The Ultimate Guide to Video Game Grading

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

Graded collectibles are all the rage these days. 

Whether you’re into collecting sports cards, comics, magazines, autographs, concert posters, coins, or you’re just a die-hard Pokemon fan in search of that elusive gem mint 1st edition holo, you know the benefits that grading brings—authenticity, longevity, and value, mostly.

But what about video games? Gaming’s a huge part of the culture too, and every gamer knows the hits. Don’t tell me Mario, Link, and Sonic don’t deserve a coveted spot on your shelf.

Well, video game grading is very much a thing too, and it’s quickly rising in popularity. But who does the grading? What does the process look like? What are the benefits?

In this detailed guide, we’ll give you the full rundown of everything you need to know.

1. Why Grade Your Games At All?

Sam Mellish/Getty Images

If you’re someone who appreciates video games, especially vintage ones, it probably has to do with the fact that you enjoy playing them. That’s the obvious thing you need to know going in: once games are graded, they’re effectively preserved and can no longer be played.

So, why grade games at all? That’s the question you need to ask yourself going in. 

Determining whether you’re in it for the quick flip, long-term investing, or simply build a nice collection will help you decide how to proceed. Video game collecting has evolved into a pretty lucrative business, one with significant investment value if you know what you’re doing.

Investors need to be aware of two things:

  1. The relevance of the title
  2. The condition of the box

Unlike other collectibles, scarcity and obscurity don’t automatically equate to a higher value with games. Cultural relevance matters most. Popular franchises (think Ninja Turtles) are far surpassing anything you’d consider to be “rare” in the market currently. That’s not to say that rare games don’t still sell, but their expected rarity isn’t being reflected in the prices the market is currently willing to pay.

Also, most people overestimate the condition of their games. This isn’t sports cards where opening a fresh pack can lead to a near-automatic PSA 9 or 10. You need to know what to look for, how to assess the condition of games properly. More on that below.

Collectors, on the other hand, really only need to worry about the condition, because relevance mostly comes down to their personal tastes. Take me for example: 

Growing up in Pittsburgh, I became a massive Penguins fan. To this day, Mario Lemieux is my all-time favorite athlete. In 1994, when Mario Lemieux Hockey was released for the Sega Genesis, it became my favorite game. You’ve never heard of it but to me, I’d love to own a high-grade copy someday. I don’t really care what it’s worth, that makes me a collector.

The intention you have behind grading your games is everything.

2. Who Does the Grading? WATA vs. VGA

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Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

When it comes to video game grading, there are two major players (pun definitely intended) in the space: WATA and VGA.

VGA (Video Game Authority) is a branch of Collectible Grading Authority, Inc. whereas WATA Games is fully dedicated to graded games. Both offer video game authentication and grading services; however, the designs and grading scales they use vary.

Here’s what you need to know about each.

Graded Case Design

When you get your graded games back from VGA or WATA, you’ll immediately notice a couple of different things. First, the size. 

WATA’s graded cases tend to be a bit bigger than VGA’s because the label placement is different on each. Also, tamper-proof clips on the tops and bottoms of WATA’s cases lend a bit more bulk to the overall design.

In terms of the labels, you’ll notice that WATA’s cases contain a bit more detailed information about the game, whereas VGA’s are quite simplistic. People seem to like WATA’s level of detail, though VGA does have a better handle on overall simplicity of design. 

Also, one thing to note: Horizontal boxes, such as those used for Super Nintendo and N64 games, tend to display better with VGA because they offer a more native horizontal design.

Grading Scales

Next comes the different grading scales each of these companies use. The three major submission types accepted are factory sealed games, opened but “Complete In Box” (C.I.B.), and loose video game cartridges without the book or box.

The important distinction here is that VGA includes both the outside shrinkwrap and overall box condition in a single grade, whereas WATA grades each of these items separately.

WATA operates on a 10-point scale with a curve, as there are different sub-grades in between. From the lowest grade (0.5) on up to 9, grades are distinguished at 0.5 increments. From 9 to 10, however, is where the curve kicks in. Grades in this range are set at 0.2 increments, so your games can score (hard to avoid these puns!) a 9.2, 9.4, 9.6, or 9.8 as well.

Secondly, with WATA, factory sealed games will also receive a separate letter grade reflecting the quality and integrity of their shrink-wrap/seal. The scale here ranges from A++ (like new condition) to a C (poor condition) with five steps in between.

VGA, on the other hand, operates on a 100-point scale, ranging from very poor (10) on up to gem mint (100). The scale is broken up in increments of 10, though once you get up to 70 you start to see sub-grades such as 75 and 75+. As mentioned, there is no seal grade.

Tips: When to Submit Games to Each

Both companies’ grading scales have their advantages depending on the condition of your game. 

