MegaMaster Musings

Hosting ROMs
June 2, 2005

Considering that posting ROM images of copyrighted games is illegal, it struck me one day to wonder how sites outside of Hong Kong can pull this off without getting shut down. After all, it’s not very hard for an authoritative body to find such sites—just go to your favorite search engine and type in “ROM” and see what comes up. So, sometime ago I ran a little experiment to find the answer. The result rather surprised me.

The sites hosting ROMs were staying online by not hosting ROMs.

This experiment was a path into sleazy websiting, so I wouldn’t recommend anyone to follow in my footsteps. Also, I definitely didn’t investigate every potential site on the Internet, but rather only just those that came out on the top of the search engine results. I didn’t spend weeks on this, just a few hours, so take this with some grain of salt.

The goal of the experiment was to find actual ROM files offered for download. (I wasn’t picky about which games, as long as the ROMs were for console systems and were commercial, copyrighted games.) After my search query on a major search engine, I ended up very quickly on one of those “Top 100” sites which hosts a bunch of links and allow visitors to vote on sites to raise their rankings on the list. This particular list was an innocent third party “Top 100” service that someone had happened to use to set up a list of Top 100 ROM-hosting sites. There were actually only about 35 entries on the list, with the rest of the slots being blank, but that was certainly enough for my experiment.

What I discovered as I went down the links one by one is that every single site on the list, without exception, lied blatantly about having ROMs. Their ROM page links were simply links back to the Top 100 list. Most of the sites tried to force their users to vote for their site in the Top 100 list (and sometimes other lists) before the visitors could get to their “ROMs” (I circumvented these requirements with simple knowledge of JavaScript by looking at the source code), but as soon as the visitor jumped through all these hoops, he’d invariably simply end up right back at the Top 100 list.

There was not a single ROM download to be found on any of the supposed ROM download sites that I examined.

One site decided to be particularly cruel and insisted the visitor fill out a form asking for just about every piece of personal information short of Social Security number, and promised “there are actually ROM files for you to download once you fill this in, honest!” Of course, I wasn’t about to provide such information to a site that had no business asking it, exercise or not, so I couldn’t test that dubious promise. Just the fact that the owner of the website had to make such a claim, though, indicated to me that even these website maintainers realize the extent of the sleaziness in their own sites.

The results of this experiment do not indicate by any means that there are no ROMs to be found anywhere online. That obviously is not true. But what amazed me the most was the simple fact that people would go through so much effort for a phantom listing on a little top 100 list of no real importance, crafting sites with no content and no purpose other than to garner meaningless votes. It seems to me there are a heck of a lot more important things to even lie and cheat over, much less try to obtain validly.

So let this be a lesson to such folks—if you make a website that has actual content worth viewing, you’ll get real visitors and real “votes” in the form of links, compliments, and recognition. And you won’t even need to lie for it.

- The MegaMaster