Team Xecuter case: Gary “GaryOPA” Bowser’s GoFundMe divides the hacking scene


GaryOPA was released from US prison a few weeks ago, after serving several years for his involvement with Team Xecuter. Website Torrentfreak published an interesting interview of the hacker, in which  we learn more about his past, his motivations, and what he plans for the future as a free man. The article also links to a “GofundMe” donation drive to help Gary get back on his feet (link below). Torrentfreak remind us that “he owes millions of dollars to Nintendo which he has to repay starting in December. He believes that these donations are separate from that.”

The donation drive sits at about $1000 pledged out of the goal amount of $5000 (Canadian dollars, or about USD 3800). The GodfundMe target doesn’t feel completely “out of this world” to me for a man trying to get back on track, but the scene has clearly reacted strongly to the news, sometimes negatively.

GaryOPA – Just an employee of the wrong business?

News coverage on the Team Xecuter case, and this latest TorrentFreak interview in particular, has been a bit complacent when it comes to Gary’s role within Team Xecuter, picturing him more as an “employee” rather than one of the masterminds behind the organization. They say:

GaryOPA was put in charge of maintaining MaxConsole and earned a basic salary of $500 per month. As part of this deal, he had to post updates on modding devices and the Team-Xecuter suite of products. In addition, he was allowed to keep the site’s advertising revenue, pushing his overall income to somewhere around $1,000 per month.

(at this point it is worth mentioning that Torrentfreak emphasize at the end of the article that “The information shared in this article is filtered from an unchecked reflection of Gary’s memories”, so whether the $1000 number is true or not is up to everyone’s interpretation).

And it’s true that there was a stark contrast being painted between Gary’s situation during the trials (he has been the only person of Team Xecuter to be sentenced so far), and Max Louarn, believed to be the head of Team Xecuter, who kept posting pictures of lavish vacations while Gary’s health deteriorated in prison.

Strong reactions from the scene

Nonetheless, some people on the scene have clearly reacted negatively to the donation drive. Even though lots of folks on the Switch hacking scene love their Team Xecuter modchips, it’s difficult for most of us to forget how terrible Team Xecuter was, generally speaking, to the homebrew community. Their goal was clearly to profit as much as possible from piracy, and they did everything they could to prevent the scene from learning from them, going as far as bricking the consoles of people who would use clones of their products. A pattern they had been replicating for years, on other consoles too.

Less damaging, but also a symbol of their intent to make as much money as possible and contribute as little as possible to actual “understanding” of the consoles they helped hacking, Team Xecuter basically never shared any of their source code. That’s pretty obvious because they were in it for the money, but that aspect is coming to bite Gary OPA in the back now that he’s asking for financial help and support. “You’ve acted like a commercial operation for years, don’t pretend you were an actual member of the homebrew community”, is basically the reply.

At the end of the day, the question is whether some of us are ok to separate “Gary Bowser”, the person, from Team Xecuter, the criminal organization. One was doing everything they could to make money illegally, the other might, or might not, have just been a guy trying to live his life.

Lots of people are commenting that Gary was one of the brains behind the operation, or that at the very least he was fully aware of what was going on. Based on this, they say, the man should own his actions and not come back begging the scene for help, when he and his organization have contributed so little to it in the past. Others praise Team Xecuter for helping them hack their consoles, and insist that GaryOPA was just a pawn. Comments on logic-sunrise for example show the divide on the scene. A few selected bits (loose translation by me):

  • “The guy contributed to projects that bricked people’s consoles, was aggressively doing business in the scene without respecting any open-source licenses, and now he’s asking for charity? Pathetic. You played, you lost, now own the consequences of your actions.”
  • “A guy like this must have set a bit of money aside in a tax haven. Knowing the guy’s mentality I wouldn’t give him a nickel, don’t come crying to the folks you used to despise”
  • “Steals Nintendo code, bricks consoles, that’s a no for me”
  • “I never had a problem with Team Xecuter’s work, just like the well-known hackers who already gave to his goFundMe, apparently”
  • “Considering all the money he owes Nintendo he probably doesn’t have the much anymore. Plus I assume all of Team Xecuter’s accounts have been frozen, so it’s not like he can use that money.”
  • “The guy was just a puppet and not one of the decision makers, he was just the public face of the operation. Team Xecuter are still active. Imagine if you own a small tech [console repair/mod] business and Nintendo close everything and sues you”
  • He might have been a “puppet” but he accepted to participate in disgusting stuff. Team Xecuter wasn’t a big operation and he was an important member. And let’s not compare them to other technicians on the scene. What they were doing was clearly and unequivocally illegal, on top of disrespecting the community.

I am myself very divided on this. Although I do wish Gary all the best moving forward (he and I have interacted a bit in the past to discuss website creation and management for various scene related projects, none of which actually saw the light of day), I also understand people who decide that he’s made his choices, and has to pay for the consequences of his decisions.

To me, the one lesson this keeps hammering to the scene is that if you choose to get money involved in some legally gray area such as hacking, things can get dirty very quickly.

Gary’s donation drive is here for those who are interested to support him.