You could be forgiven for doing a double-take at the eBay listing for Shinrei Jusatsushi Tarōmaru. It is, after all, a 25-year-old video game, released exclusively on the Sega Saturn, a console that was objectively a disaster. Seems like a curio, maybe, something you’d find at a garage sale and think about buying before realizing, hey, I’m never going to play a game for the Sega Saturn.
You’d be wrong. That game is listed for nearly $2,000, is highly sought-after by thousands of obsessive collectors and speculators, and is, as almost an afterthought, considered a pretty good game. The eBay seller who listed that game is Super Potato, a legendary Japanese stalwart of the vintage video game world that now uses eBay to capitalize on a new obsession with decades-old titles, memorabilia and other artifacts of the digital age.
There is, necessarily, a gap in time between when something is new and when it gains appreciation as a vintage item. In California , for example, a car must be at least 25 years old to qualify as a “vehicle of historic interest.” While video games are certainly newer as a product category than cars, the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) launched in Japan in 1983 and in the U.S. in 1985 — old enough, by now, to easily be considered a classic, with all the nostalgia and collectability that implies. These dates are fluid, though, without a firm definition of what makes something “classic” or “retro.” “There are people who call the Nintendo GameCube and PlayStation 2 ‘retro,’ while there are others who demand that nothing made in the 21st Century could ever qualify as such a thing,” writes Patrick Scott Patterson in Scholarly Gamers.
Super Potato, now with seven locations across Japan, has capitalized on that nostalgia for newly classic video games. It’s part art gallery, part museum, part arcade and part store. It’s been described as a must-visit destination for video game enthusiasts in Japan. “We see a lot of customers coming from not only Japan but also from many other countries,” says Super Potato’s Yasutaka Mori. At its flagship store, in the Akihabara district of Tokyo, Super Potato stocks over 70,000 items — video games from the 1980s through to today, tons of merchandise and apparel, and even an arcade on the store’s fifth floor, along with some soda in old-style glass bottles. In Nagoya, the Super Potato has a sort of subspecialty focusing on Nintendo’s Kirby series, with shelf upon shelf of items relating to the fluffy pink character.
But the shop had never had an online presence; it wasn’t necessary, as the physical stores were so popular. That all changed due to COVID-19. “It was the middle of the pandemic, and international customers could not enter Japan at that time,” says Mori. “So management decided to offer our game collection to internet customers, and we started a store on eBay.” Since early 2020, when Super Potato became an eBay seller, they’ve listed over 10,000 items.
Video games might be a relatively new collectible item compared with, say, trading cards or books, but there are decades of history and plenty of quirky, rare things to collect. “People, say, in the [United] States, people start collecting baseball cards,” says Ryuichi Kagawa, a specialist at Super Potato. “But prices are very high, so they think, well, video games have a history of more than 50 years, which I guess is enough to start collecting those cartridges and game CDs and other memorabilia.”
In the early days, the NES sometimes had games exclusive to either Japan or to North America. There are plenty of famous games that were made but not released; prototypes of these games are meticulously documented and highly sought after. And there’s no shortage of games; while the NES had, according to sources like Video Game Sage , only 677 official games, despite being launched only a decade later, the Sony Playstation boasts over 8,000. (The PlayStation’s number of games varies based on whether you include special editions, differentiate between different regions, and so forth, but Wikipedia lists over 8,200 .) The total number of games is huge, with alternate versions and special editions and those many unreleased games only adding to the total. In short, it’s ripe for collectors.
An influx of collectors have made an entire industry out of game collection, where one didn’t exist hardly at all before five or so years ago. A copy of, say, Paper Mario for the N64 wouldn’t have earned more than a few dollars quite recently. But today, if that copy is clean, fully tested and comes with its original box? You could be looking at a few hundred dollars — and that’s for a game that wasn’t at all rare when it was released.
For collectors, video games have an added value on top of their value as collectibles. We grew up with these games, begged for them as gifts, played them at friends’ houses, anxiously awaited new releases. There’s a sentimental attachment to them. “You remember when you're a kid, and you play a video game in the living room on the big TV screen,” says Mori. In addition, well, you can actually play them; this is true of Pokemon cards, too, but not of other collectibles like sports cards. If you can get your hands on a copy of Spud’s Adventure for the Nintendo Game Boy, it’s a very valuable item, but it’s also, well, a Game Boy game.
Super Potato started out in the 1960s as a general store in Osaka. The owner was interested in games, and added cards and electronic games when the genre was in its infancy. In 1984, after Nintendo released the NES in the United States, it became clear that video games were a massive new phenomenon, and the owner decided to dedicate his store to them. Today, they’re a shrine to the history of video games: many customers go simply to visit, to gawk and both the common and the incredibly rare items from the history of gaming, to play arcade games upstairs, and, sometimes, to buy something. “If you come to our store, it’s like digging potatoes,” says Kagawa. “You have a chance to find a treasure which exceeds your expectations.”
Super Potato has come across some incredibly rare and valuable items; one, the rare Japanese version of Spider-Man and Venom: Maximum Carnage, boasted a price tag of 1.5 million Yen, well over $10,000. (This particular game is most prized for completionists who want to own every game ever made for the Mega Drive, or, as it was known in the U.S., the Sega Genesis.)
“We're always on the lookout to buy those very very rare games to add to our collection and to sell to customers globally,” says Mori. “One US customer approached us to find one game, the very last game issued for the PS2 platform.” That game, Pro Evolution Soccer 2014, is very difficult to find. But Super Potato was able to locate what they think may well have been the last copy available in Japan, and to make that global customer very happy. “eBay certainly helped us to build up our name in the video game market,” says Mori.
The items Super Potato lists on eBay range from the highly prized (like Seirei Densetsu Lickle for the NES, with its original box and manual) to some of the best known, and most common, games from our childhoods (like, say, Wave Race 64). “eBay certainly helped us to build up our name in the video game market,” says Mori. But it’s also allowed customers around the world to shop at one of the most iconic video game stores in the world.