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Grading video game prototypes


Wata Games promises to grade and provide authentication of video games. Should they be doing this for prototypes? Let's look into this.

By: Evan G
Last updated: February 6, 2020

Wata Games promises to grade and authenticate any and all kinds of video games. It is sort of the successor of the Video Game Authority, but arguably with a much better connection to the video game collecting scene. I won't go here into whether or not grading is good for game collecting, but I wanted to discuss the grading of prototypes. I keep close track of SNES prototype auctions and sales, and a few Wata graded prototypes have started popping up in my searches. There was one that caught my eye, a graded prototype of Spectre (link to archived Ebay auction).

Wata Graded Spectre - Front
Wata Graded Spectre - Back

This prototype is not a real prototype. The PCB peeking out is clearly a retail board, and the chips are exactly the same as the PCB documented on this site. Obviously the cart at one point hosted a prototype board, but now it just has a retail game in it. To me this seemed weird. As mentioned above, this caught my eye, and I was certain I had seen this particular prototype before. Luckily, I have been saving every single SNES prototype that I see on sale on Ebay, an archive that stretches back nearly 10 years. I went back, and found an auction for this cart from 2019. The auction was for three games, and sold for about $700. I would assume that the person who got this graded won that auction. Here are some close up pictures from that auction:

Prototype from the 2019 auction - Front
Prototype from the 2019 auction - Back

As can be seen, this is the exact same "prototype" as the one above. However, I was certain that I had seen it even before that. That turned out to be very true. In 2012, noted prototype collector DreamTR sold a bunch of empty cart shells. I have saved the images from that auction.

Picture from the original auction - Front
Picture from the original auction by DreamTR- Back

The picture is a bit small, but it is clearly the same cart shell. The seller of the graded Spectre also had the Mer Wars cart up for auction briefly before taking it down (archived link), so it is not just a second copy that looks similar. So there are a several problems here.

  • The PCB is clearly of the retail game and is not a prototype.
  • The hole in the cart shell clearly indicates that the PCB was not what was originally in the cart shell, and it once held a prototype board.
  • The PCB was put into the cart shell sometime after DreamTR's sale in 2012.

All of these facts really goes to show that Wata has not done their homework on these "prototypes", and should not have authenticated them. Generally speaking, when people are authenticating something, they should have in depth knowledge of what they are authenticating. This, and several other Wata graded prototypes that I have seen are clearly not prototypes. They may have been used in evaluation, but without a history to back that up, it cannot be proved. This is true of virtually all prototypes, even ones on prototype boards. I have seen many things that look like legit prototypes, but looking at things like the date stamps on chips show that they were just copies of games burned for playing, long after the games were released. Really, I think these should be the steps to authenticate a prototype:

  • There needs to be a history of the origin of the prototype, from the original seller. In the case of this Spectre cart shell, it came from DreamTR's collection, which likely derived from his time working at a game magazine. You would have to ask him if he remembers those details.
  • Retail boards should not be authenticated as prototypes, because they aren't prototypes. They could feasibly be authenticated as being for evaluation, but only if that history is known. An example of such a situation are the Earthbound samples that derive from Nintendo of Europe's offices.
  • The prototype cartridge should be dumped, and if the game is identical to retail, then it cannot be proved that it wasn't just someone burning the game on after the fact. Any final version game should not be called a prototype unless there is a known history of the prototype cartridge.

If any of these things are not done, I can't see how anyone would trust a Wata grading of a prototype.

Update: February 7, 2020

Wata Games has contacted me, and acknowledge their error in authenticating the Spectre and Mer Wars carts. This incident has led them to take stock of the situation and rethink how they authenticate prototypes and other sample/evaluation materials. They will be reaching out to experts such as myself to try to create a better system. It is my hope that the above suggestions are taken on. I still think it is a difficult thing to authenticate most prototypes, because their history will not be known. For the SNES, it might be better than a lot of systems, since I have kept close track of sales during the past 10 years. I am not aware of anyone tracking prototypes for other systems. For items with a known history, authentication could provide benefits of ensuring that legitimate prototypes are kept track of.

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