Japanese Police Arrest Man For Selling Modded Save Files For Single-Player Nintendo Game

from the what-the-what? dept

We’ve already written a few times about how Japan’s onerous Unfair Competition Prevention Law has created what looks from here like a massive overreach on the criminalization of copyright laws. Past examples include Japanese journalism executives being arrested over a book that tells people how to back up their own DVDs, along with more high-profile cases in which arrests occurred over the selling of cheats or exploits in online multiplayer video games. While these too seem like an overreach of copyright law, or at least an over-criminalization of relatively minor business problems facing electronic media companies, they are nothing compared with the idea that a person could be arrested and face jail time for the crime of selling modded save-game files for single player game like The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

A 27-year old man in Japan was arrested after he was caught attempting to sell modified Zelda: Breath of The Wild save files.

As reported by the Broadcasting System of Niigata (and spotted by Dextro) Ichimin Sho was arrested on July 8 after he posted about modified save files for the Nintendo Switch version of Breath of The Wild. He posted his services onto an unspecified auction site, describing it as “the strongest software.” He would provide modded save files that would give the player improved in-game abilities and also items that were difficult to obtain were made available as requested by the customer. In his original listing, he reportedly was charging folks 3,500 yen (around $31 USD) for his service.

Upon arrest, Sho admitted that he’s made something like $90k over 18 months selling modded saves and software. Whatever his other ventures, the fact remains that Sho was arrested for selling modded saves for this one Zelda game to the public. And this game is fully a single-player game. In other words, there is not aspect of this arrest that involved staving off cheating in online multiplayer games, which is one of the concerns that has typically led to these arrests in Japan within the gaming industry. This is more like people getting mods for their owned games, along with save game files being traded, something that has existed in gaming for as long as the industry has existed.

As Kotaku notes, this isn’t wholly new for Japan.

While this might seem wild, being arrested for selling save files, it’s not a new situation in Japan. Police in Japan have previously arrested folks for modifying video game software which violates the Unfair Competition Prevention Law in Japan. This same law was also used by Nintendo to sue a go-kart company in 2017. In 2015, another man in Japan was arrested after selling cheats in the popular online shooter Alliance of Valiant Arms.

Except, again, in most of those instances the police were arresting those selling mods and cheats for online multiplayer games. That’s, frankly, bad enough, but we’re now talking about the arrest of a person for selling save game files for a single-player game.

And the real question becomes: who is this arrest protecting? The selling of these files doesn’t take any considerable money out of Nintendo’s pocket. It doesn’t harm other players of the game in the way cheating in online games does. So why is this arrest even happening? And, if there’s no good answer to that question, why is such a poorly written law that allows for this arrest remaining in place?

Filed Under: , , , , ,
Companies: nintendo

Rate this comment as insightful
Rate this comment as funny
You have rated this comment as insightful
You have rated this comment as funny
Flag this comment as abusive/trolling/spam
You have flagged this comment
The first word has already been claimed
The last word has already been claimed
Insightful Lightbulb icon Funny Laughing icon Abusive/trolling/spam Flag icon Insightful badge Lightbulb icon Funny badge Laughing icon Comments icon

Comments on “Japanese Police Arrest Man For Selling Modded Save Files For Single-Player Nintendo Game”

Subscribe: RSS Leave a comment
This comment has been deemed insightful by the community.
PaulT (profile) says:

So, Nintendo have confirmed that they will have people arrested and jailed for providing "cheats" to people who own legally purchased copies of the game, even though it affects nobody but the purchaser.

Meanwhile, it’s been confirmed that not only does Psychonauts 2 have a built in cheat, but it won’t affect earning achievements in game: https://www.trueachievements.com/n46265/psychonauts-2-invincibility-achievements

There are definitely different mindsets at play in this industry.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

Indeed. But, many would expect that the Microsoft acquisition (which may be a reason why the game is eventually coming out – the delay does suggest that the crowdfunding wasn’t enough, perhaps?) would block such things.

