MegaMaster Musings

File Swapping
April 26, 2005

Have you ever wondered why a PlayStation game costs $50 yet you can buy a blank CD for 25¢? Or do you just go to the store and pay whatever the price tag says without thinking about it because Mega Man games are so good anyway? (Heh.) Perhaps you’ve looked at a video game and said, “That’s too expensive, I’m not paying that much for that.” And passed it up. Which is a perfectly legitimate reaction, one which drives much of the free market. After all, if everyone paid any price for any product without reservation, prices would be sky high.

On the other hand, an improper reaction would be, “That’s too expensive, so I’ll steal it instead.”

You may think this statement is obvious, but it happens in the video game market all the time, not to mention other creative-product industries such as music, movies, and so forth.

I once read an interesting analogy that had been written in an attempt to justify music-swapping online. The author was writing about music, but it could easily be applied to video games as well. In the analogy, the author speculated that suppose we invented a matter-copying machine that could duplicate corn for very little cost. The author figured that in such a hypothetical situation, the corn farmers would be up in arms and would do everything possible to block the invention from hitting the market, as their jobs would be in jeopardy. (This in reference to the music industry, which as we all know is currently up in arms trying to stop online music copying.)

The analogy was completely true. It was also completely irrelevant.

Comparing the music industry (or the video game industry) with a miracle matter-copying machine is like comparing apples to oranges. Here’s why:

If we had a method of copying corn, and every corn farmer on the planet went out of business, we’d still have corn.

If we had a method of copying CDs (and we do), and every musician on the planet went out of business, we would have no music to copy.

What people fail to realize is that when you buy an album, a video game, or a movie, you are not predominantly paying for the cost of the physical medium on which the product is stamped. You own that when you buy the CD or DVD. You could erase your CD if you wanted and burn new contents onto it, and it wouldn’t matter, because it is yours. So it’s not the CD that you are buying, really. What you are paying for is the overhead of creating the content on the CD.

Creative content is created by people, and people are paid salaries. Not to mention the cost of materials and equipment that might be needed along the way, such as movie sets and specialized software. If these costs cannot be recouped through the sale of the product, the companies cannot stay in business, and the employees cannot put food on their tables. It’s really no more complicated than that.

Downloading a video game on the Internet is really no different than breaking a shop window and taking the game out of the store, except that you save the shopkeeper the cost of replacing his window, and the publisher the minuscule packaging and printing costs. No matter how good the game was, if it doesn’t sell, publishers will have less incentive to make more of them.

Let’s see what the ROM market does when they have no ROMs to copy...

- The MegaMaster