Friday, July 16, 2010

Anatomy of a Bootleg

As a business that accepts trade-ins, it's understandable that we occasionally receive some bootlegs. We've accumulated a large box of them, which we keep for training purposes, and we decided that it'd be interesting to write a little something about how to recognize these forgeries. Click the images to get a closer look at what we're talking about.

While bootlegs are available for all systems, the most common ones are the Game Boy Advance and the Nintendo DS. Cartridges are cheaply manufactured and often sold by shady sites or eBay sellers. Unsuspecting customers might think that they're getting a bargain priced game, but they'll end up with a fake cartridge.

Now you're not supposed to judge a book by its cover, but where bootleg games are concerned, the box is your first clue as to its legitimacy. Bootleg boxes are usually overly glossy, of poor printing quality, or have strange color inconsistencies. Text on the back of boxes is usually riddled with spelling mistakes, printed in generic fonts like Arial Black, or obviously copied and pasted from a website. Screenshots are usually of varying sizes and the low quality is easily spotted. This scan of the back of a Donkey Kong Country 3 box shows the bland font, and the use of the phrase "Check back for more information..." is a clear indicator of the fact that the text was copied and pasted from a website. Compare it to the actual box, and it's hard to believe that the bootleggers get away with it.

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However, sometimes boxes look pretty real. Pokemon games are particularly convincing because the bootleggers take the most care when making them. Many bootleg Pokemon games might even have the same holographic effect on the front cover as the originals, but rest assured--they're fake. When holding one in your hand, you should be able to tell that it's slightly 'off."

If the box doesn't tip you off, try opening it up and looking at the manual--if it's of low quality or seems 'off' in any way, chances are good that it's a bootleg. However, sometimes crappy publishers might ship authentic games with manuals that look fake. Prime example? Black Sigil: Blade of the Exiled. (A surprisingly good RPG, actually.) Other times, publishers might print box art at an extremely low resolution like DSI Games' Wiffle Ball.

The only real way to be certain of the authenticity is to check the cartridge itself. Labels are often overly glossy or stuck on the cartridge slightly skewed. Bootlegs of games like Pokemon Ruby Version might be printed on standard grey cartridges, whereas the official Nintendo ones are on translucent red cartridges.
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A good practice is to check the back of the cartridge. The 'Nintendo' logo might look strange with a thin 'e,' and it might be misspelled as 'Nintondo' or 'Ninfendo.'
Finally, check the actual board in the game. All official Nintendo cartridges have the date, 'Nintendo,' and the serial number printed along the contacts on the circuit board. If you angle your cartridge, you can see if it's there or not. Below are two photos--one of an angled cartridge where you can make out the official printing, and one of an opened cartridge. In stores, you can't exactly open up cartridges, but a few seconds of scrutiny could prevent you from buying a bootleg.
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Nintendo DS games have a black serial number printed right underneath the 'Patent Pending' text on the back of the cartridge. It's easily spotted, so much so that a photograph isn't necessary.

In the end, the best way to avoid bootlegs is to practice safe purchasing. If you're taking a trip to Hong Kong, don't buy GBA games you find at a street vendor. On eBay, if quality (and therefore comparatively rare) titles like Final Fantasy VI Advance are being sold for incredibly low prices, chances are good that they're bootlegs.


Sebastiaan said...

I Think people should continue to BUY bootlegs, publishers ask ridiculous prices for somes games that have absolutely NO replay value.

And than publishers complain and cry Oh we don't get any money boo-hoo-hoo but in the mean time they buy a nice new car, new house and waste another few million on making one new game.. the lies.. amazing!!

WHY!! does it take a few million dollars to make a game? The software costs maybe a thousand or so... that's it! that's all you need.. the rest is not money.. it actual labor!! It's not like money is going to make shit go faster.

Jonathan said...

Or how about buy good games and not buy bad games? Games that sell poorly don't tend to get sequels. There is no excuse for supporting bootlegs and pirated games.