The era of Nintendo Switch Flash Carts has arrived, potentially opening a new door for piracy

Taki Udon on YouTube holding the MIG-Switch Flash Cart above some resting Switch Game Carts.
Taki Udon on YouTube holding the MIG-Switch Flash Cart above some resting Switch Game Carts. (Image credit: Taki Udon on YouTube)

Well, it only took nearly seven full years after the Nintendo Switch's original launch in March 2017, but we now have what appears to be a working Switch "flash cart," courtesy of the MIG-Switch device. A "flash cart," for those unfamiliar, refers to a game cartridge for a particular console that actually uses an SD card (or some other kind of flash memory) to read game backups. These devices are particularly popular among pirates but have mostly been locked to older handheld consoles, that is, until the release of the MIG-Switch.

YouTuber Taki Udon is among the first to get their hands on a MIG-Switch, and published a video reviewing and demonstrating the new device. The device does appear to work well, but we should hold out final judgment about the efficacy of the device until we see others also test it. 

As Taki Udon demonstrates in the video above, the MIG-Switch flash cart works as advertised. However, it doesn't have a software front-end for switching games like old flash carts used to have— instead, you have to physically switch between games stored on the flash cart by ejecting and re-inserting them within the Switch game slot, a process Taki Udon demonstrates in the video.

This is a device that's trying to convince the Nintendo Switch it's a real game cartridge, and part of the way it achieves that is by keeping its core functionality outside of software that could easily be patched or fixed. According to MIG-Switch themselves, this flash cart should be "unpatchable" by Nintendo and should work on every currently existing Switch console.

So, what's the catch, then? I mean, of course, besides the risk of Nintendo sending its lawyers to your doorstep for stealing a video game. Well, Nintendo's copy protection may be broken enough for flash carts to work, but it is not broken enough for duplicate versions of games to be able to exist online simultaneously and not get banned from Nintendo servers.

You see, every Switch cartridge ever made has a unique identifier. Whenever you create a rip for personal usage, it will have the same unique identifier as your retail cartridge. According to MIG-Switch, though Taki Udon and plenty of others don't wanna test this, that should make these backups fully usable online. But online play is where we start seeing even bigger issues, particularly for used gamers.

Once this flash cart sees a public release (sometime in the next few months, according to Taki), there will be people who use it as an opportunity to buy games, create backups, and then resell the games as used. If the backup and the original game with the same ID end up online simultaneously on separate consoles, that's blatant foul play to Nintendo and will earn both players a game or an account ban.

While a ban certainly might seem warranted for the flash cart user in that scenario, it's completely unfair for the gamer whose only crime was paying for a used game.

Officially, this device is targeted at third-party developers and legitimate users, not your average software pirate. However, there's nothing stopping your average software pirate from using this, and it will undoubtedly be popular for those same people. The potential for purchase, backup, and resell abuse with bannable, cloned Switch cartridges has never been higher.

With contributions from
  • FoxtrotMichael-1
    Saying that flash carts are mostly used by pirates is just…cringe at this point. Mainly because piracy isn’t really a consideration for games Nintendo no longer sells, like for the retro consoles most people use flash carts with. Flash carts are allowing people to preserve video game history and continue to use these aging consoles. For the switch it may be “too soon” for a flash cart to take on that purpose, but the switch will be an old console someday too and we’ll be glad to have flash carts to use with it.
    Reply
  • Darkoverlordofdata
    "it is possible it is merely an incredibly elaborate hoax" So, is it a hoax or not? What is the point of this article? Why didn't the author try it himself and see if it's a hoax or not? Typical lazy reporting from TomsHardware.
    Reply
  • hotaru251
    These don't really interest me as seems to only play games.

    The only reason I cracked my og switch is backing up data....I shouldnt be required to pay Nintendo just to have backup saves (this was an issue back with X/Y with a bug that broke ur save and made me lose my event only stuff).

    Already paying a ton for the games that never go on sale just let me save my backups like any other console.
    Reply
  • FoxtrotMichael-1
    hotaru251 said:
    These don't really interest me as seems to only play games.

    The only reason I cracked my og switch is backing up data....I shouldnt be required to pay Nintendo just to have backup saves (this was an issue back with X/Y with a bug that broke ur save and made me lose my event only stuff).

