Heritage Auctions said that it received 16 bids leading up to and during the live auction on Sunday for the mainly pristine condition 3-D Super Mario game, which sold for about $60 when it was released in 1996 and was the best-selling game for the Nintendo 64 console. The top bid was $1.3 million, according to Heritage Auctions, which added a buyer’s premium of 20 percent to the gavel price to bring the total to $1.56 million.
The price sent shock waves through gaming and collecting circles, even after a recent uptick in five- and six-figure sales of rare video games to investment-minded buyers. The sale was announced just two days after Heritage Auctions said that an early production copy of The Legend of Zelda from 1987 had sold for $870,000. Valarie McLeckie, the consignment director for video games at Heritage Auctions, said she was astounded by the outcome of the Mario 64 auction. She said, “Never in my wildest dreams did I expect the price that was realised would become a reality.” The game, which was part of a private collection, is sealed inside a clear plastic case resembling the anti-theft boxes used by retail stores. It includes a certification from Wata Games, an authentication company, attesting to its “like new” and factory-sealed condition, in its original shrink-wrapping. McLeckie said that video game characters often evoke a sense of nostalgia, particularly Mario, who, with his brother, Luigi, first appeared on the screens of Nintendo players in 1985 in Super Mario Bros. In the original game, Mario must save the peace-loving Mushroom People from the Koopa, a tribe of turtles known for their black magic.
The game spawned an enduring theme song and multiple variations, including Super Mario 64, in which Mario faces an array of obstacles and adversaries as he tries to rescue the kidnapped Princess Peach from the villain Bowser. “He’s like the Mickey Mouse of video games,” McLeckie said of Mario. “He’s just so recognisable and really resonates with a wide audience of people.” Chris Kohler, a video game historian and the editorial director of Digital Eclipse, a video game studio that makes collections of classic games, said in an interview that he would have expected an older video game to contend for the sales record. He said that collectors could find copies of Super Mario 64 — not in mint condition but with the original box — for much less.
“That was what kind of blew me away about that sale,” he said. Many buyers are new to collecting video games and have crossed over from comic books and coins, according to Kohler. Don’t expect an unboxing video from the buyer, whom the auction house declined to identify. McLeckie laughed when asked whether the collector would play the game. “I can say with certainty they’re going to leave it as is,” she said. In April, an unopened copy of Super Mario Bros. that had been bought in 1986 as a Christmas gift but sat forgotten in a desk drawer fetched $660,000, a record at the time, according to Heritage Auctions, which also brokered that sale.
Then on Friday, a 1987 edition of The Legend of Zelda sold for $870,000. Heritage Auctions said it was one of two sealed copies from the game’s earliest production runs that had been authenticated. As the sales records keep toppling, the resulting frenzy has sent serious and casual gamers alike rummaging through their drawers and closets. “As you can imagine,” McLeckie said, “I’ve gotten a lot of inquiries this morning from hopefuls that maybe their video game is worth $1 million.”