It's an exciting time for gamers. Thanks to the Internet, it's easy for people to interact with others around the world. People travel more. Many people are bilingual. We can hop on our consoles or handhelds and play with or against people from around the world.
So why can't I import a copy of Bravely Default: Flying Fairy to play on my 3DS?
Oh right, it's because Nintendo thought region-locking the 3DS is a good idea. Good one! Because it's not like people travel, or can hop online and find a shop that will ship out an import copy of a game we’d want to play and have it at our door within a week, right?
I get that companies are in it to turn a profit, but Nintendo and Microsoft need to understand that things have changed. Well, mainly Nintendo, since there aren't many Japanese or European Xbox 360 exclusives, but you get the idea. The fact is that a number of fantastic games are trapped in one region, and anyone with a 3DS, DSi, Wii, or Wii U is forced to make do with the games released in their region and send the envious side-eye over to anyone who actually does have a Japanese system.
However, by region-locking, companies are actually denying themselves extra money. When people import games, they aren't importing illegal knock-offs; they are buying official releases. The money may not be going to Nintendo of America, but it's still ending up in Nintendo's pockets. Besides, NOA already made the decision that it wasn't going to take a chance on say, Fatal Frame 4. It just means Nintendo's Japanese branch, and Nintendo in general, gets more money when people decide to import the game.
Making devices region-free also won't cut drastically into sales of games that have scheduled North American or European release dates. Take Persona 4 Arena. Yes, it was disappointing that it was actually a region-locked PS3 game, but it wasn't the end of the world. The game had scheduled North American and European release dates. Even though people in the other regions would have to wait a while for the game, I'm guessing they wouldn't mind since it's usually quite expensive to import a game. I know I would have waited on importing Tales of Graces f if I had known NAMCO Bandai was planning to release it in North America a year later. Importing games is a luxury, and people will wait to get a copy in their region and native language if they know the game is on its way.
People who are willing to invest in imports don't even let language barriers bar them from enjoying games anymore. Check online and it's rather easy to find guides to playing through Japanese games like the PS3 version of Tales of Vesperia. Fans even put together a patch for Fatal Frame IV for the Wii that not only translates the game when installed on a Wii with official firmware, but also allows someone to run the Japanese version of the game in their North American system. It's amazing to see what fans can accomplish when they're devoted to a game and are willing to encourage people to lawfully import it.
Not to mention the fact that region-locking can lead to darker things. If people can't import and play a legitimately on their system, if they're savvy enough, and if there are enough imported games they want to play, there's a good chance they might start looking into hacking their system and applying some sort of modification that will remove the region-lock. We're past the SNES era, when a mod could involve just some physical changes. I mean, I could make my FC Twin play Japanese and European games by making two teeny physical alterations, from what I understand. We're in an era where modding means custom firmware, and once custom firmware gets involved, it starts looking a lot easier to just download those import games you've always wanted to play. You see, now you can not only play imported discs, but you can play burned discs as well.
Of course, that isn't say people will stop trying to hack or mod a console or handheld if it’s region-free. That's totally going to happen either way. It just gives people one less justifiable reason to do so.
Sadly, only Sony seems to get it. Even though the PlayStation and PlayStation 2 were region-locked systems, the PlayStation 3, PlayStation Portable, and PlayStation Vita are all region-free. Granted, the Vita does lock your PlayStation account to your memory card, making acquiring items like games or DLC from the Japanese PlayStation Store a chore, but it's still easy enough to import a Vita cartridge and pop it into your system so you can enjoy some Tales of Innocence R or Hatsune Miku: Project Diva f. It's even easier to manage with Japanese PS3 games, since you can have multiple accounts on the same system and you're able to share downloaded games and data with a second account. I grabbed the free iDOLM@STER 2 DLC with my Japanese account, switched over to my North American account where I was playing the game, and started enjoying new accessories.
Gamers have reached a point where we want more. We travel. We speak multiple languages. We have the Internet to know what's out there that we aren't getting. Region-free systems should be a right, not a privilege. Better to give people the freedom and opportunity to enjoy all games, regardless of where they live, than to force us to be content with what's available and provoke the ire of people who can't afford to own multiple versions of the same console so they can enjoy games from every region.
TL;DR: Stop region-locking your consoles, Nintendo and Microsoft, so we give you more of our money.
Date: December 5, 2012
*The views expressed within this article are solely the opinion of the author and do not express the views held by Cheat Code Central.*