22 of the rarest and most expensive big box PC games

22 of the rarest and most expensive big box PC games


22 of the rarest and most expensive big box PC games

A boxed copy of the 1990 Mega Man DOS game, on sale on eBay. (Image credit: bnnltd)

Retro game collecting has been a big deal for a while now, but the focus has mainly been on old console games. The record for the most expensive game ever sold is a sealed edition of Super Mario Bros. that was auctioned for $2 million last August, whereas classic “big box” PC games have rarely been priced over $1,000—until recently. PC game collecting is heating up.

“I think the market for console games has hit its peak and attention has turned toward the big box PC games, which is why we're seeing sealed versions start to go for such high prices,” says Stephen Kick, CEO of Nightdive Studios, which specializes in retro PC remakes and remasters. “Collectors are buying them up and having them graded as investments.”

It’s actually pretty difficult to find PC games that routinely sell for more than a thousand outside the crazy investor bubble.

If you were lucky enough to grow up in a PC gaming household in the '90s, you probably remember a shelf or two of these big box PC games, which often contained goodies like manuals, guides, cloth maps, figurines, and other collectibles. Those precious little treasures have a way of getting lost, making complete big box editions of PC games tougher and tougher to find. If you happen to have one tucked away somewhere, you may be surprised what someone will pay for it. As much as I wanted this Japanese release of Arcanum: Of Steamworks and Magick Obscura, $250 is more than I'm willing to pay—and that's nothing compared to the sticker shock on this list.

You may not want to start building a collection immediately, though. Joel McCoy, admin of the Big Box PC Game Collectors Facebook group, believes today's prices are the result of a speculative bubble.

“On value, right now there seems to be actual value, and bubble value. It seems to me that whatever force drives comic book speculation has taken over a segment of console collecting and is starting to creep into PC gaming… It's actually pretty difficult to find PC games that routinely sell for more than a thousand outside the crazy investor bubble. We did a rundown in our chat when we first heard you were working on this, and we had a hard time coming up with many.”

This certainly raises issues with a definitive list of the rarest and most expensive of these games, and may even lead down a path of philosophical musing on what even is value or collectability in the face of such market fluctuations and speculative manipulation.

For the purpose of this list, we present the highest prices that collectible big boxes have actually sold for, leaving it up to the reader to determine if they are actually worth that much. (Except for the second-to-last entry of section two, which just doesn't make sense.)

We've grouped these entries into three categories: opened copies at varying degrees of completeness, mint condition and “graded” examples, and interesting games that we have heard about from collectors, but been unable to find examples or prices for out in the wild.

Opened PC boxes

In the years following a game's release, you can expect people to, you know, play it. Five, 10, 20 years down the line, it makes sense that most copies of a game in circulation will have been opened, used, maybe frayed at the edges a little or gained a coffee ring on the manual. This decreases the value collectors are willing to pay. That presumed lower value is what makes the following games stand out all the more to me: The examples we found commanded impressively high prices despite having been opened, and, in the case of two of them, missing components.

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders ($963)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1988
Developer: Lucasfilm Games
Publisher: Lucasfilm Games
Condition: Incomplete
High price: $963

Zak McKracken and the Alien Mindbenders was the second point-and-click adventure game from LucasArts, then still going by Lucasfilm Games. Before games like Star Wars Episode I: Racer, the company specialized in point-and-click adventures with a legendary sense of humor and a slightly more mixed legacy of trial-and-error puzzle-solving. Zak McKracken tells the tale of a gutsy tabloid journalist in the future year 1997, endeavoring to unravel an alien plot to make us all dumber and more pliable to control. Didn't really need any help on that one, did we?

Like many of the games listed here, Zak McKracken is most easily and cheaply available via GOG or Steam if you're just looking to play. On the collector market, I've seen vendors asking for $400 to $700 for the Commodore 64 version, while a copy of the DOS edition sold recently for $937

Some lucky son of a gun secured the Japanese localization's manga-style variant art for their private collection for $963. (In manual and jewel case form only. Sadly, the outer box has been lost to the ages.)

