Nintendo has won a major victory in a case against 52-year-old Canadian Gary Browser, a member of hacking group Team-Xecuter who was arrested in 2020. Bowser, better known as GaryOPA online, plead guilty to two counts: “conspiracy to circumvent technological measures and to traffic in circumvention devices” alongside other members of Team-Xecuter, and “trafficking in circumvention devices,” as laid out in a plea agreement filed on October 28 and obtained by Torrentfreak. He now faces a maximum sentence of 5 years in prison for each count.
Nintendo has become increasingly aggressive over the last several years in pursuing ROM websites and hardware hackers who make it possible to run pirated software on the Switch. Team-Xecuter was behind a custom firmware called SX OS, which it sold through a network of resellers—a controversial for-profit enterprise, considering most custom firmware development is free and open source.
Nintendo went after resellers first and has already won some cases, but the case against Team-Xecuter got the US Justice Department involved. Bowser, who bears no relation to improbably named Nintendo of America president Doug Bowser, was indicted alongside other Team-Xecuter members Max Louran, who was arrested in Canada and has yet to be extradited, and Yuanning Chen, who remains at large. Bowser was arrested in the Dominican Republic and extradited to the US to face 11 felony counts, including wire fraud and money laundering.
As laid out in the plea agreement, the government made the case that “while the enterprise attempted to cloak its illegal activity with a purported desire to support homebrew enthusiasts who wanted to design their own games, the predominant and primary design of the enterprise’s products was teo allow purchasers to play pirated ROMs.” The plea agreement states that Bowser ran the website maxconsole.com, which hosted information about Team-Xecuter’s products, and that the team “created and supported ROM libraries of games that could be used by the enterprise’s customers.”
Some of the resellers also sold custom firmware bundled with packages of ROMs, which seems like a sure way to blow any deniability about customers purchasing your product for the sake of piracy. Likewise, Team-Xecuter required users to pay an additional license to play “backups” of their games, fuel for the government’s claim that Team-Xecuter sold its devices first and foremost for the sake of piracy.
The US government claims Team-Xecuter earned “at least tens of millions of dollars” from selling SX OS devices, while Bowser himself estimated he earned $320,000 from running maxconsole.com and collecting advertising revenue. After pleading guilty, Bowser has been ordered to pay $4.5 million in restitution to Nintendo.
Bowser still faces sentencing that will determine his prison term, but that won’t necessarily be the end of his legal troubles. He’s facing another suit from Nintendo itself, filed earlier this year, for further damages—though unless he has an actual castle filled with gold coins, $4.5 million seems like it may already take a lifetime to pay off.