If you own a 3DS you might have heard of the “Gateway 3DS” card. It is basically a flashcart for the Nintendo 3DS that will let people run roms (read: pirated 3DS games). That device was recently in the middle of a storm for embedding code that intentionally bricks some users 3DS, if used on competitors’ hardware.
As I’ve confirmed before, the business of hardware hacks enabling piracy is a very juicy market. At an average price of $80 for the Gateway 3DS, even if only 1% of 3DS owners are tempted to buy such a device, we are looking today at a business of about 30 million dollars.
With very limited development costs (the group of hackers who found the vulnerabilities used for these flashcarts are either dramatically underpaid based on the numbers I know, OR are the same people driving the whole thing in the first place), extremely low manufacturing costs, an affiliate mechanism that replaces the need for all form of marketing, and a main website built within a few hours, we are looking at an extremely high margin here. I’m guessing more than 50%, but even if we reduce it to 10%, the people behind the Gateway 3DS are looking at a minimum of 3 million dollars in pure benefit. Again, that’s assuming only 1% of 3DS owners are willing to pirate, and the Gateway 3DS team makes only 10% margin on their product. I believe both these numbers to be majorly underestimated.
The numbers don’t have to be precise, only the scale matters: we are talking of millions of dollars of benefit, so it is understandable the people behind the Gateway 3DS are trying to protect their business.
Companies that create devices such openly designed to enable piracy and copyright infringement are, of course, not legit. Unlike any normal company, you will not easily find who is the owner of gateway-3ds.com (it’s a site hosted in Malaysia and registered by someone in Australia that was created only a few months ago and registered for no longer than 1 year… you get the picture) or who are the developers behind the software/hardware being used. It is the first time I see a company to be producing “high quality” products trying to be as hard as they can to be actually found. As often in that case, you can of course try to follow the money and see where it goes.
Someone with enough contacts could probably grease a few paws among the resellers, check the “support forums” and see how well they know the Gateway team, etc… In particular, maxconsole is known to be owned by a shady hardware company, allegedly the same people behind the true blue dongle on the PS3 (the rumors say they went rogue in the 2000s after being sued several times, in particular by Nintendo).
Ok, these people are a shady business making a huge pile of money through piracy and don’t want you to find them, nothing new here. But where am I going with this?
With the amount of money involved, it is not surprising that other groups of people would try to get their share of the cake. In the case of hardware mods, it typically means clones surface on the market within weeks or months. This happens either because the contracted Chinese manufacturer will resell the blueprints – that’s what you get for cutting costs everywhere to make more profit – or because other groups will reverse engineer the hardware and the code. See my article Clone Wars on the same subject.
When hardware manufacturers are being copied, they have several solutions: innovate fast enough that competitors can only follow, be of higher quality in general, or use the patent system to sue unfair competitors. Although I personally do not like Apple products, Apple is the company that strikes me the most as a perfect example of that, using a right balance of innovation, quality, and legal action to guarantee their market doesn’t get cannibalized by clones.
The people behind Gateway 3DS of course do not have any legal option, it is in their interest of staying in the shades, and given how highly illegal their business is, they would be in huge trouble. They are trying to innovate on the software end, but that would be costly for them, and what they provide in their updates, from what I can see, is quite limited. It is also copied almost instantly by clones. Finally, increasing quality of the hardware is probably not on their menu: these people are probably not ready to sacrifice their margin in order to provide visible hardware differences. In case you don’t get my last point here: from a hardware point of view, despite what these people claim, all these flashcarts are pieces of plastic crap built in China at minimal cost.
It’s been now proven beyond any reasonable doubt by several known hackers (including our very own mathieulh) and half-admitted by the Gateway 3DS team, that they planted code in their flashcart that can permanently damage the 3DS. The code is made in a way that if it detects it is being run by a clone instead of the “original” Gateway 3DS, there is a random chance it will wipe out some essential information on the 3DS’s memory, bricking the device beyond repair.
Ok, I just had the time to look at GW Launcher.dat (yeah I am a little late) and the brick routine is definitely intentional.
— Mathieu Hervais (@Mathieulh) January 14, 2014
To add insult to the injury, they claim the entire blame should be taken by their competitors for copying their stuff. I especially enjoy the irony of this post that can be found on their website:
On a side note, there has been a clone announced under various different brand names.