Instead, MS are not only apparently happy with these moves but they’re letting everyone play the game for "free" with the subscription on the day of release with these features.

As someone who dived hardcore away from Windows as soon as Linux was mature enough to do so, I’m loathe to admit it, but they have been making some extraordinarily consumer-friendly moves in recent years, while Nintendo and Sony are more focussed on screwing the consumer. Competition is a very good thing.

James Burkhardt (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

the Microsoft acquisition (which may be a reason why the game is eventually coming out – the delay does suggest that the crowdfunding wasn’t enough, perhaps?)

Double Fine (or rather Tim Schafer) is known for getting caught up in scope creep and kitchen sink mentality without a publisher to help reign them in (similar to other video game autours* like Hideo Kojima). The Psychonaughts 2 crowdfunding campaign (which I contributed to, full disclosure), much like with Broken Age, balooned and I expect got too big. Fig allowed them to get actual investment money as well which may have helped mitigate that issue. In the end you are probably right, without the microsoft acquisition, we probably wouldn’t be getting the game yet.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Yow!

This hearkens back to when they tried to stop sales of the Game Genie (and fortunately lost).

That was about copyright, according to Nintendo, because some codes would modify the copyrighted ROM content (although others would only modify the uncopyrightable RAM content). Despite Techdirt filing this new story in the Copyright category and mentioning some things about copyright, it seems to have nothing whatsoever to do with copyright (how could it?).

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Yow!

That was about copyright, according to Nintendo, because some codes would modify the copyrighted ROM content (although others would only modify the uncopyrightable RAM content).

How could it, though? A ROM by acronym is read-only memory and I find it hard to believe that a game enhancer could modify a ROM such that it no longer works. True, there are ROM hacks, but I don’t see a Game Enhancer reverse engineering the code as much as modifying what’s in the RAM. Am I wrong?

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Yow!

It actually can’t modify general system RAM—only data that comes from the cartridge, usually ROM (and maybe saved-game RAM). See NES Game Genie Technical Notes by The Mighty Mike Master. Of course, it does not really modify ROM, but just intercepts certain reads and replaces the data. One is, in effect, running a modified program, though not one that is stored anywhere.

Glenn says:

Why? Well, game manufacturers/creators paid "good" money to have these laws enacted, and cops want to prove that those companies are getting their money’s worth. I mean, that’s what corporate rule (feudalism) is all about. I guess Japan, for sure, is still a feudal society at heart. People exist only to serve the designated overlords.

Anonymous Coward says:

Telecom company’s donate money or pay Politicans to pass laws that stop competition from local munical broadband even while they refuse to provide services to rural areas
Many corporations pay close to zero tax as they setup an office in Luxembourg or evade tax by various legal schemes
Broadband is not a luxury when working from home is necessary to avoid getting covid 19
Corporations are constantly doing awful things
This japanese law is over broad as it makes crinimals of users doing basic things like changing a save file
Even western company’s sue people who sell online
game hacks as it harms other players by making
the game play worse

Who is harmed by a change to a single player game save?
Nintendo is going to lose fans by doing stupid things
like using the law to erase fan mafe games or dmca, ing
game videos of old Nintendo games
The law is very strict in Japan Re any ip or content owned
by companys
There is no fair use in japan

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re:

Perhaps Nintendo’s hatred of customers is cultural.

Capcom and Arc System Works would like a word with you. And Japanese Culture was pretty free in a de facto sense until the Unfair Competion act because civil suits weren’t a thing in Japan (because the Lawyers cost too goddamn much. Also, I assume there’s a "loser pays" rule there as well to disincentivize it). Once copyright penalties went from civil to criminal, the thwomp really came crashing down (to use a Nintendo metaphor).

Anonymous Coward says:

I’ve always been surprised by how much Nintendo HATES its own customers and its own consoles.

They’ve literally issued court orders to stop people playing games with their friends as it was "unlicensed users". Seriously. attacking families that want to play games during childrens birthday parties etc…

They have a throbbing hard-on for saying NO to their most loyal fans.

