Nintendo escalates war on general purpose computing, Bans owners of rooted 3DSes

3DS owners woke up to a pleasant surprise today: Nintendo banned their 3DSes from Online play. Ostensibly targeted at cheaters and pirates, the banwave affects all owners of hacked 3DSes.

A hidden setting, on by default, sends all 3DS usage data to Nintendo for analysis. For years, Nintendo has quietly been observing the usage patterns of 3DS owners… and has chosen this moment to lash out.

This isn’t Nintendo’s first banwave. That honour goes to the Sun/Moon Pirate Banwave, which banned people who played online before the street release day. But this is the first that has targeted all 3DS modders and not merely pirates.

Strangely, the banwave does not prevent users of FreeShop from downloading games, nor does it prevent banned users from accessing the official eShop.

Somebody call @doctorow. This is what a war on general purpose computing looks like: when a device manufacturer can completely destroy the functionality of devices that have been modified to run all code, not just a limited subset of games.

Further Reading:


I don’t know, this sort of thing is a hard one.

One one hand, you have players who are legitimately trying to climb the scoreboard or play fairly or whatever, and on the other side, you have those who would choose not to do that, and instead, cheat their way to the top.

Obviously, some of these users are also some of Nintendo’s biggest fans (since if you’re willing to dedicate the time and effort required to the game in the first place, you are clearly a fan!). Nintendo can’t just say “Meh, cheating” because they risk making their online play a joke and pushing folks away.

I’m an avid GW2 player, and I would stop immediately if ArenaNet didn’t actively work to stop out cheaters who would otherwise wreck the online economy or otherwise affect my enjoyment of the game.

Now, unlike GW2, Nintendo controls the platform, so one of the things they can do is detect modified devices and react accordingly. Of course, they could attempt to detect devices used for cheating somehow, but I’m guessing that would lead to brinksmanship and general cat-and-mouse efforts trying to “detect” the cheaters, so instead they went the other way and banned all the devices from online play instead.

The thing is, these weren’t designed as general purpose devices. They’re “rootable” only through bugs or other modifications that allow them to become general purpose devices. That’s fine - you own the device, you have every right to mess with it, you can turn it into a home automation terminal or drone display or run a webserver on it or whatever you choose - and if Nintendo chose to brick those devices (make them inoperable), I’d have the pitchforks out, too.

But this is more about protecting Nintendo’s online infrastructure from these devices. I wouldn’t want someone with a modified GW2 client to be allowed to connect to ArenaNet’s servers and manipulate the game that way, and would expect them to stop out modified clients as well (and in fact, they do this).

One can argue that instead, they should harden their infrastructure against cheating by reducing the data the client receives and validating it instead (detect when keypresses happen in a way that humans can’t react, etc) - the problem is, I’ve seen this too: back in the days of Everquest, there were several class skills based around “tracking” enemies or users. A MITM tool called “ShowEQ” was designed that would take this hidden data and display it all on a second display that would give you a perfect view of all creatures, their positions, and so on. SOE first tried to deal with this by encrypting the datastream, and when that failed due to grabbing keys from memory, instead crippled all of those abilities by discontinuing that datastream to the clients. Everyone playing those classes suffered from the change, a change caused directly by cheaters.

So, in summary - if Nintendo took a general purpose computing device and locked it down (or required you to lock it down to play a game), I’d complain. If Nintendo disabled the 3DS units in question and made them unable to function if unlocked, I’d complain. But Nintendo choosing to protect their online players from cheaters by rejecting modified clients? I have to be on board with that, and I don’t see that as much a war on general purpose computing as, say, the recent Windows 10 S situation.


Right, it just does nothing to actually protect users from cheaters with hacked save files.

Using a rooted 3DS, one can install a hacked save to cartridge, and then use it on an unmodified device without triggering any flags. This would allow a person to have a perfect team in Pokemon, or one with hacked impossible movesets in Fire Emblem, or to simply bypass character locks in games like Smash Bros altogether. It is still possible to use the PowerSaves physical cartridge to run cheats on actual game carts, or to use pirate gamecart devices like Sky3DS.

Nintendo may justify their banwave as an attempt to prevent piracy. Though that’s a tough sell; Nintendo never blocked FreeShop (a pirate tool to download and install games from Nintendo servers).

The problem of people running unauthorized code to mess with games in progress - like the infamous MK Cheat Tool - is now moot. The question of whether it was a big threat or if it could have been dealt with in a more surgical way remains. Especially since modders had developed a plugin that detects and blocks cheaters from play - if modders could do that, Nintendo could have as well.

It’s a classic Nintendo move, all around.

As a huge Nintendo buff (I’ve owned every Nintendo console since Gameboy Color) this hurts. I was on the fence about purchasing a Switch, but I think I’ll pass this time. Thanks to modders, Mario Kart Wii can be played online via an alternate, homebrew Nintendo network server. And unlike Nintendo, the homebrew network bans cheaters in a surgical fashion.

