Damaged Goods: Why Retro Gamers Should Learn To Love Worn Cardboard Boxes & Poor Condition Classics

Damaged-Retro-Games"I'm really sorry" read the email from the eBay seller, "the corners of the box are a bit worn but otherwise it's in perfect condition". There really was no reason for the seller to be sorry; this was exactly what I wanted to hear and I put a bid in immediately. In the antiques world there's a word for this appealing damage; Patina.

Patina describes the changes that any object goes through over the course of time. For collected pieces, the change in appearance is usually caused by the build-up of dirt, grease, or chemical changes in the finish or the object itself, like the yellowing of a SNES console or Commodore Amiga keyboard, for example.

That "old look" to some actually gives an object a rich and attractive appearance, however, others want the things they own to look new; like no one has owned them before them. It's an unrealistic goal. The games we tend to collect are decades old so we shouldn't expect them to be pristine. They were typically owned by children, and though treasured, these games wouldn't have only been handled with white gloves on. Unless they were owned by a lunatic they also wouldn't have been stored in air right boxes away from the ravages of time.

As a child I kept my games on a shelf, or knocking about in a drawer. I loved my SNES games and wanted to keep them looking nice but despite my best efforts the edges of boxes got worn and some even got crushed. I probably took more care than most, and this is why when You see "mint" listings on eBay you should be anxious rather than excited. There is of course a chance that a parent hid game boxes from their children and gave them only the carts, or maybe the game was bought for a child but never given and has instead sat in a loft for years. Unfortunately, these cases are exceptionally rare, and if you're excited by a "mint" listing on eBay there's a chance that you are getting fooled by a reproduction box.

Unwanted Attention

The value old games is now well known, they even get featured on TV shows like 'Cash in the Attic'. This has not been a good development for the RetroCollectee as every old granny now is holding the opinion that they can sell their grandchild's collection of old games for a fortune - even though this collection is made up of loose FIFA titles and a battered disc for a wrestling game.


With classic games being in the spotlight all too often, several dubious individuals have sadly been given quick money making ideas. Equipped with nothing more than a printer and some spare cardboard, these characters are now in the belief that making a box for a loose retro game can treble it's value, if done convincingly. Some list these homemade boxes more honestly on eBay, whilst others are less moral. Of course, poor reproduction boxes are easy to spot, they may be missing a barcode, or the inside of the packaging is white rather than grey. The problem is you can only tell this when you're holding the box, as creative item photography on eBay can often mask and mislead a buyer.

A twenty year old game has had a twenty year life. Isn't it nicer if it reflects that rather than hides it?

You often hear horror stories from fellow collectors when they think they have bought a valuabe or rare video game, only to discover that the box had been badly printed using an ink jet printer... probably hours before the listing went up. Raising a case with eBay is near pointless, as buried in the original item description is often the phrase "may not be the original box" or something as equally vague and sadly legally binding to your purchase. Though they may have the original cartridge, the packaging (which is where the money was spent) is worthless.

The pursuit of a mint copy - rather than one that is in a condition that matches it's age - has been many collector's downfall.

Settling for second best

Maybe unscrupulous counterfeiters will get wise to perfection being the tell take sign of a forgery, but until they do perhaps a bit of wear and tear is something a retro collector should be attracted to rather than repulsed by. A twenty year old game has had a twenty year life. Isn't it nicer if it reflects that rather than hides it? I for one like seeing price stickers for now deceased uk chains like Our Price or Rumbelows - something which reminds me of a by-gone time. I dare say that if a master criminal is so inclined, they can create the perfect copy of a box, but I bet they'll never go to the effort of perfecting a pre-owned sticker from the now defunct Gamestation.

So while my collection of boxed games may have some that have seen better days, at least I know they are all originals.

But what do you think? When you buy a game does it matter if it's genuinely old? Or is it much nicer to own something that's attractive? Is the assurance of authenticity that damage offers worth paying more for? Have a think and put finger to keyboard in the comments section below.

Last Updated ( 04 September 2014 )  

Julian Hill

Julian is the author of the popular blog Boxed Pixels, and is currently on a mission to document his thoughts as he buys boxed complete SNES Games.

Described by PlayStation Access as a "gamer, Dad and all round hero" he has been playing games since they had four colours on screen and blips for music.

Other recent articles:


+6 (Link to this comment) DerZocker 2014-09-05 10:57
I always love it when there are notes written in old game manuals. It gives the game a history
+1 (Link to this comment) milamber91 2014-09-05 11:10
Agreed :D
+2 (Link to this comment) scawp 2014-09-05 11:03
I buy and collect games to play, I also like to think the games I've bought have been played, and played well, I've often said to people when buying or have been given their old collections "don't worry they are going to a good home" as I would hate to think that if I ever got rid of my games that they would become anything other than things to be used and enjoyed.