No Thanks says:

Re: Re:

Anyone who is a fan of scumbag companies like this… well let’s just say G-rated words won’t suffice.

Japan is a seriously messed up culture. Their arrogance, their disgusting "capitalistic" corporations, their blatant xenophobic racism, etc etc.
The more I learn about them, the less I see why people have such a fascination with it.

Stop worshiping cultures… none of them are worth a damn.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:

A few things:

Their arrogance

You’re kidding, right? I’ve been to Japan three times, and they’re the least arrogant people I’ve ever met. If any culture is arrogant, it’s us in the United States.

their disgusting "capitalistic" corporations

There’s nothing about Japanese corporations that couldn’t be said about Western Corporations. And at least the late Satoru Iwata did this.

their blatant xenophobic racism

Once again, this is more complex. It may apply (okay, definitely applies) to Gaijin living in Japan, but to people visiting Japan, visitors are treated like guests of honor. Having been there, I can say that the only time I was treated like a foreigner when I was offered a fork instead of chopsticks, but I wouldn’t even classify that as a microagression considering how well I was treated.

The more I learn about them, the less I see why people have such a fascination with it.

Maybe you’re not looking at other cultures but a mirror. Think about that.

Stop worshiping cultures… none of them are worth a damn.

Don’t get me wrong, I’m not blind to Japan’s faults. There’s a lot more than their draconian copyright laws to be outraged about there. Off the top of my head I can think of one: Before the pandemic, in the US, I noticed that in public places, single-stall restrooms were no longer segregated by Gender (to accomodate non-binary people) in large cities such as Philidelphia or New York City. Japan (or at least Tokyo, but I assume the rest as well) still had men’s and women’s single-stall restrooms.

That being said, the reason I can make this judgment is because it’s based on first-hand experience rather than what I read from abroad (not that I don’t appreciate TechDirt’s coverage, I do! It’s just that it’s not the be-all-end-all summary of one country that you would think it is).

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

to people visiting Japan, visitors are treated like guests of honor

Again, like you said, this is a pretty complex issue. If you’re a tourist you’re generally treated in a very professional manner. If you’re an immigrant trying to integrate into an aging society that very much needs the warm bodies to populate their zaibatsus and blue collar workforce, you’re barely tolerated or acknowledged.

But seeing that you brought up restrooms, arrogance and being domineering is something that characterizes plenty of patriarchal, corporate cultures in East Asia. A culture hell-bent on shame and honor is what keeps the Japanese in check, which exposes plenty of other issues like rampant misogyny. Most of this is heavily glossed over through the tinted, anime-fueled lens that the world sees. If TVTropes is anything to go by, adults regularly encourage underaged girls to date each other as "practice" for interacting with boys. Inevitably some of them decide they’re into girls, at which point the parents have to separate them. But fuck it, it makes for good anime uwu, underaged girls kissing underaged girls is awesome!

the reason I can make this judgment is because it’s based on first-hand experience rather than what I read from abroad

The reason why you can make this judgment is because you were on tour. You were treated in a manner that befits a guest, not a cog in the machine. It doesn’t invalidate your experience, but just because you had a good time doesn’t mean that the way that the sausage gets made stops raising some very uncomfortable questions.

Samuel Abram (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

I don’t necessarily disagree (at all!). And I don’t disagree about the misogyny at all (such as outrageously and ridiculous punishing a Japanese woman with the charge of obscenity for 3D-printing her vagina when there’s a village that has a whole festival about worshipping the penis). And these uncomfortable truths you mentioned are why I don’t actually want to live in Japan; I’d rather be a guest.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Re:

"You’re kidding, right? I’ve been to Japan three times, and they’re the least arrogant people I’ve ever met. If any culture is arrogant, it’s us in the United States."

As the outsider you will be shown only the best. It’s when you try to fit in that you end up seeing the other side.

To whit, the reaction to the #MeToo movement in Japan was public outrage – that women could be so insensitive as to try to ruin the lives and reputation of hard-working and successful people.

