Gary Bowser, the public face behind Nintendo ROM hacker group Team Xecuter, has been sentenced to three years in prison.
Originally, Bowser was looking at upwards of 10 years (opens in new tab) for his crime—five years for each count he pled guilty to. Last week the US government argued that he should be given the maximum sentence (opens in new tab) for each count, to be served concurrently. Bowser's lawyers countered that he should only get 19 months, claiming that he earned significantly less than his partners in crime Max Louarn and Yuanning Chen. A ruling on February 10 has now sentenced Bowser to 40 months, a little over three years.
Bowser was part of the team that helped develop and sell modchips and jailbreaking software for a plethora of Nintendo consoles, including the Nintendo Switch. He was arrested in October 2020 and extradited to the US from the Dominican Republic to face 11 felony counts, including money laundering and wire fraud.
He originally pled guilty to two counts: "conspiracy to circumvent technological measures and to traffic in circumvention devices," and was hit with a $4.5 million fine as a result. A month later, he received a further $10 million (opens in new tab) fine in damages brought against him in a separate civil suit by Nintendo.
US Attorney Nick Brown said that the operation is "estimated to have caused more than $65 million in losses to videogame companies, but the damage goes beyond these businesses, harming videogame developers and the small, creative studios whose products and hard work is essentially stolen when games are pirated."
In a statement (opens in new tab) issued by Nintendo and reported by Kotaku (opens in new tab), the company said it "appreciates the hard work and tireless effort of federal prosecutors and law enforcement agencies to curb illegal activities on a global scale that cause serious harm to Nintendo and the videogame industry."
While Bowser is about to spend his next three years in prison, both Louarn and Chen are yet to face any criminal charges. Louarn currently has an extradition matter pending in France, while Chen is still at large. Dodgy hacks and pirated games have been around as long as games have, but this feels like one of the first times I'm seeing such a serious punishment for their existence. Bowser's hefty fine and sentence will possibly act as a deterrent for some would-be hackers, though one case isn’t going to stop this problem.