What the next 30 years will hold for 360, PS3 and Wii owners

We look to the past to predict what your games, systems and communities will be worth in the future.

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generation is a funny thing. It has no clear beginning and no clear end, but we can all tell when one is on the rise or when one is fading away.

And this generation of game consoles — a golden age that has redefined interactive storytelling, catapulted gaming into the cultural mainstream and sold an unprecedented 250 million machines — has begun the process of fading away.

But generations overlap. They blur together over the course of years, and it's a sure bet that the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii will remain viable and even profitable well into the near future.

Exactly what will this future look like? How long will new games still be published? How long will each system's online networks be supported? How long until these consoles and their games become valuable collector's items?

After extensive research into the life cycles of past console generations, we're prepared to make some educated guesses.




In the months leading up to the launch of the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, if you're an owner of a current-gen console, you should take stock of what you're willing to sell, even if you want to keep your 360, PS3 or Wii. The easiest pieces to unload are games, which are, with a very few exceptions, worth more now than they will ever be worth again in your lifetime.

If you're having a Sophie's Choice situation and can't decide what to sell, focus on getting rid of games you're no longer playing that have heavy online multiplayer emphasis, since those will rapidly lose their resale value once crowds move on to new consoles or even new games within the current generation.

You'll also want to see if you have any rarities in your collection so that you can hang on to them for the future or, if you're the practical type, sell them now while people still care.

JJ Hendricks, owner of JJGames.com and one of the world's leading authorities on used video games, has created a tool for tallying the current (and historic) price of just about every game in existence. You'll probably want to run your entire library of current-gen games through Hendricks' PriceCharting.com to see if any of them show potential for collectible status.

Specifically, Hendricks says this is the list of games he'd definitely hang on to from the current generation of consoles:

  • NBA Elite 11 for PS3 (Incredibly rare. Current value: $1,300 - $2,250)
  • Uncharted 2: Fortune Hunter Edition for PS3 ($1,300 - $3,000)
  • Dead Space Ultra Limited Edition for Xbox 360 ($480 - $570)
  • Fallout 3 Survival Edition for PS3 or Xbox 360 ($350 - $560)
  • Xenoblade Chronicles for Wii ($88 - $115)
  • Metroid Prime Trilogy for Wii ($85 - $125)

Such rarities aside, the vast majority of games are only going to decline in value, so if you're going to sell, sell them sooner than later. Hendricks has analyzed decades' worth of data and found that games lose 40 percent of their value within two years of publication, then continue to see double-digit annual price drops over the next three years — and that doesn't factor in the impact of the game's console going obsolete. So if you don't plan on keeping a game in storage for posterity, sell it as quickly as you can.

"Definitely sell it now. The maximum price you're going to get for it is the price today."


Despite the legion of early adopters lining up for new consoles and parents scrambling to find them in stock before the holiday, don't expect current-gen consoles to be dumped into the used marketplace en masse.

With no upfront backward compatibility on Xbox One or PS4, most owners of an Xbox 360 or PS3 will probably want to hang on to their older consoles so they can finish off their most recent purchases or revisit old favorites.

If you, however, feel confident that you are totally done with the 360 or PS3, now's the time to sell for maximum retail value before they start flooding onto eBay.

"Definitely sell it now," Hendricks advises. "The maximum price you're going to get for it is the price today."


New releases, future rarities

Some of the highest-quality games of the Xbox 360 and PS3 generation will be published in 2014, but with marketing attention focused on the new generation of consoles, sales and print runs will be relatively low. That's good news for potential game collectors.

"Games that are produced in the last year of a console have a much better chance of being rare than games that are produced earlier," Hendricks says.

"It's not like this is going to be an awesome investment and you should hang on to it no matter what."

Specifically, you'll want to hang on to the best role-playing and fighting games that come out in 2014. Hendricks says these genres retain their value best, and smaller production runs will help improve their prices long-term. That said, don't go out of your way to pick up something you won't make time to play. You can pick up the exact same games — still in their cellophane wrapping — phenomenally cheaper in two or three years.

"It's not like this is going to be an awesome investment and you should hang on to it no matter what," Hendricks says. "They're still going to be going down in price for a good eight to 10 years before they start increasing again."

Xbox One takes a price cut

Before the holiday season, Microsoft will likely be ready to announce its first serious price cut on the Xbox One, likely dropping in price by $100. The move will help win over many of the Xbox 360 holdouts who were sticker-shocked by the next-gen console's $499 launch price.

