A copy of the much-loved Super Mario Bros for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) has sold for $140,000 in the United States – a record price for a video game.
Before you go digging for the old cartridge in your cupboard or go visit a flea market, this copy of the 34-year-old classic is particularly rare and its like has never been seen before on the market in such immaculate condition.
It handily beat the previous record, a copy of Super Mario Bros from a later print run that sold on eBay in 2017 for $42,000.
Of the 40 million copies of the game sold, a few thousand are estimated to have been in the initial “test launch” of the NES in New York and Los Angeles.
You can tell because the game was sold with a sticker seal instead of being put inside plastic shrink wrap, said Deniz Kahn, president of Wata Games, which certified and graded the game before it was sold.
Mr Kahn said this copy of the game was the equivalent of video games’ Action Comics #1 — the debut of Superman, and the most valuable comic book in the world.
“This was before Nintendo had gone nationwide [in the US],” he told the ABC.
The game came out in 1985 after the video game crash of 1983, in which other makers – including Atari and Intellivision – pumped out low-quality games and many people regarded the industry as a fad.
“And so Nintendo came along and tried out their product in these test markets, and at the time, Super Mario Bros was just another game,” Mr Kahn said.
“It turned out to be the largest video game franchise and recognisable character in the world. But at the time nobody knew it.
“This copy came from that test market. Not only that, but it’s the only known still sealed copy from the test market. And on top of that, it’s in immaculate condition – possibly the nicest condition of any sticker-sealed game that has ever been discovered.”
Copy well known among tight-knit collectors
This record-breaking copy is technically from the second print run of the game in test markets – a difference denoted by the sticker’s gloss as opposed to a matte finish – but no sealed copy of the first run has found its way to market.
Mr Kahn said as a collector himself, he had known about this rare copy of the game and its owner for some time.
“It has been owned by one of the largest sealed video game collectors,” he said.
“Due to that and us being hardcore collectors, and the community being fairly tight-knit and small for a long time, we’ve known who had the game.”
The copy was sent to Wata Games several months ago for grading and was rated a near perfect 9.4 out of 10 before being sent back to the owner.
The game sold last week to a syndicate of private collectors, said Mr Kahn, who was not involved in the sale.
At least three of the new owners have made themselves public: Heritage Auctions founder Jim Halperin, video game store owner Zac Gieg and collector Rich Lecce.
Mr Kahn said the original owner had been holding on to the game for a while and famously would not entertain offers below six figures. It sold for $US100,150.
He said the game-collecting market was starting to mature and head down the same path as coins and comic books before it.
“In the late 1980s, comic prices started to skyrocket because they weren’t viewed as just this relic of nostalgia, but rather they were appreciated by collectors and the community as legitimate forms of art and history,” he said.
“And that’s what you’re starting to see happen in video games.”