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Acquiring Classic Games
Certainly, one of the more difficult aspects of classic gaming is finding the games and systems to buy. Many of the older systems, like the Atari 2600 and the Intellivision among others, went out of production well more than a decade ago. Hence, unfortunately, systems and games can often be hard to find. One positive aspect, however, is that when they can be found, they are often quite inexpensive. An Atari can be had for less than $20 (often less, but occassionally more, depending on its condition and the type of source), and many of the more common games run around $2. Of course, because there is only a finite source of game cartridges, many less common ones are considerably more expensive - but even the least common rarely cost much more more than a new PC game, which isn't bad considering their rarity. Exceptions are game prototypes (that is, games developed but never released, or early forms of released games), which can often be quite expensive.
But not all systems are so bad off. Even the aging Gameboy is still being manufactured; in fact, the revamped Gameboy Pockets are causing a resurgence of interest in the system. Super Nintendo games are still to be found on store shelves in abundance (it hasn't been that long since the Nintendo 64 superseded the SNES!), and even NES games are still common.
Finding Games for Pre-NES Systems
Well then, if there are games out there, where is the best place to find them? For older systems, one of the first places to look is a local thrift store (Goodwill stores especially seem to acquire Atari cartridges). Flea markets and garage sales are other good places. You can also always try a relative's attic - people have an unfortunate habit of burying away perfectly good (if slightly "obsolete") game systems.
If you don't feel like running around from thrift store to flea market to thrift store hoping to find a cartridge that you don't already own (it will happen), try an online auction on the newsgroup rec.games.video.classic or one of the Commodore newsgroups (see the Commodore links) for Commodore 64 games. (In newsgroup auctions, the seller posts a list of the items for sale. Anyone can then e-mail a bid for an item. The seller will peridoically post an updated list with the highest bids so far, and then anyone can raise a bid. When the auction closes, usually after a couple weeks, the items go to the highest bidder on each item.) Auction prices can be cheaper or more expensive than local sources, but the prices are usually fairer because they are based upon supply and demand. Online auctions are usually safe, but then there is always some out out there waiting to run a scam, so don't be careless...
A few companies still sell new copies of games. The best company of this sort is Telegames, who used to make Atari 2600 games for Sears back when they sold their version of the 2600, but that is really another story altogether. Telegames has a fair selection (but still more limited than the auctions), but their prices are usually considerably higher. Of course, being new, their cartridges are in mint condition.
A last but important source of old games is the release by companies of old games, usually in a package with an emulator for PCs or Mac. Activision did this with their Atari 2600 games, Telegames did it with some Colecovision games, as have several other companies. The Blue Sky Rangers bought out the old Intellivision properties and plan on releasing a CD-ROM of Intellivision games with an emulator. A few companies have chosen to release their old games for free, that is, allow anyone to make a copy of the game for personal or non-commercial perposes, with varying restrictions on their distribution and use (some will allow almost anything, others have strict rules regarding distribution). Sites with lists of these games and even new, free games written for old systems can be found on my links page under the category Free ROMs.
Finding Nintendo-era and Post-Nintendo Games
Generally finding video games from this era is rather easy (though their prices do tend to go up proportionatelyto their availability). You can always find them at garage sales and such, and many stores still sell them new. NES games are relatively easy to find at software stores and department stores, as, of course, are SNES games and Gameboy games, as well as Genesis games. But my favorite source is Funcoland. They sell used and new games for the NES, Gameboy, Genesis, SNES, Saturn, Playstation, and N64. If you haven't checked them out before, do it now! There aren't usually many (if any) used games for the newer systems, but the they have plenty for the older systems, often at rather reduced prices, although some cost almost as much as they were new, depending on how long ago they were released. Still, some games are rather overpriced there. Also, try the newsgroup rec.games.video.marketplace; there are always auctions running there.
Games for the Atari systems Jaguar and Lynx can be hard to find. Try Telegames again, or one of the Atari games newsgroups (like rec.games.video.atari). Games for systems like the Sega Master System, Sega Game Gear, and other non-Nintendo systems from the late eighties can be hard to find too. All I can say is try the various games newsgroups.
Buying Classic PC Games
Finding classic PC games is usually easier, especially if the game is newer. Many stores and sell old games at rather low prices. Games only a year old can run as low as $15, even for good ones. That's considerably lower than the $55 most new games run. Some games take longer to come down, but most become rather cheap within a couple years.
Some companies have rereleased old games for budget prices (like Virgin's white label line), or have released packages of multiple games for a low price (Microprose has done this with several of their strategy games, for example). You can find some more bargains at Computer Gaming World Online's HUB, which has a list of bargain priced PC games available from various sources.
Unfortunately, some games are simply no longer published, and they can be hard to find. Discount software retailers may have some such games. They also tend to show up in clearance bins every once in a while when stores clean out their wearhouses. Larger mail order houses may also have some older games. Basically, just keep looking until you find the game you're looking for.
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