After Microsoft’s recent switch-up on a number of Xbone policies, including removing the console’s region locks, many began to wonder if Nintendo would do the same. Well, a leaked E3 comment from Satoru Iwata put an end to that hope. Iwata’s comment stated that Nintendo has no plans to join their rivals and intends to keep their consoles region-locked. As the only company that has region-locked consoles, Nintendo is running out of plausible excuses for sticking with this ancient idea. For a company that spouts so much bullshit about how innovative they are, the truth of the situation becomes increasingly clear as they reveal that their innovation only extends to gimmicky controllers and not to business practices.
Region-locked games have been around since the days of the NES. Besides pricing and content reasons, region-locking has also been used to ensure compatibility with a regions television technology. With the PS3 being designed for HDTV, Sony was forward thinking and made the console region free, leaving developers to decide if they wanted their games to be locked. As an example of how outdated the concept of region-locking is, only one title has been released for the PS3 that was locked, Persona 4: Arena. Persona 4: Arena is the perfect example of why region-locking is ridiculous. Persona 4: Arena was set for a staggered release, however, all copies of the games had the same features and language support. In trying to avoid heavy importing of their game, Atlus made the decision to region-lock the title, angering many fans. Further angering fans was the realization that Atlus was worried that the Japanese audience would import the title from America in an attempt to save the huge total of ten dollars. Yes, that is right, Atlus angered many of their fans over the worry that they would lose ten dollars a copy for every person that went through the trouble of importing the game.
Part of Sony’s success while trailblazing this region-free path must be attributed to their dedication in bringing Japanese games to other countries. Most games that generate even a medium amount of hype outside of Japan eventually find themselves being brought over for Sony consoles. Unfortunately, Nintendo can not say the same. Even after enormous amounts of anticipation for titles like Xenoblade Chronicles and The Last Story, it took the likes of a campaign named “Operation Rainfall” to get those titles localized for a North America. While “Operation Rainfall” was successful for three titles, many more are left as Japan exclusives, leading to some fans importing the titles and playing them on modded/hacked consoles, another thing that Nintendo hates.
Apart from “Japan Onry” games, people who travel between countries are also greatly affected by region-locking. If one day I decided I was going to visit Jahan (not that I ever would) and I stole one of his Wii U games, he could dry his tears knowing that I would be left with a useless disc that would not work with my (imaginary) ‘Merican Wii U. Region locking keeps Jahan’s Nintendo games safe during “Lusipurr.com’s Inaugural Staff Trip to Goblin City, Japan”(keep donating to make this a reality). On the other hand, this same practice leaves the staff with issue of having to buy Japanese Nintendo consoles if we want to play any newly released games while we slum it up with Jafar.
Importers and travelers make up a slice of the opposition to region-locking. The majority of the opposition is from everyday gamers that want the freedom of region-free just as a precaution should they decide to import a game or move to another country. Many gamers have never been impeded by region-locking, but feel better knowing that the situation will never arise. On the proponents side, Nintendo’s legal and cultural reasons behind their stance do carry a bit of merit. Localization issues, copyright issues, and different publishers across regions are valid reasons to maintain region-locked games. While gamers get pissed and foam at the mouth arguing with Nintendo’s stance, the heaviest blows to Nintendo come from their rivals. With both Sony and Microsoft going region-free, it is easy to wonder what cultural and legal restrictions Nintendo faces that their rivals do not.
Refusing to go region-free is just another Nintendo decision that shows how out of touch the company is with today’s gaming landscape. Sony made the leap with the PS3 and Microsoft was pushed off the edge by gamers, but Nintendo still stands ten feet away from the edge, refusing to budge. Nintendo seemingly has a giant fear that giving in on this issue will result in the cataclysmic explosion of importers, with everybody buying the initial Japanese release and all localisation efforts being a waste of time and money. Sony’s business practice to bring as many games as possible to their consoles means that only the most impatient of their fans resort to importing games. Still, Nintendo stands terrified of business ideas that have not been around for at least fifteen years. While making the Wii U region-free would not have sold consoles immediately, it would have generated some goodwill that Nintendo sorely needs for its home console.