We compiled the all-time auction price records for video games as of February 23rd, 2023. Be sure to check back as we update the list as new records are set!
As one of the only two non-Nintendo games on the list we have to give Sega some credit for keeping Sonic on the mind of gamers all these years later in spite of losing the console wars around 30 years ago now. It is even more fun when you know that Sonic was created in an effort to compete with Nintendo’s own mascot, Mario. Sonic’s attitudinous, devil-may-care demeanor was meant to appeal to teenaged North American fans.
The company pushed very hard for Sonic to become the face of their brand. “Sonic the Hedgehog” became the bundled game with the Sega Genesis replacing ‘Altered Beast’ (another classic, we might add); in fact Sega even offered those that bought a Genesis with ‘Altered Beast’ a trade-in replacement for Sonic.
This example is one of 42 graded copies from WATA. Of those, 17 were graded higher. This is a beautiful, well-maintained object, but since it was sold at the height of the video-game market frenzy in 2021 it received a significant premium. To see this record broken we would likely have to see one of the two highest graded copies (WATA 9.8 A++) be sold.
Alright second Genesis game, but also the last. A good one to be sure though, like all the titles on this list the Madden name persists into video gaming today. So much so to the point that most young fans today have no clue that John Madden was a wildly successful NFL coach and broadcaster on top of his achievements in the world of gaming.
Madden lent not only his name, but his expertise to the game. It began development in 1984 and was not released until four years later in 1988, albeit on the Apple II not the Sega Genesis. The game spent so much time in development due to Madden’s devotion to accuracy. When arguing with EA developers over how the game needed to be 11-on-11, he was quoted as saying “I'm not putting my name on it if it's not real.”. He was thinking of the game as an educational tool for people to better understand the game of football. Madden’s uncompromising attitude led to his game being the football game.
It is always interesting looking back to see how mega-brands came to be. The Madden name is now indelibly linked with football. Fifa, NHL ( AKA “Chel” *gag*), NBA 2K, MLB The Show. Boring, the whole lot of them. John Madden may have passed away in 2021, but he gets to live on in the PS4's and Xbox One's of football fans everywhere.
WATA has graded 14 copies of the 1990 Genesis version of “John Madden Football” of those 14 there are 8 better. This is another object that isn’t exactly the crème de la crème of graded copies, but when you consider 400,000 copies of this game were sold 1 of 14 ain’t too shabby. Especially when you consider that this copy came from the office of John Madden himself.
Although not his first appearance on the small screen, ‘Super Mario Bros.’ on the NES was Mario’s first go-round at being the title character. Released in 1985, just four years after his initial debut in arcade cabinets everywhere in ‘Donkey Kong’.
The industry was in dire straits after the video game crash in 1983. Sega and Nintendo were struggling for games that would renew interest in their consoles; this game did that and more. Cited as the first “killer-app” for the NES, Nintend is said to have sold over 50 million units in the ten years that followed the release. The best selling video game of all time for quite a while, until it was unseated by another Nintendo classic, “Wii Sports”.
“Super Mario Bros.” had 11 unique printings, each differentiated by things like stickers, tabs and text on the box. This example is among the most scarce variants as it was packaged in the span of just a couple of months in 1987; a year where Nintendo sold approximately 1.8 million consoles in North America. In the following four years the Japanese company would sell around 27.54 million units in the region.
This hangtab version only has 12 graded copies in the WATA population report. Among those there are only two graded higher. In total WATA has graded 205 copies of “Super Mario Bros.” which further illustrates the limited supply of this piece.
Earlier in 2021 another copy of “Super Mario Bros.” was sold, but for a more impressive sum. This April sale outstripped the last one by about $260,000; the difference can mostly be explained by this box being from an even more scarce set.
This example is the fourth version of the game that was produced. Known colloquially as “1-code, hangtab”, there are only four graded copies of this print-run, making it a very sought-after collectible. This copy also happened to be the highest graded of those four. Only 8 of the 205 total graded WATA copies received higher than this 9.6, but not a single one of them was printed earlier than our example here.
I am sure you are getting tired of seeing gaming’s favorite plumber on this list. So we will break up the monotony with a fun fact!
Mario was named after Mario Segale, a prominent Seattle real estate developer who was renting out a warehouse to Nintendo of America. Segale angrily came in to speak to president of Nintendo America, Minoru Arakawa, after they had been late on rent. His name was chosen thereafter by employees who witnessed the heated exchange. So next time you are having a hard time thinking of a name for the main character of a creative project, just go for your landlord’s name! It worked for Nintendo!
But seriously, this example is graded lower than the above #7 on our list, but received a worse grade. What gives? Although this copy is stellar in terms of rarity and quality; you will only be able to find 4 copies graded better from earlier productions. There are 58 copies graded above in total, but many of them belong to later print-runs that are far less valuable.
