Try as they might, gaming companies will never fully stop piracy of their software. Lik-Sang recently got spanked with lawsuits from Sony, Nintendo, and Microsoft for selling products that allowed consumers to play imports or backup software they owned; aside from the fact that said products are actually LEGAL (they have illegal uses, but so do many other products, like CARS!), this really won’t bring piracy to a grinding halt. Piracy in and of itself isn’t black and white, however.
We’ll begin with the “classic games” problem. Say you want an older game, possibly for a lesser-known system (like the Sega Saturn), but it goes for ridiculous money online. This is tough to justify either way; on one hand, you should always buy original games to support the publishers, but on the other, if it’s an older used game, that means it’s already been bought, and the publisher’s already gotten paid for it. When you shell out $150 for a copy of Radiant Silvergun on eBay, that money’s padding the seller’s pockets, not the pockets of developer Treasure. It’s really a coin toss at this point.
Now then. What bugs me is when a new game comes out and many people flat-out refuse to buy it. (This also applies to music, to a much higher degree, but we’re talking games here.) They’ll give you the standard response if cornered about it: “Why should I buy it, when I can download it for free? Plus, I can use savestates and cheat!” Wow, aren’t you special.
A perfect example of this is one taken from my own personal experience. I recently imported Rockman EXE Battle Chip Grand Prix, which may or may not be released in the US. On one of the web’s largest Mega Man message boards, I posted a poll out of curiosity: “How many of you actually bought the RM EXE BCGP cartridge, and how many just downloaded the ROM?” Myself and ONE other person bought the cart. 50+ downloaded it. Most of them weren’t waiting for an English release, either; they plan to download that, too, if it comes out. Cheap f*cks.
Many people laugh when they hear “ROM trading hurts the gaming industry,” because they assume that Nintendo, Sony, etc. have SO much money, that it barely makes a dent in their profits. This is true, but the overall effect is the problem. Also, piracy REALLY hurts smaller companies and developers. Take Gamepark, for example, makers of the highly underrated GP32 console. Being a small company, if people start pirating their commercial software, that could really sink the company. Plus, since Gamepark’s development tools are free anyways, revenue from games and hardware is very important to them.
So is any ROM downloading actually legal? There’s that whole gray area of “if you own the game, you can download the ROM for it.” I call it a gray area, because the legality of that statement varies depending on what company lawyer you talk to. However, some 100% legal options are a) homebrewed games, which usually aren’t commercially produced (e.g., the ROM is the only way to distribute it), and b) the publisher has decided to remove the copyright restrictions. A perfect example of the latter is Atari. I’m not talking about the “new” Atari (formerly Infogrames); I mean the original company that ceased to exist in 1996. As a result, many (if not all) games for the 2600 are available for download at many Atari fansites, like Atari Age. Some publishers like Activision still exist, however, and even though the games they made for the Atari 2600 are over 20 years old, guess what? Since they’re being released in the Activision Anthology collections, they’re illegal to download again. You won’t find them on Atari Age for exactly that reason.
In closing, my whole view is this: if you like a game, support the f*cking publisher and BUY IT! I don’t wanna hear that “try before you buy” bullshit, either; that’s what Blockbuster Video is for. As far as games for legacy systems go…well, that’s up to you, and your own questionable morals.