New & sealed games put me off, and often you see on ebay they often go for less than opened, I never considered that this might be because they are fake, for me it is that I wouldn't want to be the one that opened it.

I have very few boxed SNES games, I don't see this a a problem as I don't consider myself a collector, just an avid gamer. Saying that, I do have some prized possessions like my mint Sega CD Heart of the Alien which I would be gutted if I broke the case.
+2 (Link to this comment) milamber91 2014-09-05 11:13
Although I agree with Julian's articles, for me there is a limit to how mashed up old game boxes/manuals can be. If its really torn and crushed and with sticker labels all over the place, for me its a no. Some tear and wear is acceptable, but not if it looks like you scrubbed the thing against a cactus for ages.
(Link to this comment) sechu 2014-09-05 13:32
I do not agree on this. In my opinion it is careless handling. I have old games and they show very little sign of wear because I cared about them. I would never add a game in this condition (as pictured) to my collection. No offense, tastes are different! :-)
+2 (Link to this comment) Mayhem 2014-09-05 16:50
Yeah... games get old, they get used, they can still be in reasonable nick with the right attitude. I don't mind buying games in somewhat used condition, but I'd never buy any that are in the condition pictured in article ;)
+1 (Link to this comment) earthling1990 2014-09-05 17:56
Some interesting insights in this article. Although I prefer a game to be reasonably looked after I'm not the sort of person who would pass on something just because of a bit of wear.
Also, in relation to "A twenty year old game has had a twenty year life. Isn't it nicer if it reflects that rather than hides it?" - I found a receipt behind the artwork on one of my megadrive games the other day from 1992. I don't ever remember paying £39.99 for magadrive games.
+1 (Link to this comment) suedehatbats 2014-09-05 23:26
Although I wouldn't handle my games in such a way... anymore, I do agree that having a tatted box is better than no box at all. :)
+1 (Link to this comment) gunstarhero 2014-09-06 10:45
It goes to show that there are so many different perspectives when it comes to collecting. Personally, I would consider a game that comes in the sort of condition as pictured as unboxed, I would never be able to settle for a game in any box if it wasn't at the very least in good condition, but it is good to hear others collecting habits and fully respect your stand-point.
+1 (Link to this comment) Saturn 2014-09-06 17:34
I have to disagree with this article, at least partially. It's a good perspective and actually gets you thinking.

I care about the condition of the games I have and buy. I like when a SNES game I buy has that minimal wear which proves it is an authentic copy. But damaged items are not the same thing as general wear and those examples you show do not fit the parameters of "general wear from aging and handling". One thing is a copy of the game that I own since childhood and treasure it as such, no matter the condition of the box. If I'm going to spend money on something expensive, it better be worth it. To me, a badly crushed box is the same for a brand new game or a 20 y.o. game. I want to look at my game library and fill my eyes with candy while being proud of it at the same time.
(Link to this comment) Videopac 2014-09-07 16:15
I do agree. Patina with motorcycles seems to have really taken off. exactly why im not fussed about getting mine back to original. It is a mish mash of many parts that resembles the bike it should be. and the dents have been left because its in the history of the bike. It's had a hard life. but...

I hate the word Patina. I don't like the fact it's being applied to games. lol. oh well.

If I bought a perfect copy of any game it would soon get patina. quickest way is to leave a case on the side where 3yr olds can reach....
(Link to this comment) DarakuTenshi 2014-09-08 14:22
I can't say that I agree with this. Though I'd rather have a worn box than no box at all...
When I was younger I took care of my stuff and I have quite a few boxes that are in amazing condition. But, when I buy secondhand I don't mind getting a box that might be slightly worn, I would never go out of my way to buy a box that looks like that Zelda one though.
(Link to this comment) impact24 2015-01-07 17:17
Late reply, but I found this article too interesting to not comment on! As a collector who is somewhat eager to keep his collection in good condition, it is genuinely refreshing to read about another perspective.

My opinion on patina is somewhat different though. In the watch collecting community for example, patina doesn't refer to just any change to the object over time - but specifically to changes on the metal surface due to oxidation and the dial being exposed to sunlight. Also, this patina is not the same as actual damage (e.g. scuffs, scrapes, dings) to the watch. The latter almost always reduces the value of the watch while a real uniformed patina that looks nice may greatly increase it.

Anyway, it's always nice to see other perspectives from fellow collectors! Looking forward to more articles on collectors.
(Link to this comment) Toasty!Fresh 2015-10-25 16:02
I like to get games in good condition. Although some that have something that gives it a bit of history and make you think is cool. Like I have a Pokemon stadium cart that has two names stratched into the back, with a surname stratched into the top. So that made you think two brothers had owned and shared that game.. which gives it a great little back story.

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