While Sony might follow suit with a discount of $50 off the PS4's initial cost of $399, keeping its price point more appealing than Microsoft's, the burden is definitely on the Xbox One to scale back the expense of upgrading to the new generation.

In 2007, it was Sony that found itself forced into an early and steep price cut one year after launching the PlayStation 3, which hit the market 12 months later than the 360 and $100 more expensive. With the newest generation, Microsoft came out of the gate with the Xbox One priced higher than its competitor and will be desperate to make up for lagging sales.




Last games published for Wii

When Nintendo rolls out a new console, game support tends to dry up relatively quickly for the machine's predecessor.

The last year that the Nintendo 64 saw even a modest number of new releases was 2001, the year the GameCube launched in Japan. The N64's last game, Tony Hawk's Pro Skater 3, launched in 2002.

The GameCube's titles, which ceased in 2007, were similarly cannibalized by the launch of the Wii in 2006.

Wii owners should expect this pattern to continue, with the last Wii titles appearing in either 2014 or 2015.

Xbox 360 production scaled back

Microsoft will likely discontinue most overseas sales of the Xbox 360, though units will still be sold a few years longer in North America, the console's strongest territory. (Once the Xbox 360 had launched, the original Xbox was discontinued within a year in Japan, two years in Europe and three years in North America.)

Remaining sales will focus on the 4GB Xbox 360 E, aimed at budget shoppers and casual gamers looking for a dirt-cheap system with lots of affordable games. The price for a console without a Kinect (currently $199 for the 4GB) will have dropped to around $149.99 but likely will go no lower, as Microsoft looks to wean Xbox Live subscribers off the 360.

Sony, which has officially pledged to "support" the PS3 into 2015, will show few signs of discontinuing the console or its access to PSN. In this game of PR chicken with Microsoft, Sony is sure to blink last. Its global audience and continued strong PS3 sales will allow it to keep its network support running for quite a while longer than Xbox Live for the 360.

Unlike the Xbox, PlayStations have a proven track record of longevity even after their technical obsolescence. Sony sold 28 million units of the PSone, a minimalist version of the first PlayStation that was available for four years after the PS2 debuted. Similarly, more than 50 million PS2s were sold after the PS3 came along.

Collectors generally recommend you dedicate your limited storage space to games rather than hardware.

Sell it or store it?

With the flow of new games on older consoles slowing to a few last drops, most avid gamers will be facing the question that arises once or twice a decade: Should you keep that old console?

The first question you should really ask yourself is how well your console is working. If your machine's got a shoddy disc tray or other reliability issues, just get rid of it any way you can.

Veteran Nintendo game collector Rick Brun, creator of NESMaps.com, somewhat surprisingly recommends not holding on to a working Wii because he believes their stability will make them commonplace in the decades ahead. By comparison, the Xbox 360 had a failure rate of around 50 percent its first two years of production and only recently caught up to the PS3 in terms of reliability.

"The Wii is definitely a much more stable system," Brun says. "You're probably OK selling it, and you can get one later. But if you've got a good working PlayStation 3 or Xbox 360, you might want to hang on to it."

Collectors generally recommend you dedicate your limited storage space to games rather than hardware.

"Keep what you like. Keep what you enjoyed playing and get rid of the games you didn't," Brun says. "Keep them in a dry cool place out of the sunlight. If you do have them on display, make sure they're not in a place where direct sunlight can hit them, because it will discolor them."

If you're not interested in storing your old machine and games, and selling them sounds like too much trouble for too little reward, you might want to consider donating them to a nonprofit like The Get-Well Gamers Foundation, which finds a new home for old consoles at children's hospitals across the country.



Last new games published for Xbox 360

While the vast majority of Xbox game releases will be destined for the Xbox One at this point, a few final Xbox 360 titles will be rolling off the line as well. And they'll probably all be sports games.

In 2007, two years after the launch of the 360, Electronic Arts published Madden NFL 08 and NCAA Football 08 for the original Xbox. The next year, EA squeezed out Madden NFL 09, officially making it the last game released for the Xbox.

Around 2016, the last Xbox 360 games (on disc, at least) will similarly make their unheralded appearance, and within a year or so, sales of the console will be officially discontinued.

Bargain-hunting bonanza for used games

If you've decided to hang on to your old console or want to work on building a serious game collection, now's the time to go bargain hunting. Games from the consoles' peak years will be a steal.

