Nintendo’s legal action document against GaryOPA gives additional insight into Team Xecuter’s inner workings
Late last year, 3 prominent members of Team Xecuter (Max “MAXiMiLiEN” Louarn, Gary “GaryOPA” Bowser, and Yuanning Chen) were charged in a federal indictment in the US, for their involvement with the Nintendo switch “SX” piracy modchips. Max Louarn and GaryOPA were arrested in the process.
This week, we’ve learned that Nintendo are adding some copyright infringement claims to the charges, targeting specifically GaryOPA. While mainstream media can’t seem to look further the jokes on GaryOPA’s family name (we get it, guys, his name is Bowser. That’s super funny, but it doesn’t mean you shouldn’t write about the actual story…), this is unraveling some interesting information.
Nintendo’s complaint (which can be found here) gives us some insight on how Team Xecuter in general, and GaryOPA in particular, operated. To be fair, a lot of what Nintendo’s lawyers describe was already known, implied, or at least rumored in the scene. But the legal claim is an interesting confirmation data point, which adds to last year’s indictment by the US. Just like we “learned” back in October that the same group of people were behind TrueBlue Mini (Playstation Classic), Gateway3DS (Nintendo 3DS), Cobra and Progskeet (PS3), Classic2Magic (SNES Classic), and Team Xecuter (Nintendo Switch), this new document sheds some light on the inner workings of the piracy group.
Nintendo provides details on how Team Xecuter Operates
A constellation of websites and resellers
Nintendo’s legal document details a network of websites that were owned and operated by GaryOPA, namely TEAM-XECUTER.COM, XECUTER.ROCKS, TEAM-XECUTER.ROCKS, SX.XECUTER.COM, as well, as of course, MAXCONSOLE.COM. Maxconsole in particular has for long been a facade site with the appearance of a regular scene news site, but which was notoriously a marketing and help resource for the piracy devices created by the team.
This adds to other websites and brand names identified by the US attorney in 2020, including Axiogames.com and China Distribution.
The indictment from the US adds that Team Xecuter “chose to use a wide variety of brands, websites, and distribution channels. [They] used this fragmented approach to protect the overall enterprise in the event that one device or brand were to be targeted by gaming companies, financial institutions, and law enforcement“.
Nintendo’s claim continues: “Team Xecuter has grown into an international pirate ring […] on a massive scale”. The claim states that SX-OS represented at some point 89% of hacked Nintendo Switch consoles.
The main members of Team Xecuter are “experienced operators” who have been at it for decades.
Nintendo’s document reminds us that GaryOPA has been involved with console hacking since at least the early 2000s. They mention his involvement trafficking in “circumvention devices” on the NDS, 3DS, and Wii, in addition to the connections with TrueBlue on PS Mini mentioned above. They specifically name his direct involvement with the Gateway 3DS, Stargate, and Classic2Magic modchips.
The US attorney indictment describes the members of Team Xecuter as “experienced operators in the modchip industry”. On the roles of each member, they say:
Max Louarn: “Leader of the enterprise who recruited investors and exploit developers, made strategic business decisions, finalized product design, and financed projects. Louarn played a critical role in establishing wholesale distributions chains and linking the enterprise’s manufacturer with various resellers around the world.”
Yuanning Chen: provided financing and strategic guidance. Oversaw the management of a manufacturing and distribution company called “China distribution”, the official wholesale distributer of many of the circumvention devices.
Gary Bowser: responsible for developing circumvention devices and marketing those devices. Administrator of multiple websites operated by the enterprise including maxconsole.com.
on Gary, Nintendo’s claim adds:
Notwithstanding some of the success Nintendo has had enforcing its rights against resellers of the Circumvention Devices, defendant has continued to thumb his nose at the law, manufacturing and trafficking in the Circumvention Devices and SX OS. He has empowered resellers to re-emerge and launch new websites – including after the same websites had been shutdown by courts and other vehicles of enforcement – and facilitated additional avenues of distribution, all forcing Nintendo into a game of whack-a-mole.
It also appears Gary OPA was in full control of the day to day SX operations. From the claim:
Defendant ran the backend of the Websites as well, which included the infrastructure to remotely activate license codes for the SX OS. Defendant was also the sole operator of the forums on the Websites; while there were other (unpaid) moderators, they were chosen by Defendant, reported to Defendant, and were subordinate to Defendant. Further, after Defendant’s arrest, no additional posts were ever made to TEAM–XECUTER.COM
GBATemp in trouble?
