grade is a 75 which represents an item with significant flaws which are much more evident than flaws visible on items which receive higher Silver level grades.
Below that, you enter the “Bronze Level” of grading, where major flaws are present and instantly recognizable, with differing degrees of severity.
CGC’s grading scale looks fairly similar to Wata’s, with a few differences. It’s a 10 point scale, but it rises in increments of 1 point from 0 to 5. From 5 to 9, it rises in increments of 0.5 points. From 9 to 10, it also rises in increments of 0.2 points, but it makes the additional inclusion of a 9.9. Here are some of CGC’s descriptions for a few grades:
Seal grades fluctuate from A++ to C as well, with A+, A, B+, B, and C+ in between. Here’s how each is described:
For example’s sake, across this discussion, let’s assume we have a sealed copy of Super Mario 64, and we’ll see how the estimated value impacts pricing at each provider.
For an estimated value $1,000 or less, Wata’s “Turbo” service will set you back $39 for a 60 business day or less turnaround. Move that turnaround time down to 20 days for “Speed-Run” service, and the cost is $85. If you’re really in a hurry, a 5 business day turnaround via the “Warp-Zone” service will cost $175. Each of these costs moves up as your declared value increases. Games above $2,500 are charged an additional 2% of their declared value. For example, at a declared value of $3,000, the costs are $99, $145, and $235 respectively.
There are also a host of add-on services available, the details of which are in the below graphic.
VGA’s premium game submission service, offering a 75 day turnaround time for items valued under $5,000, costs $90 - more expensive than either competitor at lower values but increasingly competitive as costs go up. For example, a $1,000 game would cost that $90 fee, more than double the competition. A $3,000 game would still cost just $90 though, which is below the other services.
Submittors could also elect the more expensive Archival service, which turns around in 30 days. This is also the service tier for games valued at over $5,000. At values less than $5,000, Archival costs $125. That’s more costly for lower valued games than Wata’s Speed-Run service, and as we’ll discuss, a quick turnaround at CGC is vastly less expensive at the moment. A $6,000 game would cost $150 (2.5% of value).
Customers can add a Grading Summary for $25 or Cleaning for $10.
Finally, recasing for items under $400 costs $24 and turns around in 45 days. For items over $400, the fee is $35 and the turnaround is 30 days.
Right off the bat, CGC chafes by requiring you to subscribe to an annual membership to even begin the submission process. These run from $25 annually to $299 annually, with the latter offering 10% discounts on CGC grading tiers, perhaps ultimately saving heavy submitters some money.
Standard service starts at a fee of $40 per game but with an impressive 10 working day turnaround. That service covers up to $2,500 in game value. In comparison to Wata, a $1000 game would be $4 more expensive but would turnaround in 50 less days. It would also be cheaper for any game estimated between $1,070 and $2,500 in value, as CGC does not start charging elevated rates until a game is estimated to at a value over $2,500. So, a $2,000 game would be $40 at CGC but $65.67 at Wata.
When the value does cross $2,500 or submitters want a faster turnaround, they’d utilize the WalkThrough service, which turns around in 3 business days at a cost of $150 + 2% of FMV. At an estimated value of $3,000, the cost would be $210. If you’re willing to wait longer, you could submit such a game for $99 for a 60 business day turnaround or $145 for a 20 day turnaround at Wata. A 5 day turnaround would be more expensive at Wata at $235.
If you want to cross a game over from Wata to CGC, it’ll cost $30 for a game valued below $2,500 (10 business days) or $100 + 1.5% of FMV for a game valued above (3 business days). There are also pedigree and personalization services available at $10 apiece, and reholdering can be done for $25 on games valued lower than $2,500, or $50 on games valued above.
Here’s a table we created to help summarize costs at various prices for each service.
At present, Wata is by far the most prominent grading service seen on games bought and sold in the secondary market. Games graded by Wata have dominated the auction scene (more on that in the scrutiny section). The April Signature Auction at Heritage saw Wata-graded games make up 16 of the top 24 sales and 31 of the top 48. Wata-graded games tend to reign supreme on eBay as well. In the three months ending 6/15, video games with “Wata” in the title/description totaled sales volume of $1.7 million on eBay. Now, it’s important to note for all providers, those eBay volumes don’t necessarily represent sales of games actually graded by each. eBay can be messy, and sellers often list “WATA, CGC, VGA” in a listing whether the item has actually been graded or not, which has some impact on the sales data.
VGA has begun to fade a bit on the auction scene after being more prevalent a few years back, as market share has been seeded to Wata and now to CGC as well. It hasn’t totally disappeared by any means, though. At the most recent Heritage Signature Auction in April of 2023, VGA-graded games accounted for 4 of the top 24 games. The company still ranks ahead of CGC in eBay sales volume for the time being at $819k over the last 90 days, which is less than half of the Wata total.
CGC-graded video games are of course newer to the space, but they’ve begun to forge their way into the auction world. At the January Signature Video Game Auction at Heritage, a debut party of sorts for the service’s games, CGC games accounted for 27% of total sales at the event, including 4 of the top 10 results. That tapered off a bit in April, with 4 of the top 24 results. Action is picking up on eBay as well, though, where there was $662k in sales volume over the last 90 days ending 6/15.
Wata was heavily scrutinized for a long time for its failure to provide population reports. Finally, in late 2021, the company released their debut reports, expanding them over time to include additional consoles. Now, its reports are essentially the only ones in the space, and collectors have better access to information on overall game populations and grading distributions.
There is no population report available at present. VGA did not have population reports prior to its acquisition, and there isn’t one available afterwards. Notably, AFA - under the same corporate umbrella - used to have population reports prior to the website relaunch but no longer does at the moment.
No population report available at present. CGC comic books have a census of graded issues, so it may be a matter of building a critical mass of video game submissions before launching population reports.
Beginning in the summer of 2021, there have been mounting allegations that Wata has engaged in practices of market manipulation, in addition to alleged undisclosed conflicts of interest surrounding relationships with employees of Heritage Auctions. A lawsuit has been filed against Wata in California on the basis of these allegations, among others. Wata has previously characterized the claims made in a YouTube video on the topic with over 2 million views as “baseless and defamatory”.
VGA has been subject to similar YouTube-based exposes in the past, with questions raised around the quality of holders, the accuracy of grades, and the lack of customer-facing individuals (as addressed in the expertise section).
CGC is of course newer to video games, but as with any grading company, CGC has not been totally immune from criticism in the comic book category. Still, the company for the most part boasts a strong reputation for credibility and professionalism.
In addition to the previously mentioned pop reports, Wata offers a number of guides in its blog section, including guides to variants of various titles and categories, like its NES Black Box Guide. That blog section isn’t the most intuitive to navigate, but there appears to be a wealth of knowledge on offer.
As might be expected from the rest of our discussion, the new CGA site is pretty light on content and reference guides, but it’s possible the site is also still a work in progress. So we’ll consider this a “to be continued”.
CGC has gotten off to a good start with content for customers as well. Included on their site is one 130 page reference guide document. It covers common terms, consoles, key titles on each console, variants on each console, and more. It’s a strong starting point for anyone entering the category.
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