Interview: NBA 2 Ball Auction Winner

Coming full circle, the winner of the NBA 2 Ball auction, who wished only to be called Richard, graciously offered MPG an interview about his $700+ eBay purchase. I personally wanted the interview for a few reasons. Once the article got around the internet, there was a lot of confusion (or even disdain) as to why anyone would pay such huge amounts of money for a demo that the buyer will never really play. As a die-hard game collector myself, that caught me off guard. While I have never paid $700 for a game/demo myself, I have spent significant cash overall amassing a large array of games, great and basically unplayable equally. As such, I wanted to clear up why people collect, and this was a special case.

I also wanted to address the future viability of game collecting, especially the “bad games.” A copy of Halo 3 will not be worth much down the road. A copy of NBA 2 Ball could potentially be worth 100x’s the amount a new copy of Halo 3 went for back in 2007. Why?

So, the auction holder himself e-mailed Richard for me (as I did not have access), and Richard responded soon with a well-worded reply as to why NBA 2 Ball is worth the price he paid before I really even asked a question. His response took a direction that I did not expect, certainly one that I had never used in defense of my hobby:

“I consider video games as art work, all aspects of them. From the box art, to the code, to the game play itself. I think it is every bit a piece of art as the Mona Lisa even more so, because you can get a different enjoyment out of a game every time you play it. Plus, everyone can own a video game. Maybe not an NBA 2Ball, but a game nonetheless.”

Hear that Roger Ebert?

The question a lot people have, art or not, is why anyone would pay $700 for a demo disc of what is, frankly, “bad” art:

“In regards to the value of the game, I think it was a steal. I would not consider a PlayStation collection complete unless it included this game… There are not many people now trying to complete a PlayStation collection, but take my word for it there will be in the future. Just as no one thought about collecting a complete set of NES games 15 years ago, it will happen. The PlayStation may not be as popular and the NES today, but, it will be in 2020! Everyone of those collectors will WANT this game to complete their collection. I could see this game being worth $5000 or more, even if more of them come out. “

The concept of a complete game collection may confuse outsiders. Yes, it means owning every game for the console in question. Why not just burn the games from some online files, or use emulators you ask?

“… The fact is that everyone will ALWAYS want the genuine article. Any collector could buy a reproduction of a 1959 Mickey Mantle Baseball card, but people still pay thousands of dollars for the original one. I always use this analogy: A 1959 Ferrari Testarossa traded for $10,000 back in the late 1960’s. It sells for $3,000,000 today.  Anyone could buy a 2011 Mustang for $30,000 that would out perform that Ferrari on a track today. Even though that Ferrari is way out dated and by far technologically inferior, there are many people out there that are willing to pay Millions of dollars for the Ferrari!”

One note I would personally like to make is that anyone who collects sports card to gain complete sets has cards of no-names players in those boxes. The same goes for coin collectors and stamp collectors. Whatever the collection may be, there are always those duds and commons… although it is hard to say with a straight face any Ferrari could be called a “dud.”

Will Richard actually take the time to play his purchase?

“I will probably play it to test the next time I break out a PlayStation. But, I would not make a habit of playing often. There are too many better basketball games to play out there. Plus, I would lose $700 if it broke by accident.”

What about Halo 3 though? Why will well regarded classics never go for the same price as these oddball, generally awful games?

“The rarer the game the greater the appreciation. There are some great playing games that will hold a value because of the popularity at the time the game was released. I look to Super Smash Brothers on Nintendo 64. That game will always be easily sold and may increase in price a little over time. But, they will never be worth $1000’s… Maybe a sealed one, but not just a loose game, because there are so many of them out there…

“Now to the subject of bad games bringing big money. That is a subjective statement.  Lets assume that 2Ball is the worst game ever produced. From a purely investment stand point. What would you rather have: a game like “Halo” or NBA 2 Ball? Sure “Halo” was one of the best games of all times. In 20 years, it is still going to look like “Adventure” on the Atari 2600. Your children are going to say, ‘What this crappy game (Halo) was NOT even in 3D. How could you play this back in 2000? I want to go back and play Final Fantasy 47!’

“Plus, there are 20 Million copies out there of Halo. Or, you could have a game that maybe three people in the world own. I would choose NBA 2 Ball all day long and twice on Sundays. Now from a purely collectible stand point, how impressed are your readers that I have a copy of Halo “Collectors Edition?” I bet they are much more interested in the fact that I have purchased one of the only copies of NBA 2Ball “White Label” ever found! The proof of that is that I have never been asked for an interview about my Halo game!”

Richard made one more analogy, this time to baseball cards, to try and help his point:

“Now everyone has heard of Babe Ruth, but a Honus Wagner baseball card is many times more valuable than a Babe Ruth card. This is why bad games can and sometimes bring big money. It is not about the game any more than it is about the rarity. People have a tough time comprehending that part of collection. Who would have thought that a two inch piece of cardboard with a picture of a baseball player that no one had ever heard of would bring over a million dollars?”

Richard certainly made his point in terms of analogy, although I can say from first hand experience some people do not have any type of collecting bug in their body. Convincing those people that spending time buying old games is a good idea is impossible. It takes a bit of a pack rat, a bit of a hoarder, and some OCD for it to come together. The gaming industry is unique in that we rarely look back, except for brief bits of nostalgia. We continue to look forward at new technology and shun the old. Know that there are those of us out there who continue to preserve the classics in a physical medium, for whatever our personal reasons are.

Richard is one who sees the value in the future of this hobby. I, personally, am one who sees the value and the need for preservation. I have seen first hand how quickly you are brushed aside despite having extensive knowledge of where gaming came from. I can see it as a specialized field moving forward, and hopefully one that can gain some traction and respect as the industry moves to a consumer unfriendly digital medium. Hopefully, we can all understand why that physical media, or that rather terrible little NBA 2 Ball demo, deserves to preserved as part of our heritage, history, and future.