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Tuesday, July 17, 2012

How I Got Nintendo Powerfest 94

Nintendo PowerFest with Cover
Nintendo PowerFest 94 Cartridge
Two days ago I purchase one of only two Nintendo PowerFest 94 cartridges known to exist. The purchase took 74 emails, 27 months, 6 phone calls, 5 failed meeting attempts, 1 sack of cash, and some additional twists and turns to finally complete. At the final meeting the two PowerFest cartridges were reunited and played in the first competition since 1994. Fellow game collectors might find it interesting to read how it all went down.

On April 8th, 2010 I received an email from a person in Canada saying they were reading our article about rare SNES video games and noticed that the #1 game on the list, Nintendo PowerFest 94, was a game he owned. He wanted to know if I would be interested in buying it.

Nintendo PowerFest was a video game competition Nintendo held in 1994 at locations all over the US and Canada. Nintendo setup competitions at 130 different locations, mainly department stores and Wal-Marts, and let people compete over three days. Nintendo created a special cartridge for the competition that allowed 6 minutes to play Super Mario Bros: Lost Levels, Super Mario Kart, Ken Griffey Jr Baseball. After six minutes you received a total score for all three games. The high score at each location was invited to San Diego to compete in the finals.

Nintendo made 32 of these cartridges for the competition and was supposed to destroy all of them afterwards to reuse for spare parts. Before this email was received there was only 1 known copy that survived and it was found at a garage sale in New York and later sold to another collector. (You can read about this purchase here).

The Negotiations

I quickly responded to the email saying "yes" and asked for pictures to verify it was authentic. I wanted to see the game playing on a TV, I wanted to see the circuit board itself, and I wanted to see a picture of the cartridge with a piece of paper with his name written next to it to make sure he wasn't just sending me pictures available online.

The Seller quickly responded back with the requested photos and I made an offer.

My initial offer was rejected very quickly because the seller was hoping to receive $50,000. I told him I couldn't go that high but please keep me in mind if anything changed.

I year and a half went by before I heard from the Seller again in December 2011. He simply asked: "Are you still interested?"

I offered him a bit less than I did originally because he emailed at a time when I didn't have as much money to spend on game collecting. Again, he said he couldn't accept my offer but said he was only asking $25,000 now. We ended the negotiations again.

Instead of waiting another year and a half, I decided to pursue the purchase a bit more and try to pull some more funds together. We were much closer to a deal this time than in 2010 and I didn't want to let this rare game get away. I emailed a week later asking if he would sell PowerFest for a higher price than both my original offers.

Again, he rejected the offer saying he had some interest from another collector at $20,000. He was going to wait and see if he could finalize a deal with them first.

While I waited to hear about the other deal, I asked where he got the cartridge. In 1994 he worked for a marketing company that had Nintendo as one of its clients. He helped them run the competitions and kept one of the cartridges after they were completed.

Because this cartridge was from the opening rounds of the competition home runs on Ken Griffey Baseball are worth 10,000 points. The other PowerFest cartridge was from the finals where Nintendo changed the scoring to 1,000,000 points for home runs. Because of this, both cartridges are unique even though they play the same game.

On January 25, 2012 the Seller told me the other deal would not be happening and wanted to know what I could pay now. I offered $12,000 on January 27th and my offer was accepted on the 29th. We had a deal on paper but little did I know that this was just the beginning and completing the transaction would be much harder.

The Location

I offered to pay all fees for escrow, paypal, or dwolla and pay for overnight mail (the usual way I have completed high value transactions of this kind) but the Seller was uncomfortable shipping anything or accepting online payment.

He wanted to meet in person to make the sale. I had some frequent flier miles available and said I would look into flying to Montreal to pickup the cartridge. Unfortunately my miles didn't work on any airlines flying to Montreal or anywhere in Canada - cross that off the list.

Paying for a flight to Montreal would cost about $800 plus staying in a hotel for a night, which was another $100-150. I didn't want to pay almost $1,000 in "transaction fees" - cross that off.

The Seller traveled in the US and Canada on business and over the next few months he emailed occasionally asking if I could meet him in various cities to finish the transaction.

Seller: "What about Vancouver, BC on March 7th?"
Me: "Sorry, my miles don't work in Canada."

A few weeks later
Seller: "How about April 18th in Boston?"
Me: "That is my son's birthday party. Can't do that one."

Seller: "Omaha at the beginning of July?"
Me: "Sorry, I'm traveling somewhere else already."

It was starting to look like we wouldn't find a way to meet to finalize the deal.

My brother was getting married in Vermont in July and I would be flying out there for the wedding. I would be 3 hours away from Montreal and wanted to know if he could drive down and meet me (I couldn't drive up because of various obligations as part of the wedding). The Seller thought this was a great idea. We finally had a location and date settled.

