10 Very Rare (and Very Expensive) Video Games

Game Gavel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0
Game Gavel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

If you’ve ever collected baseball cards, comic books, stamps, or those limited edition commemorative plates, you understand the concept of the “Holy Grail” item. It’s that last, hard-to-find, incredibly rare, usually expensive piece that you must have before you can officially say your collection is “complete.” If you’re a collector of vintage home video game cartridges (or “carts”), sometimes that can mean paying a pretty penny for the pièce de résistance.

NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM (NES) 

Back in the day, everyone had a Nintendo. Due to the console’s popularity, there are a large number of collectors willing to pay the equivalent of a new car for some of the system’s very rare carts.

1. STADIUM  EVENTS

Price Range: $2,600 - $41,300; $10,000 for the box alone

Why So Expensive? Stadium Events was released by Bandai in 1987 as one of the few games available in America that was made for the company’s Family Fun Fitness mat—a soft, plastic controller you walked, ran, and jumped on to make the game characters move. Nintendo bought the rights to the game and the mat in 1988 and re-released them as WorldClass Track Meet and the Power Pad controller. To avoid consumer confusion, Nintendo pulled all copies of Stadium Events from shelves and had them destroyed, but not before approximately 200 carts had already been sold. Of those 200, collectors believe that only about 20 complete copies of the game exist today, making them a real rarity.

Stadium Events made headlines in 2010 with two high-profile eBay sales: A North Carolina woman was cleaning out her garage and found an old Nintendo and a handful of games, including Stadium Events. She put them up on eBay without high expectations and was amazed to see the bids steadily climb up to $13,105. While the game itself is valuable, the winning bidder was most interested in the cardboard box in which it came; since most kids threw the box away after tearing open a new game, intact boxes for any title are really hard to come by, but especially so for Stadium Events. Empty Stadium Events boxes have been known to sell for $10,000 alone.

After hearing of the success of this eBay seller, a man in Kansas dug up a factory-sealed copy of the game that he was just about to donate to Goodwill. He had purchased the game in 1987, but could never find the fitness mat to go with it. It was still sealed because he’d meant to return it. His game became only the second known sealed copy in existence. When his eBay auction ended, the game sold for an amazing $41,300.

Earlier this year, another sealed copy of Stadium Events sold on eBay for $35,100, meaning the game has lost a little bit of its value, but not much.

The same game repackaged by Nintendo, World Class Track Meet, generally sells for about $5 on eBay.

2. 1990 NINTENDO WORLD CHAMPIONSHIPS (GRAY AND GOLD EDITIONS)

Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

Price Range: Gray: $8,500 - $20,200; Gold: $26,677

Why So Expensive? In 1990, Nintendo held a 30-city gaming tournament to find the best player in the world. Players had to get the best score in demo versions of three games—Super Mario Bros.Rad Racer, and Tetris—all within a six-minute time limit.

At the end of each city’s tournament, the winners of each of three age groups were given special gray Championship cartridges exactly like those used in the competition, meaning only 90 of these cartridges were distributed. A gold version was sent out to those who won a promotional contest in the pages of Nintendo Power magazine. Only 26 gold games were produced, so they’re especially hard to find and command a higher price today; the last one to sell on eBay went for $26,677.

3. NINTENDO CAMPUS CHALLENGE

Price Range: $14,000 - $20,100

Why So Expensive? In the early 1990s, Nintendo held competitions on college campuses and at popular Spring Break destinations. Like the World Championships, players had six minutes to play for high scores in demo versions of three games: Super Mario Bros. 3PinBot, and Dr. Mario.

Most copies of the game were destroyed after the competition tour ended, but one Nintendo employee kept his cart and sold it to Rob Walters at a garage sale in 2006. This garage sale is legendary among retrogamers, as Rob bought all kinds of NES Holy Grails for only $1,000. By the time he resold everything, he’d made 50 times that. Part of that $50,000 was the Campus Challenge cartridge, which went for $14,000. Shortly after, the buyer of the cart, collector J.J. Hendricks, turned around and sold it on eBay for $20,100. As far as anyone knows, it’s the only copy of the game in existence.

SUPER NINTENDO ENTERTAINMENT SYSTEM

Although not quite as ubiquitous as the NES, the SNES was still a very popular game console. With more than 700 titles for the SNES fan to collect, there are bound to be a few that demand a high price.

