Where can I purchase reproductions?

Ebay:

Usually the first choice for gamers just getting into the retro market, Ebay is flooded with authentic and reproduction versions of many games. Most reproductions on offer are only for those games that are prohibitively expensive to most gamers. These sellers largely come from China and the reproductions vary wildly in quality. Because these sellers are based in China, you typically have to wait 30 days or more to get your order. You also need to be wary of dishonest sellers who sell reproduction games as authentic pieces for the same bloated prices as the original. If it looks fishy, it probably is.

Etsy:

The Etsy community of reproduction specialists usually are boutique sellers who make these games to order. Cartridges usually are created on either re-purposed rom chips and PCBs, or use high quality modern parts to assemble the games. CD games are easier to reproduce for the media, but a good dealer will also use high quality printing material for insert, manual, and CD art to round out the package. CD dealers will also try to source original cases for the long-box Sega CD, Saturn, and early Playstation 1 games. While these reproductions will likely cost more as these cases are becoming harder and harder to find, they will often also offer a cheaper jewel case or DVD case alternative. It all depends on the dealer and what they offer on their store front. You can often get a good idea of what they can/can't do by just seeing the types of typical items they already have on offer before you send them a request.

Usually from the US, these sellers are very upfront that their games are reproductions and often mark the game in some way to show that they are not original. Because of the upfront nature of these sellers, and the general high quality of their work, if you purchase a reproduction I would look to Etsy first. There are some great dealers I've linked to in the Resources section to get you started.

What kind of profit do repro dealers make?

Not much really. It’s important to keep in mind that a reproduction dealer is not claiming they created the games or the rom-hacks (explained below) they are flashing on to carts or burning on CDs. Most US dealers I've dealt with make this very plain. They are charging you a price they deem reasonable for recouping the cost of the production materials and time it took to make the cartridge or CD. They typically make very little profit, and turn most of those profits into ordering more supplies to make more - just like a real business. Especially if you request a custom order, don't go in with unrealistic expectations in turn-around time. Remember that many of these dealers are providing this service out of their love for games as a part-time hobby - they have day jobs, families and the like as well.

what kinds of reproductions are out there?

High-priced games:

Most video game reproductions focus only on those games that have been deemed “rare” or hard to find by the collector market due to the scarcity and high, second-hand price of the originals. Games like Panzer Dragoon Saga for the Sega Saturn and Final Fight 3 for SNES are key examples of high-priced games that have no modern solution to play or purchase. You will rarely see common games like Super Mario Bros. on NES in reproduction format as these games are easily available and affordable to the average classic gamer.

Prices for reproductions vary depending on seller, and can range from $10 - $40 for CD based games, and $13 - $60 for cartridge games. CD dealers often allow you to purchase what you want: for example, you could purchase just the disc for a game without any art or case. If allowed, you will see these options on the item's listing.

Many dealers on Etsy offer to make custom reproductions for you as well. These can be more expensive depending on the level of customization. If you’re having a hard time finding a game authentic or otherwise, this may be a viable option for you. Due to the use of particular chip sets or boards in certain cartridge based games, not all dealers can reproduce every game and some games cannot be reproduced. For example, Mega Man X 2 and 3 cannot be reproduced, and Chrono Trigger is hard to reproduce for these reasons, so you often won't see these listed.

Rom Hacks:

Rom-hacks are games whose code has been altered by fans to fix undesirable aspects in retrospect, or to use the game’s original assets to create new challenges, stages, or unofficial sequels. Rom-hacks are a popular type of reproduction cartridge due to the novelty of playing these refreshed games on real hardware rather than an emulator.

An example of a “fix” hack is the popular Castlevania II: Simon’s Quest Redacted for NES which fixes many of the game’s annoyances (like unintelligible text and other niggles). On the other hand, Metroid Super Zero Mission is a hack that uses assets from Super Metroid and some ported over from Metroid Zero Mission on Game Boy Advance to create a brand-new Metroid experience for those that want more. Hackers that make these alterations to the game code do not own the IP assets, which legally prevents them from making a profit off of their hack. You can download any rom-hack online for free, and most roms are pretty easy to patch and play on an emulator if you would rather go that route. Romhacking.net is your best resource - they supply hacks and tools only, not the actual game rom.

Unofficial English translations:

While technically another type of rom-hack, these reproductions take a game that was released typically in only one territory and applies a fan-made translation to the game code to make the game playable in other languages. A popular example are the myriad of SNES Japanese only RPGs, like Seiken Densetsu 3 (Secret of Mana 2), which never saw an official English language release.

Sorry, I will not provide any resources to find actual game roms or isos.

are there differences between cart and cd repros?

Cartridge:

Cartridge based reproductions typically work on their target console without any special device or software. There are two common types: re-purposed rom chips and PCBs (usually from sports games, as they are extremely common) which are re-flashed with new games, re-labeled, and resold as a different game, or contain new PCBs, rom chips, and 3D printed cases. The only issue I've come across is some reproduction games can be a little tricky to get to work with certain systems - original or clone. I have one rom-hacked game that I have to re-seat in the cart slot a couple times to get it to work without any graphical glitches.

