Retro Game Collecting: Complete in Box vs Cart Only

Retro Game Collecting: Complete in Box vs Cart Only

Collecting video games has become a popular hobby in recent years.  The collecting community is so diverse, and we all have different ways of going about it.  Some people focus on a particular console, some on a certain genre of games, or some just go for anything they can get their hands on.   Regardless of what you might collect, we’re here to talk about HOW you collect.  Are you a complete in box (CIB) collector, or do you simply collect the games themselves.  Let’s discuss a few pros and cons to both.


There is a reason this blog is titled “Complete in Box vs Cart Only” and not “Disc Only.” Whether you’re nostalgic for the original PlayStation or an avid Xbox Series X player, please don’t just buy loose discs.  Sure, you could store them on a spindle or in a CD folder, but the original cases are definitely the way to go for disc-based media. For one, they are easy to organize when they are in their cases.  I remember trying to keep up with CDs that I burned in college (yes, I am that old).  I insisted on keeping them alphabetized in my numerous binders and any time I had a new one to add to the collection, it was such a laborious process to move up to half of my discs one slot over just to make room!  You might not care about keeping them in order, but then trying to find one is a pain.

Keeping your games in their original cases also makes it simple to remove the one you want to play and return it when you’re done. Digging through stacks of discs trying to locate one in particular is so much harder than simply pulling the right one from the shelf.  Plus, a collection just doesn’t look the same stacked on a spindle or in folders instead of the cases lined up nice and neat.


Are you interested in more than just the game?  Do you want the registration cards, the instruction manual, and any of the extra goodies that some games came with?  If you’re a completionist, the CIB route is the way for you.  There is nothing more difficult than trying to keep up with all the individual components of a game without the box to keep them in. Not to mention that collecting all the pieces of a game release would include the box itself. 

Another thing to keep in mind is that buying a game CIB is normally a lot cheaper than buying the components individually.  I cannot even begin to describe the amount of time and money I have spent hunting down manuals to games that that only came with the disc and the case. Not only will you be able to keep your collection more uniform, but it will save you money in the long run as well.


Collecting for the Sega Master System? CIB all the way! Collecting for the Super Nintendo? Well, now we have to weigh out our options. When collecting for a console that has hard plastic boxes, finding one in good shape is usually a lot easier than locating a cardboard box that is in mint condition. Those cardboard boxes were torn, tossed around, and just treated badly.  The plastic survived, but not a lot of cardboard did.  When I was a kid, I actual kept my NES and Super Nintendo boxes in great condition. When I moved out and didn’t yet have the space to bring my consoles with me, I ask my parents not to throw away any of my games.  Apparently, I should have been more specific since my games were left alone, but they had thrown out all the boxes, registration cards, dust covers and manuals.  Not only was I heartbroken, but now there is one less complete in box copy in existence of each game I had in childhood.

This purging of cardboard that happened in so many of our childhood homes also had an impact on the price.  Since a lot the cardboard did not survive the 80s and 90s due to bad treatment or “packaging is trash” mentality, it’s normally more expensive than a plastic case. Just look at Earthworm Jim on the Super Nintendo compared to the Sega Genesis.  The carts are almost identical in price but there is a huge disparity between their CIB costs (all prices are in reference to their market value at the time of this posting)!


If you love to get variants of your favorite games out there, CIB is normally the way to go.  If you’re getting a Player’s Choice title for the Super Nintendo or Nintendo 64, the game pak is makerd as well, so you’ll be fine. There are quite a few variants out there, however, where the only difference is the box it came in, so collecting cart only could mean you’ll be missing out. Metroid Prime for the GameCube is a perfect example: the discs are identical, but there are a lot of variations ranging from the Prime/Wind Waker double pack to the Kmart exclusive.

All of this comes down to one thing: don’t let someone else tell you how to collect.  There is not a right or wrong way to do it.  There are lots of different opinions out there (see the several paragraphs above), but when it comes to collecting, the only opinions that matters are yours. While most of this article leans towards CIB collecting, my personal collection has almost no cardboard.  My NES, SNES N64 along with my Game Boy collections are almost entirely game pak only.  It’s just what works best for me. So whether your shelves are filled with loose carts, or a bunch of boxes all in a row, happy collecting!

-Brian Moura (Follow Brian on Instagram / X / Threads - @mourabros)

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