I had a fairly respectable win rate in Smash 3DS online play (42% in four-way free for all, 52% in 2v2) and I’ll miss playing it online. On the other hand, I’ve been neglecting my Project M training and this is a good time to get back into the tournament scene.

I’m going to have to jump in and disagree with the premise behind this. Every console manufacturer today will ban your device from online play if it detects you’ve modified your console in any way. This isn’t anything new.

Nintendo’s EULA is quite clear about this:

By using or accessing a Nintendo Device or the Network Services, or by agreeing to this Agreement in the user interface of a Nintendo Device, you are agreeing to be bound by the terms of this Agreement. […]

The Nintendo 3DS handheld video game system and accessories, the Software, and any services available using the Nintendo 3DS (collectively, the “Nintendo 3DS System”), are constantly evolving, and we may update or change your Nintendo 3DS System, in whole or in part, without notice to you. […]

After your Nintendo 3DS System is updated or changed, any existing or future unauthorized modification of the hardware or software of your Nintendo 3DS System, or the use of an unauthorized device in connection with your Nintendo 3DS System, will render the system permanently unplayable. […]

Use of your Network Account in violation of this Agreement may result in suspension or termination of your Network Account and your ability to use the Network Services, and may also result in termination of this Agreement.

Is it shitty? Yeah. But they state in plain English that if they catch you dicking with the hardware or software they can ban you or even brick your device completely if they so choose.

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Oh, they have the power to ban devices, yes. And possibly even brick them (though the EULA is not considered an enforcable contract outside of the USA). But it is a dick move to do this, especially to people who just wanted custom themes.

Shotgun, foot, fire.

Existing pirate communities will not be detered by this method. And it still does nothing to address the existing exploits for firmwares 11.2 and below (devices with this firmware still being distributed to stores) that allow the installation of ~20 games that were originally pre-installs on special editions. It does nothing to address the epidemic of hacked Pokemon and hacked Fire Emblem characters. But it does make finding people to play pirated games a little more difficult for rural users.

These are the risks you assume when you modify your online-connected device. This is just a fact of life in the console world: modify your device, face the consequences if you decide to use it online.

I have a really, really hard time feeling any remorse for those that modified their devices only to find them banned.

What you are describing is why it is now impossible to move saves between PlayStation consoles, and I’m seriously bitter at the asshats who used this method to cheat online and precipitated this loss of functionality.

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It’s funny to see a lot of people who were against Spencer’s punching getting applause come out and applaud Nintendo’s banwave.

I’m speaking, of course, of grays on Kotaku.

Dick move on Nintendo’s part. And part of the risk somebody modifying their system runs. And the risk they assume - if they know of the possible consequences.

(Kids who modded their 3DS might have legal standing to sue, as they cannot enter contracts, like the one the EULA forms in the US)

Indeed! Such an obvious manufactured outrage is definitely worthy of his attention.

As others have already pointed out, the 3DS is not a general computing device to begin with and owners are warned in advance of potential consequences of modding this purpose specific device.

Nothing to see here, move along…

Remember, Nintendo’s consoles have their roots in PCs. Their first console games (that came on a cartridge/disk) were for MSX systems… aka PCs running a modified MS-DOS. The NES was originally the Famicom - an affordable computer for families, with a modular design and internet connectivity. The SNES had general purpose computing programs via Satella View.

The Appliancification of Nintendo hardware began with the N64. I assume you owned one?

This is the first console that Nintendo has taken active measures to remove features from, when owners modify.

Wrong as wrong can be. The Famicom’s inspiration was the boom of console gaming units in the US.

Nintendo never published a game for the MSX platform.

First off, I’m pretty sure that the TI 99-4A predated the MSX standard. FYI I own some dead stock new in box MSX2 machines and am very familiar with the history of that platform as well as consoles here in Japan.

MSX DOS was barely related to the Microsoft DOS for the IBM PC standard. Functionally its far closer to CP/M than PC DOS.

The Famicom was not an affordable computer for families and did not have internet connectivity. The internet as we know it or even its ARPA or BITNET predecessors didnt exist here at that time anyway. There was however a modem which went into the cartridge slot and then accepted software cards for things like horse race betting, stock trading through Nomura Securities and a few other things. I have some of those dead stock as well.

FYI there was a Famicom Data Recorder cassette unit (got that new in box also) and a floppy drive (again same).

Still doesnt make the Famicom a general purpose computer.

Satellaview was not in any way “general purpose computing” by any of its software or hardware capabilities.

I recall but cant find an English link to show you that during the run of the GameBoy Advance there was a hardware revision to lock out owner modified consoles from playing pirated games. There used to be places in the back streets of Akihabara that would do the hardware mod on your GBA while you waited and right next door were places that sold the doohickey to load in your pirated games.


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