While all of this scheduling was taking place I had exchanged some emails with Rick Bruns, a fellow collector who owned the other PowerFest 94 cartridge. We talked about authenticity and the history of the cartridge. When I mentioned where we would be meeting he said he lived in Upstate New York, only about two hours from our meeting spot and wanted to know if he could meet us and bring his cartridge so we could compete head-to-head on the cartridges for the first time in 18 years. If we could work out the final detail - Payment - it was going to be a really fun sale.

The Payment

The last big hang-up was the payment. The Seller wouldn't accept paypal, cashier's check, or even wire transfer at my bank with him watching the banker transfer the funds. He only wanted cash. My bank didn't have branches in Vermont and I definitely didn't want to fly with that much money. I can only imagine the questions and orifice probing I would receive at security with that much money on me.

The plan we worked out was this: I would open a bank account locally at a bank that had a branch in Rutland, VT. We would meet in my hotel room to test the cartridge. I would have no money on me at all. After testing we would drive to the bank, I would withdraw the cash, and with all the security camera's rolling I would hand over the cash. I felt this would be safe for everyone.

A month before the purchase I opened a bank account at KeyBank in Denver and transferred the money into the account. The five days before the purchase I called the KeyBank in Rutland, VT to ask if there would be any problem withdrawing $12,000 in cash. They said they would be sure to have the money on hand but when I told them when I would be coming they informed me they are closed on Saturday - the day we had planned for the sale. It hadn't even crossed my mind that a small town bank would be closed on Saturday.

The Seller couldn't come down Friday to complete the sale so instead of canceling the transaction when we were so close I decided to go to plan B (or was it plan L at this point). I withdraw the cash on Friday, put it all in a purple grocery bag, and kept it in a hotel security deposit box at the front desk until Saturday. I didn't like this option but this was the only way to complete the deal.

Closing the Deal

On Saturday July 14th at 11:30am the Seller and his mom and dad (brought for security), Rick Bruns and his girlfriend, and me and my brother (brought for security too) met in the hotel lobby. We walked to my hotel room and all seven of us crammed inside to test the cartridge.

I put the cartridge into my Super Nintendo, which was hooked to the hotel TV and turned on the power. Nothing happened. I panicked. The system worked yesterday. Was the game a dud? Was it all going to fall apart because it didn't work? Turns out I was an idiot and had unplugged the Super Nintendo to plug in my laptop. I was so nervous I couldn't think straight.

I played the game all the way through and embarrassed myself with a number of deaths in Mario, driving off course in Mario Kart, and what looked like sacrifice bunts in Griffey. It all added up to a horrible score.

After testing was complete we all left the room, locked it up, and went do to the hotel lobby. I asked the front desk to access my security box and they handed me the purple sack with 120 $100 bills inside. The Seller and I walked into a private meeting room alone and shut the door. My brother was outside and would later tell me as soon as the doors shut the Seller's parents drew a little closer to the door to make sure no funny business went down.

I felt like some mobster in a movie handing over a wad of cash. Part of me wanted to complete the role and toss the cash on the table so some of it slid out of the bag in dramatic fashion, but instead I just handed the Seller the money and he started counting.

30 seconds later we opened the door. We all shook hands and the Seller left with his security detail on both sides. All the worst case scenario's that had wracked my mind for days were wasted anxiety - the sale was complete without a single hiccup.

Rick, his girlfriend, my brother and I walked back to the room and hooked the two PowerFest cartridges to two TV's and played a couple rounds head-to-head. Rick won both times we played. We took a few pictures of the cartridges and even played Nintendo Campus Challenge 92, which Rick also owns. Then we parted ways.

I put the cartridge in the hotel safe and wrapped up the transaction with an hour to spare before the wedding.

See the other Rare & Expensive Video Games

Pictures of PowerFest 94 and The Transaction

PowerFest No Cover
PowerFest 94 with No Cover
Two PowerFest Carts 2 TVs
Two PowerFest Cartridges on Two TV's
Two PowerFest Carts
Rick & I Holding PowerFest Carts
5 Competition Carts
Five Nintendo Competition Cartridges

40 comments :

Adam Lefloic said...

Wow, congratulations for this great treasure! I'd love to get a rare cartridge some day.
That's awesome

ccc said...

Great story, especially liked the head to head. But I'm going to need to borrow the cart just to make sure. *wink* Congratulations!

MW said...

"Part of me wanted to complete the role and toss the cash on the table so some of it slid out of the bag in dramatic fashion..."

I really liked that part. Nintendo never could've anticipated the lengths two people would go to over a Super Nintendo game. And you even opened a bank account just for this 1 transaction... you might be on some watchlist now!

Anonymous said...

Good article! I love reading these. Glad it worked out for everyone.

Slone said...

I can't help but wonder if he wanted cash in an attempt to avoid tax implications.

-RiveR StyX- said...

Asked for $50,000 and settled for $12,000

Yeah..Remind me never to get into the rare cartridge market. I sell a lot of shit on ebay and most of the lowball offers I get infuriate me, but this one takes it to a new level. I'd have told you to beat it and take your offers back to craigslist.

