While I’m sure m’colleague over there on the right will lament the state of the foreign market with regards to video games, I will take a slightly different tack and look at the concept overall.
I see no real case for region locking, aside from price gouging for those of us with different currencies. There is a very easy case to be made for lambasting the distributors who jack up the prices for regions like Australia, but perhaps there’s more to it than just corporate greed. Money is purely what it boils down to: region locking is not used for any other purpose than to prevent consumers from importing a film or game from another country at a cheaper rate and playing it on their devices.
There is a case to be made about the intricacies of how an economy works. It isn’t easy to create an equal playing field for every country, in regards to the cost of living and the cost of manufacturing and importing. Correct me if I’m wrong, but if we look at a direct comparison between the US and Australia (where I live), our standard of living is higher (as is the average wage) than the US. As such, a rebalance of the average cost of goods is necessary in order to maintain financial stability. Region locking, therefore, can be seen as an attempt to police that particular quirk of the global economy.
However, that does paint the distributors who price and apply the region locking as a group that diligently maintain the status quo for the good of prosperity. I don’t believe this to be the case. In fact, it can easily be seen as an excellent example of taking advantage of it. In the end, it’s us, the consumers, that lose out, when we are shafted by overpriced goods that don’t match the actual worth of the product. It’s when we have to put up with things like region locking that make it even worse: when I can’t take my legally bought films and games to another country and happily enjoy them, then there’s a severe problem. I recently imported the Lord of the Rings Extended Edition on Blu-ray, and while the Blu-ray spec is far less egregious (and is playable on my PS3), the DVDs included in the package that house the special features are unplayable on any hardware I currently own, due to region locking. The solution now? Fork out cash for hardware that can play them, rendering the saving from the import ironically redundant.
It is human nature to seek out a great deal. No one wants to pay the absolute most for something. While I understand that it’s a relative necessity that stuff is more expensive here, there is no reason, whatsoever, that a consumer be punished for trying to save money. Here’s an idea, distributors: meet our inherent behaviours. We’re always going to want to save money – embrace it, don’t fight it.
I thought I’d start out by saying that region locking is ridiculous. I have absolutely no idea why any console manufacturer even considers region locking. But the fact is, they do. And I’m here to tell you why it sucks.
Reason one: Region locking means that we cannot play certain games. One of the most recent examples of this is Operation Rainfall, a campaign by a number of American RPG fans to get Nintendo of America to localise three RPGs on the Wii platform (Xenoblade Chronicles, The Last Story, and Pandora’s Tower). NOA outright refuses to release them in the US for reasons unknown – most likely because they don’t really care about any "hardcore" audience they may or may not have in the US. Completely ignorant, but let’s not get into that.
All three games are published by Nintendo in Japan, and, more ridiculously, all three have been confirmed for fully-localised releases by Nintendo of Europe. So, this time next year, when all three games are released – in English – ready to be played by all the American RPG fans, only the lucky Europeans (and those fortunate enough to lie in NOE’s control) will be able to play it. Why? Region locking.
NOA is actually kinda notorious for this. Other games that NOE have translated that have never got a release in America include Disaster: Day of Crisis, Another Code: R – A Journey into Lost Memories, and Last Window: The Secret of Cape West (which is fortunately a DS game – the DS is region free). One can only hope that they get their shit together in the future.
Which brings me to reason two: Region locking reduces game sales. If a regional branch doesn’t release a localised version of a game, that sucks. But if people in that region can’t even import that game, that sucks even more! Not just for the consumer, but for Nintendo’s sales, as well. If the Wii had no region locking, all the fans could happily import their English RPGs direct from Europe. But when region locking is in place, Nintendo loses sales and fans don’t get to play games.
On to reason three: Region locking promotes piracy. The reasoning behind this is pretty simple. The easiest (only?) way to reliably defeat region locking is with a hacked console. And hacked consoles are almost exclusively used to play pirated games. Both the Wii and the Xbox 360, via various software and hardware hacks, have been exploited in such a manner. Of course, it certainly is not the biggest cause for piracy (and the DS is a prime example of that), but it certainly doesn’t help.
Sony’s stuff is all region free, which is great. Microsoft’s platform is region locked, but they tend to be a bit better with localised releases, so it’s not as bad. Nintendo are definitely the worst offenders, because they have a history of not releasing games in different regions.
I hope that in the future, region locking will be a thing of the past!