Suspended: a Cryogenic Nightmare ($999.99)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1983
Developer: Infocom
Publisher: Infocom
Condition: Complete
High price: $999.99

It's not the priciest game on this list, but Suspended is one of the oldest and it might just have the coolest packaging. Suspended is a text adventure where you assume the role of the cryogenically frozen administrator of a far future colony, awakened from suspended animation to manage the colony when multiple natural disasters strike at once. It's a compelling concept, backed up by a wicked sense of humor and notoriously difficult gameplay demanding the wrangling of various tokens, instructions, and a cryptic map packaged with the game. 

Suspended's initial release came in iconic packaging, with the front of the cardboard big box replaced with a mannequin-like plastic face, its eyes cut out to reveal those printed on the game's manual inside. Truly enchanting compared to the spartan plastic DVD cases of today (most likely just containing a download code at that). This charming relic went for an impressive $999.99 in December 2021.

Neverwinter Nights ($1,299.99)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1991
Developer: Beyond Software
Publisher: Strategic Simulations
Condition: Complete
High price: $1,299.99

Being a late millennial, I am far more familiar with Bioware's 2001 reboot of Neverwinter Nights (whose collector's edition, complete with cloth map, will only set you back $995.) The original Neverwinter Nights was part of the legendary “Gold Box” line of Dungeons & Dragons computer games, and was an important step in the development of modern MMOs, being the first online roleplaying game with full 2D graphics as opposed to just text or ASCII characters. NwN's official servers were shut down by AOL in 1997, and these days physical copies are collector's items, with one complete-in-box copy having sold for $1,299.99 in November 2021 (the listing has since been removed).

The Elder Scrolls 3: Morrowind ($2,500)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 2002
Developer: Bethesda Game Studios
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Condition: Incomplete
High price: $2,500

Bethesda's first mainline Elder Scrolls game with full 3D graphics codified the series formula, with much of the gameplay we'd see in Oblivion and Skyrim being formed here in a way they weren't in Daggerfall and Arena. What stood out to me about a $2,500 sale of Morrowind's collector's edition (listing removed) was that it was missing the game's soundtrack CD, commanding an imposing price for an incomplete copy. For the price of a pretty slick gaming PC, some wayward pilgrim secured a very nice box, paper inserts, manual, jewel case with CDs, and an admittedly charming and plucky pewter figurine of an Ordinator of House Indoril.

Sealed or graded PC games

As anyone who's seen Dexter's Lab knows, never remove from box. The prime status for any collectible, game or otherwise, is factory sealed with tape or plastic wrapping intact. Further complicating pricing for mint collectibles are grading services like VGA or WATA. These are third-party services who assess the condition of collectibles (including videogames) and assign ratings based on their observations that can better convey the collectible's potential value. Grading services will also further seal mint collectibles in near-airtight plexiglass cases for preservation and display. What follows are the standout sealed and graded PC big boxes we found in our research.

I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream ($400)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1995
Developer: Cyberdreams, The Dreamers Guild
Publisher: Cyberdreams, Limited Run Games
Condition: Sealed
High price: $400

The collecting history of this point-and-click adaptation of a classic Harlan Ellison short story took an interesting turn recently. Its price isn't too crazy compared to some of our other entries, but its unique history warrants inclusion. According to Stephen Kick at Nightdive, I Have No Mouth, and I Must Scream used to be a bit of a “holy grail” for collectors, being difficult to find complete, let alone mint. In a twist of fate in 2013, as part of their partnership to release an updated digital download version of IHNMaIMS on Steam and GOG, Ellison actually sent Nightdive a large collection of uncirculated copies of the game that had been awarded to him in a lawsuit over royalties. Nightdive later partnered with Limited Run Games to put these surplus copies in a fresh outer box with even more goodies in August of 2021.

I've seen vendors hawking the Limited Run version for inflated prices up to $1,000. I've also encountered listings at $350 and $450 showcasing the original box, which may mean they were actually circulated in 1995, or just that they were removed from the new, outer box produced by Limited Run games. I have also encountered this lonely $2,470 listing, but unless someone actually pays that much, it doesn't mean a lot. The highest sale price on eBay so far is $400 for a sealed Limited Run copy.

