12/14/2005

The ethics of modding

My co-workers and I got into it a bit today about the ethics of modding. Even though the practice is currently illegal (it dhouldn't be) I still contend that modding anything is perfectly within your rights as a consumer. There are a couple of exceptions, but those are covered by the purchase transaction differently than the subject of our debate: Gaming Consoles.

The specific example is the new XBox 360. Microsoft is selling these babys at a loss right now. Over time they will start turning a profit from the sales of the consoles, but at the moment they plan to make money off of the sales of games. This is an extension of the Gilette model of giving away the razor and selling blades.

Modding (for the uninitiated) is the practice of modifying a game console to do things that the manufacturer did not intend. For example, the original XBox was modded to run Linux. Microsoft, with the help of the DMCA, has made it illegal to purchase the XBox and use it as you choose.

My co-worker's logic is that there is an implied deal made when you purchase the thing which binds you to their contract. Loosley stated this contract is; "we'll sell it cheap as long as you buy games". This business model works because people buy consoles to play games, the box maker gets a royalty for every game made on that box, and they sell *lots* of games.

But I don't belive that it is my responsibility to validate the business model. If I choose to puy a console, I should have the right to use the thing as I choose. It's mine isn't it? The price I paid should have no bearing on what I can do with it. They set the price.

If microsoft loses $400 for every console, they've chosen to lose that money by setting the price below their cost. As a consumer I have no responsibility to buy games. The would use the same amount of money off that console if I chose to use it as a doorstop as they would if I modded it to run Linux.

Why does the manufacturer get any say as to what I do with their product after I have purchased it?

This business practice is rampant. The razor blade companies are one of the oldest examples but they are not alone. Movie theaters don't make money off movie tickets, they make money off of $5 popcorn (cost $.45) and $3.50 cokes (cost $.05), the same is true for amusement parks. Cell phone companies give away phones that used to cost hundreds of dollars because they also sell service.

Anti trust plays an interesting role in here too... Nokia doesn't get to sell cell service and Sprint doesn't get to make phones. It's a lovely relationship.

In the land of warranties and contracts, the seller has some control. That is only because you sign an agreement with your phone that states "you will use our service for a year or you pay for the whole phone". This is a deal that we willingly enter into with our eyes open. Cracking open your game console can void your warranty and if you screw it up, too bad for you. Both totally fine by me.

But I don't see a contract for me to sign when I buy a game console that binds me to buying 10 games within the first 18 months otherwise they charge me $400. If that were the deal, many people would still do it. Barring that contract though, I should have the right to do as I please with the objet I have purchased regardless of the price.

The punchline is that my co-worker has a CueCat.

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