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New to buying game art? A buyer's guide

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If you are new to all this and kind of unsure how or where to find art, or what some of the practical aspects might be, this guide is for you.    It is not 100% polished as of right now, but I wanted to get something posted for when the site opens in 20 minutes.    Please feel free to make comments and / or suggestions in the thread, and I'll treat it as a live document that we update from time to time as questions and concerns get fleshed out in the thread.    Sorry about the bolding - I'll find a way to unbold later, having trouble with it for now.

Buyer's Guide, V1.0


So you want to buy art for the first time.   Welcome !    It’s a wonderful hobby and you’ll enjoy it tremendously.    There’s truly nothing as special that I’ve found in this hobby and you’ll learn so much, and meet lots of great people.    There’s nothing better, at least for my money, in the world to collect.   I started collecting art in late 2007 and it was absolutely hook, line and sinker for me – practically an all consuming passion that led completely overtook any interest I had in other hobbies.     You will have your own experience – it may or may not be exactly like mine but I’m sure you’ll enjoy it either way.


One thing that I’ve noticed many times is that people already collecting painted illustrations of another type (magic the gathering, etc) have an easier time adjusting to collecting game art.   That's not to say that everybody doesn't get there in the end, but its just an observation that those with a previous grounding tend to understand which pieces are better than others and what they might expect to pay for certain things better than most newcomers.    Why is that?   The reasons may be varied but likely because they have a bit of grounding in art collecting and a bit of a sense of hierarchy in terms of the factors that can make pieces better or worse than others.    They understand that there is ONE illustration, in the WORLD, for any given game piece, and the more things the piece has going for it, the more they are going to expect to pay.

Hierarchy?   Explain....

Substitute desirability, pros and cons, whatever other word or phrase you want to use.    The point is, every piece has things going for it, and against it.    A common remark from the brand new collector is that they say piece A available for $x and piece B available for $3x and they don’t understand why one is more than the other.      Sometimes I think its because some new collectors want all the pieces they see to be in a range they are comfortable in.      However, there’s also a bit of education or understanding that happens over time with respect to what factors can increase/decrease price.    A very inexhaustive list of potential price factors:

  • The game itself.    Was it well remembered, was it good, is it collectible, does the game itself go for good money, is it a cult classic, etc etc.

  • The platform on which the game was published.     Nintendo NES pieces are probably going to go for more than virtually anything else.     Pieces for an obscure console are going to for less, generally.

  • The game publisher.    An Enix or Capcom anything is going to be an easier sell than anything by Bullet Proof Software.

  • The artist.   Some artists are known for their game work, and that may get a premium.    Some artists have well-developed markets outside of games which may serve to establish a range for that artist’s work regardless of any other factors.

  • Size.     This may come as a surprise at first… but a 6 by 4 inch illustration is going to feel awfully small and have little presence in hand.     Conversely, a nice 30 by 20 inch painting smacks you in the face in person… lots of power and presence.     Remember or understand that while the length of the painting is often shorthand for the size a 30 inch (by 20 inch) painting isn’t 5 times the size of a 6 inch (by 4 inch) painting… its 25(!) times the size.    5 times as large on each dimension.     The one is smaller than a NES box, the other is a good size window.    Again… 25x the size.     Believe me, that makes a huge difference in how the painting looks in hand.    

  • Image quality.   Art doesn’t have to be displayed, but many people do display at least a piece or two.   As such, if the painting is well rendered and pleasing to look at, its always going to be a nice positive versus something a little harder to look at.   

  • Usage of Artwork.    For a console game, the prime piece is generally going to be the main box image.    Other pieces such as artwork for interior posters or magazine covers or ads, may also exist.   You can rank that as a whole other hierarchy too in that covers are going to be better than interiors, better publications are going to go for more and….

  • Characters.   Better characters are going to go for more as well generally speaking.    Maybe you have artwork for a Mario game, but Mario isn’t even on it (and princess peach is).    That’s going to be less appealing to most people than the piece would be if it featured Mario.

  • Final artwork vs preliminary.     Both are wonderful and in many ways the preliminaries show the creative process better, but the final published works typically sell for more.    I don’t see that as a negative, just a fact.    The finals are going to cost more, and the preliminaries are going to be more accessible.    Both are wonderful pre-production artifacts.