With VGA, for example, if you have a really bad seal but a really nice box, you’re ultimately going to get dinged. Because WATA looks at those things separately, your game might fetch a higher overall grade. The same goes for when you have a perfect-looking box with a few minor flaws (such as tiny tears or holes) in the shrinkwrap. In that instance, WATA’s your play.

On the other hand, if you have an amazing seal but a decent enough looking box, consider sending it to VGA. The fact that they combine both into a single grading scale could very well work in your favor if you decide to make that your play. 

Overall, the market seems to favor a high-grade box over a high-grade seal, so that’s another piece of info you can use to help determine where to send your game. 

Market Perception

Speaking of the market, when it comes to each of these companies, it helps to know where you can get the most bang for your buck in terms of selling your graded games.

The good news is: in terms of overall market liquidity, both WATA and VGA games are relatively easy to sell. Video game grading is very much on the rise, but it’s not like the market is currently flooded with highly graded games. When supply is low, demand is high—that’s the name of the… okay, I can’t do that to you this time.

That said, all things being equal, the market does seem to prefer WATA-certified games. WATA’s teamed up with Heritage Auctions, who sells a lot of high-end games. If the games you’re looking to sell are high-end, WATA feels like the smart play. Otherwise, VGA’s sleek design, quicker turnaround, and less expensive pricing structure might be a little more collector-friendly.

3. Assessing the Condition of Your Games

Jason Koeppel // ONE37pm

I’ll try my best to keep this portion of the guide short and sweet. 

There are a lot of helpful video tutorials out there to help you visually inspect the condition of your games. But in terms of what graders tend to look for, here are some of the key things:

Factory seal - Graders want to see a perfect seal on any factory-sealed games. Look for a nice perpendicular line going up the back and/or down the sides of the game. Any holes or tears in the shrinkwrap or cellophane (no matter how small) will also have an impact on your grade.

Color breaks - This fancy term just means the edges of the box that’s housing your game. Along the edges where a box gets folded or creased, you can sometimes see cracks, white spots, or other color issues that can impact your grade.

Color fading - This one’s pretty self-explanatory. Vibrancy of color is another aspect that can alter a grade. Even a mint-looking box or cartridge can sometimes be faded. Compare your game to a highly graded version online to help determine proper coloring.

Crushing, puffing, cracks - If any corner or side of the box shows instances of crushing, denting, or puffing (basically squeezed in or out), you can expect a lower grade. Puffy corners seem to be less of an issue than crushed in ones, but neither look all that great inside of a display. Also, for disc-based games like PS1, look out for cracks even under the seal.

Impressions, stickers, marks - Sometimes a box will have an impression line on it as if someone used it as a surface to write on. That’s not good. Also, price tags can do damage if you try removing them yourself. If you’re submitting a cartridge only and it’s previously been tested or played, there could be some scratches on it from the game console as well.

What Goes Into a C.I.B. Grade?

Up to this point, we’ve talked a lot about factory sealed games but the older the game is, the tougher that’s going to be to find. “Complete In Box” games are your next best bet.

The general breakdown for how C.I.B. games are graded is as follows: the box is weighted 50% of your grade, the cartridge is 30%, and the manual is the remaining 20%. 

Knowing this, if you have a box and cartridge that are both in amazing condition but a manual that’s not, it’s worth going out and finding a new manual to help your overall grade. And if you happen to get a graded game back from WATA and find out that the manual did drag down your grade, you could, in theory, look for a C.I.B. game that scored a 9.6 or higher on the manual and send both back in to combine. From what I understand, WATA will take the best from each.

4. The Submission and Grading Process

graded games

Last but not least, there’s the actual process of submitting your games for grading. 

As of this writing, VGA currently has a brand new website under construction and has disabled the ability to create new submissions online. For the time being, they’re asking customers to fill out a printed PDF submission form to include in every package shipped.

So, for the purposes of this section (and because VGA’s new setup will likely be similar), let’s focus on the online submission process for WATA. Again, we can keep this short and sweet.

WATA’s Submission Process:

  1. Select your game - First, you get to choose your platform, of which there are many. Then, you can search for your specific game. A thumbnail of the game will display on the page so you can confirm it’s the right one and proceed.
  1. Add some details - Next, you’ll just want to add in a little bit of info like the state of the game (sealed, loose cartridge, or C.I.B.), the declared value of said game (based on your research or educated guess), and any notes you might have for the grader.
  1. Choose your services - Lastly, you’ll select the display type, service level, and any add-on services you might be interested in, such as light or heavy cleaning. The cost of cleaning is 1% of the declared value and is determined on a case-by-case basis.

And that’s it! Just follow the above process for each and every game you hope to submit and you should receive your graded games back within the timeframe mentioned in your desired service level. Then the real fun begins: selling or putting your new gem on display!

I hope you found this guide helpful. Good luck in all your graded video game endeavors.

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