Gary Bowser, a Canadian national who made millions by hacking Nintendo consoles and selling devices that let users play pirated games on Nintendo devices, has agreed to pay $10 million to the gaming giant to settle a lawsuit.
Bowser was a prominent member of the video game piracy group Team Xecuter that was in the business of raking in millions by enabling video gamers to play illegal copies of popular games on gaming consoles like Microsoft’s Xbox, Sony PlayStation Classic, Nintendo Switch, and Nintendo 3DS. Other leading members of the gang included French national Max Louarn and Chinese national Yuanning Chen.
Team Xecuter was composed of over a dozen members, including a team of developers whose primary role was to find ways to jailbreak popular gaming consoles or exploit their inherent vulnerabilities and design circumvention devices. There was also a team that manufactured devices that could be used by gamers to bypass existing controls in Nintendo’s consoles and play unauthorised or pirated copies of popular games.
The video game piracy group also had a team of website designers whose job was to create various websites to promote the group’s unique devices, such as the Gateway 3DS, the Stargate, the TrueBlue Mini, the Classic2Magic, and the SX line of devices. The group used a network of resellers worldwide to promote these devices, and also used various tricks to evade detection by law enforcement authorities.
The group’s activities, from which it earned millions in the form of hardware sales and advertising revenues, ended abruptly in September last year when both Max Louarn and Gary Bowser were arrested in France and the Dominican Republic. Bowser was the unluckier one, as he was quickly extradited to the U.S. to face trial for his actions between 2013 and 2019.
When announcing his indictment, U.S. Attorney Brian Moran said that Bowser and his fellow hackers lined their pockets by stealing and selling the intellectual property of other video-game developers–even going so far as to make customers pay a licensing fee to play stolen games. “This conduct doesn’t just harm billion-dollar companies, it hijacks the hard work of individuals working to advance in the video-game industry.”
Earlier this week, news arrived that after pleading not guilty for over a year in a lawsuit filed by Nintendo, Bowser finally pleaded guilty, agreed to pay $4.5 million in restitution to the video gaming giant, and also agreed to pay an additional $10 million to Nintendo to settle the lawsuit.
In the lawsuit filed against Bowser in April this year, Nintendo sought damages of $2,500 for each device sold by Team Xecuter to hack Nintendo Switch consoles and $150,000 for each copyright violation. By agreeing to settle the lawsuit, Bowser saved himself from spending up to ten years in prison.
While Bowser’s decision sounds like a huge win for Nintendo against video game piracy, it is probably not. As per Bowser’s plea agreement, five of Team Xecuter’s most popular devices were designed specifically to hack Nintendo’s consoles and by enabling gamers to play games on those consoles without paying the company, the group inflicted losses of between $65 million and $150 million to Nintendo, Sony, and Microsoft.
The gaming industry has, since its infancy, been a popular target for pirates and hackers. In June, a group of hackers announced in a dark web forum that they obtained 780 gigabytes of data from Electronic Arts, including the Frostbite source code, which is the game engine that powers games including FIFA, Madden, and the Battlefield series, among others.
The group promptly put up the data on sale for $28 million, possibly in a move to extract millions from EA. Brett Callow, cybersecurity expert, and threat analyst at Emsisoft told Teiss that source code obtained by the hacker group could, theoretically, be copied by other developers or used to create hacks for games.