4. EXERTAINMENT MOUNTAIN BIKE RALLY & SPEED RACER COMBO CART

Price Range: $1,500 - $3,700

Why So Expensive? Back in 1994, the exercise equipment company Life Fitness released the Exertainment System. As the cheesy name implies, it was a combination exercise bike and entertainment system with a TV screen built into the console. Now gym rats could watch regular cable television, Life Fitness exercise programs, or play games on the built-in Super Nintendo using specially designed controllers split between each handle of the bike.

There were two games made specifically for the Exertainment System: Mountain Bike Rally, and Speed Racer, based on the popular Japanese cartoon. While Mountain Bike Rally was available as a standalone cartridge, Speed Racer was only available as part of a combo cartridge that also included Mountain Bike Rally. Gym owners could buy either of the cartridges with the Exertainment cycle, but they could be purchased through retail outlets as well. Of course the bikes were expensive and very few people had one in their homes, so the retail versions mostly went unsold. As the Exertainment cycles were replaced by newer equipment, most owners simply threw the cartridges away since they weren't compatible with a regular SNES. Naturally, this means they’re pretty hard to come by today.

While a loose copy of the Mountain Bike Rally cartridge sells for about $25, a factory sealed retail copy can go for anywhere between $50 and $350. But it’s the combo cartridge that is especially valuable with completist SNES collectors, bringing in over $1,500 for a loose cartridge, and nearly $3,700 for a factory sealed copy.

5. SUPER COPA

Price Range: $400 - $6,900

Why So Expensive? The story of Super Copa is a bit confusing for collectors: The game was a South American version of the North American soccer game, Tony Meola’s Sidekicks Soccer. Released in the mid-1990s, it’s merely a decent soccer game for the SNES. Although it was available in South America through a distributor named Playtronic, there is a second version of the game with different box and label artwork, that doesn’t include the Playtronic branding anywhere. This has led some to speculate it was also released in North America by a different company, American Softworks.

Whether it was released here or not, the alternative version of the game is hard to find, so naturally collectors are clamoring for it—so much so that bootlegs from Brazil have started cluttering eBay, making buyers wary of spending too much on a loose cartridge. However, if the original box is part of the auction, the prices can go as high as $400. And, if the auction is a factory sealed copy in exceptional condition, it could fetch as much as $6,900.

6. NINTENDO POWERFEST 1994

Price Range: $10,000 - $10,988

Why So Expensive? Much like the Nintendo Campus Challenge, 1994’s Nintendo PowerFest was a traveling competition where the best SNES players across the U.S. got to show their stuff on timed versions of three different games: Super Mario Bros: The Lost Levels, Super Mario Kart, and Ken Griffey, Jr. Presents Major League. The person with the best score from each city was later invited to come to San Diego and compete at the Nintendo World Championships II.

For the tour, 33 specially designed cartridges were produced. At the end of the tour, the cartridges were returned to Nintendo and reused for parts. Well, most of them anyway. One cartridge was found by Rob Walters at that legendary garage sale, and was thought to be the only one in existence for many years. The cartridge eventually made its way into the hands of collector Rick Bruns, who participated in PowerFest when he was a kid, making it all the way to the San Diego finals. Bruns paid $10,000 for this one-of-a-kind cartridge in 2006.

Much to everyone’s surprise, another copy resurfaced in 2012; however this cartridge was actually the first version of the game. In the early days of the competition, a home run in Ken Griffey, Jr. was worth 10,000 points, which wasn’t a lot in the grand scheme of things. So Nintendo found that most players focused on the Mario games to rack up points, and neglected the baseball game. To convince players to take Griffey more seriously during the finals, they changed the score to one million points for a home run. Bruns had a one million-point copy of the cartridge, but the new one was a 10,000-point version.

The second PowerFest cartridge was sold in January 2012 to J.J. Hendricks for $12,000. Hendricks turned around and put it on eBay in 2013 and received bids up to $23,100. Unfortunately, the high bidder backed out, and when Hendricks tried again in 2014, he was disappointed to see the cartridge had actually lost a little bit of value, only reaching $10,988 in the second auction.

ATARI 2600

The wood-grained granddaddy of home video game systems still has a rabid fanbase. There were a lot of fly-by-night companies getting in on the video game craze, which means there are a lot of rare carts out there for fans to collect.