Diablo 2: Lord of Destruction ($1,136.88)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 2001
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Blizzard
Condition: Graded
High Price: $1,136.88

I was initially pretty shocked at this high price for Diablo 2's expansion pack (listing removed). The main game or Diablo 1 sure, but over $1,100 for an add-on? One explanation might be that the Diablo Battle Chest was launched later in 2001, potentially supplanting the standalone expansion and limiting its circulation. It certainly doesn't hurt that this copy was assigned a high grade by VGA and sealed in one of their collector's sarcophagi. You'd have to tear through that near-airtight plexiglass and incur the mummy's curse if you wanted to use this particular copy of Lord of Destruction to rock an assassin.

StarCraft ($1,200)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1998
Developer: Blizzard
Publisher: Blizzard
Condition: Sealed
High Price: $1,200

The original StarCraft is an RTS classic, one of the foundational esports games whose elegant design holds up to this day. This mint-condition example sold for $1,200 back in December of 2021 (listing removed), an otherwise-shocking price which nevertheless makes a certain sense for an iconic game in a field of thousand-dollar sales.

Mega Man ($1,500)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1990
Developer: Hi Tech Expressions
Publisher: Capcom
Condition: Sealed
High Price: $1,500

PCs of the late '80s and early '90s lacked the dedicated hardware for responsive, fast-scrolling 2D platformers possessed by consoles of the time, but that didn't stop publishers from trying. Mega Man for DOS is a particularly fascinating example of the weird PC ports from those days, in that it began not as a cash-grab, but a passion project by a former Capcom of America employee and programming enthusiast. The Gaming Historian has an excellent video on YouTube about the game's development if you'd like to know more. 

Mega Man DOS is not exactly a stand-out platformer, but its unique history and more restrained distribution most likely contribute to its value for collectors. A mint example sold for $1,500 in October of 2021. A “good” condition box is selling for significantly less.

Resident Evil ($1,625)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1997
Developer: Capcom
Publisher: Capcom
Condition: Sealed
High Price: $1,625

While the original Resident Evil is most strongly associated with the PlayStation, PC gamers were given their own opportunity to flex their 3D accelerator cards and enter the world of survival horror a year later. $1,625 is a pretty eye-popping price for a less-remembered re-release of a classic title, but it does make a bit more sense in the context of the sort of prices the original PlayStation version is commanding. A WATA-graded copy of RE1 sold for $4,500 in 2019.

Dune ($1,125)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1992
Developer: Cryo
Publisher: Virgin Games
Condition: Sealed
High price: $1,125

This Dune is distinct from Westwood Studios' foundational RTS, which despite being a largely unrelated project by a different developer and released in the same year, was marketed as a sequel to this game. Development on Westwood's project began partway through this Dune's troubled development, and Dune 2's forward-looking gameplay overshadowed this entry's curious mix of adventure game and 4X strategy adapting the story of the original novel. A sealed copy of the CD-rom version of Cryo's Dune with the stunning folding sandworm front flap recently sold on eBay for $1,125.

Doom ($1,825)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1993
Developer: id Software
Publisher: id Software
Condition: Sealed
High price: $1,825

These days, Doom can run on anything, be it your PC, phone, calculator, or thermostat. Even the ignoble rat has been able to get in on the action and play Doom, despite lacking higher-order reasoning or opposable thumbs. While Doom is more accessible than ever before, physical copies from the '90s have become rare and expensive.

In addition to shareware and retail editions, Doom was also available via mail-order to id Software. This version came in special packaging and is now prized by collectors. In an old MetalJesusRocks video, he said it goes for $350. I have seen vendors asking for north of  $3,000 for it, while the most expensive sold copy of Doom we've found is this sealed example of the shareware version which went for $1,825 on eBay.