Internally japanese are expected to put up with crap as a standard that westerners would run and report to the nearest union worker – or police officer. From "Black Companies" exploiting hopeful sararimen to the point of suicide to women hired for their looks and more or less offered for a pleasant night as part of a trade deal or contract negotiation.

Japanese whistleblowers have been trying to raise these issues for decades. To little or no success.

But as a resident worker, exchange worker/student or tourist, you will never see any of it.
I’ve seen it compared to the clannish little charming townships Stephen King likes to write of. Beautiful and serene until you try to settle there at which point you find yourself largely unwelcomed in many subtle ways.

It’s become a lot better in recent years from what I hear, but "better" is a relative term.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

People need to understand Japan’s history of o understand that he mentality.
There are, and always have been, three separate classes in the country.
The worker, The executive, and the ruling.
Following the first two of the three classes backwards is easy.
The soldier and commander.
The peasant and the Samurai
The field and the chief

The difference is Japan never had any majority looking to change the class structure.
The vast majority of people are content with it. Work hard. Play hard.

The idea that they are unaccepting of the gaijin is a misnomer. They have little issue with those who acclimated and adapt to the system, willing to be a part of it.
What they have an issue with is foreigners who wish to be in Japan but do not respect custom.
And custom a d culture is deeply, deeply, engrained in their system.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Re:

"They have little issue with those who acclimated and adapt to the system, willing to be a part of it. "

It’s really, really difficult to adapt to that system though, unless you’ve grown up with it. I first pegged to some of the culture conflicts from the blog "Gaijin Smash" from a southern american working a teacher’s exchange program in Japan. It’s pretty clear most westerners won’t grok a lot of the subtlety of japanese society because it’s everywhere. Reading between the lines or against prior understanding turns even some casual conversations into steganography.

And that causes friction given how much of japanese culture is centered around conflict-free harmony. To the extent where the one making too much noise about a grievance is often considered more guilty than the offender causing the grievance in the first place – as was clearly shown under #MeToo, which in japan just resulted in the public condemnation of; "How dare she disrupt society so loudly? Has she no shame?".

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:4 Re:

I get it.
I have many friends in the country. Some native, some from the US.
It’s a difficult and different kind of society to walk into. That’s not just Japan though. It’s Eastern Asia in general.

The societal structure is based on peace internally. Those that live there within the methodology are no less welcomed than natives.

It’s a matter of adjustment.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Re:2 Re:

To paraphrase a scene with Don Corneo in Final Fantasy 7: The reason why these issues are coming to light is because the people enforcing the status quo believe they’ve already won.

And in a sense, they largely have. Japan’s culture of "corporate irresponsibility" not only means that no single individual can be held responsible for the predominant groupthink, but it also means that individuals are expected to throw themselves under the bus to protect the corporate sanctity of the status quo, and prevent the wider corporate entity from coming under fire or scrutiny.

It’s gotten "better" in the sense that people talk about it, compared to an era where social shaming would have prevented any of these cracks from getting out. People can talk about it, and are allowed to talk about it, because the entities that would have put a stop to such discussions in public are effectively immune to any meaningful change.

Scary Devil Monastery (profile) says:

Re: Rape

"Rape is pretty much legal in Japan."

It’s really not. The issue is the definition of rape, which must, in japan, include violence.

Damn hard to prove unless there’s a lot of bruising which is why it shines through, even in manga tropes, that it’s rare and special for a teenage girl to enter the private room of a teenage boy or vice versa. If something happens there’s little hope of recourse or redress.

I don’t like the concept "rape culture" but i don’t know what else to use about an aspect of a culture where young people are taught that it’s normal for sexual abuse to take place whenever a man and a woman are in a room alone.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Why: then fix it.

"A game save contains code proprietary to the game. Therefore the saves are technically Nintendo software."

Yes, they are. That’s not in question, just the stupidity of enforcing this kind of thing on something that’s requested by users of legally purchased software to do something that affects nobody but the player of that single player game.

"A court fight. All someone needs to do is fight back."

I’m sure the guy arrested for this will be mounting a defence. I’m just not sure of what form this would take under Japanese law.

