3DS flash card manufacturer Gateway has been accused of allowing users' 3DS consoles to become irretrievably bricked by a secret "kill switch" it introduced in a recent update.
Report indicate that the doomsday trigger will activate if users attempt to modify a file within Gateway's illicit game launcher - something many recently attempted after a method to circumvent the 3DS' region-locking was discovered.
Once activated, the code will corrupt the 3DS' NAND flash memory beyond repair - leaving some who have used the device with no choice but to send their handhelds to Nintendo for repair.
Users notice that Gateway had introduced the new code via a recent software update, although the company has yet to publicly acknowledge the addition. GBATemp forum users report that its purpose is, ironically, to protect the piracy-enabling code from being pirated itself.
Gateway has previously bemoaned the launch of copycat devices which use modified versions of its earlier code, but repackaged and sold as separate products.
The company advertises its flash cards as a way to "play backup 3DS ROMs" via its launcher firmware. The sale of such devices is outlawed in many countries, including the UK, although they are still easy enough to find and buy online. Once loaded with game ROMs, the device itself allows for users to play pirated games with little trouble.
"We are investigating the issue about the recent blue screen bootrom error some users have reported, and we have discovered this is caused by memory corruption due to flawed copying or modifications of our official launcher firmware," Gateway wrote on its official site.
"We specifically warn users to avoid clone launcher firmware [companies which sell modified, older versions of Gateway's code] and avoid the region-free patches made by Normmatt [the user behind the recent region-free discovery]."
"We can reassure our users that our official (unmodified) launcher firmware is free from such memory corruption and is 100 per cent safe to use."
"We can reassure our users that our official (unmodified) launcher firmware is free from such memory corruption and is 100 per cent safe to use.
"We feel sorry for the users that are affected by this error, but we have issued warnings in the past about the clone cards for this exact reason," Gateway continued. "We pride ourselves to do thorough testing before release, the same cannot be said for our so-called 'competitors'."
Admitting that region-free functionality was something it understood its users wanted, Gateway has said it will now implement the workaround within its own launcher in the future. Whether it will use its own code to do so is unknown. But for users who now have broken consoles, Gateway's apology is not enough - the code should be removed completely, many have said.
"Bricking a 3DS console is going too far," one user complained. "Nintendo has never intentionally bricked a console for having a modified firmware or flash cart, so customers should not have to expect that from Gateway. Plus, Gateway never directly notified customers that they coded this in to happen."
Others pointed out that Gateway's tactic targeted consumers - most of whom will be entirely oblivious to the company's war against companies which have cloned and resold Gateway's code.
"The clone manufactures got their product sold and got their money," another user added. "The end-user which might not [have] even heard of Gateway got f***ed up."
But customers will have little success objecting to the device's unexpected functionality - since the carts themselves are outlawed, users cannot force Gateway to be held responsible.
In a statement sent to Eurogamer, Gateway told us that the company's focus was "to bring the best experience to genuine Gateway users. We can confirm that NO Gateway user had any issue with their console or Gateway."
Which is true, if a "genuine Gateway user" only refers to someone that has not attempted to modify their device. When questioned why the kill code was included if it would affect the device's regular users - and not, as presumably intended, those attempting to modify the code for sale as a separate item, Gateway was evasive.
"We do not answer rumours, speculations and other tactics from people who are not even real competitors, but simply companies stealing our hard work."
"We do not answer rumours, speculations and other tactics from people who are not even real competitors, but simply companies stealing our hard work. It would be just taking away our time from what we owe our customers: bringing them a better and better experience with Gateway new firmware, functions and compatibility.
"If you are not a Gateway customer, please simply contact your product manufacturer. We only offer warranty and support for genuine Gateway card.
"Simply put, we do not care about others."
Nintendo responded to Eurogamer's request for comment by pointing us to its established Anti-Piracy Programme.
"Piracy continues to be a significant threat to Nintendo's business, as well as over 1400 game development companies working to provide unique and innovative games," the company statement reads. "The primary goal of the Anti-Piracy Program is to reduce Internet piracy, availability of various infringing devices used to play illegal Nintendo game files, and the production and distribution of counterfeit Nintendo products around the world.
"Through education, raising awareness and legal actions, Nintendo is working hard to preserve the video game industry's ability to make investments into developing new and exciting games, and to give all legally-sold Nintendo games a chance to succeed."