Gaming: Why Super Mario 64 Was Worth $1.56 Million at Auction

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On Amazon, you can easily snag an age-old copy of Super Mario 64 (1996) for under $40 today. At an auction, however, it might cost you about 40,000 times more.

Naturally, there are major differences between an Amazon-found Super Mario 64 gaming cartridge and one that’s up for grabs at an auction. The cartridges you can find on Amazon have all been opened and used by its previous owners. Whereas the one you will find at an auction looks pristine.

This was the case for the Super Mario 64 copy that sold at $1.56 million at Heritage Auctions in July this year. And given that production for Super Mario 64 came to a halt on May 20, 1996, according to Kotaku, it’s easy to see why this item would be so sought-after by collectors.

Image credits to Canva

But Why Did the Super Mario 64 Gaming Cartridge Sell that High at an Auction?

After the news broke, people have been wondering why the 25-year-old plastic cartridge sold for so much. At first glance, you won’t see anything special about this copy of Super Mario 64. The print is the same as the rest that were produced in the late ‘90s.

But if you’re a serious collector or a long-time fan of video games, the factors separating this pricey Super Mario 64 cartridge from the others are clear. It’s in mint condition, earning a score of 9.8/10 on the Wata scale. The Wata scale is determined by a group with purportedly over 60 years of expertise in the gaming industry. 

The immaculate condition this Super Mario 64 copy has maintained through the years is an uncommon feat. So much so that less than five copies of such in a similar state remain in the world.

In other words, it’s one of “historical significance, rarity and condition,” as the Guardian puts it.

But apart from this, what makes the cartridge special is the game itself. Super Mario 64 was a groundbreaking game for its time, a fact that adds to the item’s value. 

“It seems impossible to overstate the importance of this title, not only to the history of Mario and Nintendo, but to video games as a whole,” said Heritage Auctions’ video game specialist Valarie McLeckie, according to several reports. 

And it’s true. Super Mario 64 is the first-ever 3D video game on home consoles, making it a trailblazing artifact that had inspired so many video games after its release.

Not only that, but the game was a big deal for Nintendo’s sales back then. Thanks to Super Mario 64, the number of units the home console Nintendo 64 sold significantly increased. 

Because Super Mario 64 is an early example of a 3D platformer, video game fans and enthusiasts wanted in on the experience. This reason is largely what led to the cartridge garnering six bids before reaching the top bid amounting to over a million dollars.

The Legend of Super Mario 64

However, before Super Mario 64’s record-breaking sale, another game supposedly received the highest bid in history — The Legend of Zelda (1987). And its sale, which closed at $870,000, happened just two days before the Super Mario 64 auction. 

This Legend of Zelda copy is unopened, receiving a rating of 9.0 on the Wata scale. It’s one of the last two sealed copies in existence. But what makes it so coveted is the fact that its kind was produced for only a short period late in 1987, Heritage Auctions says. 

“This is the only copy from one of the earliest production runs that we’ve ever had the opportunity to offer, and, possibly will have the opportunity to offer, for many years to come,” they say on their website.

It’s also so precious that it had an opening bid of $110,000, Ars Technica reports. But Heritage Auctions never would have guessed the record set by The Legend of Zelda would be broken so soon.

“After the record-breaking sale of the first game in the Zelda series on Friday, the possibility of surpassing $1million on a single video game seemed like a goal that would need to wait for another auction,” McLeckie said.

Coming in with the third highest bid for video game collectibles is Super Mario Bros. (1985), which sold for $660,000 on April 2 this year.

Image credits to Canva

Longevity of Game Titles & Gaming Brands

Both Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda were — and arguably still are — iconic video games. Their significance to the gaming industry continues to persist, and it’s nice to examine how these titles have made a lasting impression on the world. 

Perhaps most notable about Super Mario 64 and Legend of Zelda is they were well-made video games that, at the height of their fame, provided people with gripping new experiences. However, it also helped that they were released by one of the biggest gaming companies in the industry — Nintendo. 

The developer of the Game Boy and the pioneering home console Nintendo 64, Nintendo produced new games and new consoles constantly in the early years of gaming. And they knew very well how to market them to their audience. 

Their efforts were focused, allowing them to continuously develop their brand and their products. It’s this laser-sharp focus that gave us the classic characters of Mario and Link, both of whom had risen to a level of fame their competition could not reach.

While Nintendo’s internal strategies remain top-secret (of course), it’s interesting to note they integrate a “fabless model” into their business approach. According to their website, Nintendo’s fabless model simply means that their “[p]roduction processes are outsourced to external production partners.”

Essentially, Nintendo enlists the help of third-party providers to do a part of their manufacturing process, a significant facet of their business. Together, Nintendo and their production partners work hand-in-hand to “improve the quality of Nintendo products.”

Perhaps you’re not in the business of building gaming consoles like Nintendo. But you can still outsource parts of your video game company, such as digital art creation, so you can focus on what’s at its core. Just like Nintendo does.

In Summary

A Nintendo 64 cartridge of Super Mario 64 sold for $1.56 million dollars, buyer’s premium included, at an auction this July. So far, it’s the highest bidding price for video game items at an auction, surpassing a recent record-breaking sale of The Legend of Zelda cartridge at $870,000.

The Super Mario 64 cartridge scored a whopping 9.8/10 on the Wata scale. Whereas, The Legend of Zelda cartridge, also sealed and unopened, scored 9.0/10.

In April this year, a copy of the Super Mario Bros. sold at $660,000, making it, at the time, the record-breaking deal. 

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Sources: nintendo.co.jp | AP News | The Guardian | Kotaku | ha.com | comics.ha.com | nytimes.com

Justine Jordan

Justine Jordan is a content and copy writer. She has written for a popular business daily in the Philippines and for various startups across the globe before transitioning to work for NarraSoft. She graduated cum laude from the University of the Philippines-Diliman with a bachelor's degree in journalism.