The Elder Scrolls: Arena ($2,500)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1994
Developer: Bethesda Softworks
Publisher: Bethesda Softworks
Condition: Sealed
High price: $2,500

Bethesda's first Elder Scrolls game is available as a free download from Bethesda's website if you're just looking to sample the first foray into Tamriel, yet the collector scene is pretty heady. Most of the listings I found were $450–$500, but that's just for the basic release of the game. Complete and sealed copies of the deluxe edition with its Codex Scientia guide are exceedingly rare these days. Aaron Souza, proprietor of Massachusetts-based games trader n0w.co, estimates that the deluxe Arena complete-in-box is worth about $1,250, extrapolating from the price of an incomplete copy he sold. A sealed copy recently went for $2,550 at auction (listing removed), and Aaron predicts that a vendor could reasonably ask for as much as $1,000 more to sell it retail.

To explain Arena's skyrocketing value, Aaron said, “Some variations only pop up for sale once every few years. If you miss out, you end up having to wait another three years! The sharp price increase on that title likely reflects a bit of collector anxiety.”

Half-Life ($3,000)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1998
Developer: Valve
Publisher: Sierra
Condition: Sealed
High price: $3,000

Valve's classic redefined our expectations for first-person shooters and became part of the PC gaming canon. Aaron from n0w.co recently sold a complete Half-Life copy for $1,799. On eBay, a VGA-graded copy sold for $3,000 in October 2021.

Monkey Island 2: LeChuck's Revenge ($4,550)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1991
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts
Condition: Sealed
High price: $4,550

Others came before it, but The Secret of Monkey Island is one of the most influential and iconic point-and-click adventure games. We found a Korean-language localization of its sequel, LeChuck's Revenge, which commanded $4,550 at an auction that ended, rather auspiciously, on New Year's Day 2022. Different localizations of classic games make for fascinating cultural artifacts, and the mind boggles at how this one managed to not only remain sealed for over 30 years, but also travel all the way to New Hampshire. This example is also something that gives me pause in saying this list is definitive: there must always be some weirder, more obscure variant or localization in better condition that sets the bar of price or rarity higher. Or someone will go and drop more than a service worker's yearly wages on a copy of John Madden Football.

John Madden Football ($25,000???)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1988
Developer: Robin Antonick, John Friedman, Trip Hawkins, John Madden
Publisher: EA
Condition: Graded
High price: $25,000

What can one even say? In December 2021, some child of God out there spent more money on a VGA-graded copy of the original John Madden Football for DOS than I made in 2019. The first release in this sports franchise didn't even have its distinct NFL branding yet, which wouldn't come until the 1994 entry of the series. A sealed and graded copy of the first game of a venerable franchise must surely command an impressive price, but the logic behind the truly astronomical sum of money which changed hands here eludes me. We're doing some detective work to try to figure out what's going on with this one. Whatever happened, it's still a $25K sale for a DOS game, so it makes it in.

Ultima: Escape from Mt. Drash ($9,002)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1983
Developer: Keith Zabalaoui
Publisher: Sierra On-Line
Condition: Sealed
High Price: $9,002

Escape from Mt. Drash may not have the same eye-watering price tag as John Madden Football, but it does have a pretty legitimate claim to being the rarest PC big box game. Escape from Mt. Drash was developed by a friend and collaborator of Ultima Creator, Richard Garriot, named Richard Zabalaoui, but it was not initially intended to be part of the Ultima series. Fearing poor sales due to the game's cassette format requiring a RAM expansion for the Commodore VIC-20, Sierra first gave Mt. Drash the Ultima branding, then limited production to their contractual minimum.

Mt. Drash thus has the collectible double whammy of being an excruciatingly obscure oddity with very few examples in existence, while also being part of one of the most iconic RPG franchises in gaming history. For years it was unclear if the game had even been released and circulated until a handful of collectible copies started to surface in the 2000s, the first of which was purchased by collector Peter Olafson in 2004 for $3,605, sold by Olafson in 2014 for $3,050, and then acquired by another member of the Big Box PC Game Collectors group in 2015. According to Wikipedia, a sealed copy of Mt. Drash sold for $9,002 in 2017, and all of these impressive prices precede the current heightened state of the market. 

Unicorns

These are games I couldn't find sales or listings for but heard about from collectors. A $25,000 game is one thing, but what could be rarer than a game you can't even find?

