Americans are obsessed with collecting collectibles and have been bidding up the prices of trading cards, videogames, and other mementos from their youth. While this frenzy may have brought modest fortunes for some, it has been a source of deep frustration for many who still enjoy trading cards or playing games as a hobby.
The relics from millennials’ childhoods are among the most desired and even fought for items. These include trading cards like Pokemon’s Charizard or Magic: The Gathering’s Black Lotus, as well as Nintendo’s Super Mario Bros. cartridges. Unopened Super Mario games are fetching staggering $2 million, while some cards sell for hundreds of thousands.
This is not just a case where opportunistic collectors are trying to cash in on the nostalgia that was triggered by this pandemic. Everybody seems to be vying for a piece.
Companies that own franchises like Pokemon are quickly rolling out new editions; internet personalities are hawking them and making money. Companies that tell collectors what their possessions are worth have unprecedented business models. At least one of these companies has received financial backing from a prominent firm in private equity looking to join the action.
While some investors and collectors see dollar signs, others are unhappy about the disintegration of their close-knit communities. After the pandemic, players who want to play again in person are having difficulty finding the game pieces they need. If the pieces are still available, the prices are skyrocketing. The people who view trading cards, comics, and video games as a stock portfolio have made it clear that they don’t care about the rising prices are harassing critics.
“Prices are going up, and access is going down,” said Brian Lewis, who operates a YouTube channel under the name Tolarian Community College.
YouTube personalities have been fueling the collectibles frenzy partly through a self-fulfilling cycle that promotes collecting and increases in collectibles’ prices. Advertisers can make big money when they see the enthusiasm among their followers.
With more than 23 million subscribers, Logan Paul made several videos where he simply opens up boxes of vintage Pokemon cards, hyping the prices he’d paid and bringing in millions of views. UnlistedLeaf is an Australian YouTube personality who has gotten millions of views for similar videos.
It may be a new industry, but it is still a big business. “Brands want these audiences,” Justin Kline, cofounder of Markerly (an influencer marketing agency), said. He estimates that Anderson can earn upwards to $50,000 per unboxing video, while Logan Paul could earn six figures per video, according to industry standards.
Collectors are scrambling to determine if their Pikachu or Charizard, Mox Emerald, or Ancestral recall cards may be worth a lot. They turn to grading agencies, which have received a flood of orders.
Beckett’s has stopped accepting cards for grading unless customers are willing to pay $250 per card to receive its fast turnaround service, which is usually reserved for the most expensive collectibles. According to the company, basic grading takes more than one year.
Companies are creating new versions of their games to meet record demand. These premium products can be found at higher prices. It is not clear if the momentum will last, at least in terms of prices. Beanie Babies and Pogs were also popular fads that vanished in the 1990s. Most collectors left with worthless junk. Pokemon and Magic are both well-known and have experienced surges in interest for many years.
In the meantime, auction houses and grading firms are making a fortune from the current speculative frenzy.
Brian Lewis, a Portland-based video producer, uses the pseudonym “The Professor” to produce several videos per week in an effort to teach new and existing players his favorite hobby, Magic: The Gathering. He has more than 600,000. Subscribers. He also discusses the state of Magic: The Gathering, including the rising prices on the secondary market (cards bought in shops) and the price companies charge for Magic products.
He expressed concern that rising prices would have an effect on average people’s access to the game. “Magic is seeing a rising class of investors, and I don’t think that it’s having a positive effect on the game.”
The frenzy extends beyond trading cards. Early this summer, the U.S. Mint launched a 100th Anniversary Morgan silver dollar collection. This is a design that coin collectors consider to be among the most beautiful ever created. Within minutes, the products were gone.
An unopened copy Super Mario Bros. for Nintendo Entertainment System was sold for $2,000,000 three weeks ago. This made it the most expensive game ever sold. Only a few weeks earlier, a copy of Super Mario 64 sold for a then-record $1.6 million. An unopened copy of Nintendo’s Legend of Zelda from 1987 sold for $870,000 in early July.
