Today we visit another collecting niche I never thought we'd make it to courtesy of Dan Epp from magisterrex.com. A Twitter favorite of mine Dan has managed to build a business out of his hobby, and that's something I for one can relate to. Whether you're interested in retro gaming or not, and after this you just might be, what you'll see at the root of this talk is that all familiar collecting passion.
As someone who can remember begging for an Atari 2600 one birthday, and receiving it with my free copy of Combat, it's hard to associate gaming with vintage, but oh well, I have gray hairs at my temples so I guess it is! That Atari was my first and last gaming system, but after talking with Dan I think it's pretty apparent that anyone who's ever held a joystick is going to enjoy this one.
Brief bio: Formerly a highly competitive sales professional running full steam ahead in the rat race, now I own and run magisterrex.com, a website that sells classic old school retro games - board games, PC games, and video console games. That’s right, I lounge about and play and sell retro games. Yes, I’m living the dream. What happened?
Where you can find Dan Epp online:
Q: Let's go way back to start this one out. I told my Atari story, so for you, before selling retro games, before even collecting them, what were among the first games you played? Which gaming system(s) did you play on?
Dan @magisterrex: Retro gaming isn’t just for console games. In fact, many retro gamers like me remember their first games on a computer. The first game that I remember distinctly was Zork by Infocom, which I played on my family’s Apple II clone (bet you didn’t know that there were non-Apple clones for a while!). The game was text-only, no graphics at all. But it was a magical experience, and it launched my passion for games. I’ve always loved playing games: I bought my first IBM compatible computer just so I could play an AD&D PC game called Secret of the Silver Blades. (The salesman threw the game into the deal. LOL.)
Q: When and how did it occur to you that there was a business in this?
Dan @magisterrex: Back in 2001, I discovered an interesting site where I could buy comics online. That site, of course, was eBay. While I was recklessly filling all the holes in my collection, I noticed that people were selling games, too. I pulled out some stuff that I no longer wanted and sent them to auction and it pulled in a tidy sum ... which I used to buy more games! This led me to believe that there could be a future in selling games – I just needed inventory that I could part with, which meant that I needed to find an inventory source. Over the years my sources have varied, but I still keep plugging along. I doubt if I’ll ever be nauseatingly wealthy selling retro games – but I love what I do, and that counts for something!
Q: So you sold off pieces from your own collection, are there certain favorites which would never leave your own collection, then or now?
Dan @magisterrex: LOL – there are many items in my personal game collection that will NOT be sold until they hold my wake. My TurboGrafx CD system and games, for instance, or much of my PC game collection. Mind you, when I get in duplicates, they go onto the sales floor, but every so often something shows up that I’ve been seeking for years, and it disappears into my private collection. That happens much less than it used to as I’ve had to accept that there’s a finite limit to both my available storage space and my wife’s patience with my collecting mania.
Q: How do you store your personal collection? Do you store stock differently?
Dan @magisterrex: Long ago I realized that my personal collection had to be separated from my store inventory. I keep my own stuff in family space, and my inventory is stored in my office space. For the magisterrex.com inventory, everything is in file boxes or plastic bins on movable shelving so I can access it quickly. I’ve had to develop more efficient storage systems over the years as my inventory grew just to keep my sanity.
Q: Are there any special steps to keep the games functional? How about the gaming systems themselves, heavy or light maintenance?
Dan @magisterrex: It’s amazing how well games hold up over the years if properly cared for. The exceptions tend to be NES games and systems, which need a lot of care and attention before they can be cleared for the virtual sales floor. Any system can have a potential problem, however, so they’re all tested, regardless. (I have special cleaners for each console type.) I don’t see too many duds, but I’d rather find them on my testing bench than hearing about it from a buyer.
Q: How many different gaming systems do you have hooked up and/or easy access to?
