An Argument Between Creators and Cheaters Cripples the Chinese Pokémon Modding Community

The case that triggered this community “earthquake” was Pokémon Ultimate Emerald V.
By Weilin Li
Jan. 11, 2022 updated 07:47
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There has been a lively Chinese Pokémon modding community for about a decade now, editing the games’ Rom files to make their own stories and adventures within the Pokémon universe. A dispute recently divided the community, causing prominent creators to stop maintaining their creations altogether. 

This dispute was not related to any legal actions from Nintendo. Creators of one of the most prominent projects cited piracy, where distributors were illegally selling modified versions of their Roms on online platforms like Taobao and Pinduoduo as their reason for abandoning their work. But as we look closer at this fiasco, the real reason is quite different from what it appears at first glance. 

Long story short, what really caused this meltdown was that people were modding these modded Roms, creating cheats and hacks to make these mods easier, which the creators hated.

Ultimate Emerald V was a Chinese Rom modding project started in 2019.Ultimate Emerald V was a Chinese Rom modding project started in 2019.

The most controversial case that triggered this community “earthquake” was Pokémon Ultimate Emerald V.

The original Generation 3 Pokémon Emerald, released in 2004, didn’t include many features that were added in the later generations. Over the next decade, enthusiastic Chinese fans were constantly making hacked and modded Roms for this particular version of Pokémon to give it more life. Ultimate Emerald V was a project started in 2019; the developers planned to add the Sinnoh region and the Reverse World from the later generation games, as well as 898 monsters, Mega-Evolutions, and Z-Moves to the original Emerald.

It’s not difficult to imagine how much effort they have put into such an ambitious project.

The Ultimate Emerald V Rom file was only slightly over 10 MBs, but the whole project took a passionate team two years to complete. Some of them even worked in net cafes during power shortages at home.

The Ultimate Emerald V Rom file was only slightly over 10 MBs.The Ultimate Emerald V Rom file was only slightly over 10 MBs.

To say Ultimate Emerald V was highly anticipated within the community is a bit of an understatement. Developers even released a puzzle game to indicate the launch date of the Rom. In the puzzle game, two shining sunflowers were shown on the forum, and with clues from the Pokémon series, fans found the answer: December 21st. Fans of the series were waiting in patience and excitement. 

Developers even released a puzzle game to indicate the launch date of the Rom.Developers even released a puzzle game to indicate the launch date of the Rom.

However, on December 27th, just one week after the game was released, the developers announced that “Because of the flood of hacks and game editors, we will stop updating the modded game from now on. We don’t want our creation to be abused in such a terrible way.”

This “flood of hacks” were third-party hacks that can help players easily edit the game stats to get through difficult parts of the game. These hacks designed for Ultimate Emerald V appeared on the online shelves days after the Rom’s launch, at a price of around 3 USD. 

The community would universally frown upon illegal distributions of the Rom copies since it’s not only a violation of the Rom developers’ work but would also draw unwanted attention from the notorious Nintendo legal branch onto the community.

The Ultimate Emerald franchise is known for being extremely difficult and requires very specific strategies to clear some of its stages.The Ultimate Emerald franchise is known for being extremely difficult and requires very specific strategies to clear some of its stages.

However, on these hacks, the community is divided.

One of the methods the Pokémon Rom developers used to expand the content is to increase the difficulty. The Ultimate Emerald franchise is known for being extremely difficult and requires very specific strategies to clear some of its stages. The hardcore fans celebrate this, but this difficulty is frustrating for newcomers who just wanted to play an expanded version of the original Emerald.

As the Pokémon modding community grew and more casual players joined in, the hacks became increasingly popular, allowing more casual fans to enjoy the game the way they wanted. 

This should not be a big deal since most of these Roms are single-player only, anyone could modify their own copy, and that shouldn’t affect anyone else. But the relationship between developers and hackers and hack-users soon turned sour. 

Roms like Ultimate Emerald added so much content to the game; it is just too fragile to be tampered with. The team is already drowning in an ocean of debugging requests, and when many of those requests come from players who used a third-party hack. The developer’s frustration is understandable.  

The developers tried to solve the problem by offering a casual difficulty comparable to the classic Pokémon titles, but that didn’t help much. Some players would still blame issues caused by the hacks they used on the developers, demanding they “fix the game.” During the heated discussion, developers issued tighter control on the forum, which caused even further backlash.

A screenshot of Pokemon Emerald.A screenshot of Pokemon Emerald.

Here comes the breaking point: In Ultimate Emerald V, the developers introduced an anti-tampering mechanism that would freeze the game when it’s being hacked. This escalated the conflict and brought the discussion to whether the developers can enforce such rules upon the community. Then the game was hacked regardless, following which, the Ultimate Emerald developers announced they were abandoning the project in frustration, and soon after that, other developers followed suit.

The Chinese Pokémon modding community is not dead after this fiasco, but it certainly will never be what it was. Not with all the prominent projects, and many smaller ones, that have now been abandoned. Many of the developers would likely have never seen this coming, players attacking them for not allowing them to use hacks freely. It seems very strange for the community to go this way, with creators and users at such odds when they all wanted to play versions of Pokémon that expanded upon what they loved

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