If you thought $660,000 was expensive for an unsealed copy of the original Super Mario Bros. game, think twice, because an unpacked copy of The Legend of Zelda was recently auctioned for a whopping $870,000 (via The Verge).
The game in question is from the original run of The Legend of Zelda NES R cartridge for the Nintendo Entertainment System. The company released the game cartridge in late 1987 and produced for just a few weeks (until early 1988). Heritage Auctions, which specializes in selling collectible items, describes the copy as "The Legend of Zelda - Wata 9.0 A Sealed [No Rev-A, Round SOQ, Early Production], NES Nintendo 1987."
Wata 9.0 is a condition rating by collectible grading company WataGames. A 9.0 rating signifies the item is close to pristine condition, but not exactly new. Meanwhile, because The Legend of Zelda NES R cartridges were only produced for weeks and are incredibly rare, they're extremely valuable to collectors.
Here is how Heritage Auctions describes the game that sold for nearly $1,000,000:
While it is a hard truth, it is a truth nonetheless — none of the copies we've offered of this title previously could even attempt to hold a candle to this one due to its incredibly rare variant that holds early production status. This matter is completely inarguable. This is the only copy from one of the earliest production runs that we've ever had the opportunity to offer, and, possibly will have the opportunity to offer, for many years to come. Considering this variant was only produced for a few months in late 1987 before it was ultimately replaced by the "Rev-A" variant in early 1988, this statement likely comes as no surprise to collectors. Only one other variant precedes the offered "NES R" variant and that is the "NES TM" variant, which is the true first production run. However, it is also widely believed that only a single sealed "NES TM" example exists, and there is no telling whether or not that copy will ever come to market. Essentially, this copy is the earliest sealed copy one could realistically hope to obtain.
Nowadays game developers offer special and limited edition releases with exclusive content to give something back to their fans, so there are a bunch of special versions of various game titles on the market and it isn't hard to buy something 'rare.' Keeping that item unpacked and in pristine condition for over three decades is considerably harder, but this is what collectors expect.
The video game that sold for $870,000 wasn't purchased to play (even assuming that one can get a working NES or a copycat console), but to end up in an extremely valuable private collection. How much will that collection will worth if it ends up on an auction a couple of decades down the road? Well, that is literally a more-than-a-million-dollar question.