Friday 11th April/… A Wii chipping factory has been tracked down to fraudsters in Leicestershire. The Wii is the nation’s favourite family console – so much so that the Japanese corporation hasn’t been able to keep up with UK demand for not one but two Christmases! But an undercover sting by Leicestershire’s Trading Standards Department backed by the games industry’s own crime unit unveiled a counterfeit plot potentially worth £millions.

As a result of enquiries made by TSD officers and investigators from ELSPA, the trade body for the country’s major games publishers, a home was raided in the Coalville area of Leicestershire this week. The raid, which was undertaken by Leicestershire TSD and police, turned up vital evidence suggesting the non-descript home actually housed sophisticated counterfeiting apparatus – including an industrial unit to churn out rogue console chips. At least two people have so far been arrested for their part in the ‘fraud factory’. More than 2,000 counterfeit chips, were recovered from the raid. These consisted mostly of Wii console chips although some were for Xbox 360 and PlayStation2 consoles. A number of consoles were also seized. After the planned trial, all the rogue chips will be destroyed – if only to avoid disappointment amongst the nation’s competitive children and parents.

A Nintendo insider said: “A chipped Wii might sound cool but it is useless. The latest Wii extravaganza, seeing Mario back in a racer at the front of the pack, Mario Kart Wii, would be useless on a chipped Wii. You’ll never get the interaction or support when it all unravels. You’d have to be pretty stupid to think online gaming won’t be easily log-able in such digital days! Chip it and you brick it, as we say around the office. There is only one real Wii experience – and it doesn’t come chipped!”

Following the crack-down, visitors to the offending website are currently greeted with this ominous message: “The site is currently down for maintenance. Normal service will resume shortly, sorry for the inconvenience.” Michael Rawlinson from ELSPA said: “Fraud can cost Internet companies a lot more than just its visitors. Our investigators are out in force working with Trading Standards Departments across the land combing everything from Sunday car-boot sales to auction websites 24/7 seeking-out counterfeiters. The message from the nation’s favourite games publishers is simple, fraudsters can run but they can no longer hide!”

John Hillier, who heads ELSPA’s crime unit, said: “Piracy costs the games industry dear – just like that of any other entertainment industry. Making good and inventive games is an expensive and creative process, with some titles today costing £20m or more to develop. To make a quality title involves teams of highly skilled professionals, from programmers and graphic artists to voice actors and musicians. When a pirate sells illegally-copied games they undermine the viability of our industry and in turn that threatens jobs.”

Paul Jackson, Director General of ELSPA, added: “We would like to thank Leicestershire’s Trading Standards Department, and Police for all their efforts during this investigation. We have now stepped up our campaign against thieves of games software and others who attempt to flout intellectual property rights of our members. We have sophisticated tracking techniques at our disposal these days and as my colleague put it, the cyber-criminals can run but they can no longer hide!”