One of my greatest hobbies has always been collecting boxed PC games, I have a small collection at home that I had the luck of starting when prices were still relatively low and bargains could still be found in shops. So, when an opportunity arised to have a talk with Anne Bras, guinness record holder for number of boxed PC games collected, I jumped at the occasion. I wanted to find out how the record happened and how did his collecting days begin.
How did your passion for big boxes begin, what was the “spark”?
My father had a work computer and his colleagues often gave him disks with games. So quite early I came in contact with games like Commander Keen, Prince of Persia, Lemmings, etc. Much later, in 2006, I bought my very first boxed pc game, Day of the Tentacle from LucasArts, for 2.50€ at the Queensday market. I immediately fell in love with the amazing box art, I just had to buy it!
A few weeks later a friend called me and said he found Dungeon Keeper and Diablo I & II in a second hand shop for €1 each. Thus I had 4 big box PC games. Since at the time PC games were already being sold in DVD-cases, I started to realize how beautiful big boxes are. The art really takes you into the game, not to mention the content. Some boxes have maps or posters in them, in some cases even T-shirts or VHS tapes. At that moment I decided I wanted to collect, at least, the original copies of the games from my “childhood”.
Here is a picture of what my collection looks like now.
What are the main channels you use for acquiring new boxes?
eBay is where the magic happens. We also have a Dutch online marketplace called Marktplaats where I buy stuff every now and then. We used to have quite a lot of Retro Shops but sadly they’re slowly disappearing. There are also some Retro Game Fairs that are worth going to, still it’s really getting harder and harder to find anything interesting.
How did the Guinness record happen? I’m curious to hear the story.
After my first exhibit with only 150 games, I met Pieter, known at the time for having the Largest Collection of Boxed PC Games in the Netherlands (around 600 games). He was my hero! We talked about these games a lot and shared a good friendship! Unfortunately, he passed away 18 months later… Eventually his games ended up in my collection. It took a while before I realized that I was now the owner of the Largest Collection of Boxed PC Games in the Netherlands. A few months later (about 7 years ago) it crossed my mind that I might actually have the Largest Collection of Boxed PC Games in the World! I had been collecting for some years and that’s when I decided to go for the World Record!
After applying, one of the things they needed were pictures of my collection as proof. Of course an empty game box doesn’t count, so I had to take pictures of all my games including the content to show them it was all complete.
In other words: Get a box with games. Take out a game. Open it up (unless it’s still sealed). Display everything nicely for the picture. Take the picture. Put everything back into the box again. Get the next game. This took me 5 whole years.
The next part was to plan an official counting day where a notary, a main witness and a couple of friends would count and check the games. Then came all the paperwork… Due to some bumps on the road it took quite a bit longer than I had anticipated. After that I was able to send it all to Guinness World Records.
Then after 3 more months I finally received the long-awaited news that I had become a Guinness World Record title holder! At the time I had 1832 unique big box PC games. I think now I have a little over 2000.
That sounds like a huge amount of work! Is there a special kind of box you particularly like to collect?
When I started collecting, my goal was collecting what I used to play as a child. Soon, my focus expanded to other games, after I got the 600 big box PC games I mentioned I decided to expand my collection with every nice title I could get my hands on.
These last few years, my focus has again changed a little bit. I still collect every big box PC game but now I focus a bit more on Dutch Games and Museum worthy games (Anne’s talking about the Games & Computers Museum in Zwolle – Ed’s note) or titles with an interesting development story, since I want to share my collection with the world.
I also have a not that long “Holy Grail List” with the games I’m searching for at the moment. I mostly try to fill in the gaps. I have some sub-collections within my collection that I try to complete. Collecting these games has become a great passion of mine and I don’t think my passion for these games will ever fade away. I’ll probably collect games till the end of my days. 😉 There are still many games missing in my collection!
You mentioned that it’s getting harder to find interesting games. Why? What happened during all these years that has made collecting Big Box harder?
Well, there are several factors involved, like:
- They don’t make big box PC games anymore, except for maybe some special releases/editions/Kickstarters. We’re slowly witnessing a decrease in the amount of boxed PC games available.
- Many Retro Game Shops have closed their doors. Lots of shops can’t meet the demands of the buyers, most game sales are done online.
- Prices are skyrocketing. Not only are people asking ridiculous prices for games that are worth less than a potato (probably because they saw somewhere that some games could be worth hundreds of dollars), but also the market price of games has become common information. That makes it a lot harder for us collectors to find something for a good price or to get lucky at Flea Markets, since prices can be easily looked up on the internet.
- The amount of collectors is growing FAST! Collecting Retro Games is huge. Many young kids get excited after seeing other collectors find these amazing retro gaming treasures and start collecting themselves.
All these things together have made collecting quite a challenge over the years. What people sometimes don’t understand is that while some may collect Doom games, others Sierra games, Blizzard games… I try to collect ALL of them! This means that especially the rare games will/have become even rarer.
