Hacking group Team-Xecuter was a thorn in the side of major gaming companies for a long time.
The group offered hardware and software solutions that allowed people to install and play unofficial games and pirated copies on various consoles, including the popular Nintendo Switch.
Team-Xecuter defended its work by pointing out that their products are not necessarily pirate tools. They supported the ‘right to repair’ movement and backed people who wanted to play homebrew games on their devices for personal use.
The affected game companies disagreed, with Nintendo front and center. The Japanese gaming company had chased down Team-Xecuter for years and last October they were joined by the U.S. Government which launched a criminal prosecution of three group members.
One of the defendants is Canadian Gary Bowser. He was arrested in the Dominican Republic in September 2020 and was deported to the U.S. soon after. Bowser is perhaps best known through his nickname GaryOPA, the operator and a frequent writer on the website “MaxConsole,” which regularly reviewed Team-Xecuter hardware and other hacking tools.
According to the indictment, Bowser was more than just a writer. The Government saw him as part of the Team-Xecuter conspiracy. Among other things, he allegedly advertised and trafficked circumvention devices, while maintaining regular contact with resellers throughout the world.
Bowser Pleads Guilty
Bowser initially denied any wrongdoing but last week he changed his position and pleaded guilty. The plea agreement with the U.S. Government sheds more light on how Team-Xecuter operated. It contains a statement of facts to which all parties agreed, which includes various admissions.
“Defendant, GARY BOWSER, aka ‘GaryOPA,’ knowingly and willfully participated in a cybercriminal enterprise that hacked leading gaming consoles and that developed, manufactured, marketed, and sold a variety of circumvention devices that allowed the enterprise’s customers to play pirated versions of copyrighted video games, commonly referred to as ‘ROMs’,” it reads.
Bowser’s involvement started in June 2013 and continued until his arrest last year. With the new agreement, the Canadian pleads guilty to conspiracy to circumvent technological measures and trafficking in circumvention devices. He also admits to violating the DMCA’s anti-circumvention provision. Both counts carry a maximum prison penalty of five years.
The Homebrew Cover
The conspiracy, which also includes co-defendants Max Louarn and Yuanning Chen, used various brands including “Team Xecuter,” “Axiogame.com,” “Maxconsole.com,” and “China Distribution.” Team-Xecuter regularly stressed its intention to support homebrew enthusiasts. However, the U.S. prosecution sees this as a cover.
The primary goal was to sell circumvention devices that would allow customers to play pirated ROMs. To achieve this, co-defendant Max Louarn put Bowser in charge of operating maxconsole.com, through which he helped to market and sell Team-Xecuter devices.
“Mr. Bowser’s role was to market the enterprise’s products, post news releases about new products and updates to products, and work with retailers who distributed the enterprise’s products. Mr. Bowser would also post replies to inquiries from customers of these illegal circumvention devices on Maxconsole.com,” the plea agreement reads.
Tens of Million in Revenue
SX OS was one of Team-Xecuter’s most lucrative product lines. It allowed gamers to use Nintendo Switch with custom firmware which allowed them to play pirated games. Through all sales, Team-Xecuter reportedly generated tens of millions of dollars in revenue.
“The enterprise generated at least tens of millions of dollars of proceeds from the sale of its circumvention devices,” the agreement reads, adding that this directly harmed Nintendo and other parties.
Bowser himself only saw a fraction of these revenues coming his way. He earned between $500-1000 a month as the operator of the team-xecuter.com and maxconsole.com websites. In addition, he was allowed to keep the advertising income, which brought his total revenue to roughly $320,000.
$4.5 Million Restitution
In addition to the guilty plea on two counts, Bowser also voluntarily agreed to pay $4.5 million in restitution to Nintendo. He also agreed to help locate any remaining Team-Xecuter assets.
The cooperative stance increases the likelihood of a reduced sentence but the Government stresses that there are no guarantees. The prosecution did agree to waive the nine remaining charges in the indictment, including conspiracy to commit wire fraud.
Based on the agreement, U.S. Magistrate Judge Brian Tsuchida recommends that Bowser will indeed be found guilty. The final sentence will be issued in due course after both the defense and prosecution have shared their recommendations.
In addition to the criminal proceeding, Bowser was also sued directly by Nintendo last April. This case remains ongoing and Bowser has yet to file an official response to the complaint.
A copy of the plea agreement between Gary Bowser and the US Government is available here (pdf)