For a primer on the challenges of a global game business, check this sequence of stories in Taiwan’s DigiTimes:
March 13: Nintendo isn’t selling Wiis in China yet, but they’re already showing up there and being modified with chips allowing them to play pirated games:
Although the Nintendo Wii has not officially launched in China yet, the game console have been unofficially imported into the country and demand for modifications of the console using modchips has resulted in the price for such modifications to drop from 500-600 yuan a month ago to 200 yuan (US$26) currently, according to industry sources in Taiwan.
March 16: Wii hackers causing a “surprise boom” in sales of $20 LG DVD drives that work especially well for copying the console’s game discs. It’s unclear whether the discs are being copied for personal use or resale, but it sounds to me like the game pirates have set sail:
Although the launch date for the Wii in the Taiwan market is still uncertain, quite a large number of U.S.- and Japan-version consoles have been privately imported for sale, and this has subsequently caused growing demand for mod chips such as Wiinja, CycloWiz or WiiKey, which allow the consoles to run unlicensed game software, the sources pointed out. Such unlicensed game discs sell at NT$150-250, much lower than the NT$1,200-2,000 price for original software discs, the sources indicated.
Because of the demand for copying original game discs for use in modified Wii consoles, either for backup purposes or for sale, LG’s LG-8164b, LG-8163b and LG-8162b DVD-ROM drives have become hot sellers because they are the most suitable models to read from an original Wii disc, the sources pointed out. The read disc image can then be burned onto a blank DVD+R/-R discs.
Today’s story: Nintendo is changing the Wii’s circuit layout to block mod chippers, but it may only slow them down:
The new Wiis, which are part of new shipments of the console, have an altered circuit layout that makes modification more difficult than in earlier versions. Users attempting to mod the new consoles using current modchips are very likely to damage the system, the sources pointed out.
In view of past instances where Nintendo and other games console makers including Microsoft and Sony have revised the circuitry of their consoles in attempts to to disable modchips, it is a logical expectation that a more advanced modchip specifically for the new Wii revision will be available in less than a month, the sources indicated.
Some providers of Wii modification services in Taiwan think Nintendo could adopt BGA (ball grid array) IC packaging to prolong the time needed by hackers to develop new modchips to at least four months. The longer waiting time would likely reduce the willingness of some users to modify the consoles, the sources noted.