    Already paying a ton for the games that never go on sale just let me save my backups like any other console.
    How long before Toms Hardware starts calling out anyone who wants to control their own data “pirates”? I cracked my original Switch to copy the Zelda BoTW ROM specifically so that I could play it via emulator on my PC with better resolution. Imagine that, I copied data for a game I already purchased. The only other alternative would have actually been to pirate a copy. Funny how that works when companies lock down their ecosystem.
    Reply
  • TerryLaze
    FoxtrotMichael-1 said:
    Saying that flash carts are mostly used by pirates is just…cringe at this point. Mainly because piracy isn’t really a consideration for games Nintendo no longer sells,
    Em, yes it is.
    As long as the copyright holder protects their IP and the copyright hasn't expired yet, it is very much piracy. Not that I care about it either way but that's the way it is.
    Also especially nintendo has sold many old games almost "randomly" on newer consoles and they could do that for any game in their library.
    Reply
  • FoxtrotMichael-1
    TerryLaze said:
    Em, yes it is.
    As long as the copyright holder protects their IP and the copyright hasn't expired yet, it is very much piracy. Not that I care about it either way but that's the way it is.
    Also especially nintendo has sold many old games almost "randomly" on newer consoles and they could do that for any game in their library.
    I’m not talking about the legal definition of piracy, but more how it’s used in the common lexicon. If I were to buy a DMG off eBay and had no original copies of Gameboy games, is it harming Nintendo in any way for me to also buy a flash cart and load up some original Gameboy games? Even if Nintendo rereleases them for the Switch, or releases a GB emulator for the Switch, there’s still no possible way for me to purchase new GB games for the DMG. If the thought is that Nintendo would rather all remaining used DMGs go into the trash then I’d have to disagree - that doesn’t benefit anyone, certainly not Nintendo. I play my DMG and GBCs with flash carts and pay for Nintendo Online monthly. They aren’t losing a single penny.
    Reply
  • atomicWAR
    FoxtrotMichael-1 said:
    Saying that flash carts are mostly used by pirates is just…cringe at this point. Mainly because piracy isn’t really a consideration for games Nintendo no longer sells, like for the retro consoles most people use flash carts with. Flash carts are allowing people to preserve video game history and continue to use these aging consoles. For the switch it may be “too soon” for a flash cart to take on that purpose, but the switch will be an old console someday too and we’ll be glad to have flash carts to use with it.
    I agree. Flash carts for the Switch is a little premature but do have a place in the market at some point. I do not condone piracy but I do believe in backing up...well everything I can that I own and games are no exception. Had these carts been released 3-5 years post Switch 2 (or when ever it the current one is EOL) that would be the correct time for such a product.

    My big concern as mentioned in the article is the used market and how it will suffer. Will unsuspecting buyers get their hardware banned from the same game being played on different accounts/hardware due to those unethical users who buy, burn and resell their their carts? This whole situation is unfortunate and can make those who back games/media up in an ethical fashion look like pirates by extension.
    Reply
  • FoxtrotMichael-1
    atomicWAR said:
    My big concern as mentioned in the article is the used market and how it will suffer. Will unsuspecting buyers get their hardware banned from the same game being played on different accounts/hardware due to those unethical users who buy, burn and resell their their carts? This whole situation is unfortunate and can make those who back games/media up in an ethical fashion look like pirates by extension.
    I could be wrong, but I don’t believe there is anything attached to the ROM that identifies who is playing it. On the switch itself, two mechanisms accomplish this. One, the Switch has keys that identify the Switch to Nintendo’s online servers. If two Switches identified by two different keys attempt to play the same digital copy at the same time the online servers will deny the attempt. The second mechanism is just old fashioned physics: you can’t put the same physical cartridge in two switches as the same time. As far as I’m aware, though, there is nothing preventing someone from using MiGSwitch (or future flash cart) to play a copy of a legitimately owned physical Switch game on two Switches at the same time. I’m not even sure Nintendo could detect that scenario from two legally owned physical carts.
    Reply
  • atomicWAR
    FoxtrotMichael-1 said:
    I could be wrong, but I don’t believe there is anything attached to the ROM that identifies who is playing it. On the switch itself, two mechanisms accomplish this. One, the Switch has keys that identify the Switch to Nintendo’s online servers. If two Switches identified by two different keys attempt to play the same digital copy at the same time the online servers will deny the attempt. The second mechanism is just old fashioned physics: you can’t put the same physical cartridge in two switches as the same time. As far as I’m aware, though, there is nothing preventing someone from using MiGSwitch (or future flash cart) to play a copy of a legitimately owned physical Switch game on two Switches at the same time. I’m not even sure Nintendo could detect that scenario from two legally owned physical carts.
    Game IDs are unique to each cart/digital title. So I wouldn't rule the possibility out Nintendo doesn't or won't find a way to tell about where which rom is playing where and and potentially the same time, when online at least due to this game ID and mac addresses that would be attached to their usage. But until these become 'wide' spread in the wild, we likely won't know the answer to this question but it is fun to speculate! End of day, I don't suspect Nintendo will take this laying down.
    Reply
  • MENNONH
    Admin said:
    The first Nintendo Switch flash cart from MIG-Switch has arrived, but brings with it concerns for legitimate gamers buying used Switch titles in the future.

    The era of Nintendo Switch Flash Carts has arrived, potentially providing pirates with a new tool : Read more
    I want it for my 6 year old. I buy a lot of games, I think I'm at around 30 physically and more digitally. It would be fine but he wants to switch games 10 times a day and when I use to let him do it he would lose games and the dogs got to a few because of it. I just want to load then all onto a cart, delete the one or two I'm playing, and let him go. And then I have the other 2 younger boys that will end up doing the same I'm sure. I refuse to spend money on the same game twice when he's not going to finish it. Or even play it long.
    Reply