7. AIR RAID

Price Range: $3,000 - $33,433

Why So Expensive? For many years, Air Raid was an enigma for Atari fans. The game in the strange, blue case with the unusual “T-handle” design had appeared around 1984, but no one who owned the game had a box or instruction manual to go with it. There were rumors that said it was the one and only game produced by a company called “Menavision” (or perhaps “Menovision”). In fact, collectors weren’t even sure if Air Raid was the correct title of the game because it’s not found anywhere on the cartridge. The mystery, as well as the fact there were only 12 known copies, made it a must-have for serious Atari collectors.

But all that changed in 2010 when Tanner Sandlin read a previous version of this article over on CNN.com. He recognized that signature blue, T-handle case on the cartridge, and dug through a few boxes in his garage, finding the thirteenth known copy of Air Raid—complete with box. By the time his eBay auction ended, Sandlin’s copy of Air Raid sold for an incredible $31,600.

Another boxed copy of Air Raid was found in 2012 by Harv Bennett, a former drug store manager whose store sold video games back in the 1980s. Bennett was given a copy of Air Raid by a salesman and had kept it among a small treasure trove of boxed Atari games in storage ever since. Much to Bennett’s surprise, when he opened the box, he found that he also had the instruction manual. The manual made Bennett’s the first “Complete In Box” (CIB) copy ever found. He put the game up on GameGavel.com, where it ended up selling for $33,433.

8. RED SEA CROSSING

Price Range: $10,000 - $13,877

Why So Expensive? In 2007, a new user logged into the forums on AtariAge.com and asked about a game he had recently picked up at a garage sale for 50 cents. The game was Red Sea Crossing, in which the player took on the role of Moses crossing the Red Sea, dodging fish, turtles, and the occasional arrow fired by a pixelated Egyptian. There was no box and no instruction manual, but the game label did have a company name and an 800-number that was used to identify the creator, Steve Stack.

One of the forum members found Mr. Stack, who confirmed he had created the game in 1983 to sell to the niche market of Christian households. Stack said it was the only game he’d ever made and he only had a few hundred cartridges manufactured for distribution exclusively through mail order. He couldn’t remember how many had sold, but admitted that it wasn’t very many. Unfortunately, he didn’t know what had happened to the unsold cartridges, so there was a very real chance that the one that had been purchased at the garage sale was the only one left.

With the game’s history confirmed, the AtariAge fans were salivating over what the new owner was going to do. Much to the surprise of everyone, the owner sat on the game for five years, before finally auctioning it off in 2012 on GameGavel.com, where the one-of-a-kind game sold for $10,400.

News of the auction made the internet rounds and Travis Kerestesy and Roey Lebkowitz, the owners of Medium Bob’s Curiosity Shop in Philadelphia, realized they had a copy of this very rare game sitting in their store window with a $50 price tag. Just a few days after the first Red Sea Crossing auction ended, they put their copy on eBay, where it sold for $13,877. No new copies of the game have surfaced since then, but it’s entirely possible that another one is out there somewhere just waiting to be found.

9. ATLANTIS II 

Price Range: $5,000 - $7,000

Why So Expensive? It’s never mentioned in the same breath as Pac-Man or Donkey Kong, but Atlantis was a pretty popular game in 1982. The gameplay was similar to Missile Command, with players defending their base from overhead attack by enemy ships. The developer held a tournament called Destination Atlantis, where players were invited to send in photos of their TV screens displaying their high scores. The best players were then sent Atlantis II, a special edition of the game that featured faster enemy ships worth fewer points, making it harder to get a high score, but easier to determine the true champions.

Because this version was not mass produced, it’s pretty rare today. But if you find a copy of the original Atlantis at a garage sale, it might be a good idea to pick it up anyway. The competition cart had the exact same colorful label as the regular Atlantis, but had a small, white sticker slapped on the front that read Atlantis II. The label was easily peeled off, so a quick Google search will show you how to determine if you bought a $3 Atari game or a $7,000 one.

10. E.T.: THE EXTRA-TERRESTRIAL


Game Gavel, Wikimedia Commons // CC BY 2.0

Price Range: $5 - $1,537

Why So Expensive? There are actually more valuable Atari games out there, but this one is a bit unusual, so I’m throwing it in as a bonus for you.

The Atari video game adaptation of Steven Spielberg’s blockbuster film is often considered one of the worst video games in history, and is usually credited with bringing down the entire industry in 1983. The story went that Atari had so many unsold copies of E.T. that they had no choice but to bury them all in a landfill in Alamogordo, New Mexico, hiding their shame for eternity.

