The Warning Signs of Bootleg Games

Legend of Zelda Minish cap Link Ezio Gust jar BootyliciousI buy a lot of my games used, most of them, in fact.  I can't even remember the last game before Mass Effect 2 that I purchased brand new in a box, it's just something I've decided is both out of my budget and totally unnecessary.  I've already beaten 13 games this year and have enjoyed most of them, and through a combination of buying used on Amazon, borrowing from friends, presents, spending money on deals for digital games, and a few lucky review copies from publishers, I calculated I've spent less that $100 on games this year, and that was with the $70 Mass Effect 2 Collector's Edition!

So when confronted with the idea of spending $60 on a new game that will be available for $40 in three weeks, $25 in three months, or $10 in three years, I generally think twice.  The used game market is my friend, and I play both sides of it.  However, sometimes an older game suddenly strikes my attention and I'm quickly making what seems like a steal of a deal, only to be burned later when I find out the game I received is actually a fake, a bootleg, a counterfeit cartridge or disc.

I've determined over the years that there are warning signs for bootleg games, so I'd like to share them with you.  These are just general warnings, and even if you follow all of them you might receive something fake.  I'm also not discouraging anyone from buying used games online, as I think they're extremely valuable resources that save gamers tons of money.

This was originally going to be part of my Legend of Zelda: The Minish Cap review from yesterday, but I decided to break it into its own post as I believe the information stands on its own.

The Minish Counterfeit

My wife bought me The Minish Cap for my birthday, and all seems right with the world.  The only problem is, we were sent a bootleg, counterfeit copy of the game.  Now, most of us are probably guilty of committing copyright infringement at some point in our lives for various reasons, myself included, but if there is one thing I am against, it is paying for a pirated copy of something still under copyright.  If I wanted to have a bootleg copy of the game, I would have just downloaded it myself for free. No, I wanted to own the real thing, but this... this is worthless. I can't in good conscience resell it and who knows if the internal battery is any good.

In the end, Amazon refunded our money without complaint, but I'd just like to issue a general warning and some rules of thumb for buying used games, particularly Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS.

My used game buying rules

  • If a deal sounds too good to be true, it probably is.
  • If the seller says they'll include the box, that's not necessarily a sign you're in the clear as they're just as able to produce fake boxes as they are games (be extra wary if they say the box will come crushed for easier shipping).
  • If it comes with a manual and box, this is probably a decent sign it's legitimate, though I suppose they could fake manuals too.
  • Buying games in a store like Gamestop does not make you immune as even these counterfeit copies are finding their way into local shops.
  • If you have already purchased the game and something seems fishy about it, do some research.  There are a lot of obvious "tells" to bootleg stuff.  Obvious misspellings on the cartridge or box (Ocarina of Time's "enivironments" non-withstanding), unexpected in-game language options (my copy of Minish Cap is apparently the European version as it has language options for English, French, German, Spanish, and Italian), or even super obvious differences in stickers (my copy of Minish Cap has a white sticker, where the real game sticker is red).

I sell a lot of games, and part of the reason I do not like to participate in the counterfeit trade is because it hurts my own bottom line when selling.  Bootleg games drive down the price of legitimate copies and generates mistrust in the market.  Game Boy Advance and Nintendo DS games are easily copied and resold, but hopefully it hasn't infiltrated other systems as much.

Bootlegged past

Dragon Ball gt Final Bout CoverSeems like as good as time as any to talk about the other counterfeit games I've come across in the past.  The first one that I can recall was for Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout on the PlayStation.  It was one of my first eBay purchases back in 1998 and there were a billion signs that it was a totally fake game, but either I was too oblvious to figure that out, or it just didn't matter to me at the time.  The listing said the game required a "Game Hunter" to run (which for some strange reason was in a desk drawer about six inches away from where I'm sitting), so I purchased that along with the game and within a few weeks, I was playing a really crappy Dragon Ball game with a bunch of characters I didn't recognize.

Of course, piracy wasn't that easy with the PlayStation 1.  First, you had to plug in the Game Hunter in the serial port in the back (assuming your model had one), then you set a legit game on the spinner, carefully place a paper clip into the drive to make the console think you closed the lid, and finally swap the real game out with the copied one as the game starts up.  Getting it to work was a miracle, and once again, all for a sucky game that I spent about three hours total playing.

Like I said, I still have my old Game Hunter device, but I can't for the life of me find Dragon Ball GT: Final Bout disc, I'd love to see what it looked like to see if it appeared real at all.  Probably not.

My second questionable game was Harvest Moon: Friends of Mineral Town, also for the Game Boy Advance.  I purchased this off eBay in 2004 after hearing how great it was (I was a huge fan of the original Harvest Moon and Harvest Moon 64).  The game came with a flattened box, that after examining it carefully seemed a bit off.  There were spelling mistakes and things didn't add up.  When I first tried the game, it didn't work at all, which set off alarm bells in my mind, but it worked the second time (and every time after that, even now, six years later; save still works too). I know now from experience that the game is blatantly a ripoff, which is unfortunate.


Bootylicious image courtesy of Paul Abbamondi from Grinding Down.