Do Flash Carts Ruin Game Collecting? [Podcast E04]

Hello welcome to episode 4 of the Retro Break podcast. In today’s episode I’m answering the question: “Do flashcards affect game collecting?” And I’ve got some really interesting thoughts of my own. But I also asked on Twitter and over on YouTube as well what you guys think.

So before I touch on flash cards in particular, I kind of want to begin with where I first started using roms and how that affected my game collecting journey way back in the day. So back in the day in the late 90s actually, I went to a computer fair at a hotel and while I was there I actually bought a CD which included a SNES emulator and a bunch of roms. And this blew my mind at the time. First of all, I had no idea that you could play games on a system that wasn’t the console they were made for, so that was amazing first of all. And the other thing that really stands out to me about that was the fact that that CD was the way that I found out about a lot of games that I wouldn’t have otherwise known about – things like Super Mario RPG and Chrono Trigger, which never actually got officially released here in the UK. So thanks to having the roms back then, I actually got to experience a lot of games that I would never have had the chance to otherwise.

I’m not going to go into too much detail about roms and emulators – I’m probably going to save that for a future podcast episode. But that’s kind of where I got my start with playing games not on the original system or at least not using the original cartridges. And then skipping forward a few years, when I was in secondary school I had a DS of course but I also had an R4 card with it, which was my first introduction to actual flash cards and what they could do for systems. So of course like everyone else around the same time, I downloaded all the games that I couldn’t actually afford to buy normally, so I had this huge DS library. But, and this is where the topic of this podcast really comes into play – even though I had the R4 card, it didn’t stop me wanting to buy the actual physical version of the games that I was playing on there.

So even though I had that flash card, it really didn’t stop me wanting to buy and play the games officially. So actually going out to the shops, I was actually friends with a lot of people who worked at game shops around then, and they would actually keep some DS games for me under the counter. And some of them were actually games that I’d requested that they keep an eye out for, in case they got trade-ins – thanks to me first playing them on the R4 card. So from that point of view, I think flash cards are a really good thing – especially if you can’t afford to buy all the games that you want to. And I know it’s kind of a morally gray area, because unlike today, the flash cards that I’m using today are for consoles that have long been out of circulation – consoles that aren’t being sold anymore and the developers don’t get any profits from the games.

Back then and I know I probably shouldn’t have done this, but I did download games that were kind of recent at the time. And that is kind of why I’m not too mad about people who do that with the Switch, like the people that have hacked it with their custom firmware – because I kind of did the same thing back then. And I’m not proud of it, but at the same time it did also increase my horizons of the games that I knew about for the DS, and games that I actually wanted to buy with my own money. And I think thanks to using the flash card for the DS, I did actually spend more money on DS games than I would have otherwise. And thanks to that, developers of the games that were out at the time actually got more money thanks to me downloading their games illegally in the first place.

So it is a really really difficult topic. It is a really weird situation, and I’m kind of on both sides of the fence because obviously I really admire what game companies do, and I don’t want them to lose out on sales thanks to people downloading their games. But at the same time, I did do that in the past. And I also think that because of me doing that, companies have actually got more money out of me than they would have otherwise. So does any of this make any sense to you guys? Let me know in the comments on YouTube or if you’re listening to the audio version of this, check the link in the description and you can actually send me an audio response through Anchor – that would be really cool to hear your thoughts and opinions on this topic. Because it is not a black and white topic – there’s a lot of nuance that goes along with this. And I’ve been thinking about it quite a lot, and that’s why I wanted to make this episode.

I did actually feel kind of guilty doing this with the DS. So when the 3DS came out and things like the PSP and the Vita later on as well…all throughout my years at uni, I never touched roms or emulators. I kind of took the moral high ground on the whole thing and I didn’t do anything like that for a long time. I didn’t even mod the Wii or anything – at least not to be able to play games that I could play otherwise. So all throughout uni, I guess because at the time I’d had a job, I had my student loans which I know I shouldn’t really have been spending on games, but you know, I was like back in the day I couldn’t help myself. And you know, I had pocket money and things coming in. And I had part-time jobs, I worked at Tesco back then as well. So I was building up this kind of side income that I could spend on games that I probably would have downloaded otherwise.