Day of the Tentacle (triangle box)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1993
Developer: LucasArts
Publisher: LucasArts

A classic point-and-click adventure from the golden age of LucasArts, Day of the Tentacle was initially released in a delightfully whimsical triangular prism-shaped box. This edition seems to command serious attention from collectors, as in October of last year someone shelled out $625 (listing removed) for just that geometric oddity and its paper inserts (manual, hint book, etc.) with no game discs. In theory this would make a perfect complement for a collector already in possession of the CD-ROM minus the box and accoutrements, but I like to imagine a lost soul staring sadly at the empty box, then their PC, wondering where they went wrong. 

Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers (wacky box)

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1993
Developer: Sierra On-Line
Publisher: Sierra On-Line

Sins of the Fathers was the first entry in this popular series of point-and-click adventure games starring the titular Gabriel Knight, a struggling novelist, and (spoilers) the latest in a long line of Schattenjägers or “Shadow Hunters.” I've seen multiple discussions about the initial, wonky variant box for Gabriel Knight from collectors online, including from LGR on YouTube and this thread by @foone on Twitter, but have not been able to find prices or listings for the striking release.

Claw

22 of the rarest and most expensive big box PC games

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1997
Developer: Monolith Productions
Publisher: Monolith Productions

Claw feels like a half-remembered fever dream of the '90s, an amalgamation of things that actually existed or a collective delusion like Sinbad in Shazaam or the “Berenstein Bears“. Claw was actually made, and it's a 2D platformer about anthropomorphic cat pirates fighting dog pirates with an art style reminiscent of a classic Disney movie like Robin Hood. They don't make 'em like this anymore, is what I'm getting at. 

Stephen Kick of Nightdive pointed it out as an avenue of research in our initial conversation, and LGR on YouTube covered his experience with the game after a long search to secure a full copy of the initial big box release. I was only able to find listings for loose CDs or the far dinkier DVD release which came in some hardware bundles.

Prince of Persia

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1990 (1992 variant)
Developer: Jordan Mechner
Publisher: Broderbund

The original 1990 release of Jordan Mechner's seminal swashbuckling platformer featured delightfully pulpy cover art like something out of the Golden Age of Hollywood, a complete copy of which someone sold last year for $800 (listing removed). I've been stymied in my search for its much more famous redesigned box from two years later, a striking, minimalist look by Hock Wa Yeo, the same designer behind Gabriel Knight's packaging. Mechner himself attributes Prince of Persia's commercial success to this repackaging, as sales surged following its reissue. I've only found a heavily damaged copy of the Macintosh version, and similarly dogged copies of the Mac edition of Prince of Persia 2: The Shadow and the Flame, seem relatively common on eBay, but I've been unable to find prices or listings for the DOS edition of either.

Another World/Out of this World

(Image credit: )

Release year: 1991
Developer: Delphine Software
Publisher: Interplay

Eric Chahi's legendary adventure game/platformer was years ahead of its time with an understated presentation and striking, Mœbius-esque visuals. A copy sold for nearly $5,000 on eBay toward the end of 2021, but the listing was removed before I could screencap it or otherwise secure receipts. Otherwise, one seller was asking $2,500 for a sealed copy of the North American DOS version distributed by Interplay and renamed “Out of this World,” but took it down before finalizing the sale. They told me they had decided to keep their copy, given its rarity, and may have it graded in the future.

System Shock (Japanese localization)

(Image credit: Nightdive)

Release year: 1994
Developer: LookingGlass Technologies
Publisher: Origin Systems (Infinity Ltd. in Japan)

Boxed copies of Looking Glass's influential first-person RPG/horror/immersive sim predecessor are available online, but I've been unable to find any examples of its Japanese release. The cover of the Japanese localization of System Shock featured some unique, truly rad box art—lovingly commemorated by Nightdive Studios in poster form—but an actual, physical box seems to be a bit of a ghost. 

I was able to turn up this blog post from 2013 by a Japanese gamer outlining their experience with the game after finding a used copy. It seems to have been a competent localization featuring well-translated text with English voiceovers, but otherwise unremarkable. It's just that fantastic, evocative packaging which really elevates this variant of System Shock, and isn't that the central appeal of PC big boxes—their bombastic and memorable packaging?

Time Stamp:

More from PCGamer