You have to be very careful and avoid buying a fake or reproduction copy of a rare game. There is master craftsman out there making fake labels, ROM boards, etc. If you’re spending more than 100 dollars, I would use extreme caution.
If you ever have a question about a particular game for sale online, you should view as many photos as you can. For rare cartridge games, you should be able to see some pictures of it opened up, this way you can view the ROM board inside.
If you have doubts, you can always post a link or some photos of the rare game for sale in the collector’s forum over at Nintendo Age. In your posting, ask for a second opinion.
A fake game is made by getting a reproduction label, a new ROM board, loading up the game ROM on the board, then putting it in a fake cartridge casing. Sometimes a real cartridge casing from a cheaper game could be used to. It’s crazy how much of this is going on these days. It’s ruining the hobby for some, to be honest.
CD / DVD based games have just as much potential for being fake. Your best bet is to become very familiar with the natural look of that system’s game disc by looking at the disc carefully.
Over time you’ll become an expert by inspecting labels, game cases, cartridges, and the discs. Know the quirks and differences between all the various gaming systems especially on how they age with time. Nothing screams a fake copy more than a 30-year-old used game that looks like it’s brand spanking new.
If anything looks too good to be true, it probably is. There are times you might need to get a second opinion if needed, even if you’re buying from a retailer be careful.
Even Game-Stop has taken in fake games as a trade and resold them as being real. People would get them and demand a refund, which Game-Stop will gladly process.
Here’s a quick checklist to protect you
1) Always see the inside of the cartridge to inspect it for an original ROM board. It should have a date and Nintendo logo stamped on it. The microchip should look old too.
2) Make sure the label is not too perfect, if it is and it’s a super rare game, I’d be suspicious unless it’s a new sealed game. But then still be careful.
3) If you’re getting a disc-based game, check the disc on the bottom to make sure it’s an original factory disc (check the tint of the disc). Also, check the label on the disc. Does it look different than the type of labels you’ve seen on common games in your collection?
4) If you’re buying locally from Craigslist, a Flea Market, or a Private Collector see if you can bring the physical item to a local retro game store to have it inspected. Some might do this for you for a fee.
5) If you are selling a rare game and the buyer wants to return it to you, make sure you’re not getting something back that is fake. Also, check the inside of the cartridge when you get it back. Some buyers might take out the original ROM board and put a fake game board with a loaded ROM in its place. Now you just got screwed and did not even know it.
It’s sad that video game collecting requires doing all of these checks for fakes and what not. I mean it’s not gold after-all, but in a way, I guess it is.
Because of the fake games and reproduction stuff getting more popular, it’s been a turn off for many collectors to want to buy rare games. Some think it’s not worth the hassle or risk anymore. Can you blame them?