NEW YORK (AP) – Americans have become obsessed with collectibles, bidding on the prices of collectible cards, video games and other memorabilia from their youth. The frenzy has brought small fortunes for some, but deep frustration for those who still enjoy playing games or trading cards as a hobby.
Among the most sought-after – and even contested – items are the relics of Millennials’ childhoods. These include copies of collectible cards such as Pokemon’s Charizard and Magic: The Gathering’s Black Lotus as well as Cartridges from Super Mario Bros. game from Nintendo. Some cards sell for hundreds of thousands of dollars and an unopened Super Mario game recently sold for $ 2 million.
This is more than a case of opportunistic collectors seeking to profit from a burst of nostalgia triggered by the pandemic. Everyone is apparently looking for a piece of the pie.
Companies that own franchises like Pokemon are rolling out new editions as quickly as they can print them; Internet personalities sell the products and make advertising money; companies that tell collectors how much their possessions are worth are doing unprecedented business – and in at least one case gaining financial backing from a major private equity firm looking to join in on the action.
But while some collectors and investors see dollar signs, others complain about the collapse of their close-knit communities. Players looking to replay in person after the pandemic are unable to find the game pieces they want; if parts are available, prices have gone up astronomically. Critics of the price hike have become targets of harassment from those who now view trading cards, comics and video games as a portfolio of stocks.
“Prices are going up and access is going down,” said Brian Lewis, who operates a YouTube channel under the name Tolarian Community College.
The collectibles frenzy was fueled in part by a self-fulfilling cycle of YouTube personalities causing hype around collecting and raising the prices of collectibles. This can lead to big wins as advertisers notice the frenzy generated among the influencer’s dedicated followers.
With over 23 million subscribers, Logan Paul has made several videos in which he simply opens boxes of ancient Pokemon cards, driving up the prices he paid and generating millions of views. Australian YouTube personality Michael Anderson nicknamed UnlistedLeaf has garnered millions of views making similar videos.
“It might be a booming industry, but it’s still a big deal. Brands want to reach these audiences, ”said Justin Kline, co-founder of Markerly, an influencer marketing agency. Based on industry standard metrics, he estimates that Anderson earns up to $ 50,000 in ad revenue unboxing videos, while Logan Paul can earn six figures per video.
The hype has sent collectors scrambling to find out if their Pikachu, Charizard, Mox Emerald, or Ancestral Recall cards could be worth a fortune. To do this, they turn to filing services, which have been inundated with orders.
Beckett’s rating service has effectively stopped accepting all note cards unless the customer is willing to pay $ 250 per card for their lightning-fast processing service usually reserved for more expensive collectibles. The turnaround time for basic filing services is over a year, according to the company.
In response to record demand, companies are releasing new versions of the games, including premium products at higher prices. It’s unclear if the momentum is sustainable, at least when it comes to pricing. Other fashions like Beanie Babies or Pogs only exploded in the 90s in a crater, leaving most collectors with worthless trash. Pokemon and Magic have been around for decades and have already seen a resurgence of interest.
In the meantime, auction houses and filing companies are making their fortunes by taking advantage of the current speculative frenzy.
Portland-based Brian Lewis produces several videos a week under the moniker “The Professor”, in hopes of teaching new and existing players his favorite hobby, Magic: The Gathering. With more than 600,000 subscribers, he also comments on the state of the game, in particular the issue of rising prices, both on the secondary market (cards purchased in stores) and on the prices charged by companies for products like Magic.
“I am deeply concerned that these rising prices will have an impact on the average person’s access to gambling,” he said. “There is a growing class of investors in Magic, and I think that is not having a positive impact on the game.”
But the frenzy goes beyond collectible cards. The US Mint released a 100th anniversary collection of the Morgan Silver Dollar, considered by coin collectors to be one of the finest designs ever made, earlier this summer. The products sold out within minutes.
Three weeks ago, an unopened copy of Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo Entertainment System sold for $ 2 million, making it the most expensive video game sold. Just weeks earlier, a copy of Super Mario 64 had sold for a record $ 1.6 million. An unopened copy of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda from 1987 sold for $ 870,000 in early July.
