Skip to content
Home » Retro Computing » Why the Atari Jaguar is so expensive

Why the Atari Jaguar is so expensive

Atari’s final game console of the 20th century was a console called the Jaguar. It entered a crowded game console market when it was released in late 1993, and it left the market in 1996 with more of a whimper than a roar. Today, it is a prized collectors item. Here’s why the Atari Jaguar is so expensive.

Launched in November 1993 at a price of $249 and soon reduced to $199, and then to $159 and $99, the Jaguar is worth considerably more than that today.

Supply and demand and the Atari Jaguar

why the Atari Jaguar is so expensive

Atari had a hard time producing the Jaguar in 1993, then had a harder time selling them from 1994 to 1996. This scarcity makes the Atari Jaguar expensive today.

In free markets, price always comes down to the balance of supply versus demand. But just because something is rare doesn’t mean it’s valuable. The Jaguar itself was once an excellent example of this. It was always considerably more rare than a Nintendo NES or a Sega Genesis. But for about 20 years, it wasn’t worth much more than one of those consoles. The console was rare, but someone willing to pay more than about $90 for one was even more rare. I have pricing data going back to 2010, and the going rate then was between $70 and $85.

The supply hasn’t changed since 2010, but the demand increased starting in 2017, peaked in May 2020 at the height of COVID 19, and while it’s receded a bit from there, its price will set you back nearly $500, close to what you’d pay for a current generation console in early 2023. And the reason for the increased demand has a couple of factors.

Generation X

Generation X grew up with Atari. It was more significant to the elder half of the generation then it was to the younger half, but That’s significant too.. The elder half of the generation remembers the excitement of getting and Atari VCS console, and it may be a cherished memory for them. Even those who didn’t own one have found memories of playing games on one at a friend’s house.

Atari fell on hard times in 1983, and they never replicated that early success. But you never forget your first love.

And it’s easy to overlook that Generation X is now middle-aged, has some disposable income, and is nostalgic. Generation X has done what every earlier generation did in that phase of life. They went looking for things that remind themselves of when they were young. That doesn’t just mean convertibles and motorcycles. For Generation X, at least a segment of it, it means vintage video games.

Providing a challenge for Atari collectors

What does any of this have to do with the Atari Jaguar? It turns out the Atari 2600, or Atari VCS, whichever you prefer to call it, isn’t difficult to chase down. And the game cartridges that everyone remembers playing aren’t terribly difficult to chase down or expensive either. So then you start wondering about the other consoles Atari released and wondering if you missed anything by switching allegiance to Nintendo or Sega.

The price jumped in 2017, which is significant. That was 40 years after the launch of the Atari 2600.

The supply of Jaguar consoles never changed, but demand shot up. Nostalgia for the 2600 didn’t do much to help the Jaguar when it was new, but it eventually caused demand to surge after it was old. It’s possible, even likely, that some of the people paying hundreds of dollars for one were not aware of it when it was new. But chances are many of them were aware of it when it was new, and may have been curious about it, but they were in college at the time, and didn’t have a lot of disposable income. Just because they were interested in the Jaguar at the time didn’t mean they could afford to buy one. And if they were interested in both the Jaguar and a competing console, they weren’t going to buy both.

Is the Atari Jaguar rare?

A whole book has been written about the Jaguar and Atari’s downfall. You can download Clipped Claws, by Boris Kretzinger, for free. Among other things, Kretzinger has production numbers.

Atari stopped production in mid 1995 (Kretzinger 266), so it’s possible to make a good estimate of how many units they produced. At the end of 1995, Atari had sold 125,000 Jaguar consoles and had 100,000 unsold units in inventory (Kretzinger 279). From those numbers, we can estimate about 225,000 units were produced. That’s a rounding error compared to the 20 million 2600 consoles it sold in the 1970s and 80s, and the problem was there weren’t 225,000 people who wanted them at the time.

Production problems plagued the console. Atari wanted to ship 50,000 units in 1993 but only managed 17,000. That made it difficult to maintain any kind of buzz around the launch. The public was inclined to wait and see what Sega, Sony, and Nintendo were going to do, and the shortage of units at launch time forced even more of the game buying public to wait and see. So while they outsold 3DO, they only sold 100,000 units in 1994, far short of their goal of 500,000. With the production problems, everything else had to go right, and needless to say, not everything else went right and 1994 was the console’s best year.

Does 225,000 units qualify as rare? Some would say yes, while others would say it’s scarce, but not rare. It’s a pretty far cry from the 2.5 million units they hoped to sell. (Kretzinger 27)

And that’s why the Atari Jaguar is so expensive today. The generation Atari built it for wasn’t interested at the time. But now, three decades later, they want to see what they missed out on.

The Atari Jaguar wasn’t always expensive

That’s not to say it was always expensive. Atari liquidated the excess inventory in 1995, and as late as 2001 it was possible to buy a Jaguar new in box for as little as $30.

On the used market, I only have data going back to 2010. I don’t recall it being expensive in the first decade of the century. I wasn’t paying attention until 2006 but when I would see one, the going rate was around $50, within $10 of the going rate of a NES or Genesis.

The appeal at the time was that it was a scarce console with a library of around 50 games, providing a challenging but affordable challenge for collectors. But the scarcity meant that eventually prices caught up.

If you found this post informative or helpful, please share it!
%d bloggers like this: