How to Start an Atari Collection: Online Resources and Tips
Atari collecting can be rewarding.
It can also be quite frustrating. If you are just trying to recreate the game collection you had as a kid, it can be pretty simple. Hop on eBay, buy a console and some games, and you're in business. Many of the sellers will be selling consoles with a bunch of games. Generally, most of the games are pretty common. Common isn't bad. Common just means they are the games that everyone bought. Combat, of course, came with every 2600 sold. It's not rare at all. Anyone who has done much collecting ends up with a pile of Combat cartridges.
How to determine Rarity and Value.
Rarity and value tend to go hand-in-hand. AtariAge has been my favorite Atari-related website for a long time. Its Rarity Guide for each of the systems is quite useful. It rates the games from 1 to 10. A 1 would be a game such as Combat, Asteroids, or Warlords. All three of those are fun games to play. Being common doesn't mean it's not fun, it just means it won't cost you a lot of money.
Most of the rare games are rare because their publishers went under in the Game Crash of '83. Most of them are also unbelievably horrible. There was a reason for the Game Crash. However, AtariAge also has most of the game ROMs available for download. If you're just wanting to play the games, use an emulator and the ROMs. If you want to relive your past, do a little research first.
Both eBay and GameGavel are good sources for games. Doing searches for "Completed Items" on eBay gives you a range of what the items have been selling for lately. Prices seem to be highest around Christmas, but don't have seasonal variations that I've seen other than that one.
A few pics of miscellaneous games
What to beware of when buying Atari games.
If you are searching for some of the rarer cartridges, here are a couple of things to watch out for:
First, "untested" means does not work. There are some cases where this isn't the case, but it almost always is true. "It just needs cleaning," falls into the same category. If it could be cleaned (and you clean them with a pencil eraser), they would have cleaned it.
Second, one rare cartridge is often put in a lot with a bunch of common ones. The common cartridges are worthless if you don't want them. They don't add any value. If you're mentally going, ok, so the Asteroids is worth a dollar and the Super Breakout is worth 50 cents and so forth, don't. If you get all of the extras, take the time to test them, and put them back up for auction, you'll find that they will never bring what you mentally added for their value. They have zero value if you don't need them and aren't interested in getting into the Atari Cartridge Business.
#2 is how I ended up with 600+ cartridges. It's often the only way to buy a game you want, but don't make a mistake and give them value. #1 can be harder to gauge. It can be an honest mistake on the seller's part: they sell it as working and it won't. An honest seller will offer a refund. Most of the time, however, they're trying to pawn off their junk as untested and hope you'll go for it. The European PAL cartridges won't work on the US/Japanese NTSC displays. So that "untested" super-rare cartridge is probably something not rare at all from somewhere else in the world. And it won't do you any good. It won't work on your TV. And that #10 rarity probably drops to a 3 or 4 at best. Even if it is super-rare, you can't use it and you can't vouch for it when you try and resell it.
Other Gaming Stuff I've Written
In the end, buy what you remember.
If you buy the games you had as a kid and the titles you remember from the arcade, you'll be safe (within reason). Download an emulator and test the games before you spend the money is the best advice I can offer.
Also, there are new games coming out every year for the classic systems. It's been said that the 2600 was one of the most challenging systems to write games for. That may be one of the reasons that enthusiasts are out there making games as we speak. Check out the links before for more info.
Other Places to Check Out:
AtariArchives.org has lots of classic computing books and software for Atari computers.
Atarimac.com has lots of resources for the Mac using Atari enthusiast.
Atariprotos.com is dedicated to tracking down all of the unreleased prototype Atari games.
bataribasic.com are you ready to start programming Atari 2600 games? BatariBasic is your starting place.