Homebrew is an interesting part of the gaming scene. On the one hand it can be used by fans with coding skill to do intriguing things with hardware, but it also violates terms of use in the act of tampering with the system. Nintendo often moves - rather effectively - to shut exploits down, meaning that in this generation homebrew has been far more niche than in the past, mainly because users mostly need to keep their systems offline.

That's been the process with 3DS, to the point that a number of homebrew enthusiasts - based on forum posts etc - have multiple portables used for homebrew that can stay offline, separate from their legit hardware that's up to date. In the battle against homebrew - and more nefarious off-shoots that lead to piracy - Nintendo has certainly maintained a [relatively] tight grip.

The various 'Hax' workarounds for 3DS have typically used games or apps as routes to break into the system. In some cases, too, the homebrew channels and user interfaces don't actually run 3DS game ROMS (no doubt to head off issues around current-gen piracy), but rather get used for custom HOME Themes, small original games and apps or - in stickier ground - emulators. Infamously the first game used for a notable workaround was Cubic Ninja, a fairly average retail game that suddenly sold rather well (and even got flogged at higher prices on eBay when stock ran low) as homebrew fans scooped it up. The game changed, though, when the well-known 3DS homebrew hacker Jordan "Smealum" Rabet planned a workaround using download title IRONFALL Invasion. That was a big deal at the time, as it was an eShop game which also happened to be free to download.

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The problem, though, is that Nintendo is initially heavy-handed in shutting down these exploits - IRONFALL Invasion was taken off the eShop, and it took developer VD-DEV about two months to make changes and get it through Nintendo's Lotcheck and back on the store. Smealum, to be fair, expressed regret at this and apologised to VD-DEV; Nintendo's preventative measure had caught everyone out. Smealum was right to apologise, even if it was never his intent for such a thing to happen - with two months off the store it's clear that IRONFALL Invasion will have lost revenue, as those yet to grab the free download had no way to try it and consider buying the full campaign and online multiplayer components.

Following this a subsequent workaround used the YouTube app, which is free and - let's be honest - Google isn't a small company that would cry too much about it. There have been some other workarounds too, but recently it seems to have gotten a little out of hand. The question arises, are homebrew developers thinking, on any level, about how they're affecting publishers and game makers?


Some new names have been producing 'Hax' workarounds in recent weeks, and with predictable results. VVVVVV bit the dust to stop an exploit in early May, and Citizens of Earth followed when it was in the most recent Nintendo Humble Bundle. Both were yanked from the 3DS eShop to shut off access for homebrew users, and at the time of writing neither has returned to the store (on our UK unit).

Now Freakyforms Deluxe: Your Creations, Alive! has been whipped off the eShop; a hacker called plutoo introduced his hack (which uses download or physical copies), and then put a smiley next to a tweet saying it had been removed from the store.

This particular hack also uses physical versions, but nevertheless the download option is currently gone. Those missing out on potential sales right now, then, are Terry Cavanagh and Nicalis (VVVVVV), Eden Industries and Atlus (Citizens of Earth), and finally Nintendo and Asobism (Freakyforms Deluxe: Your Creations, Alive!). Though we could quibble about how many sales these titles were still generating long after their release, that's not particularly relevant - developers and publishers will lose money when their product is missing from the eShop.

We can't help but consider whether some hackers are rather more cynical than others. While some show regret if a developer suffers and then focus attention on YouTube or retail titles from big corporations in follow-up hacks, others seem to merely want to show off. It's one thing to create exploits that use physical game copies (where publishers and developers actually gain sales) or the YouTube app, and arguably a different issue when smaller companies see their download-only games removed from the eShop. The counter argument, to be clear, is that none of this hacking should be happening, and that the size of company affected isn't relevant on any level.

It's also legitimate to wonder whether Nintendo needs to be so quick to take affected games off the store considering the limited userbase for homebrew on 3DS, but as the platform holder it's entitled to protect the integrity and terms of its hardware functionality. We could argue about the necessity all day, but ultimately Nintendo is in the legal right.

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We, like many other sites, often share details on what the homebrew scene is up to with its 3DS workarounds (in our case we don't link to the exploits themselves). It started with curiosity, particularly as demand for cartridge copies of Cubic Ninja made it a surprise hit, and then the narrative shifted with the IRONFALL Invasion takedown and subsequent apology from the hacker in question. It was a narrative of clever coders looking to do quirky things with the 3DS, often with a backdrop of workarounds, updates on both sides and hardware eventually forced offline to avoid Nintendo's wrath. It was niche, evolving and with few casualties aside from the unfortunate VD-DEV.

Now, however, it's getting stickier. There have been three game takedowns in around a month; is it because those involved care not a jot for the livelihoods of others? Nintendo is clearly following progress closely, too, as the speedy takedown of Freakyforms suggests. Which begs the question - when does homebrew on the 3DS go from being an intriguing and minor scene of offline 3DS systems running on old firmware, and when does it become a damaging problem that has undeserved victims? At what stage will Nintendo review its process of rapidly removing games, or should it even have to consider changing its approach?

Whatever happens next, perhaps those seeking to crack the 3DS system for homebrew should consider the consequences and those that will lose sales, ideally before Nintendo steps in to act.