Defendant also operated an account at GBATEMP.NET, where he postedinformation concerning Team Xecuter’s products, including promoting the Circumvention Devices, under “GaryOPA.” Through the GBATemp account, Defendant posted about SX OS software updates and updates on the development of Circumvention Devices, as well as about some of the features circumventing the Game TPMs. In marketing the release of the SX Core, defendant stated on GBATemp that he “spent the last 48 hours testing over 200 games” with the modchip.
Defendant used a unique username at each of the above sites […]. Specifically, he operated under the screenname […] “GaryOPA” at GBATEMP.NET.Defendant […] would often also post the content to GBATEMP.NET.
Why is GaryOPA the only target in Nintendo’s legal claim? (Where in the world is Max Louarn?)
I was recently scratching my head as to why only GaryOPA is targeted by Nintendo, if two other members of the Team Xecuter group have been charged last year. Why doesn’t Nintendo sue all of them?
At the very least, it seems that GaryOPA has been less careful than his co-defendants. As shown by Nintendo’s document, Gary had prominent online activity, on sites he owned as well as other scene websites such as GBATemp. This helped Nintendo build a solid case against someone considered to be the public face of Team Xecuter.
But beyond that, it appears the most logical answer at the moment is that GaryOPA is the only of the 3 members that is being held in the US (he’s been extradited from Dominican Republic), in a state where Nintendo know they can sue, and win.
Yuanning Chen has been charged, but there is no indication that he’s actually been arrested. Even if he was, China doesn’t have an extradition treaty with the US, and Nintendo probably have much lower chances in a copyright infringement trial in China than they would in the US.
Louarn says he hasn’t been involved with hacking for years, and that he is being set up
Max Louarn has a similar situation as Chen, although he seems to be in more troubled waters: Louarn was arrested in September 2020 while on vacation in Tanzania, and spent about a month in prison there.
Tanzania have an extradition treaty with the US, and were ready to act on it. But his (French) lawyer intervened and got Max freed and brought back to France in October last year, on the basis of legal irregularities during his arrest in Tanzania. France does have an extradition treaty with the US, but it’s clear his lawyers will heavily question the needs to have a trial in the US if it can happen in France.
But Max’s story doesn’t end here: according to a local French newspaper, The FBI, helped by French authorities, ran a search at his house in France and seized computer hardware in November 2020. As he refused to give away his credentials to unlock his computers, Max Louarn is now facing charges in France, for a trial set to begin in August this year. This is probably for him a better situation than facing trial in the US: In the past, French justice has sided with Louarn’s former company Divineo, in a flashcart selling case for the Nintendo DS.
Louarn has been notoriously dealing with piracy in the past (in particular for his work with warez group Paradox, or with Nintendo DS flashcarts). But now a family man, he claims that he hasn’t been involved with console hacking in years, and that he’s been the target of harassment from US authorities. Furthermore, he said to local French news:
“I don’t have the skills to put such a process in place. And with what money? In any case, this is a discussion on copyright which needs to happen in France, not in the US”
Nintendo vs Team Xecuter, what’s next?
It seems pretty clear that GaryOPA will have to face trial in the US, where Nintendo have good chances and precedents to win. For Max Louarn, who will (for now) face charges in France, it is much less clear what happens next. Information on Chen has proven difficult to find.
It appears Gary Bowser has been the least careful of the 3 defendants, which ultimately doomed Team Xecuter (but the indictments also have lot on Louarn and Chen, including private email conversations). But if anything, the only obvious thing to me so far is that we can’t expect mainstream tech sites to cover this story really seriously, as long as their main gimmick will be to center their writing on Gary’s family name.
One last thing
By the way in case you haven’t noticed, I love reading about cyber criminals and the people who chase them. If you’re like me, there are a few books I’ve read over the past few years, that I highly recommend. If you buy them through the Amazon links below, you don’t pay anything extra but I get a small commission. Those are all actual stories of real hackers and how they ultimately got caught, and to me they all read like the best thrillers ever.
- Kingpin: How one hacker took over the Billion-dollar cybercrime underground. Max Butler was a white hat who found that running the largest stolen credit card ring ever was quite profitable.
- Ghost in the Wires: My Adventures as the World’s Most Wanted Hacker. The infamous Kevin Mitnick explains how he hacked into systems and escaped authorities multiple times, until eventually, he got caught.
- American Kingpin: The Epic Hunt for the Criminal Mastermind Behind the Silk Road. The rise and fall of Ross Ulbricht, the hacker behind infamous “dark web” drug ecommerce site Silk road.