Some members of the video game collecting community have questioned whether the prices paid had not been exaggerated by the involvement of third parties like Rally, which sells “stocks” in collectibles.
Meanwhile, the collectible card community is seeing its own steep prices as players scramble to find coveted coins for their collection.
A pristine Black Lotus from Magic: The Gathering’s first set known as Alpha, which sold in January for over $ 510,000. This price is double what a card in a similar condition sold for six months previously in July 2020.
Austin Deceder, 25, mainly buys and sells cards on Facebook and Twitter as a middleman between players wishing to get out of their games and new players. Based in Kanas City, he now travels the country buying collections as his full-time job, having to balance his enjoyment of the game with his financial involvement.
Deceder had a used Black Lotus card which he said he sold for $ 7,000 in September 2020. “We are there now and the price of that same card has doubled.”
It’s not just ultra-rare cards that see inflation. Take the widely available Magic: The Gathering card named “Ragavan, Nimble Pilferer”. The card, depicting a bespectacled monkey sitting on treasure, was priced at $ 30 earlier this summer. The card is now selling for almost $ 90, Deceder says, as game stores reopened after the pandemic.
“Now that people can play in person, card prices are going up again,” he said.
However, not everyone is happy. Some enthusiasts say the frenzy brought out the worst in fans and speculators. Nowhere is this more evident than among Pokémon card collectors, with its motto “Gotta Catch ‘Em All! “
The frenzy in Pokemon started late last year when Logan Paul made his first unboxing videos, which only led to other content creators making similar videos and collectors raising the prices. new and vintage cards, said Lee Steinfeld, 34, a longtime collector. in Dallas who does videos, including unboxes, under the Leonhart name.
“That’s when things got crazy,” he said.
Since then, Pokemon Trading Card Boxes have been sold regularly in hobbyist stores and big box retail stores. Fights have broken out, forcing chains like Target to restrict the number of packs an individual customer can purchase. The Pokemon Company says they are trying to print as many cards as possible to keep pace.
“Almost the entire Pokémon community has deteriorated,” said Shelbie, a creator of Pokémon videos by the name of Frosted Caribou on YouTube.
While most of Shelbie’s content features unboxes or discussions of upcoming products, one of her most popular uploads was a one-hour video that focused on the issues of the Pokémon collecting community from the start. of the frenzy last year. Shelbie, who declined to give a last name to avoid being the target of harassment, said some harassment in the past has come from some of the community’s biggest collectors, especially when she spoke about the prices.
Later this year, Pokemon will release a set to celebrate its 25th anniversary. While an anniversary set would usually spark the interest of any collector, this time Shelbie said she was hesitant.
“The set is going to be amazing. It will also be unobtainable. It’s going to be horrible actually, ”she said.
But the renewed interest has been good for business and for Wall Street.
Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast division creates the tabletop role-playing game “Dungeons & Dragons” as well as Magic: The Gathering. Wizards reported second-quarter revenue of $ 406 million, more than double its revenue from a year ago. Hasbro executives told investors in July that they would raise product prices soon. Wizards introduced premium card packs with harder to find game pieces that sell for four to five times more than a regular pack.
Wall Street has also rode the wave of interest. Private equity giant Blackstone bought a controlling stake in Certified Collectibles Group, a company that classifies collectibles as collectible cards, in July for $ 500 million. The company has doubled its number of employees since last year and is purchasing an additional 30,000 square feet of office space, President Max Spiegel said.
It is not known if this is good for players who have been practicing these hobbies for a long time. Long-time collectors are likely to make money in the future, but those who have recently entered those communities may buy overpriced cards touted by those who will benefit the most, community leaders said. It’s not unlike the stock market craze that drove the prices of GameStop and other “meme” stocks up earlier this year.
“There is now a whole subculture that uses Pokemon as a purse. I don’t know how these people can look at the community and say it’s healthy, ”Shelbie said.