"Prices will have dropped an additional 50 percent on current-gen stuff," game pricing guru JJ Hendricks says. "And then price decreases will slow down drastically. This is a good time to buy games, because they are still readily available and cheap."

GameStop powers down its real-life retail

Speaking of plummeting prices and towering piles of unwanted games, 2016 is very likely the year that GameStop will announce a dramatic restructuring of its business model, essentially ending the brick-and-mortar game retailer concept that began as Babbage's in 1983.

2016 is very likely the year that GameStop will announce a dramatic restructuring of its business model, essentially ending the brick-and-mortar game retailer concept that began as Babbage's in 1983.

While the demise of GameStop, slated to close hundreds of locations in 2013, has been predicted for years as digital downloads and mobile gaming gained in popularity, the launch of a new console generation will help the retailer post reasonably strong earnings in 2014 and into 2015.

The chain's core revenue streams, which remained consistent from 2011-2013, have been from new games (40 percent of net sales), used games (27 percent) and new hardware (15 percent). New consoles will mean strong sales in each of these three areas, and GameStop investors will hope for a profit boom like the one seen in 2007-2009 as the current-gen consoles hit their prime.

By 2016, it will become clear that strong next-gen sales are masking deep, inevitable shifts that have been eroding GameStop's core business. Hardware sales will remain brisk, but owners of newer consoles will be buying games digitally with increasing frequency. As fewer new releases are bought on disc, fewer will hit the market used, robbing GameStop of its highly profitable "used new game" selection.

The resale value of remaining titles for 360, PS3 and Wii will be in free fall, leaving GameStop with high amounts of inventory and low profit margins.

The online store, already a financial bright spot for the chain in 2013, will continue to offer downloadable PC games (in competition with Steam), but it could also become an e-commerce hub for buying and selling used games (in competition with Amazon's Trade-In Store).



Last new games published for PlayStation 3

Sony's consoles have a proven track record of spawning new games long after newer hardware has hit the market.

The last original PlayStation games were published in 2004, four years after the launch of the PlayStation 2. Thanks to its massive sales of 155 million units worldwide, the PS2 managed to keep meriting new games all the way to 2013 (FIFA 14 and a Final Fantasy XI expansion), seven years into the lifespan of PlayStation 3.

Splitting the difference, we can guess the last PlayStation 3 games will land five or six years after the PS4 launch in 2013. And that they'll probably involve soccer or JRPGs. Around this time, sales of the PS3 will finally be discontinued.

Microsoft shuts down Xbox Live for Xbox 360

Microsoft will announce that it is discontinuing support of Xbox Live for the 360, a decision that won't sit well with gamers still using the service for classic multiplayer titles like the Call of Duty, Halo and Forza franchises.

As in 2010, when Xbox Live support was discontinued for the original Xbox five years after its successor's launch, Microsoft will give fans an early warning about the service's demise. Auto-renewals for 360-only users will be canceled, and Microsoft will also offer some generous perks for Xbox One ownership to those still using a 360.

Just as in 2010, we'll likely see protests from a vocal minority of gamers who want to continue milking their enjoyment out of the 360. With the retirement of the first console's Xbox Live, a group of avid Halo 2 fans refused to exit the game, holding up the network's shutdown for nearly a month. Similar holdouts are to be expected whenever the 360's Xbox Live service is terminated, but this time Microsoft will be better prepared to hit the kill switch on the date of its own choosing.


Sony turns off PSN support for PS3

Sony will likely discontinue PlayStation Network support for the PlayStation 3, ending the brand's 14-year inaugural experiment with fully networked gaming. By this point, the PS4 itself will be a lion in winter, having celebrated its seventh birthday.


The next-gen's next-gen arrives

The "ninth generation" of gaming consoles will officially be upon us, ushered in (over several years) by new replacements for the Xbox One, PS4 and Wii U, along with some new challenger devices. As for those old standbys, the 360, PS3 and Wii, they'll have drifted almost completely into cultural retirement.


Prices bottom out for 360, PS3 and Wii games

"The only place for consumers to find the titles are usually resale from other consumers online or other consumer-to-consumer places offline like garage sales or flea markets."

The average price of games for the 360, PS3 and Wii will have hit rock bottom, where the games will stay for nearly a decade before starting to regain value.

