I think that the world of retro gaming has changed a lot over the last fifteen years and continues to evolve. If a person wanted to start, at this moment, to get serious about collecting and playing, they would find many difficulties.
For the casual retro gamer there is virtual console, which is limited to only certain popular classic games. And that is dependent on obtainable licensing. But, even though limited, this is the best option for many people who do not want the clutter of another console and that extra stack of games. Space becomes a problem real fast when collecting the real thing.
But if you want to get into playing and collecting the original carts and hardware, that may be a challenge. Hardware is easy to find and at a reasonable price. It is the carts that may be a problem. The high price of some collectible games has put them out of the reach of the average gamer, like me. I am so glad that I picked up so many when the retro consoles were still on the shelf at most stores. My gaming tastes expanded over the years to include other genres that I was not interested in back then. I have been picking up games that I find in the wild, but yard sales and local flea markets have dried up in recent years. At least they have in my area. We have had some local gaming stores to open up in the last few years which are heavy dependent on selling used media like retro games. Then there are the online shops and auctions. But the waters have become muddled. There have been a flood of reproduction carts pouring out of China. Some people have placed them onto ebay at about the same price as the real thing. Honest sellers will use words like “new parts version,” “reproduction,” or “custom.”
Here are a few tips that I have found in case you want the real thing, or you don't want to get ripped off by someone trying to sell you a repro for a “real thing” price.
The top roll is the reproduction cart, bottom is the real thing. Notice on the reproduction that the label is larger, wider and longer. Comes down lower on the cart. If you notice up in the top left corner the sticker is coming off. Everyone that I have purchased I have had to glue down the top edge of the sticker, cheap glue or the paper is thicker, not sure. And the picture, or graphics, will not be as sharp as the original, or a completely different label. There is always that bite out of the left side of the cart. On the back you will notice that the screws are fake, plastic, a part of the cart. The cart snaps together. And you will never find the word Sega on the back.
The Sega reproduction carts, that I have found, are always glops on a PC board.
Super Nintendo carts are getting frighteningly close to the real thing. The plastic fake screws are a dead giveaway. But there are those that have the real screws. And when you open it up, PC board has chips!. But a real board will have the name Nintendo on it somewhere. I have noticed some sellers on ebay are starting to show pictures of the PC board to let you know it is the real cart. Love honesty. If I was a diehard collector, I would be very disturbed over these things.
I really don't know how to perceive reproduction carts. I know that the big video game companies have not earned any money from these games since the nineties, except those games that they have put up on their respective virtual console. Any money made on those retro carts is by the individual that sells you that game. Now I am not justifying any piracy, don't misunderstand. But it causes you to pause, begin to question, to stop and think about, your own moral standards when it comes to making a decision on whether to go that route, and it is open to discussion. I am not a collector, I am a gamer. But there have been those times I wanted something complete. I know I have been able to pick games I could never afford due high prices. I have even been able to enjoy hacked games. I have been able to have fan translated games that never came to my region. But for me the retro gaming market has changed so much that I approach it with caution at times. For a retro cart I will pay $3.70~$5.00USD for a loose cart. If I pay as much as $15USD then it better have at least the plastic case or the box.
Present state of retro gaming? If you are going out hunting, take your tools with you. If you see your "golden egg" and the price is high but tempting, ask to open the cart. I don't care if it is your favorite Gaming store or that yard sales down the street. You must see what you are purchasing, or you may get ripped. The person selling may not know.