JJ Hendricks said...

@-RiveR StyX- I agree that lowball offers can be infuriating as a seller but I personally don't think $12K is "lowball".

$50K would have been the highest price ever paid for a video game so it was just a bit unrealistic as the starting point. And obviously nobody else was willing to pay that or I wouldn't have been able to buy it for $12K.

Anonymous said...

Will you do a ROM dump or do we have to sponsor you for that? :)

Anonymous said...

Well, this is a really nice thing you've got there! Wait some time and the Angry video game nerd will mail you xD

JJ Hendricks said...

@anonymous - Good question about the ROM. I've been asked this quite a bit so I wrote a response about what the plans are for the cartridge:

Plans for PowerFest 94

ct said...

nice story :)

NintendoLegend said...

Awesome story, and thank you for telling it.

Anonymous said...

kickstarter for a rom dump please, you can make all your money back

Julie said...

Wow you're patient... you'd think the guy would have told you that Burlington, Vermont is less than a two hour drive to Montreal, you could have used your miles and had it done back in January... I live in Montreal and always fly out of Burlington, it's much cheaper.

darktone said...

This story went everywhere. Had a great ending too. Congrats on the purchase.

Mike Mongo said...

Story of the week. You brother are an inspiration to us all. This is the Raiders of the Lost Ark of SNES lore. You ARE the Kwisatz Haderach!

Anonymous said...

I know this will kill some of the rareness and specialness of your guys' carts, but do you think you could dump the ROM of the carts so we can play them too?

Anonymous said...

You are talking about Peter Sellers ?

Anonymous said...

That was literally the worst story I've ever heard.

Anonymous said...

Time to rip the cartridge and put its ROM on the Internet.

duggi said...

cool story bro

Anonymous said...

Why did the Other Guy bring his Parents for Security? lol

Anonymous said...

I'm from Rutland, out of curiosity where was the wedding?

Mack said...

For the sake of history, please dump the ROM to the 'net before the cartridge suffers from decay and becomes unusable.

Anonymous said...

Seems like a complete waste of ca$h IMO, but if someone's willing to pay that for an old SNES game... more power to 'em. I'd put that $12K towards my mortgage or keep it in the bank in case of financial emergency.

Anonymous said...

This story reminds me of the TV show "Big Bang Theory"...

JJ Hendricks said...

@anonymous - The wedding was at the Congregational Church in Wallingford. Cute little white New England church, but boy was it hot with no AC.

Reception was down the School Street at someone's house.

Anonymous said...

pleeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeeease upload a youtube vid of it being played gotta see the game bro

adblaze.com said...

And the rest is history. They both lived on to be virgins the rest of their days.

danpdx said...

It's kind of funny all the paranoia for a $12k sale. I realize that's a lot of money, but people sell used cars between private parties for that amount all the time.

Anonymous said...

probably brought someone he trusted with him to get the cash across the border. have to declare anything over $10k.

JJ Hendricks said...

@danpdx - Compared to other products $12K isn't that much money, but that is definitely comparing apples to oranges. A regular game sells for $50 so $12K is a lot of money in comparison.

The average car might sell for $12-15K so that isn't noteworthy. But a car selling for $1 million might be noteworthy.

By your logic you could say a $1 million car sale isn't noteworthy because houses sell for $1 million all the time. Or a $100 million home sale isn't noteworthy because businesses sell for billions of dollars all the time.

You have to compare the price to what the average product sells for to decide if it is noteworthy.

@adblaze - I have a wife and two kids.

Mel poker said...

Lucky SOB, look at the smile on his face.

ccc said...

WOW first article on yahoo news main page of yahoo.com and JJ named - moving on up, to the east side

Anonymous said...

Yeah, sure it's a high price for a game and not a high price for a car, but the point stands that... normal people exchange that kind of cash all the time without spymovie issues.

Biggievan said...

That is a great story, thank you for sharing. I got frustrated just reading the article. I can only imagine how you felt. I am surprised he didn't ask you to crap out the $12k in golden egg form!

Anonymous said...

surely it would have been cheaper to pay nintendo itself to make u another copy

Anonymous said...

Congratulations JJ!! I enjoyed reading your article and happened upon it when I was showing some friends the scores from '94 Powerfest, as I competed. My friend, Jeffy who also competed, e-mail Rick in the hopes of either purchasing or duplicating the cartridge, both of which didn't pan out, lol. Maybe one of these days I can make one of you a serious offer. You can keep in touch via e-mail and I can share more info with you. weciv@hotmail.com

Anonymous said...

Hey, why don't you lend those carts to Retrousb.com so that they can make reproductions of it. Thanks in advanced.

Anonymous said...

in quebec canada you can be asked for your money if you receive an important ammount of money, he probably wanted cash because it was easier to hide from his ownings...

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