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Three easy* steps to end Nintendo region locking


This is an issue I have a long history with, as you may be aware. Region locking is in the news again and the people who think it's a bad thing have topped themselves once again in their quest to make themselves look selfish and naive. I want to keep this relatively short because I'm mostly treading old ground. Maybe I'll expand on it for real later on if this issue pans out to something bigger than last time.

First, I agree with the article this morning that while it's cute that we can peek at each other's games even though we can't play them, it's nonsensical. I asked Nintendo to remove the option to change regions in Miiverse posting and viewing because if they're going to region lock, they should do it all the way. Hackers and pirates have shown that regional lockout can very easily be disabled in system software, so why doesn't Nintendo just do it? Have you ever considered that if it was really that simple, they would have just done it by now?

As stated in the article, games based on anime licenses are particularly tricky to handle in localization. What it fails to address is that not only do the licensors have to be paid, but every company in every country of the world who owns redistribution rights to those properties have to be satisfied as well. Importing actually hurts them because for each import of Jump Super Stars, companies like Funimation and Viz, who own the rights to those series in North America and Europe, did not get the royalties they should have received from that sale. And Nintendo, the most Japanese of the three big hardware manufacturers, would naturally be the most sympathetic to them. Since the Wii U and 3DS are region-locked, there's a greater chance that this series will continue. Economical considerations like this never enter the minds of most of the petitioners.

The article states that Nintendo is half-hearted in its region locking stance, only very infrequently throwing importers a bone. Every time the opportunity presents itself in the form of an import darling getting a localization, consumers don't capitalize on it. For all the times we see Nintendo actually go out of their way to localize something that importers seemingly made possible, why haven't we seen more of them? How much demand for them really exists? Is it the peoples' responsibility to drum up demand for Nintendo's games, or Nintendo's? The answer has to do with volume. These games just don't sell as well as you want them to, and whether that's the fault of Nintendo for not marketing them harder or your own fault for not doing the same is something I'll leave to you to decide. There's an internet right there, so if it isn't used to convince people to cause import games to sell out, that's all on the people who use it. Word of mouth got those games popular in the first place, so it should also have done that for the games that really mattered. The amount of import games currently available for the Wii U and 3DS and their Virtual Consoles has shown that it hasn't.

And let's not also forget the political implications. Japanese games and culture regularly get a bad reputation for all the fanservicey almost-sexfests and actual sexfests that litter their market, and if you want region freedom, you're communicating that you want the entire Japanese market of console games. If you just want to play critically acclaimed niche games, recall that such games make up a minority of all Japanese games. If you really want region freedom, then you need to want absolutely everything out there. Otherwise, you're really just rooting for a handful of companies at your own arbitrary choosing. Don't pretend that these types of games haven't pervaded Nintendo's platforms, because they are very much a part of what you're fighting for, whether you like it or not.

[Art by Dess520]

Despite what you might think from my above response to this morning's article, I'm not against region freedom, I'm against the people who think petitions and posting essays on the internet in favor of it is the way to get it. (Sound familiar?) Nintendo has never been swayed with counter-arguments, and this issue is not nearly as important or popular as the petitioners think it is. The only reason Xbox One has no region locking anymore is because literally millions of people, not to mention tech magazines, pressured Microsoft to reconsider the restrictions on the console. The region locking was not the primary target of it; the announcement that it was gone with everything else was a side effect, and a surprising one at that. It was but a footnote in the update from Microsoft that went out late last month. In any case, the majority ruled, and Microsoft ate swift and brutal retribution.

By contrast, only 18,000 or so people have signed the petition as of this writing, and this issue has been contested for years. Let's be generous and bump the number to 30,000 to account for future expansion of this petition, Miiverse posts, the Twitter followers of @EndRegionLocking and @OpRainfall (about 4,500 combined), and other, smaller splinter movements. Even if those 30,000 people do the right thing and stop shutting up and giving Nintendo their money, Nintendo has sold hundreds of millions of consoles and handhelds. Do the math and see if 30,000 is a significant percentage of, say, the 70 million or so Wiis sold. If Nintendo dies in the set-top console market and the Wii U actually does flop, it's not going to be because of region locking, not with the way things are now.

And I say this too many times, but the usual "voting with your wallet" nonsense holds no water whatsoever in this scenario. Sony's consoles since the PS3 are all region-free by default, and just look at their sales. The PS3 only just now got a lead on the Xbox 360, and the PSP and Vita were eclipsed in both software and hardware sales by the DS and 3DS. Sure, the DS was region-free too, but 3DS sales are picking up at a brisk pace, despite it continuing to be 100% more region-locked than its immediate competition, the Vita. What monetary incentive is there to shake up the market structure of software? They're already far in the lead; why risk that now? People are voting with their wallets and saying that the benefits of the 3DS outweigh the one negative you keep gravitating over. In fact, over the entire life of the 3DS platform, Nintendo made exactly one change to it. It is the change that boosted sales and highlighted all the other good things about it compared to the Vita. It wasn't making it region free like the Vita, it was making it cheaper than the Vita. If (when) Nintendo does the same with the Wii U, changes are very good that this pattern will repeat itself, and it will in all likelihood stay just as region locked as it is now. Call it apples and oranges, but business logic dictates that region freedom is not a system seller. If you hate that, then it's not necessarily the fault of businesses, it's the fault of every other consumer who cares less about region locking than you. Just like a real election, you don't get to pick and choose which parts of which candidates get to win, only the whole package. Your least favorite candidate won, and now you'll deal with it for the next four years, warts and all. Democracy works!