"Because a save file is (or should be) nothing more than a bunch of ram instructions relating to what when where."

OK, so this is where you explain why that’s not protected software unique to the individual game.

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Why: then fix it.

Beyond the header and footer:
I have a hard time swallowing laws like this.

I won’t pretend t o understand modern saves, and they’ve gotten huge for what they are.
it’s been a LONg time since I played around with save files.

But ultimately it’s nothing more than a grid of stored values.
Back in the days of the SG systems and Genesis I played with rom injection, via things like game genie and shark.
Most of my experience is playing with Computer based saves.

But you look at something like the Android case, in the US, over apis and it’s the same thing.
Software itself is one thing. A set of directions is something else.

Hoped this kid comes out on top.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why: then fix it.

"But ultimately it’s nothing more than a grid of stored values."

Values that are in a proprietary format specific to the game and not intended to be accessed via public APIs or external to the game / OS code.

"Back in the days of the SG systems and Genesis I played with rom injection, via things like game genie and shark."

They tried making those illegal as well, and they had to stop selling them in the US IIRC. I’m certainly not saying that I agree, but the issue of Nintendo having a valid legal claim here is probably the least questionable thing about the whole issue, unless there’s something specific in Japanese law that I’m unaware of.

"Hoped this kid comes out on top."

Me too, but I don’t see where he gets out by arguing that editing the save code is perfectly legal, as it’s almost certainly covered by EULAs even if it’s not specifically baked into law. Were this in a Western court, I’d guess that this would be settled in some manner to avoid the silliness of Nintendo being asked to provide evidence of actual damages and the expense of the poor guy defending himself, but again I don’t know how this stuff works in Japan.

It’s not a situation that should exist given that there’s no real harm except to the pride of the people who designed the game’s difficulty curve and item rarity, but the same laws that cover situations where game saves are edited to allow cheating in multiplayer or to create an exploit in order to run pirated software will be the ones applying here.

Anonymous Coward says:

Re: Re: Why: then fix it.

the saves are technically Nintendo software.
Yes, they are. That’s not in question

Wait, what? What are you two talking about? It’s absolutely in question (although it does not matter for this law, which is not a copyright law).

In what world do savegame files contain code? I’ve played around with editing SNES-era savegames, and have yet to see anything like that. It’s usually just a bunch of numbers; e.g., amount of gold, experience points, number of each inventory item. It’s doubtful more modern systems would store code there, because that would be a way around their strict hardware lockdowns (and, indeed, hackers often exploit savefiles by putting code there, when none would be expected—"007" on the original Xbox for example).

Lostinlodos (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re:3 Why: then fix it.

The Nintendo 64 and Ultra 64 (Japanese name on preorder boxes), didn’t technically have region lockout either in the beginning.

The 64 is my only experience with Nintendo saves, and that, because I have both a DD and a Dex.

But take a game like GTA or RDR. The saves are binary. I believe the same case for the switch.

And this pulls in the old Word .doc argument.
The method of storing the file may not be copyrightable but the binary package can be.

PaulT (profile) says:

Re: Re: Re: Why: then fix it.

"In what world do savegame files contain code? I’ve played around with editing SNES-era savegames, and have yet to see anything like that"

I find it interesting that the people questioning whether modern save games are code are referring to their experience with stuff from 20-30+ years ago. Why would you think that modern files wouldn’t contain scripts and other code to deal with games that are vastly larger and more complicated than a 2D Zelda game?

Add Your Comment

Your email address will not be published.

Have a Techdirt Account? Sign in now. Want one? Register here

Comment Options:

Make this the or (get credits or sign in to see balance) what's this?

What's this?

Techdirt community members with Techdirt Credits can spotlight a comment as either the "First Word" or "Last Word" on a particular comment thread. Credits can be purchased at the Techdirt Insider Shop »

Follow Techdirt

Techdirt Daily Newsletter

Techdirt Deals
Techdirt Insider Discord
The latest chatter on the Techdirt Insider Discord channel...