We want to advise people interested in this product that it is a simple clone based on our 1.0 firmware (with all its limitations), with cheap Chinese design and components. It will inevitably fail and brick over time with or without updates as it is using our software which was not designed for their hardware.
By purchasing this device, you face the certainty of an unsupported and dead product before long. Please keep in mind the short life span of such products before going through a purchase, you might end up thinking you have been scammed.
We provide support and innovative features unprecedented by any other team before, and we will continue doing so with firmware updates that everyone can enjoy.
If you’ve read the entire article so far, you’ll understand that most of the claims above are highly funny. I can pretty much guarantee the “Gateway 3DS” team won’t be around much longer than their competitors and clones. They are in the hardware business, and supporting firmware updates for their flashcarts will be good enough only as long as they still sell them. Once they have a good established user base and the market starts to saturate (or the hacks get patched by Nintendo, either through hardware or software means), they’ll disappear until they can come up with a new way to sell you stuff. Trust me, the support and “dead product” problem will happen to them as fast as it does to their clones. Guaranteed and confirmed by my experience of more than 8 years on the console hacking scene now. I won’t even mention the “cheap Chinese design and components” part, as if the Gateway 3DS was manufactured with high quality products. That would be a first in dozens of years of console hacking.
What do I conclude from all of this?
If you pay for piracy, you are not only dumb, you are also giving away your money to fundamentally bad people. It does not matter if you go with Gateway 3DS or with their clones, they are all doing something highly illegal in the first place, but that’s not the only problem: they are all willing to put you at risk to secure their own profit and margin. Maybe the people behind Gateway 3DS put in hundreds of hours of work on their hacks and you feel they deserve your money more than the clones, it does not matter: these people are ready to put your console at risk just to undermine their competition. For all you know, their bricking code could have a bug and impact not only their competitors, but some of their users too. Even if there is no bug in there, the mere fact that these people have spent time trying to make the experience worse for some of their competitors’ users instead of making things better for their own customers is bad enough. There are limits to how far one should try to protect their business, even if that business is shady in the first place.
As a result of their behavior, Gateway 3DS are hurting not only their competitors, but their entire business, contributing to the general idea that piracy is dangerous and can damage your console. I just can’t begin to understand why anyone would want to give their hard earned money to people like that.
If you decide to still use a flashcart in your 3DS, it does not matter how much you pay for it, these people are still making a profit, not for their hard work, but on the back of video game developers. I don’t judge piracy and have always said it’s between you and your conscience: these flashcarts wouldn’t be created if there wasn’t a market for them, so I am not pretending you shouldn’t buy them. But since they are all the same poor quality products with high benefit margin, you might as well go with the cheapest one. None of the “quality” and “support” claims from the Gateway 3Ds will hold water whenever Nintendo patches newer games in a way that will block them.
What I’m saying is: since you are giving your hard earned cash to a group of crooks, you might as well minimize the amount. The people behind Gateway 3DS will do fine even if they only get 1 million dollars of benefit instead of 3, trust me.
At the end of the day, running unsigned code on your device has risks. Don’t jump the gun, and make sure trusted people always confirm a given piece of software works fine with whatever hardware you have. Your console, your flashcart, etc… If you get a brick for trying to pirate stuff, you can only blame yourself, and really, you probably deserve it. With all their claims about helping people with bricked consoles, the Gateway team will do their best to not have to pay anything or alter their profit to help you, independently if you are their customers or not.
I’ll leave you with this quote from Cory1492 on GBATemp (long time member of the console scene for pretty much every device there is), who summarizes pretty much my entire feeling on this whole stuff:
My recommendation is to stay away from any such product that has provably included code to damage the hardware it is meant to run on, regardless of their justification. I don’t care how well it’s coded all it takes is a simple unforeseen circumstance and it damages anyone’s hardware randomly – despite mathieulh, myself or anyone else saying ‘it should be safe’ the simple existence of such code makes the product itself unsafe.
Or, to put it more simply:
Gateway too lazy or inept to come up with a way to disable clone cards… throws tantrum instead and goes godzilla on the hardware (3ds) that made people want a gateway at all in the first place, ensuring mistrust of the product type as well as a financial burden on a possible fan of your work.
Or even more simply:
If they’ve wasted even one second figuring out how to brick your 3ds on purpose, that is time they have not spent ensuring your 3ds is safe from harm while using their product. Please don’t reward people with money for this type of behaviour