Could this be the rarest video game of all time?
In February, the mainstream news media picked up a story about a rare 8-bit Nintendo game called Bandai Stadium Events that sold for $13,000 on eBay. The story was widely circulated mostly because the seller had no idea that the game was special in any way. The North Carolina mother who put the auction up was apparently unaware that she was selling a game that was only released in a handful of U.S. markets before it was quickly recalled, making it one of the rarest games for the Nintendo Entertainment System.
Then another copy of the same game turned up on eBay less than a month later from a seller who heard about the huge bids on the last auction. The copy that he put up managed to be an even rarer version, because it was sealed in its original box. That seller reportedly earned a whopping $41,300 for it.
Thanks to the publicity of those two stories, an even rarer game has gone up for sale on eBay, this time it's for a 28-year old game on the even older Atari 2600 video game console.
On March 20th, CNN ran a story called "8 very rare (and very expensive) video games" , in which it mentions a game called "Air Raid."
"Air Raid is a bit of an enigma for Atari fans. Some say it was the one and only game produced by a company called "Menavision" (or perhaps "Menovision"). The game is so shrouded in mystery, it can't even be verified that "Air Raid" is its official title -- there's no name on the label.
This strange cartridge appeared around 1984 in a bright blue 'T-handle' casing that is very different from the standard, square, black Atari carts sold in North America, but is similar in style to those sold in Brazil. Furthermore, while a few second-hand copies have been sold, no one can ever say they were the original owner. The mystery, as well as the fact there are only 12 known copies, make it a must-have for serious Atari collectors."
On March 21st, an Austin, Texas man named Tanner Sandlin read that article and realized that he owned Air Raid.
"I did not recognize I had the game until the article described the blue T-Shape handle, I thought 'I have that game!'" Sandlin told us.
Within three days, Sandlin posted the cartridge on eBay and announced it on AtariAge.com, a popular forum for collectors of the classic video game console. The listing got a good deal of interest, but Sandlin pulled the auction on March 30th because he had found the original box to go along with the game.
No classic video game collector had ever seen the box for Air Raid before this, and Sandlin himself was no classic game collector.
"Convincing everyone I had one of thirteen cartridges was not difficult," Sandlin told us. "Once I found the box, I knew that I was playing in a whole different league. I knew I was going to need an expert to verify that the box was genuine."
Albert Yarusso, an administrator from AtariAge also based in Austin, met up with Sandlin to confirm that the game was genuine.
"There is no way to know with absolute certainty that this is the 'genuine item.' Especially without another example to look at, which, if we're lucky, will happen at some point in the future," Yarusso told us. "The best I can really do is say that if it is a fake, it's a damned impressive fake, one that would have taken considerable time, effort and money to produce."
The game was then relisted complete with the one-of-a-kind box. Unfortunately, this whole affair culminated on April Fool's day.
"Little did I know that the fact that we both live in Austin would be used as a reason this could be an April fools joke. Apparently Albert had played pranks on his site in the past," Sandlin told us.
"The timing was both unfortunate and amusing at the same time," admitted Yarusso. "I've orchestrated various April Fools jokes in the past on AtariAge, so it was only natural for people to be skeptical when this 'holy grail' of Atari 2600 collecting appeared out of nowhere right around this time. Now that a few days have passed, I believe most people have come to the realization that it's not a hoax."
To have such a rare item turn up at such an inopportune time, Sandlin had to provide a pretty detailed provenance.
He says he bought the game at a Tuesday Morning store "near the corner of Arkansas Lane and Medline Drive" in Arlington, Texas in 1984 or 1985. When we asked why he chose that particular game over some other one, he told us, "I don't think there was anything special that attracted me to the game other then the fact that in 1984, anything to do with video games was like a moth to a flame for an 11-12 year old boy."
However, "It is a very bad game which is probably a contributing factor of why I still have it," Sandlin said. "All of my friends and I used to loan out our games to each other. When I unboxed everything, I realized I was missing some of my games but I had a few I don't remember buying. If Air Raid was any good there was a decent chance that one of my friends would have ended up with it."
So now it's for sale on eBay, with 23 bids and just over six days left in the auction. The current bid is $8,411.
I asked Yarusso about how he foresaw the auction ending. "I don't really see the mainstream media reporting on it as happened with Stadium Events...the NES is more 'recent' in the minds of many gamers, so to see a commercially released NES game sell for $40,000 is extraordinary. I don't feel we'll see Air Raid go that high, but I would not be surprised to see it hit five figures. Also, you're not going to see a flood of boxed Air Raids hit eBay, since, unlike Stadium Events, this is the only boxed copy to surface thus far. However, I would not be surprised to see reproduction boxes hit the stage."
Even if it doesn't climb to the heights that Stadium Events did, Sandlin's copy of Air Raid is already the most valuable Atari 2600 title of all time.