Japanese cops bust interior decorator that moonlighted selling hacked Pokémon: 'I did it to make a living'

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A 36 year-old man from Kyoto Prefecture has been arrested by Japanese police for creating and selling rare varieties of Pokémon online. Yoshihiro Yamakawa, an interior decorator by trade, used an unspecified modification device to alter the stats and characteristics of Pokémon in the popular Nintendo Switch title Pokémon Violet before offering them for sale, in an alleged violation of Japan's Unfair Competition Act. 

Yamakawa was selling the Pokémon on a third party site dedicated to selling in-game items and, per Japanese outlet NHK, posted adverts with text such as: "Now only! Order 6 monsters for 4,000 yen." That works out to just under $30, though over the period December 2022 to March 2023 other hacked Pokémon were sold for up to 13,000 yen ($85), and Yamakawa also offered custom orders. The police say that total sales of the "falsified data," aka black market Pokémon, run into the millions of yen.

Police arrested Yamakawa on April 9 and during an interview he confessed to the charges, saying "I did it to earn a living." The investigation into his activities continues, though reading between the lines the authorities seem most concerned about the software Yamakawa was using, which apparently remains freely available. 

Japan's ACCS, the Association of Copyright for Computer Software, issued a statement on the arrest which reads, via machine translation:

"On April 9, 2024, the Kochi Prefectural Police arrested a man [...] who was working on the Nintendo Switch to modify the save data of game software. He was arrested on suspicion of violating the Unfair Competition Prevention Act for providing services that circumvented the technical restrictions [of the platform].

"On a site dedicated to buying and selling game accounts and items, the man explained in listings that 'all types of Pokémon can be created', and then modified the save data on behalf of the purchaser, and modified the Nintendo Switch on behalf of the purchaser."

ACCS is an industry group dedicated to copyright protection, so unsurprisingly it has plenty more to say about how such practices "impairs the enjoyment" of games, upsets balance, and of course "items that require payment can be obtained without paying." The organisation ends this broadside with an extremely optimistic call for purchasers of such data to "please be aware [it] has been created by illegal means, and stop using it."

You'll take my juiced-up Bidoof from my cold dead hands! On a serious note, Japan's laws regarding stuff like this are somewhat more draconian than those in the west: modifying save files and distributing them has been illegal in the country since 2019's Unfair Competition Prevention Act.

They don't mess around with the penalties, either. Yamakawa faces up to five years in jail, a potential 5 million yen in fines, or some combination of the two. That seems absolutely wild for flogging some hacked Pokémon, but we'll have to wait and see how the court interprets those sentencing guidelines in this particular case.

Rich Stanton

Rich is a games journalist with 15 years' experience, beginning his career on Edge magazine before working for a wide range of outlets, including Ars Technica, Eurogamer, GamesRadar+, Gamespot, the Guardian, IGN, the New Statesman, Polygon, and Vice. He was the editor of Kotaku UK, the UK arm of Kotaku, for three years before joining PC Gamer. He is the author of a Brief History of Video Games, a full history of the medium, which the Midwest Book Review described as "[a] must-read for serious minded game historians and curious video game connoisseurs alike."