That is until the games were dug up in April of 2014.

The game’s terrible reputation has become legendary among gaming enthusiasts, so much so that the copies of E.T. that were unearthed from the landfill are now, ironically, considered collector’s items. In all, 792,000 games were excavated, not just E.T., but also dozens of other Atari titles like Missile Command, Asteroids, and Defender, and are now the property of the City of Alamogordo.

The city decided to sell hundreds of the cartridges on eBay with many of the rest being donated to museums around the world. The first round of 100 games went live on eBay in November and brought in over $37,000, with the highest bid coming in at $1,537 for a mangled copy of E.T. that had been buried in a garbage dump for 30 years. The final round of auctions ends soon, so now’s your chance to grab this dirty (but fascinating) piece of video game history. If you want to buy a non-landfill E.T. for some reason, it can be had on eBay for about $5.

16 Soothing Facts About Muzak

Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images
Keith Brofsky/iStock via Getty Images

Whether you know it as background music, elevator music, or, as Ted Nugent once called it, an “evil force causing people to collapse into uncontrollable fits of blandness,” Muzak has ruled speakers for the better part of a century. Press play on your favorite easy-listening album and scroll on for some unforgettable facts about the most forgettable genre of music.

1. Muzak is a brand name.

Much like Chapstick, Popsicle, and a certain type of vacuum-sealing plastic food container, Muzak is a registered trademark. It began as the name of the company that first produced the easy-listening instrumental tunes that played in factories, elevators, and department stores. As its popularity grew, people started to use Muzak as a generic term for all background music.

2. Muzak was invented by a U.S. army general.

Major General George Owen Squier
Library of Congress // Public Domain

During World War I, Major General George Owen Squier used electrical power lines to transmit phonograph music over long distances without interference. He patented this invention in 1922 and founded Wired Radio, Inc. to profit from the technology. The company first devised a subscription service that included three channels of music and news and marketed it to Cleveland residents for $1.50 per month. When Squier and his associates realized their product was a little too close to regular (free) radio, they started pitching it to hotel and restaurant owners, who were more willing to pay for a steady broadcast of background music without interruptions from radio hosts or advertisements.

3. The name is a portmanteau of music and Kodak.

In 1934, Squier changed the name of his business from Wired Radio to Muzak, combining the first syllable of music with the last syllable of Kodak, which had already proven to be an extremely catchy, successful name for a company.

4. Muzak has been releasing instrumental covers of pop songs since its inception.

The first-ever original Muzak recording was an instrumental medley of three songs performed by the Sam Lanin Orchestra: “Whispering,” by John and Malvin Shonberger, “Do You Ever Think of Me?” which was covered by Bing Crosby, and “Here in My Arms,” by Lorenz Hart and Richard Rodgers from the 1925 Broadway musical Dearest Enemy.

5. Muzak was briefly owned by Warner Bros.

The sound of Muzak was wafting across the country by the end of the 1930s, which caught the ears of Warner Bros. The company bought Muzak in 1938, fostered it for about a year, and then sold it to three businessmen: Waddill Catchings, Allen Miller, and William Benton (Benton would later publish the Encyclopaedia Britannica and serve as a U.S. senator for Connecticut).

6. Muzak was designed to make factory workers more productive.

Muzak manufactured soundtracks, based on a theory called “stimulus progression,” that consisted of 15-minute segments of background music that gradually ascended in peppiness. The method was meant to tacitly encourage workers to increase their pace, especially during the productivity lulls that often occurred during the late morning and mid-afternoon.

7. Muzak helped calm anxious elevator passengers.

Since more advanced electric elevators diminished the need for elevator operators in the mid-20th century, passengers were often left alone with an unsettling silence that made them all too aware that they were hurtling upward or downward in a steel box. Soft, calming Muzak played through speakers offered the perfect distraction.

8. There’s a reason Muzak's tempo is slower in supermarkets.

Just like factory workers might move faster while listening to fast-paced tracks, you might slow down while shopping to slower-tempo Muzak—which is exactly what supermarket owners want you to do. The more time you spend in a store, the more likely you are to toss a few extra snacks in your cart. (It's unclear whether the slower music might inhibit the productivity of supermarket workers.)

9. More than one U.S. president endorsed Muzak.

Muzak was installed in the White House during Dwight D. Eisenhower’s administration, but he was arguably only the second biggest presidential fan of the genre. Lyndon B. Johnson actually owned Muzak franchises in Austin while serving as a U.S. Senator from Texas.