Often, the new collector wants to know what things have sold for in the past to get a sense of what a piece they are looking at should be priced at.    While that’s understandable its also something you will have to get past.    These pieces are all one of a kind.     There is no perfect price comp for the piece you are looking at until it sells!     That being said, once you have an understanding of some past sales, where the market is at, what the desirability factors above are, it becomes pretty to slot things in where they should belong on a ‘A sold for X, B sold for Y, C should be in between’ type basis. 

So, where do you get those data points?    Well, talk to people, ask questions, find out what (and WHEN!) they paid for things.   Private sales are where most sales have happened historically so that may be what you need to understand best.    Look also at HA price history as well some sales have happened there and others are sure to follow!     (Over time this may become a more important source of comparables, although what it lacks so far is high end sale comparables.      Pieces above a certain level of desirability have not really hit HA yet).     Look at the sales on the facebook group.   For high end sales, some limited history is available on the Top Ten Public Game Art Sales thread that is in the group.    It lists the sales that have hit public avenues and has a heavily-redacted-for-privacy list with private sales over $100k.   Unfortunately, sellers tend to want to avoid the attention and the buyers tend to want to avoid pushing prices up on themselves, so getting people to be open about the significant private sales can be difficult although these details are known ‘in the grapevine’ if you ask around.

Basically, keep the eyes and ears open, ask questions, and understand that if you’re looking for a perfect and public comp on a one of a kind item, its simply not going to take a little thought and work than you may be used to until such time as you get the hang of it.    It does very much get easier, but it takes a little while to build up that mental profile of what the market on things is like. 



This is one that I think everyone should remind themselves of from time to time.    Sometimes as collectors we justify lower perceived value ranges on given piece by telling ourselves that ‘that cover is nothing special, but I just really like it, it should go for X.’    

Well… guess what!    As collectors for the most part we aren’t so different.    If you like something (you just really liked that game, or you really liked that cover image, or whatever draws you to the piece..) chances are others like it too and are drawn to it for the exact same reasons!    If the game you are really excited about is some 2 star unlicensed foreign game with a 1 star cover image by an anonymous artist on a console no one has ever heard of, then yes, you’re right – it should be inexpensive.

If on the other hand, your idea of a game cover that is super ‘under the radar’ is something like Brain Lord for SNES, adjust your expectations.       That’s a reasonably well known game, for a very well known maker on a super well known console.      Many collectors would be excited to have that in their collection.



There’s less than 100 known NES box art originals known so far and less than 100 SNES as well, with even less genesis, Gameboy, etc.      Similar numbers of ads and promo pieces are known.    Video game magazine art (Nintendo power, Sega Visions, EGM, Gamepro, etc is more available as there was just more of it created, but obviously a magazine cover featuring a great game is going to be more desirable than a small interior illustration for a game no one has heard of).       Many pieces of box art were destroyed or owned by the corporations or have images that are photos or logos, etc. etc. etc.    When you filter it down all the way, the published final box art paintings are beyond rare and so even relatively minor pieces can cause a stir with collectors.    

Artwork for early games (pre 1990, Atari etc) is almost completely non existent and the later stuff (post 1995) is almost completely digital.  



Because there are so many games in a library (say 800 for NES) and a much smaller number of originals that exist, and a much smaller than that number of originals that exist for memorable games, and a lot of image duplication between consoles (the same image might be used for the same game across NES, SNES and gameboy for example) don’t expect anyone to sell you the cover to Battletoads anytime soon, unless its for a fortune.    Why would the owner sell something that good just to have some money to buy something not nearly as good with?  

You will learn to appreciate all vintage pieces.   Each one is a survivor, and a jewel.     But many collectors set their sights too high when crossing over from games collecting because they take the checklist approach that is possible in games themselves (I’m going to buy 9.8 copies of every sealed mario game) to game art, and are surprised when they can’t find any AAA franchise pieces that aren’t priced to the moon.     Asking for the Street Fighter 2 cover is like a new game collector coming onto a facebook group and asking about a sticker sealed Super Mario Bros!     You’re asking for a mega grail that EVERYONE would want in their collection.      Expect the new house in the nice neighborhood kind of price.    



