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Nintendo, along with several dozen other companies, have filed a suit at the Tokyo District Court, according to Kotaku, in their continued effort to halt the sales of the R4, a device which slots into a Nintendo DS cart slot and houses a microSD card onto which users can copy videos, photos, text files, homebrew software and, well, pirated DS games.

Nintendo's motives are entirely obvious and understandable. The R4 makes DS piracy easy and available, which is bad for business, and they control the platform. I presume that they have a strong legal case to make and that they'll probably win. However, I am personally quite sad about these developments.

Mostly it's down to the homebrew. Talented amateurs out there are elevating the DS from a gaming platform to a full-blown PDA with excellent scheduling and diary software, text readers and video players. These are all things Nintendo could have and should have released to further push the DS to the forefront of handheld devices. Nintendo has, quite rightly in some aspects, chosen to be a "simply games" company, focusing on fun and input schemes to bring gaming to a wider audience. Since the Gamecube have they stated that they are not interested in the number of triangles on screen or raw processing power and, considering the wild hotcake in a blaze success of the Wii and DS they certainly weren't wrong about that strategy.

Yet I feel the full potential of the DS remains locked. Very few eBook carts have been released (in Japan) and no good diary software has been made available for purchase. With the touch screen input and WiFi capabilities the DS is screaming to be more than "just a gaming console" and by and large, that is exactly what it has remained. Talking cookbooks and TV tuners aside, it could have been so much more.

So homebrew is not just picking up Nintendo's slack, it is also providing other excellent uses. A lot of amateurs and hobbyists have been creating their own titles, with varying degrees of success, giving them valuable experience in console game development. Others have ported with great love and care those older titles from other platforms for which the market is too small to make publishers care about. For all the crying and begging for DS ports of classic LucasArts adventures, for example, it has been left to the homebrew scene to create an amazing port of the SCUMMVM engine. Homebrew is a truly wonderful thing. But it is, of course, sadly diametrically opposed to Nintendo's licensing business.

But however much annoyed Nintendo might be with the hobbyists it's obviously the pirates that have them fuming. It's undeniable that the R4 facilitates piracy. A simple Google search will result in a long list of sites that offer roms for download and putting them on an R4 to play is extremely easy, even though some clever anti-piracy measures have been experimented with. Nintendo could find ways to force working anti-piracy measures into their games, at some cost no doubt, so inevitably the R4 must die.

This is a shame. I hope sincerely Nintendo will at least consider incorporating the better aspects that homebrew has brought us so far into whatever is next for the DS. While the R4 lasted it brought us some great things. It's a shame that that inevitably brought with it the piracy that will eventually get it suppressed.

13 comments:

  1. I'm still annoyed that the web browser went out of print (at least in North America). I managed to get one, but only barely.

    The DS could rival the Kindle for eBooks, allow for manga compilations on cartridge, and even be affixed with some sort of GPS with touch navigation (in Japan and the UK only, natch).

    I guess I'll just keep using mine to play import games. Domestic titles have all become pet simulators, minigame compilations, puzzle games, and edutainment.

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  2. I too agree that it is a great shame. While I think that the DS' unique features would make a fantastic all-round PDA-esque handheld, I'm reluctant to fully agree as the weak hardware specifications and tiny card size cripple the prospects of multimedia use significantly. Which I think is also important in this regard.

    It is a great shame that the DS firmware has lacked versatility and expansion. Otherwise there could be an online iteration of Pictochat etc. Lots of exciting ideas there.

    Still, like you say I don't blame Nintendo, the greater majority of DS users that I see on public transport or at shows use this device and solely for illegal games.

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  3. Also, it's not like R4 is the *only* chip out there, there's like dozens of them.
    So even if Nintendo does succeed in banning sales/production of those, it'd be like MPAA closing down The Pirate Bay and saying that torrents are dead.
    Pretty much a futile struggle on their part.
    And it's not like previous Nintendo handhelds were pirate free. There were linker devices for all of them, and still the games were still selling.

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  4. Just for reference, supposively the following Japanese companies are also against the device.

    Arc System Works, IE Institute, Atlus, Arika, SNK Playmore, Capcom, Creative Core, Koei, Cyberfront, Jaleco, Square Enix, Sega, Taito, Takara Tomy, D3 Publisher, Tecmo, Digital Kids (Ubisoft Nagoya), Hudson, Bandai Namco, Pokemon Company, Yuke’s, Red Entertainment, Level Five and Rocket Company

    http://feeds.feedburner.com/~r/siliconera/MkOc/~3/349976157/

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  5. Of course the R4 isn't the only nor the last one out there. There will always be devices like these in some form or other. And Nintendo will always try to keep them down. Such is the great scheme of things.
    Though, of course, this whole affair has seen a predictable spurt in sales of the R4
    http://kotaku.com/5030798/is-nintendos-legal-suit-helping-r4-sales
    Hehe.

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  6. There have always been pirate bundle carts for Ninty platforms.

    The difference with the R4 is the easy availability of software on the internet.

    Modern users are tech savvy about downloading. Also it seems anonymous. Perhaps they don't see it as 'stealing' the way you might if you go to a shop and buy it off a dodgy looking geezer.

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  7. I did manage to get the opera browser, but to be honest I thought it was a complete waste of money. Transfer speeds just weren't fast enough, and it bugged quite a lot as well.

    Given that sparkling review, if anyone here wants to take it off my hands for a ginormous fee, feel free to give me a shout =)

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  8. I understand where you're coming from, but the fact is that homebrew is such a small piece of the R4 pie that it would be foolish to fault Nintendo for this unavoidable (and, let's not forget, equally illegal) casuality. The fact remains that 99.99% of people with R4s use them exclusively for piracy.

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  9. lildavey,

    Hardware doesn't cause piracy. Pirates cause piracy. This would be no different than blaming VCRs for copyright infringment.

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