Retro game prices are rigged, lawsuits

Retro game prices are rigged, lawsuits

Wata Graded Retro games await their fate at a heritage auction.

screenshot: Heritage Auctions/Kotaku

The market frenzy leads to Record prices for retro games appears to have slowed since last year, but the frustration with the collectibles grading firm at the center of apex hasn’t changed. Earlier this week, a number of Wata Games customers filed a class action lawsuit to put an end to some of the seemingly shady deals that are said to have sparked the recent classic games gold rush Super Mario 64 and The Legend of Zelda.

The class action lawsuit filed in the Central District Court of California (first spotted by podcaster Pat Contri) is on behalf of Jacob Knight, Jack Cribbs and Jason Dohse and others who may be “in a similar position”. They accuse Wata Games and owner Collectors Universe of inflating a bubble around collecting retro games, misleading customers and a “pattern of extortion activity”.

The basic way it works is that collectors send their games to Wata to determine how pristine and rare they are. Wata charges fees to speed up the process and a 2% commission on games over $2,500. And now some of those collectors are claiming Wata ripped them off by hyping the retro game market and then charging a premium for his services while failing to return game owners who sent it in for evaluation in time.

Wait times for collectible review houses have skyrocketed during the pandemic, but some of Wata’s reported delays are particularly lengthy. The longest estimated waiting time is 150 days. However, a customer showed my box Screenshots of their order to have a copy Fire Emblem: Path of Radiance graded for the GameCube. It was originally placed in November 2020. They said they only got it back this week, over 18 months later.

Wata Games did not immediately respond to a request for comment.

The lawsuit’s other allegations of wholesale market manipulation are nothing new. In fact, most of the allegations come from a Mini-documentary on the subject by YouTuber Karl Jobst released last August. She accused Wata Games, Heritage Auctions House and various collectors of driving up the value of (allegedly) particularly rare retro games through subjective classifications, secret bidders and record-breaking sales prices.

Much of the criticism from Jobst and others at the time focused on a few key events. The top price for a retro game in 2017 was $30,000 for a high quality sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. In 2019, a Wata reviewed copy of the same game sold for a staggering $100,150 over a widespread private auction. The buyers included three people, one of whom was the founder of Heritage Auctions House, Jim Halperin. Later that same year, Wata founder Deniz Kahn (the senior grader) appeared on the television show pawn stars to say that the same copy was worth up to $300,000. Last year, what Wata described as an extremely rare, boxed and sealed variant of Super Mario Bros. was sold for $2 million.

A VGA rated copy of Super Mario 64 is for sale at Goldin Auctions.

Kahn, Halperin, and others singled out in Jobst’s documentary denied any wrongdoing, and to be fair, evidence of actual fraud never surfaced. A few months later, Wata began fulfilling a widespread collector’s demand publication of population reports for different games. In the collectible world, population reports are estimated guesses at how many sealed items, in this case games, of a given quality still exist in the wild, based on research and previous work. They are incredibly helpful to collectors and demonstrated a show of greater transparency from Wata. Remarkably, there have been no other record-breaking retro game auctions in the months since.

in a (n updated video released last December, Jobst pointed out that two copies Super Mario 64 had recently sold for dramatically less than it did at a Heritage Auctions auction earlier this year. A Wata graded sealed copy rated 9.8 A++ at the July 2021 Heritage auction sold for $1,560,000. A similarly priced specimen at an auction by rival auction house Goldin Auctions in September went for only $800,000. Then, at a Goldin auction in October, a copy of the game (industry rival to Wata) was rated STEM 95 by VGA. went for only $240,000. These prices would have been unthinkable a few years ago, but suggest that the retro gaming market may have undergone a major correction recently.

Whether the new class action lawsuit against Wata will do anything is another question entirely. “The plaintiffs are asking for an injunction [Wata] immediately not to make false statements about expected processing times for the classification of services,” it says. Those suing also want “redress” for delays and the potential difference in commissions if retro games weren’t inflated.

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