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Wii U hack means that mod chips and headaches for Nintendo are incoming

Wii U GamePad

“Yes, it’s true,” announced Wiikey on Tuesday, “We have now completely reversed the Wii U drive authentication, disk encryption, file system, and everything else needed for this next generation K3y. Stay tuned for updates.”

For most of the last decade, Wiikey has sold mod chips and soft mods – tools of both the pirate community and the homebrew community – for the Nintendo Wii and other consoles. Once installed, these mods allow Wii owners to install their own operating system to run homebrew software, legally iffy emulators, and straight-up pirated games. Homebrew efforts can result in quality products, such as the open-source XBMC media player that was originally designed for Xbox, but the threat of piracy is a constant burden to this hobbyist developer community.

To a small percentage of users, Wiikey is a fun way to tinker with a console. To most, however, it’s an easy way to pirate software. Now the company is close to finishing the WiikeU mod chip for Nintendo’s latest console. With big titles like Pikmin 3 and The Legend of Zelda: The Wind Waker HD still a ways off from release this news couldn’t come at a worse time.

“It is true that it is becoming increasingly challenging to meet the expectations of consumers who are willing to pay $50 – $60 for a game, and it is difficult to break even unless a huge number of units sold all over the world,”Nintendo president Satoru Iwata said in an investor briefing on Tuesday. “Among such packaged software, however, the sales are much larger than in the past. Therefore, if we create more hit games, the software development business can still be very profitable.”

In short: it’s hard to break even on Wii U games no matter what. A hacked console makes that an even tougher goal. No matter how noble the homebrew community’s efforts may be, they’ll always be overlooked in the rush to stamp out piracy.

Nintendo may be able to stay one step ahead of Wiikey in that regard. The Nintendo DS was plagued by piracy, but the firmware design on its 3DS successor has been surprisingly resilient against hacks. Flashcasts that allowed 3DS owners to play backed up games and launch homebrew software floated around when the device first came out, but subsequent firmware updates from Nintendo shut that down quickly. 

The Nintendo 3DS homebrew community made some progress on cracking the handheld again in January, 2013, though they still haven’t found complete solutions for running privately made, or pirated, software. It’s a constant see-saw struggle between hardware makers and homebrewers (or pirates), and Wiikey’s latest hack swings the fight back in the latter group’s favor.