Japan is the holy land for gamers since not only are most of the companies that create our favorite games are located there, but also because Japan is a treasure trove of games that have never made its way outside of the island nation. So in this modern day and age of gaming, I would love to play some of these old games that have never been available to me. The only problem is, many of these games are region locked to their individual countries/areas.
Why is it that games are region locked? Is it really necessary for companies to do this? Well, yes, it is. Follow me through this week’s Weekend Reading to go into this issue of region-locked games.
It’s understandable that game companies need region locking. In fact, it’s a part of U.S. law, according to Wiki:
For example, the U.S. Digital Millennium Copyright Act (DMCA) has a clause that covers “circumventing a scheme used to restrict access to copyrighted material” that may be used to prosecute people who ignore, circumvent, or crack a regional lockout scheme.
Some of the more prominent reasons for this are that it allows for individual areas to apply censorship to offensive material or “price adjustment” (also known as gouging), or to prevent possible mixups by multiple companies selling from different regions (like Japan trying to sell its products to Europe). Basically, it allows businesses and countries to run things more smoothly.
Now, looking at the flipside, region locking products is a kick in the nuts to most gamers and the like. Let’s face it, Europe gets screwed when it comes to gaming. Not only do they get games months, or possibly even years late, they have a harder time importing games due to the fact that they run on PAL, while the U.S. and Japan run on NTSC.
So, as for us in the U.S., we just have the problem of not sharing the same DVD region as Japan. We’re fairly lucky in terms of what games we get here, as we usually only miss out on strange Japan-only games like Densha de Go!!. Now, there are times when something like Taiko Drum Master gets imported, but we’ll never get to hear the Japanese versions due to problems with music licensing. So, the problem is now that I’ve got something I want to play, but I can only do so by either opening my console and modding it or by using a swap disc.
Honestly, I don’t trust myself with a soldering iron, so that pretty much puts me out of the question on modding my Playstation 2. Yes, I could just buy a swap disc, but after a while, that would become tedious. I’d rather just deal with a more legal means by which I could play these import games.
What I’d suggest is that console makers give us the option of unlocking an extra region on the console for a fee. This would mean that gamers would have Microsoft, Nintendo, and Sony on their side when it comes to negotiating the international trade rights for this.
The only question now is how to have us pay for it? Most likely, I’d see the companies charging a monthly or yearly fee for people to play games from another region. This would be there both to pay whatever fees are incurred from licenses and lawyers, and to make it worthwhile for the company to run the service.
Another option that I could see would be a per-game license that people would purchase. Since there are a lot of games that are pointless in acquiring licenses for (already available in home territory), this would cut out on a lot of the money spent.
Now, I’m not 100% sure that either of these would work, but it’s an idea that I’d like to put forward, in case someone out there is in power to make this happen. Whatever the result is, be sure to keep in mind the consumers — we’ll be paying $50-$70 for these import games, and so adding on these costs will be even more damage to our wallets.