Nintendo's stated reason for holding fast to region coding has to do with regional and cultural standards, and more importantly, the demands of the businesses they work with. Whether you buy that argument or not, the solution is obvious to me. In fact, you have several options:

1. Change the regional standards. Raise up successors to the people in charge of ratings boards, international media distribution, cultural acceptance levels of objectionable content, and prices so that the same people running these campaigns are the same people with the power to actually do something about it. This is the best solution as it will give Nintendo fewer excuses to region lock. But think about the implications stated above. There's also the fact that Australia and Japan typically selling games at higher prices than the rest of the world, so their local economies need fixing too. If you don't like this scenario, then change the structure of the industry to fit your desires, because beating on the wall isn't going to change it, unless you can get real majorities, not on the internet, to make one of the two other solutions go.

2. Convince the stockholders that this is a big deal and that they should pressure Nintendo to reconsider. This will only happen if Nintendo makes such a big public blunder to rival Microsoft's last month. As stated above, Microsoft backtracked because of unprecedented pressure from not only a veritable majority of customers, but tech magazines. The stockholders need to know that you want to play Japanese games and that you actually know Japanese and/or don't mind the schlock the country regularly puts out and that all of you promise not to make another Rapelay incident. Alternatively, become stockholders.

3. Convince the majority of Nintendo customers that this is a big deal. This is the easiest one, but the catch is that the "majority" to Nintendo is not the same as Sony's or Microsoft's. Nintendo cares the most about the children, so tell them to tell Nintendo that they want to play the hottest JRPG du jour. Look up Nintendo lifetime sales figures for hardware. No matter where you look, the number will be in the hundreds of millions. That's the amount of people who need to make a unified voice. There's a lot of kids out there and I'm sure they all would love to play games that Nintendo does a good job of hiding their existence from them. Sure, Nintendo shows off their Japan only games in Smash Bros. and StreetPass and Miiverse, but how many kids actually say, "I want to play those games, daddy"? And while you're at it, you should teach your kids Japanese too so that the next generation of gamers will actually have that ammunition in the ongoing debate.  Stop preaching to the choir and get the real majorities on your side.

Notice that I left out the traditional solution of simply not buying Nintendo stuff. All of these options involve taking away the excuses that Nintendo uses. In other words, changing the market. If you don't believe Nintendo's words, then understand that what they said is what they really believe, so you, the discerning adult, will not be able to change a decades-old policy by shouting at them. (Look at the global population and take a guess at how many discerning adults there are compared to the other kinds.) What you should have taken away from the IGN interview with Satoru Iwata is that Nintendo still cares more about businesses than it cares about you, like every corporation has since day 1. The above three solutions involve making Nintendo care about you, and none of them involve signing anything. If you honestly believe that tens of thousands of people and a few internet essays are all it takes to influence business decisions at a big corporation like Nintendo, you are incredibly naive and pretentious, especially since your position is one that has little support throughout fields that matter. Where are all the news stories on television questioning Nintendo's region locking policies? Has GameStop's stock changed at all as a result of this petition's publicity? Where are all the import Virtual Console games now? Where is your support outside of the internet? As the article stated, we are asking the wrong questions. More importantly, the wrong people are asking the wrong questions. Namely, the people reading stories like this and any questions at all, respectively. It's time to stop asking and starting forcing Nintendo's hand, and I don't mean start crying harder. There's a lot of work to do and no time to waste. Convincing Nintendo that an extra 30,000 hardware sales is worth potentially angering international publishers is a tall order, so get to it!

Now you may argue that these petitions are a start and get people talking about actual plans, but they are absolutely not a means to an end. If you want change, be the change. Be the people in charge, on the other side of the wall. There's nothing stopping you from training to succeed them. If you think you know how to run an international business, then go do it. Nintendo listens to publishers and politicians, not internet strongmen. If you can't change the leadership, then change the people. As it is, I predict that the petition will peak to somewhere multiple of its current number, maybe even 100,000 if they're lucky, but they will never get the groundbreaking volume that is needed for consumers to actually get huge corporations to budge, because Nintendo is too smart to let that scenario happen. The petitioners and regular Nintendo customers will just continue to waste their time littering Miiverse with pleas that fall on deaf ears over issues too political and economical for them to understand, high-fiving each other and not realizing that they are the minority and always have been. But hey, Pokémon X and Y comes out in every region in a few months, so there's that to look forward to in the meantime.

* Just kidding. Nothing in this industry is easy.

- learn more at whatistheexcel.com

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About Exyone of us since 3:20 PM on 02.12.2007

My name is James A. Calwell III. My personal site is https://whatistheexcel.com.

All original material written in this blog is licensed under the Creative Commons Attribution 4.0 License, unless noted otherwise. You are free to use and modify any original text and images published here for any purpose, including for commercial or profit, as long as attribution is given to me (a link to the original post(s) is sufficient). If you would like to use my writings, you are not required to contact me in advance to do so, but I would appreciate if you told me where my work is being used. If these terms won't do in your case, please contact me at unluckystar at whatistheexcel dot com to negotiate a statutory license.
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