“What do you have?” he asks.       “I dunno, what are you looking for?” he replies.

There are all sorts of reasons why someone may not want to hand you a list of their entire collection.    They may be private in general.    They may have purchases or sales relating to those items happening.   They may not have an easy to access list.   They may not be interested in digging things out or have a long conversation with someone they haven’t deal with before.

Anything a person shares is great.    But respect that we all have our reasons for sharing and for keeping things private to and we have no right to place our expectations onto what others may or may not want to do.    All of the art shared on OVGA is artwork that the owner chose to share, and that’s wonderful.   Not everyone will make that choice for every piece.   




“What do you want for that?” buyer asks.     “I don’t know, what are you offering?” seller replies.    

So many private deal conversations start that way.    There are also many reasons why a seller may or may not want to attach a price to something.   The buyer certainly appreciates hearing an actual number and having a starting point.     The seller on the other hand, may not be so keen on that.    Perhaps they simply haven’t considered what they’d be comfortable at on the piece, and don’t want to put a number out there (once you put it out there, you can’t take it back.   The buyer will cling to that number like an emaciated junkyard dog on a medium rare T-bone).     Perhaps they don’t want to put a number out there in a rising market because the buyer will expect the number to be the same in three months if they change their mind (see:  T-bone).     Perhaps they have a use for the money right now, or perhaps they don’t.     Perhaps they want the buyer to offer first to see if the two are even in the same ballpark (and without offending the buyer if the number is too high for them).    

Again, all sorts of reasons, and one of a kind property.     You’re going to have to get comfortable with either making offers, or passing on pieces where you can’t get a price, or asking indirect questions (‘more than 50 less than 100?’) to narrow things down, if you are looking to purchase pieces privately.



Maybe the owner wants to sell, and maybe they don’t.     I know which situation will result in a lower price and which will result in a higher price.    The common thread here is that every situation is different and while that may take some getting used to coming from the ‘this exact sold on Tuesday for $X’ experience, it’s a reflection of the fact that each piece is irreplaceable.    There is no Tuesday sale.     

There is perhaps a more desirable piece of art that sold six months ago and a less desirable one that sold nine months ago, and you’ll have to put a little effort in and ask some questions, but its incredibly rewarding once you have the art in hand.



Most of all enjoy!     Join OVGA, join the facebook group, meet other people, ask questions.    IMO this is the best hobby in the world and there a whole world of art and information out there that you may never have even considered before.     I wish you the best 😊


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I want to add this bit of info pertaining to the artist.  I know those who are current collectors understand some artist aren’t necessarily well known.  However the new crowd may not be aware.  
Anyway, some good souls put in hard work to build an artist data base for the ovga site. Make sure to browse the artist.  Click, read and learn about each one.  The database gives insight into many of the artist behind the covers and ads we love.  There are many pieces of video game artwork that is and should be coveted even if the artist isn’t well known.  The more you dig, you will see that the artist themselves were rarely credited for their gaming work.  Ovga will help change that.  

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  • 1 month later...

I’ve come back and read this guide two or three times since Bronty posted it, and each time I find myself nodding along, my own reflection of how far I’ve come since I got my own start in this hobby.

To share my own story of my first piece, I was a Sega Genesis CIB/Sealed game collector. Back then 2017(?), the Facebook game art group maybe didn’t quite exist yet, nor did OVGA or other sites, or a guide like this, but I had seen game art shared on NintendoAge. Most people that collect game art are quite happy to talk about it and at some point I started a conversation and asked.

While I don’t remember all the contours of the conversation, I led with something broad “I’m interested in buying a piece of game art for Sega” and in response I was shown maybe two or three box arts, art for a promotional ad or two, and a couple of preliminary sketches; mostly for Sega Genesis, maybe a Sega CD piece or two. The approach let the seller start with things they were willing to part with that met my ask (Sega) and because maybe these were pieces they were open to selling, they were able to attach a price to each one, and I quickly saw some price variance between the pieces and could begin to figure out why (box versus ad, one artist I came to learn was quite big even outside of game art). All of that helped inform my own start, and I selected the box art for Galaxy Force II for the Sega Genesis, which remains in my collection and I have it shown in my OVGA gallery.

I share my own story to say, be flexible and ask questions. It’s a fun hobby and a great community.

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