Dan @magisterrex: Right now I’ve dismantled my systems as I look for more room to add the incoming inventory. I have a 20” TV with an electronic RF switch that I keep hooked up ready to accept whatever system I need. It really only takes a few minutes to set up a video game console, so it’s not a huge time suck to keep them tucked away until needed. Right now I have an Atari 2600, Mattel Intellivision, Sega Master System, Nintendo Entertainment System, Colecovision, Coleco Adam, Commodore 128, Commodore Amiga 1200, Atari 520 ST, Atari Jaguar, Timex Sinclair, Texas Instruments TI-99/4A, Sega Genesis, Sega CD, Sega 32X, TurboGrafx-16 CD, Nintendo GameBoy, Super Nintendo, Sega Game Gear, TurboExpress, Nintendo 64, Sega Saturn, Sega Dreamcast, Nintendo GameCube, Sony PlayStation, Atari Lynx, Tandy Color Computer, and a Tandy TL/3. So you can see that to set them all up at once would be a colossal waste of space (but cool to look at!).
Q: Do most of your customers already have their system and just come to you for the games? Do collectors traditionally go after games for one type of game or are they operating multiple systems?
Dan @magisterrex: Most people already have a system and are buying games for it. Most aren’t collectors, just retro gamers looking to replay something that they remember from their past. The collectors buy many games at once, usually from different categories. I try to bring in games from as many platforms as I can get my hands on as you never know who is looking for what and when!
Q: How is value determined and what are a couple of the more valuable games?
Dan @magisterrex: Value is an interesting concept in the retro gaming world. Many factors go into determining value, including age, total distribution, condition, and, of course, demand (which has its own factors, such as perceived rarity, exposure – did someone just write a retro game review or was it featured in a popular gaming magazine or site? – even how awesome the gameplay is). Not one of those factors is heavy enough to be the sole reason for determining value. For instance, a relatively recent PC game, such as 1999’s Planescape: Torment, had a low distribution compared to other RPGs, but has a high demand today, and so is a more expensive game to purchase than an older Atari 2600 game, like 1982’s Chopper Command, which sold plenty of copies, so there’s more of them out there for collectors to find. Of course, a factory sealed game is always more valuable than an opened box, a game with its original box and contents is always more valuable than just the game, and a crisp, clean copy is always worth more than a weather-beaten torn up version.
Q: The original boxes are fascinating, and I see a lot of them in the photos you sent along. Could you tell us more about how key the original packaging is?
Dan @magisterrex: Any time an item comes in its original box the value increases accordingly. Lots of games are sold without their boxes, and some collectors don't care one way or the other. Others want the game or system to be just as it was when it was first released. I have a few systems without boxes, but if I should run across a duplicate in its box I will certainly upgrade. My PC game collection are all in their original boxes - except those very OLD games that did not come packaged in a box (they used to hang them up on the retail wall in a plastic baggy!).
Q: Are there any other nuances to look out for in the hobby?
Dan @magisterrex: There are also counterfeit PC games out there, which were put out by the SLASH Corporation. I've done a guide to knowing what they look like on my website, located here. And video console games can come in both North American and Asian/European varieties (NTSC vs PAL), which is a bit like how DVD's can be for different regions. Like every hobby, once you scratch the surface you find many layers underneath that you learn as you go along the way.
Q: Bonus question, Dan--I noticed on your blog you also mentioned that you deal in classic board games? This is an area I'm a little more familiar with. Is there a certain period or type of game that you handle?
Dan @magisterrex: Board game collectors are just like PC/video game collectors. The demographics are the same, and it’s not unusual for someone to buy both a board game and a computer game on the same invoice. Even how their value is determined is essentially the same.
I consider board games to be the original social networking tool – and they still serve that purpose today. There’s a lot of fun to be had when you gather your family and/or friends around the table and play a game that you all enjoy. Disbelieve me? Look at how well Magic The Gathering has done!
Being the collector packrat that I am, I have several older board games and RPG’s kicking around. I’ve profiled a couple of my favorites as blog posts, and will be profiling more throughout the year.
Thanks so much, Dan, for taking the time to answer all the questions I put to you. Once again here's where you can find magisterrex online: