Prototype video games: How to start collecting

Soul Calibur 2 beta discs

I’ve been collecting pre-release versions of video games for around six years now, and I often upload photos of them to my collection album on Facebook.

Through this, I frequently get people asking me where I got certain items from. And while I’m always happy to provide an answer, I thought it’d be easier for me to tell you all in detail how I begun collecting, and how you can get into it too.

What comes under the umbrella of ‘prototypes’?

Just to clarify, when I say prototype games, here’s what I’m referring to:

When video games are developed, they go through various stages of internal and external testing. Over time, lots of little details are changed and tweaked, until the version of the game that sits on store shelves finally emerges.

These cartridges and discs etc. are usually confined to internal testing and the press, but many have found their way into the hands of collectors over the years.

Here are just a few examples of the types of prototypes that can be found:

  • Alpha – This is an early stage in development. Sometimes, the game can be very different to the one that’s sold in shops.
  • Beta – A slightly later stage of internal development and testing. QA testers (quality assurance) would often be looking for bugs on these builds on a daily basis.
  • Preview – A version of the game that’s later in development still. At this stage, the game will be sent to the press so they can begin to write articles and give the game some publicity.
  • Review – A build that’s very close to the final version of the game. These are also sent to the press so they can perform a full review of it before the public get their hands on the game.
  • There are also others out there such as ‘master copies’ and ‘test builds’.

Gran Turismo PSP beta

A few things to bear in mind

Before we get started, here are a couple of things to note if you’re thinking of starting up a collection.

Prices can vary: No one can be 100% sure what prototype builds of video games are worth, and therefore prices can start at around £10 and go all the way up to tens of thousands! One thing’s for sure though, the more popular the game, the more it’s usually worth.

Patience is key: Don’t expect to find what you’re looking for straight away. Discs and cartridges that come up for sale more often than any other are usually titles that not that many people are interested in. Finding the most sought-after items usually takes a bit more digging.

Playing these discs can require specific hardware: Some people want to collect prototype video games to put them on display or just keep them safe and protected from the tests of time. However, if you’re looking to ever play any, most require expensive development consoles. But to get around this, play them on an emulator on your computer.

Smuggler's Run alpha beta disc

Where to start looking

eBay

Yes, as mainstream as eBay is, prototype video games do show up on a regular basis. Try using different keywords when you’re searching, e.g. ‘video game beta’, ‘playstation debug’ etc., save searches you want to keep track of, and also follow any sellers who have any prototypes for sale, so you can see whenever they list anything new.

Also, be sure to check international listings too. If a seller doesn’t post to where you live, contact them and see if you can change their mind.

If you see that a seller has listed multiple prototypes, but nothing that you’re really interested in, send them a message and ask if they have any more they’re planning to sell in the near future. Often, sellers will only put a few items up at a time.

Other auction websites

I’ve seen them on eBay much more regularly than elsewhere, but it’s also worth checking the likes of Yahoo Auctions from time to time, to see if any get listed there.

Google searching

It sounds simple enough, but searching through Google can be a great way to find old sales and listings.

While eBay pages get archived or deleted, if there’s a sale thread on a forum, chances are that the page will still be live on the site. Therefore, you can potentially come across old for sale threads, particularly by Google image searching.

If you’re lucky enough to find any prototypes that you’re looking for, try contacting the seller to see if they still have any discs they were once selling, or contact any previous buyers to see if they might consider selling anything you like the look of.

Collector websites

Collecting video games is a popular hobby, and as such, there are websites that are dedicated to collecting all kinds of collecting in general, including prototypes.

While these websites are for discussing games in general, there are also often forums dedicated to the buying and selling of games too.

Keep an eye out for any threads that advertise selling prototype games, or alternatively, start your own thread and state what you’re specifically looking for.

Here are some forums to get you started:

AssemblerGames

Playstation Collecting

Digital Press

Car boot sales

It’s less common to find any prototype games at car boot sales, but it’s not impossible! Sometimes, former video game journalists will want to flog their old press kits and assets – all kinds of discs and leaflets really. If you’re really lucky, you just might bump into one at your local sale.

 

Well, there you go. That’s my guide to getting started in collecting pre-release versions of video games. If you have any questions or want me to cover any other aspect of collecting, please let me know in the comments. Also, you can check out my collection here.

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