Nintendo continues to hate its fans, gets one arrested for selling Zelda game save mods

Japan’s Unfair Competition Prevention Law has been used to deter cheating in video games.

TOKYO, JAPAN - 2021/03/03: Link figurine from Legend of Zelda with shop staff inside Nintendo Tokyo ...
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A 27-year-old man has been arrested in Japan after he was caught selling modified save-game files for The Legend of Zelda: Breath of the Wild.

The files, which he sold for roughly $31, would give a player improved in-game abilities and access to items that are difficult to obtain. After being arrested, the man admitted that he’s made nearly $90,000 in the past 18 months selling such modded saves.

Punishment doesn’t fit crime — While it sounds pretty absurd for someone to be arrested for selling save states for a game — essentially just giving someone progression in a game so they can complete it faster — it’s not unheard of in Japan. Under the country’s Unfair Competition Prevention Law (UCPL), game piracy and console modifications that could give someone an unfair advantage are outlawed. And the law has been used to punish other cheating in multiplayer games.

But what makes this case notable is that the man was selling modifications for a single-player game, meaning other places are not being harmed by the hacks.

Nintendo has gone after others for selling mods and cheats in the past, such as in 2015 when a man was arrested for selling cheats to the online shooter Alliance of Valiant Arms. Going after people who ruin online multiplayer games isn’t totally reprehensible; it sucks when people cheat and ruin the fun for others. But when someone cheats in a single-player game, who cares?

The crime certainly doesn’t seem to fit the punishment. Nintendo has made it clear it will have people jailed for providing “cheats” to others who legally purchased copies of a game, even though it affects nobody but the purchaser.

But then again, Nintendo is very protective of any use of its intellectual property — it sends cease and desist orders to fans who make unauthorized remakes of old games, for instance. When gamers tried to host an online Super Smash Bros. tournament, the company sent a cease-and-desist because it didn’t like that they were using a tool to make the second installment in the franchise, Melee, playable online.

Even though Nintendo does live and die by its popular characters, these types of incidents have led to a meme that Nintendo hates its fans because it’s unclear what business harm they’re causing.

Copyright law — Japan’s UCPL is essentially a copyright protection law, meant to prevent infringement on a company’s intellectual property. In late 2018, an amendment was passed that bans save game editing and similar console modifications. In particular, the following actions are illegal:

  • Act 1: Transfer of tools and programs to remodel save data of game software etc.
  • Act 2: Selling or posting on the internet serial code and product key that the software maker does not license.
  • Act 3: Perform remodeling of save data

Japan is notorious for its strict laws, and these are no exception. But its seems like a real waste of legal resources.