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Double-dipping and Market Prices

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I’m a metroidvania fanboy, but to my shame, I never really finished one of the granddaddies of the genre: Super Metroid, released in 1994. Now that I finally have (spoiler: it was great), I’m keen to replay the Game Boy Advance Metroid games: Metroid Fusion (2002) and Metroid Zero Mission (2004). Slight problem: I sold my copies a long time ago.

Even bigger problem: Nintendo announced Metroid Dread a month ago at E3, a brand new 2D Metroid adventure on the Switch—the first 2D Metroid game in almost twenty years (not counting the (3)DS lackluster ones). Everybody is eagerly looking forward to the release in November: Metroid games rise to the top of the Wii U Virtual Console charts. Suddenly, everybody is craving Metroid. Guess what, the retro sharks have also noticed: eBay prices have gone through the roof. People are asking €200 for a single cartridge. Yes, that’s right, that’s five times as much as the original price of the game. Ain’t the second hand market great?

I was lamenting on this ridiculous situation with fellow retro enthusiast Peter (check out his awesome Strife Streams blog), and he said:

It’s a shame the prices of games can exclude people from enjoying them. Games are meant to be enjoyed, not hoarded and used as an investment opportunity.

A few more interesting thoughts later, I felt I needed to think about this a bit more thorough. I have wasted many words on retro game collecting before, and I’m in the mood for some more squandering, so here goes. Because I really, really want to replay the GBA games…

Double-dipping?

How many times have you bought a single game again and again? Re-releases are commonplace now, and if you want to play your favorite game on multiple consoles, you’re going to have to double-dip: buy multiple versions of the same game. HD remasters aside, Nintendo’s Virtual Console service on the Wii was one of the first platforms that made me double-dip on too many classic games. NES, SNES and N64 games could be re-bought for $5, $8, and $10 respectively. Congratulations, you now own an emulated version of your cartridge-based A Link To The Past! I must have spent hundreds of dollars—well, euro’s to be exact, which makes it even worse.

A screenshot I dug up from 2007: Castlevania and Kirby's Adventure on NES, playable on my Wii, thanks to the Virtual Console system.

And then in 2012, the Wii U came along, Nintendo’s next console. After a while, the Virtual Console service on its predecessor was shut down in favor of a disastrously more crappy version of emulation software. The Wii U was really, really bad at this. At everything, honestly. But the point is, if you own A Link To the Past on SNES, and re-bought it on Wii, then no, your Nintendo account will not automatically unlock exactly the same game on the Wii U Virtual Console service. That’s right, cough it up, weakling! Triple-dipping? Quadruple-dipping? I own four versions of the first Castlevania…

And then, the Switch came along, and the Virtual Console concept that once was much revered was abandoned in favor of monthly subscription payments where little to none of the great classics even made an appearance. Go figure. But hey, you also own a 3DS right? Of course you do! Did you know there’s yet another version of yet another Zelda classic just waiting to be unlocked for just €10? What are you waiting for?

Here’s my money.

Metroid GBA games appear in the top Wii U Virtual Console sale chart. But I do not own a Wii U, and I want to play it on my GBA, not on a console. Thus, what are my options, if I wanted to get hold of these games, again?

  1. I could buy a second hand Wii U for €50 or so. Then I could hand over another €8 for the Wii U version of Metroid Zero Mission.
  2. I could let myself be ripped off on eBay and hand over even more money for an authentic cartridge, of which Nintendo R&D1, the developers behind the great games, do not see a single penny.
  3. I could look for a reproduction cart that sells for less than €15. I wonder if this is even legal, but I spot more than ten Chinese resellers on eBay who have sold dozens of these things. It does clearly say in the description it’s a fake, but still.
  4. I could simply download the ROM and call it a day, as most “retro handheld enthusiasts” (the quotes are justified here) seem to be doing nowadays.

Option 1 sucks, I want the handheld version. Option 2 sucks even more, I absolutely do not want to fuel someones greed. Option 3 is very questionable. I would simply not feel well owning only that. Option 4 is out of the question. So what now?

I want to give Nintendo my money—again. It’s just that it’s becoming difficult to do so for games that are out of print, but not really, as they’re still readily available through the Virtual Console shop.

Then I was thinking about combining options. For instance, buy a Wii U, buy the virtual game, and hack the console to dump and extract an image using WiiU VC Extractor to access the—completely legally bought—GBA ROM. I am not sure if this is a gray area, but the VC Extractor GitHub page states:

Note that most VC titles are not clean roms but have been modified from their original state.

This means that Metroid Zero Mission is not Metroid Zero Mission. Is it? It might be only from a technical perspective. If I buy a PC game, I am entitled to install it on any machine I have, although I sometimes have to jump through hoops to install my Good Old Games version of Blake Stone on my 486, because the installer is a Windows 10 one. For a certain DOS game, I had to download a pirated copy to get hold of a config file that was missing in the GOG version… Sure, I will void the Wii U warranty by rooting it, but I don’t care, I bought it so I can do whatever I want with it. If I dismantle my car, does this mean Volvo can sue me? It will more likely mean I’ll have to ride my bike a bit more as I’m far from a potent mechanic.

Imagine the slightly modified ROM works on my GBA. Of course I cannot distribute the file, but I can use it myself, in the same vain as my GBxCart RW PCB allows me to rip GB(C)(A) ROMs from my own authentic cartridges, so I can play them on the computer using an emulator.

Can we take this one step further? As I wrote before, I prefer physical versions of games, blowing in the cart and all. If I went with the option 1 route and somehow got hold of the ROM myself, without the help of certain pirate sites, might this also soothe my consciousness, enabling me to also buy a reproduction cart? It still sounds more appealing than giving in to the eBay scalpers:

  • I have supported Nintendo via the Virtual Console system, and possibly the original developer of the GBA game. In this case, I know R&D1 still exists, although I have no idea how the profits are divided.
  • I have not broken any laws by fiddling with my own hardware. Sony did not sue me for installing LineageOS on my smartphone—yet.
  • I still have a way to play it as originally intended using a cartridge, albeit a reproduction.

Digging through eBay policies on selling counterfeits makes my head hurt, but I am pretty certain it is not allowed. I am far from a license expert, and I wonder why so many of these sales have been made without reporting the article or the seller. I can of course always skip step 3 and revert to employing my trusty EZFlash cartridge I also use for my own homebrew GBA software.

It’s a bit ridiculous that (1) I have to buy a console I do not want to buy a game I intend to play on another platform and (2) that I wasted hours thinking about an ethical approach while others, who unlike me did not buy the game when it was originally released, simply press the download button.

Let me know in case I missed out on a viable alternative.

I'm Wouter Groeneveld, a level 35 Brain Baker, and I love the smell of freshly baked thoughts (and bread) in the morning. I sometimes convince others to bake their brain (and bread) too.

If you found this article amusing and/or helpful, you can buy me a coffee - although I'm more of a tea fan myself. I also like to hear your feedback via Mastodon or e-mail. Thanks!

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