PS Vita is region-free. PS4 is going to be region-free. Xbox One will be region-free as well. Sony understands that when it comes to today's consumable media, we live in a border-less world. Microsoft is just trying to ride Sony's draft, but the benefit to gamers is the same. The message is clear: the fewer barriers between us and our games, the better.
Nintendo doesn't get that message.
Nintendo fans are understandably upset and have recently begun campaigning to effect a change in Nintendo's regional policies. But before the campaign, before even Microsoft's heel face turn, IGN's Richard George met with Nintendo CEO Satoru Iwata at E3 and inquired about his company's insistence on region-locking both the 3DS and Wii U. The response was no different than what we've heard a million times before.
"From some people's perspective, it might seem like a kind of restriction. However, we hope people can appreciate the fact that we're selling our products worldwide. There are many different regions around the world, and each region has its own cultural acceptance and legal restrictions, as well as different age ratings. There are always things that we're required to do in each different region, which may go counter to the idea that players around the world want the freedom to play whatever they want."
But as I said, this was all discussed three weeks ago, before Nintendo became the odd man out in the console manufacturer trio. Perhaps all the heat Microsoft bore, along with the massive fan petition -- more than 17,000 signatures as of this writing -- had some small impact.
If they did, Nintendo is putting on quite the poker face. Case in point, a Nintendo of America rep responded to Barrel Roll Gaming yesterday with the statement: "Nintendo has no plans to remove region locking from our systems. By taking this approach, Nintendo is able to include parental controls and ensure compliance with regional standards and rating systems."
I think we are asking Nintendo the wrong questions. Instead of asking Iwata and crew about why they are implementing region-locking today, we ought to be asking why they seemingly had no problem with it in the past.
So Nintendo home consoles have always had regional restrictions, but not Nintendo portables! Every handheld right up until the DSi could play games from literally anywhere without any hassle whatsoever. And in the case of the DSi, only specific "DSi-enhanced" games were gated while the rest of the library would continue to work.
Remember Jump Super Stars and Jump Ultimate Stars, the Nintendo-published DS fighters that pitted manga characters from Dragon Ball, One Piece, Fist of the North Star, JoJo's Bizarre Adventure, Rurouni Kenshin, and more against one another? Those gained a hefty cult following outside of Japan. I bet you anything that Nintendo would have loved to work out a proper localization had the various characters not been licensed by fifty bazillion different companies out West.
What about Osu! Tatakae! Ouendan, the cheer squad rhythm game from the studio that made Gitaroo Man? Nintendo noticed its popularity amongst importers and decided to greenlight an original Western entry, Elite Beat Agents.
What about the Rhythm Heaven series, which has consistently seen worldwide release following the positive reception of the original from both Japanese and Western press? Former Destructoid editor Colette Bennett was a huge fan of Rhythm Tengoku on GBA, and she and current EiC Dale North even wrote an import review of the DS sequel long before it was confirmed for wider release.
And don't even get me started on Mother 3.
Nintendo knows the allure of import games, which is why the Wii Virtual Console showcased the odd import from time to time. Dracula X: Rondo of Blood, DoReMi Fantasy, Monster World IV -- all had been hotly anticipated and were welcomed with open arms once they finally arrived. And Sin and Punishment performed so well that it directly resulted in a Wii sequel!
What's truly bizarre is that Nintendo is pushing towards greater interaction between regions yet while simultaneously acting like there exists an impenetrable wall. It came as a complete shock to me the first time I took my 3DS to PAX East and StreetPassed people from the all over the world. Not only are the different countries marked in the Mii Plaza, icons for the region-specific game they had been most recently playing would display as well.
How dickish is it that you can see a Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney icon on your screen, yet you can't actually play Professor Layton vs. Ace Attorney on your device? What a tease!
How come two people, one from the States and one from the UK, can play Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate together online, yet their discs won't run on the other's Wii U? How does that make any sense? It's the same game! Both copies are directly communicating with one another! It's not like one person is on a Wii U and the other is a PS3; it's the same damn console!
Nintendo's excuse is that it's trying to comply with regional laws and ratings bodies. So how is it that Sony and Microsoft don't seem to be having any such compliance issue? Hell, they didn't have any issues with the PS3 or 360, which left the decision to region-lock individual games up to publishers. In PS3's case, that resulted in all of one region-locked title in its entire library!
The only excuse I can think of is that certain regions like Australia that charge exorbitant prices would then be forced to compete with cheaper import options. To which I ask, uhhhhh, who's problem is that? Lower your prices, you greedy bastards! Welcome to the global market! Get competitive or get lost!
There is no excuse.