Switch Pirates Evade Capture, Nintendo Takes on ROM Sites

When a Nintendo Switch game is uploaded before its official release date, the pirates hide the original leaker behind a wall of middlemen, and congratulate themselves online for their cleverness. Nintendo has endured piracy of the highly anticipated “Diablo III” and “Dark Souls: Remastered,” both released by pirates a few days before their official launch. The company has had better luck stopping websites that offer illegal access to retro-games and ROMs, games that are emulated from read-only memory chips.

Motherboard spoke to sources about “private communities and illegal activity,” giving them anonymity so they would speak openly. The Switch piracy community, it finds, “much of which operates on the gamer-focused chat app Discord,” is passionate about Nintendo games at the same time its members illegally steal games. Discord servers “have thousands of members,” and some host a bot that, “when asked, will automatically send users a direct message with Google Drive links to a slew of Nintendo games, updates, and DLC to download for free.”

Pirating games is “not technically straightforward,” but instead “a complex supply chain constantly grinding away that helps people source and play unreleased games.” That includes reverse engineers who figure out Nintendo’s tools and supply the information to hackers; coders who make it easier to download or run illegal games; and reviewers, developers, or YouTubers with early access to games.

Then there are leaks from Nintendo Kiosks, set up at special events, and pirates who’ve gained access to Nintendo internal servers. But there are also rivalries among pirates; and some have been doxed and bombarded with online abuse.

TorrentFreak reports that Nintendo was awarded a $12 million judgment against two now-defunct ROM sites operated by a married couple who “admit to both direct and indirect copyright and trademark infringement.” The company had filed a complaint in federal court in Arizona against LoveROMS.com and LoveRETRO.co for “massive copyright and trademark infringement.”

The sites’ operator Jacob Mathias immediately took the platforms offline, as did other ROM site operators fearful of a similar lawsuit. The couple “engaged in settlement discussions with Nintendo,” and reached an agreement that includes a permanent injunction from infringing Nintendo’s copyrights, as well as surrendering their Nintendo games and emulators.

Most surprisingly, Mathias and his wife agreed to a $12,230,000 million settlement, an amount that likely exceeds their bank account. TorrentFreak surmises that, “it’s possible that Nintendo negotiated such a high number, on paper, to act as a deterrent for other site operators,” and that, “in practice, the defendants could end up paying much less.” It notes that something similar happened when the MPAA sued Hotfile; the $80 million court judgment ultimately “translated to $4 million behind the scenes settlement.”