Some videogame collectors have raised concerns about the exaggerated prices due to the involvement of third parties such as Rally, who sells “shares”, in collectibles.
The trading card industry is also experiencing high prices as players race to acquire desirable pieces.
A mint condition Black Lotus set from Magic: The Gathering, also known as Alpha, was sold January for $510,000. This is twice the price of a card in a similar condition that was sold six months prior in July 2020.
Austin Deceder (25), is primarily a middleman between players who want to make more money from their cards and new players. He is based in Kanas and now travels across the country to buy collections. This allows him to enjoy the game while also being financially involved.
Deceder owned a Black Lotus card which he said he sold in September 2020 for $7,000 “Here we stand now, and the price for that same card has more than doubled.”
It’s not only the rare cards that are experiencing inflation. The most popular Magic: The Gathering card “Ragavan Nimble Pilferer” was $30 earlier in the summer. Deceder claims that the card is now selling for $90 as more game stores have reopened following the pandemic.
He said, “Now that people are able to play in person,” card prices have risen again.
However, not everyone is happy. Some fans claim that the frenzy has made speculators and fans worse. This is more apparent than among Pokemon card collectors, who live by the motto “Gotta Get ‘Em All!”
Logan Paul’s first unboxing video, late last year, started the Pokemon frenzy. This only led to other content creators making similar videos, and collectors bidding up prices for cards new and old, stated Lee Steinfeld (34), a long-standing collector from Dallas, who makes videos under the name Leonhart.
He said, “That’s when everything went crazy.”
The Pokemon trading cards are regularly sold out in hobbyist shops as well as big-box retail outlets. Fistfights have broken out, requiring chains like Target to restrict the number of packs an individual customer can purchase. According to the Pokemon Company, it’s trying to print as many cards possible in order to keep up.
“Pretty much the entire Pokemon community has deteriorated,” said Shelbie, a creator of Pokemon videos under the name Frosted Caribou on YouTube.
While most of Shelbie’s content features unboxings or discussions about upcoming products, one of her most popular uploads was an hour-long video focused on the problems in the Pokemon collecting community since the frenzy began last year. Shelbie, who refused to reveal her last name in order to not be harassed, stated that harassment has been experienced from collectors with the most powerful collections, especially when Shelbie has discussed prices.
To celebrate its 25th birthday, Pokemon will release a set later this year. Shelbie stated that although an anniversary set is a popular choice, she was hesitant to release one.
“The set will be incredible. It will also be difficult to obtain. She said that it would be “absolutely terrible”.
However, Wall Street and corporations have benefited from the increase in interest.
Hasbro’s Wizards of the Coast division produces the tabletop role-playing game Dungeons & Dragons as well as Magic: The Gathering. Wizards reported second quarter revenue of $406 millions, which is more than twice the revenue from the previous year. In July, executives from Hasbro informed investors that they were soon raising product prices. Wizards introduced premium packs with cards that have harder-to-find pieces, which sell for up to five times the price of regular packs.
Wall Street also has been affected by the interest wave. Blackstone, the private equity firm, bought a majority stake of Certified Collectibles Group in July for $500,000,000. This company grades collectibles such as trading cards. Max Spiegel, the President of Certified Collectibles Group, stated that the company has increased its workforce by more than a third since last year. The company also plans to buy another 30,000 square feet in office space.
It is not clear if this will be good for long-standing hobbyists. While long-time collectors will likely make more money in the future than those who have just joined these communities, those who are new to the hobby may be buying overpriced cards that they believe will benefit the most. Community leaders suggested this was possible. This is similar to the stock market craze which drove GameStop and other meme stocks prices higher earlier in the year.
“There is now a whole subculture that uses Pokemon as a stock exchange. Shelbie stated that she doesn’t know how these people can see the community as healthy.