But that’s also something that makes collecting so much fun and finding these gems much more rewarding! 🙂 What’s also very heartwarming is the donations I get from everyone, I’m very grateful for that and it helps me a lot! So if you still have some old PC games/game related items lying around and you want to give them a good home, please contact me! I’ll give them the love and care they deserve.
What’s your routine in caring about your big boxes? Do you also do repairs etc?
I sometimes do some minor repairs, but not much. Most of my games are already in good condition, but of course I always make sure that they’re complete copies with all goodies and manuals!
Besides repairs I always keep my games from sunlight, I don’t stack them and all the games on display in the museum are behind glass so people can’t reach them. I also occasionally digitally archive my games, this is especially when I can’t find any information about a game anywhere online or if I feel it is needed for other reasons. I also work at the Sound and Vision museum in Hilversum (NL), where we try to preserve gaming history.
And now for that one difficult question… What’s your favorite big boxed game?
There are many games I collected which I like very much regardless of the box of course! Heart of Darkness and Prince of Persia (the original!) come to mind, along with small classics like The Neverhood, Jazz Jackrabbit, Alley Cat, Star Control 2. Not to mention titles with wonderful stories like Full Throttle, Day of the Tentacle or Robin Hood: Conquests of the longbow…
But alright, if we’re talking about boxes, here are a few of my favorites:
- Laura Bow 2: The Dagger of Amon Ra (my all time favourite box art, inspired by the work of J.C. Leyendecker);
- Monkey Island 1 & 2 (My favourite games! My big brother and cousin used to play them and as a kid I was looking over their shoulders trying to make sense of it all!);
- Dune (when you fold open the front of the box the dune sandworm appears with its mouth open);
- The 7th Guest (the box is in the shape of a book, when you open it you see some sort of hallway with a door at the end, open it and find a VHS tape with “The Making Of”!);
- The 11th Hour Clockwork Edition (when you open it, it folds open on both sides like the gears of a clock);
- Gabriel Knight: Sins of the Fathers Origami Box (an odd box in the shape of two merged triangles);
- Ultrabot Ultra Box (a box that can be transformed, obviously);
- Burn:Cycle Limited Edition (heat sensitive box)
And what would you consider the rarest game you’ve collected?
That would be Akalabeth! An RPG game that had a limited release in summer 1980 and was then published by California Pacific Computer Company for the Apple II in 1980. Richard Garriott designed the game which is now recognized as one of the earliest known examples of a role-playing video game and as a predecessor of the Ultima series. This was the game that started Garriott’s career. There are only a handful of people known worldwide that have this version of the game!
Do you have some other game related items/stories you’d like to share?
Here are some items that I think are worth mentioning:
– Jazz Jackrabbit: The Secret Files Balloons
I’m a huge fan of Jazz Jackrabbit in general, but these balloons are one of a kind. They were used during the “Jazz Jackrabbit: The Secret Files” release party, after it was over some of them were stored, never to be used again. Years later I met the CEO of Project Two Interactive who donated some Jazz Jackrabbit stuff, including these balloons.
– RedCat 1 Master Diskette
RedCat is a very well known educational game series in the Netherlands and was used on many Dutch schools to educate children. But what many people, even here, don’t know is that before RedCat was an educational game, it was a violent platform shooter, where you had to kill mice with bombs and big guns! One day I got invited to talk with Rudolf Wolterbeek Muller, father of the RedCat game series; during our talk he brought out the “Master Diskette” of RedCat 1! My heart skipped a beat when I saw that. The contents of the disk are now back in the hands of its maker (as a .zip file) and I was allowed to keep the diskette. A real piece of Dutch Gaming History!
– Fallout 3 beer (complete 4 pack)
Many beers were made for the developers to celebrate the release of Fallout 3. There were actually quite a lot, but because it was a big party and drinking beer is fun (on that we can all agree! -Ed’s note), these beer bottles (let alone a 4 pack) became rare very quickly. My 4 pack was donated by the publishers.
– Film slides of the Ultima Add-On “The Silver Seed”
These are slides of film used to make the box cover of the Ultima Add-On “The Silver Seed”. I got them donated by Joe Garrity (the man who runs the Origin Museum). It is very unique and has a very special place in my heart.
– John Romero’s Broken Keyboard (Signed)
I never would have thought this would end up in my collection! One day Brenda Romero shared a story of John (co-founder of id software) playing a game of Quake against Ronan Pearce. After he lost a game (level DM4), the keyboard started to malfunction due to repeated beatings. John then said the following:
“I think this keyboard was build with a build-in beating detector. As soon as you start thrashing it, it instantly turns off, and the harder you thrash it, the longer it stays off.” Priceless! When I read the story, I knew that this keyboard deserved a place in history, so I asked for it. Both John and Brenda were very kind and shipped the keyboard to me. It was signed by both John Romero and Ronan Pearce!
Finally, I would like to give a shout out to the Big Box PC Game Collectors Facebook group. The people there are also very passionate about collecting boxed PC games and helpful, just don’t ask “How much is this game worth?”. 😉 Thank you all so very much! <3
Many thanks to Anne for the patience and kindness in answering my questions and providing me tons of awesome pictures!
All pictures in this article are property of Anne Bras.