A big title game leaking more than a few days before its official release date is something that even people in the Nintendo Switch hacking and piracy scenes take note of. But this may be one of the biggest leaks yet: pirates have dumped the highly anticipated Super Smash Bros. Ultimate around two weeks before it's scheduled to hit stores.
The news highlights Nintendo’s continued problem with piracy. But the specifics of how Smash was released show the internal conflicts within the piracy community, with different groups pushing to be the first to release a game and trying to dictate when a dump should happen.
“As far as [pirated] Switch games go this is the biggest ever,” JJB, the administrator of WarezNX, a popular Switch piracy community that typically uses the gaming chat platform Discord, told Motherboard in an online chat.
Four sources told Motherboard pirates had leaked Smash. JJB provided a video, at Motherboard’s request, of gameplay of a specific character and stage. Another source provided a second video confirming the leak is real.
Motherboard also viewed chat logs of a private chat server discussing the leak, and a thread on a popular piracy forum provides download links for the game. Motherboard granted sources anonymity to speak more candidly about private communities and illegal activity.
JJB also uploaded a video to YouTube that appears to show the game’s startup process. At the time of writing, that video is still online.
Piracy groups and individuals have distributed multiple versions of Smash over the past few days, with varying degrees of success. At least one version ‘bricked’ Switch consoles, according to piracy server chat logs seen by Motherboard.
It appears the Smash leak originated on the WarezNX Discord server. In response, JJB says he told other staff to ban lower level users from the server.
“Point of doing it was I did not agree with Smash leaking as early as it did,” JJB said. “So I decided to remove the easiest source being the server.”
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Switch pirates generally obtain new games in two ways. Either, they use codes leaked by YouTubers or journalists who are reviewing the game to then unlock files downloaded from the Switch’s eShop, or someone in physical possession of a game cartridge dumps the files.
One version of Smash that did work and doesn’t appear to brick systems originated from a game cartridge. Multiple sources said they believe it was a physical cartridge from Mexico.
Switch games often leak one or two days before release, when more review codes and physical cartridges are in circulation. But a leak this early, and for such a high profile game, is unusual.
“2 weeks early for a game like Smash is insane for a public leak,” JJB told Motherboard.
Nintendo did not respond to a request for comment. The company has an aggressive stance towards piracy and use of its intellectual property in general.
“Video game piracy is illegal. Nintendo opposes those who benefit and trade off the creative work of game developers, artists, animators, musicians, motion capture artists and others,” a previously published post on Nintendo’s website reads. Smash is scheduled to be released on December 7.
As Motherboard has previously reported, playing a pirated Switch game is not simple. A wide spanning community of reverse engineers, developers, and hackers are constantly creating software and tools that pirates can use to add features to their Switch and run pirated games. Sometimes leaked material stays within private groups, rather than being publicly shared, but Smash has already hit the some of the more popular piracy sites.
A number of mirror links to download the game already exist, and so it seems unlikely that Nintendo will be able to avoid the game spreading more widely before its release.
“It’s fun,” one member of the Switch piracy community told Motherboard after playing the game.
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