You don’t have to be much of a gamer to recognize Mario: the quick-moving Italian plumber in a red hat and coveralls.
But how much is he worth to you? One anonymous bidder decided on $1.56 million, according to Heritage Auctions in Dallas.
The record-breaking sale surprised even the auction house’s video games specialist, Valarie McLeckie.
“I was … a bit blindsided, I have to say,” McLeckie tells NPR.
Part of the reason this was such a high-value sale is the pure nostalgia of Mario, says McLeckie. The 1996 Nintendo game was the first time players could guide Mario down pipes and defeat his nemesis, Bowser, in 3D.
She says for some gamers, it was the first time they played any game in 3D. Plus, people simply love Mario.
“Mario has become such a cornerstone in our collective global culture,” McLeckie says. “He’s basically the Mickey Mouse of video games.”
But the clincher is the condition of the copy’s packaging. It’s also why you probably don’t have a million-dollar copy of Super Mario 64 lying around in the attic.
“Essentially, the box and the seal have to be in perfect condition. It has to look as pristine as the day it came off the assembly line,” McLeckie says. “And this essentially has no notable imperfections.”
It broke a record that had just been set
The organization that deemed it a pristine copy is the same one that rates the condition of old comic books, and they’ve only recently started using the same rating system for video games.
Chris Kohler is an expert on video game history and says these new ratings are a factor in why video games are fetching so much at auctions.
“That led to an influx into the game collecting world of new collectors with different ideas about what types of games are desirable and what types of games should cost a lot of money — and big pockets to back that up,” Kohler tells NPR.
Sunday’s $1.56 million record broke the previous record: a 1987 Legend of Zelda game that sold for $870,000 just two days prior.
These newer video game collectors have become more interested in pristine copies of classic, nostalgic games. Kohler says “old school collectors” are more interested in rarer, quirky games.
Like McLeckie, he was taken aback by the $1.56 million winning bid for Super Mario 64. And it’s not the first time in recent years he’s been shocked by the price of a video game. But it’s a gamble trying to predict how much these games are going to sell for, Kohler says.
“It’s like trying to catch a falling knife,” he says.