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 NegotiationsI 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 LocationI 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 PaymentThe 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 DealOn 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 SNES cartridge in the hotel safe and wrapped up the transaction with an hour to spare before the wedding.