Video Games and Independent Developers

Let’s say I had enough time, money, resources, and skills to develop and create my own game that was compatible with the Wii. Let’s further say that it’s in such poor taste that Nintendo would have a heart attack if they knew about it (like, it has X-rated content or is a role-playing game that involves waterboarding Taliban detainees or something).

Could I sell it on my own anyway?

In other words, are games developed by third parties done so with the approval of the platform manufacturers? Do they have veto power? Could Sony prevent Activision from releasing a Guitar Hero game for the PS3 if Sony didn’t like its content?

Nope not a chance. Release of games on consoles is entirely controlled by the hardware manufacturers. The developer has to run each stage of the process past them for approval, starting at the concept phase running through to the final “release candidate”.

As someone who has gone through this process at a games developer (and had games failed for both technical and “content” reasons), trust me stick to releasing your tentacle zombie porn on PC :slight_smile:

Companies like Sony and Nintendo can and do censor/ban games they feel are inappropriate for release onto their platforms; for example with Manhunt 2.

Edit: Interesting wiki link giving examples of times Nintendo has censored a game before it is allowed to be released:

Actually, if you were able to make a game completely without signing any licensing agreements, etc, you could sell the game. You might be liable if you put “Compatible with the Wii” on the game, but they can’t stop you from selling it.

Their big claim would almost certainly be some sort of infringement claim, saying that you illegally copied loader code or other os-type stuff. Proving you just reverse engineered the code would negate the claim.

However, there is no way in the US for them to stop you from designing your game and reverse engineering a way to get it to run on their hardware, nor is there a way for them to stop you from selling it once you have created the game. They tried with the Game Genie back in the day, and there have been several similar cases in the last decade.

In the real world, though, there would be significant technical hurdles, as well as the legal challenges you would face – even though you should win them, it would cost a lot to defend yourself.

A “spin-off” company of Atari, Tengen, attempted to bypass the verification system of the original Nintendo that insured the game was properly licensed because Nintendo only allowed them to produce a small number of games per year. They eventually coerced the patent office into releasing it (aren’t all patents supposed to be public?) and were able to release non-licensed games; I remember seeing one cart growing up that looked quite different from a regular Nintendo cart and remembering that it was made by Tengen. I’m fairly sure that they were only able to release a few games this way in limited numbers before they got their pants sued off.

Wikipedia has a link to a NYT article about it from 1989 but does not provide a cite for more information about the case. In any event, in my memory only very early games came out with the distinctive Tengen cart design; the only good reason that they would have stopped releasing such games when they were actively trying to break the licensing is because of some deal they made before the lawsuit went to trial.

So basically, you would not only have to crack the encryption that console manufacturers use, you’d likely get sued anyway. Why not just release it for PC?

Unauthorized video games were very common in the early days of video games- besides bootleg ripoffs of well-known arcade games, there were a good handful of unlicensed Atari 2600 and Nintendo Entertainment System games. There was only one unlicensed Super NES game, and from that point onward, unlicensed games stopped being made. I’m not exactly sure why- that would be interesting to find out.

An interesting hypothetical; however in these days of next-gen consoles is it even remotely possible to wholly reverse engineer something to run with a consoles OS? I ask because it seems for some platforms even legitimately developed games take a great deal of time and effort to integrate with a system. MMV, of course.

It was the Copyright Office they coerced, by hiring a lawyer to claim Nintendo had sued them and that they needed the lockout code to prepare for the case.

Here is the ruling of the case: Atari Games Corp. vs. Nintendo of America, Inc. The first games Tengen made for the NES were licensed games and thus come in a standard NES cart- after Tengen severed the license, they started making the bootleg carts.

Nintendo cryptographically sign their games, so even if you coded your own with a dev kit it would not boot on anyone’s console. Some people get around this with hacks, like this one, but generally, no, youre not running it unless youve got a farm of supercomputers that can crack nintendo’s private keys.