In his analysis of three decades of video game price data, JJ Hendricks describes this period (11-15 years after a game's debut) as a time of stabilization:

"Prices are quite stable for games in this period of their lifecycle. Another console generation, or two, has come after the game was released and no retail stores carry the games or consoles anymore. Even used game shops like GameStop have stopped selling these titles.

"The only place for consumers to find the titles are usually resale from other consumers online or other consumer-to-consumer places offline like garage sales or flea markets."

The best example of a console that's in a similar state in 2013 would probably be the Nintendo 64, which hasn't quite achieved the retro popularity of its predecessor, the Super NES, or the ready playability of its successor, the GameCube.


"The pre-collectible period"

Many a Wii, 360 and PS3 will be unearthed from basements or storage units as the consoles enter a lifecycle phase Hendricks calls "the pre-collectible" period. These are the years of blooming nostalgia, when young professionals who grew up with this generation of machines decide to relive their youth a bit.

"It's more about getting in touch with your childhood. I like to have the cartridge, but if I'm feeling nostalgic about the gameplay itself, I usually just fire up the emulator."

The price of games finally will start to tick back up as demand increases mildly. For some, what starts as a casual replaying of old games will begin to grow into a serious game collection, one that will (for the first time since the games were published) actually gain value in the years ahead.

One downside for these old console owners, though, will be finding a way to physically connect them to modern screens. While HDMI ports will still be relatively common, most of the other inputs used in the 2000s — component, S-video, VGA and (if Europeans are lucky) SCART — will have long since stopped appearing on new devices.

While these kinds of technical limitations will make it a bit more challenging to get that old console up and running quickly, some veteran collectors say the real joy isn't in physically playing the old machines, but rather in sorting through the piles of games found stored away with the hardware and thinking back to the days when these games were new. This is often what motivates relatively casual gamers to start collecting classic titles from their childhood, says Brun.

"Yeah, you can go play an emulator, but having something you can touch and hold on to is a big factor," he says. "It's more about getting in touch with your childhood. I like to have the cartridge, but if I'm feeling nostalgic about the gameplay itself, I usually just fire up the emulator."



Three decades after stepping aside for a new generation of consoles, the Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and Nintendo Wii are officially vintage. They have passed through their lengthy era of technical and cultural obsolescence and re-emerged onto the global stage as collectibles.

It takes most consoles 25 years or more to reach this point, says Hendricks. And then, finally, their games begin to increase in value.

"Almost all games are either steady in price or increasing during this time period, and some games start increasing very substantially," Hendricks writes in his summary of video game life cycles. "More collectors enter the market and are willing to pay top dollar for the most collectible games.

"Complete games with the box and instruction manual sell for a big premium to the game-only versions because they are quite a bit harder to find. After 25 years many games have been destroyed. Brand new games sell for many times more than the game itself because collectors are willing to pay a bunch of money for them and they are harder to find in sealed condition."

But some collectors worry that the games of 2013 will never reach the values of today's highly collectible NES and Atari games, which were rarely kept in pristine condition.

"A lot more people are keeping sealed games," Brun says. "They're hearing all these stories about the old Nintendo games being worth a lot of money and they're thinking this might happen again."

With each of these console's production runs in the tens of millions of units and many would-be profiteers hanging on to today's sealed games, Brun says there might simply never be a day when the 360, PS3 and Wii consoles and games are worth as much as their predecessors.

Back to 2013

And so, like Ebenezer Scrooge staring at his own neglected grave, we abruptly return to the present on a bit of a down note and find ourselves right back where we began: wondering what to do with our current-gen consoles and games.

A rational consensus for the long term would be to keep your favorite games and the rarest titles you've stumbled across, just in case they end up being worth a decent amount. Games won't take up much storage space, and if nothing else, you'll probably enjoy the nostalgia of fishing them out of a box in a few decades.

As for the console itself, once you're done playing it regularly, you should probably sell it as early as possible while it still has decent value. If you do pack it away for safekeeping, be sure to include every peripheral and cable, specifically HDMI so you won't have to hunt for one in the future. Remember to store games away from the light and with all their packaging and instructions.

Will your collection prove to be a valuable piece of history? No, probably not. Many gaming consoles have come before, and many will come after. But if this generation of consoles was important to you and your friends, you can bet it'll still feel important to you 30 years from now. Babykayak

Images: Steve Courtney
Editing: Russ Pitts, Matt Leone

Design / Layout: Warren Schultheis, Matthew Sullivan