Ah, finally! A new entrant to the list. And one that likely holds a special place in the heart of gamers everywhere. In one fell swoop with ‘The Legend of Zelda’, Nintendo launched a tentpole franchise and created one of the most celebrated games of all time.
Beloved by fans and critics alike, the game went on to sell 6.5 million copies. Further solidifying Nintendo’s brand as the gold standard in video games.
As far as the rarity of this individual example goes it looks like this: there are only 3 sealed copies of this print-run that are known. 120 of the total 186 graded copies out there received above an 8, but nearly all of those copies are from far less desirable production-runs that came in the late-80s/early-90s.
This example is from the same production run as #8 in the list above. This one received quite a bump up in price, around a $225,000 bump to be exact. Likely due to the simple fact of this example receiving a 9.6 to the 9.4 of the other.
This early production-run of the game has seen zero copies graded higher. There are only 8 graded higher in the entire population of 205, none of which are from earlier or scarcer releases.
In the early 1990s during the development of “Star Fox”, legendary Nintendo game developer, Shigeru Miyamoto, imagined how the most recent developments in home console computer chips could lend itself to a 3-D mario game. This idea never came to fruition while working on the SNES, but upon the release of the Nintendo 64 with its more powerful processor and larger controller he was finally able to execute on his vision.
With a team of just fifteen to twenty people Nintendo developed SM64 in just under two years. The game was released alongside the new console to wild success. Nintendo knew they had a hit on their hands–assuming SM64 would be their ‘killer app’ for the console. The marketing budget for the game was set at $20 million and the game went on to do $140 million in gross sales in its first three months in North America. By 2003, 11.9 million units of the game had been sold; Nintendo sold about 32 million units of the N64, so around 37.5% of all consoles had a copy. Not bad!
This example is from the first printing of the game, there are 90 similar copies WATA has graded from this production run. This one however is among the three highest graded copies. It should be said that these three copies are not only the highest graded examples from this production, but from any production. Compared to this example there are zero copies graded higher from any of the 142 sealed copies in the WATA population report.
This copy of “The Legend of Zelda” is a variant that has seen just 4 WATA graded examples in existence. The sale of the same game above at #5 in the list is part of a different variant, but one that is similarly rare. Though when accounting for the difference in sale price of the two assets we can only assume that this one received $165,000 more due to its grade being one full number higher.
There are no other examples of the original ‘Zelda’ that have come up for public sale like this one. Even with a far lower grade this would still be a sought after piece for any collector in the space. The WATA 9 is simply the cherry on top that propelled this copy to #2 in our list.
Ahh finally made it! Number 1!
We saw a like-graded copy of this example above at #3 in the list which was sold in September just two months after this $1.5 million sale at Heritage in July of 2021. The two copies are nigh-identical, yet the difference in price represents the most significant disparity in the list among two games.
The frenzied market at the time of these sales likely speaks to the difference, but it is also a good learning on the value of uber-high-quality-grail-objects. When it comes to the best of the best within a certain collectible category it is often very hard to predict the final price when these pieces comes to public sale; bidding action can be frenetic, many times between just two or three deep-pocketed bidders that can send the hammer price soaring over estimate.
Only time will tell whether or not spending 7-figures on a sealed Mario game will have been a profitable endeavor. The current owner may well have severely overpaid, but whether it is a a Mickey Mantle rookie card selling for $12.6 million or a Warhol canvas going for $195, trophy assets are priced the same way everything else in a market economy is–by way of supply and demand. Except in this case there are only three "supply" to go around, and well, lets just say that is a demand curve that is very hard to draw.
Fractional platform, Rally, exited their 'Super Mario Bros.' asset for a price of $2 million. Higher than any asset on this list. At the peak of the market insanity around video games in 2021, Rally was in the right place at the right time. They had the foremost asset in video games: a "WATA 9.8 A+ Hangtab Variant Super Mario Bros.". Zero copies graded higher. The examples that also received a WATA 9.8 A+ seal? From variants that are much more abundant.
Enjoyed this article? Don’t forget to subscribe to our newsletter to receive more like it in your inbox weekly!
Disclaimer: You understand that by reading Altan Insights, you are not receiving financial advice. No content published here constitutes a recommendation that any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy is suitable for any specific person. You further understand that the author(s) are not advising you personally concerning the nature, potential, value or suitability of any particular security, transaction, or investment strategy. You alone are solely responsible for determining whether an investment, security or strategy, or any other product or service, is appropriate or suitable for you based on your investment objectives and personal financial situation. Please speak with a financial advisor to understand if the risks inherent in trading are appropriate for you. Trade at your own risk.
All information provided by Altan Insights is impersonal and not tailored to the needs of any person, entity or group of persons. Past performance of an index or asset is not an indication or guarantee of future results.