And then actually it wasn’t all the way up until about 2019 when I got my next flash card. And that was the EverDrive X7 for the Game Boy. And of course, if you’ve been watching my main Retro Break channel for a while, you’ll know that I did a review on the X7 when I got it. And I have to say that it really changed my mind on the whole thing once again. I was right back to how I felt at school – except this time without the moral problems that go along with it. Because of course, I was downloading Game Boy games which have been out of circulation for many, many years now and no one was going to get any profit from me whether I bought them off eBay or whether I downloaded them online through rom websites.

To be completely honest, I was having a bit of a moral dilemma where at first I would only download games that I owned physical versions of. And then a bit later on that escalated into me only actually putting roms on there of games that I’d actually ripped myself. So I was actually using my own roms for a while but then I thought, “It’s not really hurting anyone.” And I thought back to how I was at school and how I’ve kind of used emulators and roms over the past 10 or so years to try and find out about new games. And I actually thought that “I’m not really going to worry about how I feel about it”. I’m basically going to download any game that I’m interested in and see whether I like it or not. And that’s kind of how I use flash cards today.

So I have look online, I read magazines like I said in the last video, I’ve been downloading magazines onto my iPad to read. So from doing things like that, I’d kind of built up this big list of games that I wanted to play. And obviously you know what the situation’s like with retro game collecting these days – if you have a look on eBay for games that you want, you’re pretty much guaranteed that at least a handful of them are going to be well over the £100 mark today. And I’ve got the money, I could buy them, but it’s just such a huge investment for something that you don’t actually know whether you would like or not.

So I’ve kind of been using flash cards these days as a sort of “try before you buy” kind of thing, where I’ll play the games on the flash cards. I may not play them to completion, I may not even play them for more than a few minutes – but what it allows me to do is to get a good idea of the kind of games that I do want to dedicate the money to when I can. So that’s kind of how I’ve been using them today. It’d be really interesting to hear how everyone watching and listening uses flash cards, because I think a lot of people have really different opinions as to the uses of the flash cards and what you should and shouldn’t do with them. It is kind of a legally gray area as well.

I know that the rules kind of are that if you own a physical version of a game, then it’s okay to own a rom as a backup as long as you don’t share it with anyone else – at least that’s what I think the rules are officially. And then skipping forward a bit more, after really enjoying the X7 for the Game Boy, I went out and bought myself a few more cards. I got one for the SNES and I was really loving that as well. I did a review on that one. And of course, most recently the Easy Flash, which actually got sent over to me for review. So that is really cool – the fact that my love of flash cards these days have actually

And of course most recently the Easy Flash, which actually got sent over to me for review. So that is really cool – the fact that my love of flash cards these days have actually got to the point where companies have seen my videos and actually wanted to send me other flash cards for me to review and compare. And I definitely want to get more in the future as well. I’ve got my eyes on the Everdrive for the N64 and one for the Mega Drive as well for the same reasons really – because there’s some games that I want to play on those systems that are just way out of my price range at the minute and I’m not really sure whether I would really want to dedicate that kind of money to them.

And the other thing that I haven’t mentioned so far about flash cards and something that is really really good for me personally because I love playing on the original systems – so it kind of gives me a bit more of an authentic feel than using emulators to play the games on. I know some people don’t really mind but even compared to the MR which is another similar thing that you can play roms on, I still prefer using flash cards on the original systems if I do have the choice.

And then the other thing with flash cards, or the other thing with running roms on the original system I suppose you could say – and something that I’ve been kind of I’m in an iron about but I’m still not quite sure whether I want to go that far with it – and that is for cd-based systems. So for things like the Dreamcast or the Gamecube, you can actually buy a mod online now that replaces the cd tray and the laser in the system with a microsd slot. And using that along with some custom homebrew firmware that you install onto the console itself, you can actually put all of the games that you wanted to play on the console onto a micro sd card and then actually play them through that rather than even needing to use the original cds.

And now that I’m thinking about it, it might be worth me getting second systems with that built in so I can kind of use them like flashcards for systems that aren’t cartridge compatible – like the Gamecube. Because there are a lot of Gamecube and Dreamcast games that I would love to play but either I haven’t been able to get them for whatever reason or they’re just too expensive. So to be able to use an SD card on a system like that, I actually think would be really cool. So kind of during the making of this podcast I changed my mind on that entire thing, but I don’t know why but it feels different not having to put a cd into a cd console, because at least with a Everdrive for a cartridge based system you’re still actually putting a cartridge into the cartridge slot. So I don’t know whether that’s kind of my mind coming up with reasons as to why I wouldn’t want one, so let me know your thoughts on this as well – whether you like these new additions to cd consoles where you can use sd cards. It’s definitely a really interesting upgrade and it’s definitely really cool that something like that even exists in the first place.

