SNK sought to revolutionize console gaming with its Neo Geo AES. This wasn’t a product that adhered to the conventions of home console pricing and performance that had been well-established by the early 90s. Instead, it sought to do one thing and one thing only- bring the arcade into your home (quite literally, since it used an arcade motherboard).
Retro games fans often wonder- why are Neo Geo games so expensive? The reason is that these consoles didn’t sell a whole lot of units compared to more affordable alternatives such as the SNES or Genesis. The game sales were quite similar, with a small library of high-quality titles that cost more than the competition in exchange for delivering superior graphics and sound.
Original copies of Neo Geo games are collector items by nature of their rarity and quality. Owning a Neo Geo back in the 1990s made you part of the “cool kids club” because your games looked and played better. Neo Geo MVS and AES motherboards are in high demand today among arcade enthusiasts who construct custom cabinets to relive their favorite childhood classics.
Why Are Neo Geo Games So Expensive?
Before we begin, those of you that weren’t gamers during the 1980s and 1990s should understand that game pricing wasn’t standardized at $60 like today. Back then, some games could cost as little as $30 or $40, while others cost $90. And this wasn’t a matter of AA vs AAA, but the game cartridge hardware.
Yes, games back then were released via cartridges. These were tiny little PCBs with ROM chips and in many cases, custom processors to assist with special effects in certain games. For example, Super Mario World 2: Yoshi’s Island came with a chip called the Super FX.
This was a 16-bit RISC processor that acted as a graphics accelerator by outputting 2D effects. On top of this, the video game cartridge for Yoshi’s Island had an integral video frame buffer in the form of a RAM chip. The Super FX also helped with the rendering of 3D polygons in Star Fox.
Neo Geo games also game on cartridges, and some of these had custom hardware similar. However, even the base Neo Cartridges were capable of holding more data compared to a SNES cartridge (330 megabits vs 128 megabits). That 330-megabit figure is why you see the “Max 330 Mega Pro-Gear Spec” text as your Neo Geo boots up.
The game code itself was the same as the arcade version. SNK even used the same boards for both home and arcade versions of game cartridges. But they put a different pinout on the arcade cartridges to prevent arcade owners from buying the cheaper home console versions of games.
Neo Geo games looked better than anything else on the market, and it wasn’t even close. Larger sprites, more detailed level design, deeper color palette, and the list goes on. There was a certain prestige associated with owning the Neo Geo, it was like owning an American Express card instead of a Visa.
SNK knew they couldn’t compete with Nintendo in terms of library size, but they compensated for that with quality. Most of their games were fighters, that delivered an arcade-level experience at home. To further enhance the experience, each Neo Geo console came with a high-quality gamepad that include a stick and buttons.
How Much Did Neo Geo Games Cost?
Neo Geo games were expensive, more so than games on the SNES and Genesis. The console itself cost $649.99 at launch, and this was in 1991. For reference, the 60GB PS3 cost $599 at launch, and gamers all around the world practically revolted after looking at that price tag.
Even today, the PS5 and Xbox Series X are priced at the $499 standard. So you can imagine the kind of niche market SNK was catering to with their Neo Geo AES system. They even called it the “Gold System” (once again, think American Express vs Visa).
Some Neo Geo AES cartridges cost upwards of $200, going to $300 on the high-end. With the release of the Neo Geo CD, prices started to descend from the stratosphere. You could expect to pay around $50 for the average Neo Geo CD game (isn’t it a good thing we moved on from cartridges to CDs?).
Today, Neo Geo cartridges still command a hefty price tag. On sites like eBay, it isn’t uncommon to find listings for boxed copies of legendary games like Garou that cost upward of $1000. If you’re interested in an original copy of KoF 98, that could cost you a few hundred bucks (used, new is even more).
The Rarity Of Neo Geo Games
In total, 157 officially licensed games were made for the Neo Geo. Of these, 148 were released for the arcade (AES), 118 for the home console (AES), and 98 for the Neo Geo CD. As you can see, the library wasn’t all that big (for comparison, the SNES has 1757 games).
And the cumulative sales figures for these games weren’t all that high either. Firstly, because the Neo Geo AES was a very expensive console- it cost nearly 3 times as much as its direct rivals. On top of that, there wasn’t a whole lot of genre diversity since most of the library was made up of fighting games.
So the market for Neo Geo games was restricted to a mature, affluent group that could afford the console, and liked fighting games. There weren’t that many game copies to start with, and many have been lost to time since then. Some cartridges stopped functioning, others were lost, etc.
The few that remain often command very high prices. You will find these in your local retro game shops, or online through fan communities/ eBay. Some games have been re-released on modern consoles and PCs, so their prices aren’t as sky-high.
But for the games that remain Neo Geo exclusive and are critically acclaimed? Expect to pay an arm and a leg.
Neo Geo Collectors Market
Some Neo Geo games or their region-specific versions have become collector items, appreciating as the years advance. One of the most sought-after items is the EU version of Kizuna Encounter. It was only sold for a brief period in Germany and Austria before the game was recalled.
You can go on eBay and find listings of the English version (boxed, with game manual) for several thousand dollars. And the EU version is rarer than a purple unicorn flying on a cloud with leprechauns on its back. Unboxed, brand-new copies of Metal Slug are also in high demand.
It is rumored that only 500 to 1000 units of Metal Slug for AES were shipped to the US during its initial run. There were far more MVS (arcade) copies, but home console cartridges are pretty rare. King of Fighters 2000 is another rarity, fetching thousands when a copy goes on sale.
Is A Neo Geo Console Worth It Today?
If you’re a collector with a genuine interest in retro consoles, then absolutely. The Neo Geo AES is a historic piece of hardware, with a bold legacy that redefined what home consoles can be. Instead of adhering to the norms, Neo Geo created carved out its very own niche market.
But if you just want to play Neo Geo games, there are far more affordable ways to do it. Like emulation. However, if you’re someone who collects original arcade boards- getting your hands on a Neo Geo board for your custom arcade cabinet can be pretty useful.
Especially because Neo Geo boards, unlike traditional arcade boards, use cartridges. They aren’t restricted to a preloaded set of games. So if you have a Neo Geo cabinet, you can just pull out one cartridge and slot in the next one.
Why Did The Neo Geo Fail?
Price is the most obvious reason. Adjusted for inflation, the Neo Geo cost the equivalent of $1400 back in 1991. On top of that, it didn’t have the popularity of Nintendo or Sega who had pretty much cornered the home console market in the USA with massive advertising campaigns.
However, don’t think the Neo Geo as a whole was a commercial failure. Only the AES home console version sold poorly. The MVS (arcade system) was a massive hit, especially because it could use cartridges.
Arcade operators found it very economical as they would simply buy a new cartridge instead of swapping out the whole board. Plus, the game library was very impressive- King of Fighters, Metal Slug, Pulstar, Garou, etc. The MVS even received multiple Diamond awards from the AAMA for being within the top four best-selling arcade machines in America, two years in a row.
Due to their rarity, original copies of AES cartridges command a high asking price even today. Emulation is the most affordable way to enjoy Neo Geo games. Especially if your console is dead but you still have the cartridges for it.
The Neo Geo family of hardware broke new ground, by introducing several technological advancements. It was the first console to use memory cards for saving game progress. Players could take the memory card from their AES console and plug it into the MVS arcade machine to continue from where they left off at home.
The Neo Geo MVS arcades even allowed you to plug in your AES home console controllers. While the AES home console was a commercial failure, the MVS arcade system was a massive success.