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TheExcel avatar 8:02 AM on 07.26.2013  (server time)
A proposal to Nintendo and region-locked gamers

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Nintendo's been in the headlines for a bunch of weird reasons lately. Most of them seem to be due to a perceived disconnect between what they see as the demands of their customers and the reality of said demands. One of them is region locking and how the people who want it removed don't fully understand Nintendo's motives for keeping it. I have argued that the breadth of Japanese games becoming suddenly available to non-Japanese regions presents a multitude of conundrums, not least of which is the game ratings they cited as a reason. The few thousand people who insist that they should have the choice to disregard them fly in the face of the millions who need them according to Nintendo. Even ignoring that, you know how some Street Fighter II characters have different names between Japan and abroad? Nintendo alone would have that same problem, but orders of magnitude greater. And that's ignoring all the regional differences remotely linked to censorship and things like racial concerns. (You can learn more about regional differences at the excellent Cutting Room Floor if you have the free time to explore content wikis.) For this and other business-related reasons that I have discussed exhaustively, I don't see region locking suddenly going away unilaterally, especially since the consoles have had it since day one.

All that said, I came up with a proposal that should satisfy all parties involved. It involves effort as well as committment from both Nintendo and prospective customers. If people really want to plunge themselves into the sinful red-light district of foreign games, they should have to communicate that desire and knowledge of the risks directly. I propose that Nintendo provide a method to allow customers to unlock their consoles, but only with an explicit request from the customers. A firmware update can slip in a really out-of-the-way menu option that would accept an unlock code that disables region coding verification. This code is based on the console's serial number and would be provided by Nintendo customer support over the phone, after the customer agrees not to hold Nintendo accountable, legally or otherwise, for anything that happens to their console or anything they see in a foreign market that they find objectionable. This would be similar to cell phone providers allowing customers to unlock their phones to use them with other networks, which usually involves phoning their customer support for instructions and a SIM-unlock code. Not everyone needs to have their phones unlocked, and those who do are an edge case who nonetheless depend on that functionality. Having an unlocked phone is an extra responsibility that a vast majority of customers don't need or want, but those who get it appreciate the opportunity to have it.

Some view region locking as a way for Nintendo to control their markets in ways that can no longer be justified due to awareness of stuff from places they can't reach thanks to the internet. The parental controls built into modern consoles are optional, and they argue that they could be made super optional because they're adults who aren't offended by the same things as other cultures. With this system, Nintendo gets to keep their control and gamers who know more than they should finally get to play things that they really care about. Everyone wins! But only if everyone is willing to compromise. Gamers need to go out of their way to access things they think they deserve, while Nintendo needs to maintain extra systems just to satisfy the minority who really wants it. I don't know how much extra cost this would introduce to Nintendo--other potential downfalls include the requirement that this system be constantly maintained, and if some Japanese breakout hit manages to make massive demand overseas, the system could be overloaded. But hey, maybe something like their phones being clogged by people who want to play games would send Nintendo the message. It certainly would send a bigger one than just typing your name on a petition.

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