Another reason that I just thought of why I really like flash cards, is the fact that you can actually put NTSC versions of pound games on them and play them on different systems. So I’ve actually got a Japanese N64 and for those of you that don’t know, the Japanese N64 actually runs faster than the UK version because of the way that the TV and stuff is programmed. Actually if you want to know more about that about the refresh rates and things, I did – I think it was episode two – so go back and listen to episode two of the podcast and I kind of explained the difference in the speeds between the different regions.

But what I’m actually thinking of doing is getting the Everdrive for the N64 and using that exclusively on the Japanese system. And actually filling it with American versions of the English games that I’ve got and be able to play them at full speed on an original system using a proper N64 controller. So that’s kind of another reason why a flash card might be useful to some people, even if you do have a really big library of classic games to play. Being able to play them better without having to mod your system and get a 50 to 60Hz switch installed is a kind of tempting proposition. So I might end up doing that in the future and of course if I do, expect a video over on the main channel.

But going back to the title, I don’t really think having flash cards has actually affected my game collecting habits. I mean, if anything, it’s actually enhanced it. And quite a lot of people that I asked online as well kind of agree with this as well, where they kind of use the EverDrive as a way of finding out what games they actually want to buy in the future. And I actually did ask on Twitter and YouTube for some of your opinions on this matter and I had so many responses. I’m not going to go through all of them but I’ll just bring up a few now that I kind of agree with and some that I disagree with, to give you a good balanced argument for this.

Over on Twitter, Daniel Bardsley said that he has always avoided buying flash cards because he enjoys the hunt of game collecting and also being able to play the games for the first time after finding them. And I can definitely see it from that point of view, especially if you want to experience something for the first time. That’s actually something that I’ve done with this NES – there are a few games, made mostly by the Quintet developer, that I didn’t ever want to play the roms for before I actually owned the physical versions of the games. So I think for some games that really mean a lot to you or ones that you really want to experience properly on original hardware, then maybe flash cards isn’t the way to go. But I think it depends on how you feel about the games in particular. So even though there are certain games that I agree with that statement for, I don’t think it really – I don’t really think it applies to every game. I feel like there’s some games that you don’t really care about as much that you don’t really mind playing before you actually get your official version of.

But as well as that, I also had a lot of people in the comments also saying that it hasn’t affected their game collecting at all and they fill it full of roms and stuff, and they still go out and buy games just as they did before. So I guess it really depends on how you value game collecting and how you value playing games in the first place. Someone called Z on Twitter had a really good point. So they actually said that they buy less games because of the flash cards, even though they use them as the same sort of demo system that I did. Because back in the day they got burnt on buying games that turned out to be no good, and they’d had no prior experience with the games. So the example they used here was a game called Space Ace. If any of you know what that game is, was it not worth the price? Was it – I’ve never played that one so I don’t really know. But that is an interesting point as well.

But to be honest and it’s quite surprising, a lot of the replies that I’ve got here actually said that people didn’t actually change their buying habits whatsoever after getting a flash card, which is really interesting because I actually thought that people would have actually bought a lot less because you’ve got the ability to go online and play any game you could ever want.

And I can’t believe I haven’t brought this up now but another really good use of flashcards, and the main reason why I’ve been using them actually, and I can’t believe it took me this long in the podcast to get to this, and that is of course using them for homebrew games and for patches for roms as well. And that is honestly the best thing that I can possibly think of and the best reason to buy them for me personally. There’s so many talented developers and of course I’m going to dedicate a podcast episode in the future just to homebrew games and probably a separate one just for patches as well, so look forward to them. But flash cards are an amazing way of being able to play fan creations on the original consoles and you really wouldn’t have any other way of doing that if it wasn’t for flash cards.

So I really hope you enjoyed that episode. I think I’m going to end it there as I could go on all day but I’ve got things to do and I had about half hour free so I thought we’d come here and film this now and give you all something to listen to. So let me know whether you enjoyed this episode, let me know your opinions on flash cards and how you use them personally. It’s been really interesting to read everyone’s responses over on Twitter and YouTube, so of course once again thank you all so much for your support and for all of your comments and contributions to the show – I really really do appreciate it. And I really hope you look forward to listening to the next episode, which will be coming out very soon. Goodbye!

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