CD:

Unlike cartridges CD’s are cheap to reproduce. Many dealers offer complete reproductions which include all jewel case art, manuals, and even a spine card for Japanese versions. For example: I have a complete reproduction of Radiant Silvergun on Saturn that even came with a full-color, high-gloss manual. Outside of a few niggles, and a clearly marked "reproduction" that sits inconspicuously below the Sega Saturn logo on the CD, it is hard to tell the difference if you're not savvy. While the original goes for hundreds of dollars, this high-quality reproduction cost me only $30.

Playing CD reproductions can be tricky depending on your hardware. While some classic systems like the PC Engine CD (or Turbo Duo) and Sega CD have no copy protection, most other CD based consoles do. These systems usually need some sort of workaround due to copy protection code embedded in the software or the console itself. Solutions to play these games come in 2 forms, Hard Mods and Soft Mods:

  • Hard mods refer to actual chips or a series of chips that are soldered onto parts of the console hardware that tell the system to bypass the region or authenticity check.
  • Soft mods are non-system altering, plug-n-play solutions that do the same thing as a hard mod without the fuss.

A popular soft-mod is the modern Action Replay Plus (Pseudo Saturn) for the Sega Saturn which uses the Saturn’s cartridge slot to enable these features with mostly 100% compatibility - outside of a few titles.

Keep in mind that mods usually do not unlock the ability to play PAL games from Europe on NTSC systems and vice-versa. This is due to the differences in the video standard for the region that affect refresh rate and resolution output. For example: if you have a US or Japanese Saturn (both NTSC), you are stuck playing NTSC games on those systems and will need to purchase a separate PAL system for European games. Modern cartridge based close consoles often have a work around for this that do not require any mods.

What's the deal with Reproduction cases and labels?

Reproductions extend greatly to the way we protect and archive our classic games. Most of my retro collection is comprised of authentic, bare cartridges as they are much cheaper than complete versions. In order to help protect my collection, and look good on a shelf, I purchase plastic, hard-shell cases from dealers like retrogamecases.com. These high-quality solutions provide the game with a plastic case to shield from wear and damaging dust, while providing cover, spine, and back of the box art just like a retail game. For those of us old enough to remember, these resemble the cases you would get from the local rental shop when you rented a game.

Many dealers also offer replacement label stickers for the cartridges themselves. As many original games were handled by children in the past, the labels can come in a variety of conditions that can make the game look unappealing and torn up even if the internal PCB and connections are in good condition.

are reproductions right for me?

Honestly, there is no simple answer for this and you will need to figure out what works for you.

For my modern collection I’ve established a set of rules you can read about in detail in the article Collection 3.0. As a middle-aged adult, I'm a gamer and historian first, and a collector second. But, I'm also a person who grew up purchasing and playing these games brand new, and had amassed a collection worth tens of thousands of dollars in today's market...which I eventually had to sell to make ends meet. Due to this, I have my own unique perspective on games, gaming, and reproductions, as will all gamers from this era.

At the end of the day, how you handle this ethics question is entirely up to you.

Are there Any Reproduction Alternatives?

If you'd like to build a game collection, but want as many authentic games as possible, look into imports. While not always the case, Japanese NTSC games for NES (Famicom) and SNES (Super Famicom) are often substantially cheaper than their US counter parts even if the games had similar production runs.

  • For example: The entire 8 and 16-bit Mega Man (Rockman) series' are a prime example. Prices for Mega Man 1-6 on NES range between $30-$90 for a bare cart and well over $100 if they include the box. The Japanese Rockman versions for the same game range between $12-$30 bare cart, and to break the $100 barrier with box they must be almost mint condition. Rockman 7 in decent condition runs about $20, and a bare US cart runs over $100 in poor condition. My entire retro Mega Man collection is Japanese as I prefer the authenticity in artistic expression and the US versions often had odd omissions that made little sense in the localization process.
  • What are the benefits?
    • I can't speak Japanese: The great thing about retro games is that many do not require any working knowledge of the Japanese language. Unless it's an RPG or other text heavy genre, you won't run into any problems. There is no small number of FAQs and fan sites dedicated to many of these games if want to read story details or see item lists.
    • Other benefits: Japanese games also do not suffer from the ridiculous censorship Nintendo placed on publishers prior to the ESRB, so you'll see the games as intended by the artists. Many Famicom games also use extra chips and memory mappers to bring extra features into the game that were left out of the NES versions usually due to the NES not having a pin dedicated to reading extra hardware. Konami games are a prime example of this with their VRC series of custom audio and graphics chips that push the Famicom/NES hardware further than you could imagine. Castlevania 3 (Akumajou Densetsu) is probably the most famous example of this. There will often be other small changes, like difficulty. Rockman 2's default difficulty is the US hard mode, and Akumajou Densetsu has an even difficulty curve through the game while the US Castlevania 3 makes the enemies take more hits and deal more damage the further you progress.
  • Caveats: Sadly, getting an import is not always a safe bet for cost savings. Master System and Mega Drive/Genesis games, for example, are often just as expensive on import or more so. Castlevania Bloodlines (Vampire Killer in Japan) cost around $70 for a bare US cart and a little over $100 for a boxed copy, while the Japanese version will run you over $400 at MINIMUM.

At the end of the day, if you're a collector first, then by all means do what you will to collect what you want. I'm glad for these folks as some private collections are museum like in quality, and for the sake of game preservation it is important to archive our art. If you are a gamer first, and want to experience many of these games in their purest form for much, much less, check out the import scene. There are a myriad ways to play imports now, so it is not as prohibitive as before. I list some great online and local retailers who carry imports on the main resources page.