Two major movements have recently been made in the Switch hacking community. One group has announced that a Homebrew Launcher will soon be available for the system. Another hacking group named Team-Xecuter announced its new project: delivering a custom firmware to the Nintendo Switch. I published a report about this here on Nintendo Enthusiast and was quite surprised at the reaction from the community. Some were alarmed by it, but quite a number of folks appear to be pleased with this announcement, saying that this is all actually a good thing. Make no mistake, these events are not to be met with rejoicing, but rather concern.
These two hacking projects are split between the two distinct types: a software modification and a hardware modification. The apparent Switch Homebrew Launcher (a softmod) will thankfully be stuck to firmware 3.0.0. The Switch’s current firmware is 4.0.1, and Nintendo just might start flashing the newer firmware to systems coming fresh off the production line. On the other hand, Team-Xecuter appears to have a hardmod instead and claims that their Switch CFW will be able to run on any official version of the console’s OS. If this is true, that means that pretty much every Switch unit out there is currently vulnerable; units that have been purchased and are in use, but also even those that are sealed in boxes on retail shelves. With that being the case, this makes the situation quite complicated for Nintendo.
Let me just be blunt—an active console getting hacked is simply not good. The technical-wizards and tinkerers may enjoy this stuff, but the companies behind the systems aren’t exactly the biggest fans of this. Why? Hacking is essentially a breach of security. Messing around with a system that’s no longer being manufactured or supported is an entirely different case; there isn’t really much at risk for the console maker. An active system getting hacked, however, is indeed a great matter of concern for the console maker. Why? Yes, a hacked console can do a lot of cool stuff, but this also typically leads to a very big issue—piracy.
Piracy has been one of the biggest challenges that the whole entertainment world has faced, and the gaming industry is no stranger to it. Some consoles were notoriously easy to hack, and thus software piracy became rampant. Systems like the Dreamcast, PSP, DS, and Wii come to mind. When a console’s security has been breached, that creates a very big problem: developers become wary. A game console is nothing without games, so if a console can be easily hacked and its games can be pirated, then it’s only natural for developers to avoid it since that would threaten their profits. For a young system like the Switch, having to deal with a situation like this would be detrimental to its future.
The Switch being hacked could potentially leave it exposed to piracy, which could very well drive away support from developers.
One justification for this CFW that I’ve repeatedly seen is that it could potentially cause Switch hardware sales to increase since single consumers might end up buying more than one unit: one for normal use and the other to be hacked. There is a chance of this happening, but again, there’s still the potential problem of software piracy. The only real silver-lining in this whole situation is that the majority of Switch users most likely aren’t going to pay any attention to this CFW; hacking is typically left to those who are tech-savvy. But, even if only a select few actually hack their systems, there are still other issues than piracy that Nintendo might have to deal with. Hacked systems could also make a mess of the online infrastructure, such as online matches being ruined by players using cheats. It could also lead to the Switch Online network being attacked, as we’ve seen happen before with both the PlayStation Network and Xbox Live services getting brought down by hackers in the past.
With all these issues to take into consideration, it should be easy to see why this announcement from Team-Xecuter is unsettling. Honestly, name just one system that proved to completely benefit from being hacked. When I say benefit, I mean where everyone came out a winner: the company behind the system, the game developers, and consumers. Go ahead; I’ll wait…Did you find one? No? That’s because it’s never happened before. In fact, when has a system being hacked ever been praised by the parent companies?
When a potential security concern arises with an active system, the response we’ve typically seen from the parent company is to try and block out the exploit. For instance, at one point Sony advertised that the PS3 had support for Linux. But, when it later became a security concern, this feature was removed. This was removed via a firmware update, which is the most common way that console makers take care of exploits with modern systems. But, since Team-Xecuter has an apparent hardware mod and claims that this CFW can be run on any official Switch firmware, then Nintendo might have to do a mass security overhaul of the OS to block out the exploit or potentially even alter the Switch’s internals. Considering how big of a hit the Switch has become, no doubt Nintendo wants to protect its livelihood at all cost. Don’t look at it from a hobbyist perspective, rather, look at it from a business perspective. If the Switch is hacked, that means less support, which leads to fewer sales, which leads to the console dying. Is that what you want? All for the sake of having some homebrew apps and emulation? Is it really worth it?
Sony removed the PS3’s Linux support when it became a security concern. Game companies do not like their system’s being tampered with.
Hacking typically does more harm than good. It’s because of this, we’ve had to deal with things like DRM. Nobody likes it, but some developers have deemed it necessary to add it to their games just for the sake of trying to keep them protected for as long as possible. This is why the PC gaming market has been so volatile for quite some time. When a game is released on PC, there’s a very great risk that it will be exploited and thus pirated. Valve’s Steam service has balanced things out a bit, but piracy and hacking are still very much alive. Consoles have been a little more stable since they’re closed systems, rather than an open environment like Windows. Hence, when a console is hacked, it’s a pretty big deal because now that closed, ‘secure’ environment then becomes exposed. It’s like having a fortress with massive walls, cannons and iron gates. But then, someone decides to blast a giant hole through it all. Imagine if you were in that fortress, relying on those defenses to keep you safe, and then they were destroyed. Would you be happy? Would you still feel secure? That’s exactly how these gaming companies react to active systems being hacked.
Don’t think I wrote all of this to be malicious towards the hacking community and those interested in hacking their Switch. I wanted to write this article with the intention of getting people to think about this matter seriously. Sure, hacking does bring benefits to the user since it opens the door for a system to be totally overhauled with customizations. But, another door is usually also opened which leads to harmful things like piracy. Thus, the Switch is simply not currently in a position for that to happen without there being severe consequences.
This console is just ten months old, not ten years. It’s set to be Nintendo’s flagship for at least the next four to five years. With that being the case, it getting hacked right now could potentially derail all the remarkable progress that it has made so far. Whatever Team-Xecuter and the rest of the console hacking community have in store, I only hope their efforts can be either minimized or even thwarted by Nintendo to make sure the Switch can continue to comfortably mature naturally.