10. Andy Warhol was also a fan of Muzak.

Andy Warhol
Graham Wood/Evening Standard/Hulton Archive/Getty Images

Pop culture aficionado Andy Warhol supposedly said, “I like anything on Muzak—it’s so listenable. They should have it on MTV.”

11. Ted Nugent offered to buy Muzak for $10 million to “shelve it for good.”

In 1986, the Whackmaster put in a bid to purchase Muzak from parent company Westinghouse just to shut it down. According to the Ottawa Citizen, he called it an “evil force” that was “responsible for ruining some of the best minds of our generation.” Westinghouse rejected the bid.

12. Muzak didn’t formally introduce vocals until 1987.

As part of a rebranding campaign to modernize Muzak, the company started adding voice-accompanied tunes in 1987. Before that, Muzak broadcasts had only featured voices twice. The first was an announcement that Iran had freed American hostages in 1981, and the second was as part of a worldwide radio broadcast of “We Are the World” in 1985.

13. 7-Elevens blared Muzak in parking lots to chase off loiterers.

7-Eleven storefront at night
Mike841125, Wikimedia Commons // Public Domain

In 1991, 7-Eleven parking lots in Southern California became well-trafficked watering holes for youth who evidently had no place else to go. To deter them from loitering with skateboards, beer, and lots of teen angst, the stores blared Muzak—and it worked. “It will keep us away,” one young loafer told the Los Angeles Times. “But they’re torturing themselves more than us because they have to sit inside and listen to it.”

14. Seattle is the capital of Muzak.

Though it's well known as the birthplace of grunge, Seattle also had a thriving elevator music scene. Muzak based its corporate headquarters there in the 1980s, and three other leading background (and foreground) music corporations opened in the city over the years: Yesco Foreground Music, Audio Environments Inc., and Environmental Music Service Inc.

15. Kurt Cobain wanted Muzak to cover Nirvana songs.

When an interviewer told the Seattle-based rock star that Muzak didn’t recreate Nirvana tracks because it found them too aggressive for its purposes, an amused Cobain said, “Oh, well, we have some pretty songs, too. God, that’s really a bummer. That upsets me.”

16. It’s no longer called Muzak.

In 2013, an Ontario-based sensory marketing company called Mood Media acquired Muzak. The company, which provides music, smells, signs, lights, and interactive displays to businesses to achieve a certain mood, consolidated all of its services under the Mood brand, effectively killing the Muzak name (at least officially).

Meet Horatio, the Old-Timey ‘Smart’ Speaker From Hendrick’s Gin

Hendrick's Gin
Hendrick's Gin

The tech news you almost definitely heard about this week was Apple’s unveiling of the iPhone 11, a characteristically sleek, user-friendly gadget meant to make your life as modern and efficient as possible. What you might not have heard about was the release of Horatio, a very genteel, relatively smart speaker from the creators of Hendrick’s Gin.

Horatio is not your father’s speaker. In fact, he’s more like your grandfather as a speaker. The tabletop device is made from brass, leather, and copper, and looks like the offspring of a phonograph and a candlestick telephone. He won’t eavesdrop on your conversations, but he also won’t necessarily answer your questions—his slightly snide, British-accented responses range from commenting on your outfit to telling you that it’s “a good day to carry an umbrella in one hand and a cocktail in the other.” If your cocktail happens to be a martini, you can rest it on Horatio’s built-in martini holder.

Hendrick's gin horatio speaker
Hendrick's Gin

The device was released by Hendrick’s new Department of Not-So-Convenient Technology, the intentional antithesis to virtually every other existing department of technology. While most people are optimizing their home offices with minimalist decor and lightweight robot assistants, Horatio is a mascot for those of us who miss the dusty, dimly lit, leather-covered comfort of Grandfather’s study.

He’s not unlike Hendrick’s Gin itself, whose manufacturing process is old-fashioned and utterly laborious. It’s made in a tiny Scottish seaside village on two types of stills, infused with 11 botanicals, and combined with rose and cucumber essences.

Hendrick's gin horatio speaker
Hendrick's Gin

To add to the intrigue, only five Horatios exist in the world. Each unique, handmade device costs $1113, and, unfortunately, they’re currently sold out. While you’re waiting for one to hit an auction block near you, kick back with a glass of gin and dive into the world of fancy Prohibition cocktails here.

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