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Wata co-founder accused of breaking company rules on selling graded stock

Wata co-founder accused of breaking company rules on selling graded stock

A “significant conflict of interest”. 

A detailed Proof Games report into Mark Haspel, the co-founder of game grading company Wata, has brought to light worrying details of his business activities, and of Wata in general.

Wata appraises and rates the quality of collectible video games, often pushing their prices into the hundreds and thousands of dollars. To avoid any conflict of interest, it has previously stated it does not allow employees to have their own games graded or sell any that have been graded by the company.

But, this week, Proof Games’ Seth Abramson discovered he had apparently bought several WATA-graded video games from an eBay seller that turned out to be Haspel. One of his purchases reportedly included a yellow sticky note that invited Abramson to email Haspel privately “for more games”.

Image credit: Proof Games/Seth Abramson.

At the moment, Haspel is simply accused of breaking Wata’s company promise not to own or sell stock it has graded. But after looking into the matter further, Abramson’s report raises a number of concerning questions.

The eBay account in question currently lists nearly $50k worth of Wata-rated games, almost all of which have been rated as 9.0 or higher, described as an “investment grade” tier. The majority are 9.6 or higher, among the highest-possible grading Wata gives.

Among the questions Abramson raises – but does not have answers for – are when these games were bought and rated, and who by, and what insider knowledge Haspel has of the market, such as how many other copies of a particular game might exist of a particular quality.

There’s much more in the Proof Gaming report, which is well worth a read. No response from Haspel is included, but we’ve contacted Wata today for more.

Wata has come under scrutiny this year as a number of high-profile Wata-rated video games have sold via the company’s auction partner, Heritage Auctions, for increasingly eyebrow-raising amounts.

Wata and Heritage Auctions are closely linked. Heritage Auctions co-founder James Halperin – who was fined $1.2m for fraud back in 2004 – was a previous Wata investor and advisory board member, and Haspel has known Halperin for a number of years.

In July 2020, a sealed copy of Super Mario Bros. rated 9.4 by Wata sold for $114k, a record at the time. Fast forward to this April, and a sealed 9.6 Wata-rated copy of Super Mario Bros. sold for a whopping $660k. In July, a sealed 9.0 Wata-rated copy of The Legend of Zelda sold for an even-higher $870k.