Microsoft is a lot more open that Nintendo in this regard. They offer an development environment called XNA, which lets homebrew gamers play their games on their machines and lets them sell it on the XNA marketplace. Im sure there’s some level of censorship there, but if you want to play your own XNA game it should be possible without going through any approval process or any hacks like Nintendo or having to jailbreak an iphone.

Note that breaking the encryption system through an exploit or just brute force is perfectly legal. In fact, copying the encryption code itself is probably legal, because the code only functions as a lockout device – there have been a few cases where printer manufacturers have been sued and lost over printer cart code.

So you might be fine, legally, with just stealing the code for any encryption system. (Note that as a technological workaround, the Wii isn’t very secure, because every game sold has that code, and every console has to know how to authenticate a game. The real protection is just that it’s not worth the effort to crack it.)

Follow-up thread.

Wasn’t the decryption code for HD DVD AACS Processing banned by the DMCA?

Are you a lawyer?

Printer cartridges are not software, and the cases to which you refer predate the DMCA. Also, “stealing the encryption code” does you no good without the encryption key, which at least in the case of the Xbox 360 (I can’t speak authoritatively on other platforms) is 2048-bit RSA. Good luck with that.

Yes, but even if the code was written by the Hand of God Himself, the private keys must exist somewhere in either the player or the game. Therefore, if you have the game and the player, you could certainly examine the ROM code of both to determine how to decode the game. It would certainly be difficult, but not impossible.

Now, if the games required verification through the Internet, that’s another story. The private keys could be kept only on the company’s secure servers, preventing such tricks. Of course, it wouldn’t be long before some rogue employee managed to smuggle them out on a flash drive anyway…

No it does not. The console must have the public key on it. The game is signed with the private key. The console can then use the public key to determine that the game’s signature was encoded by someone with access to the private key, but does not know the private key itself.

As Punoqllads said, the private key certainly need not be stored on the console or the game, and in fact it’d be pretty damn stupid for it to be. The games are not encrypted, they are signed using a private key held in secure storage. (No human being has ever seen the Xbox 360 private key and no human being ever will; the system is designed to store the key internally and never disclose it.) The processor will refuse to execute code that does not reside in pages flagged as executable by a ring 0 process, known as the hypervisor, responsible for verifying signatures on loaded code before marking it executable. The hypervisor itself is also signed, and that signature is verified by a firmware bootloader. It’s a pretty secure system, not easily evaded.

I’m just going to add a few random pieces of information and address a few points brought up in several posts above.

There are additional hurdles to distributing your own game for the Wii:

  1. A significant portion of the operating system is distributed with the game, and is bound into the game executable. You’d need to create your own OS which was compatible with the ROM code and Startup Menus. Not an insignificant task. And requires reverse engineering.

1b) Ditto for device drivers for the various peripherals and controllers…

  1. The particular Power PC variant was custom designed by IBM with Nintendo-proprietary extensions (which are pretty much necessary for writing any significant game). Good luck legally obtaining the chip specifications without a license. Of course there’s always reverse engineering…

2a) And of course finding or hacking together a compiler that supports those particular hardware extensions…

  1. Most games use some additional CAD tools for 3_D modelling and art creation for development, and manipulation at run-time. Once again not legally available without licensing. There is of course the option of using a completely different third-party engine and design tool suite.

  2. There is of course a problem with reverse engineering the console hardware or game discs and software: the End User License Agreement forbids it - so if you do reverse engineer it, and try to use that argument to defend your ability to produce a product, then you have effectively admitted to violating the EULA - opening yourself up for damages on that front.

Now, I’m not saying that no-one could hack the unit, pirate copies of the tools, obtain or hack together build tools, obtain (through whatever means) copies of the SDKs, design tools, part specs, etc. But they are simply going to get sued out of existence if they try to actually sell a game that way.

Legally distributing a game for the Wii without Nintendo’s blessings would be a very difficult uphill battle.

And yet they simply hacked the bootloader, didn’t they?