In an editorial several months ago, I criticized briefly on region locking on streams. This month, Ryu Shoji from Bulbanews wrote a good editorial on why Nintendo should go region free after Microsoft changed their DRM policy, effectively abolishing region locks. Considering that licensed Anime and streams is region locked and most Anime fans play video games, I think this will be a great topic to talk about since I am against region locking for various reasons. (Image Source)
What is Region Locking?
Region locking is an industry practice where companies put a restriction that prevents you from importing media from other countries and playing it on a different region coded player or game console. While region locking used to be physical such as implementing different cartridge shapes for each region, now the lockouts are artificial and encoded on the disk or cartridge. Companies may choose to do this because discs or games from other countries may be cheaper than others. Another reason they do this is cultural differences, which is a very questionable and weak reason considering that we can learn about other people’s cultures.
Why Region Locking is bad for the consumer?
Region locking clearly limits a person’s choices to buy and watch or play any media, especially when a video game or show never gets localized. This holds true for most of the Japanese games, since most will never make a release outside of Japan. For instance, a good amount of the Tales games such as Tales of Hearts never made a release outside of Japan.
While some consoles like the Sony’s consoles (besides PS2 and PS1 and earlier Nintendo portables like the Nintendo DS are region free, you can’t play a Japanese game on an American 3DS or Wii U. Because of Nintendo’s region locking policies, I don’t play with the 3DS much because there isn’t many games released in America that I’m interested in (outside of Pokémon) compared to the Vita, which I can play Japanese games on an American system.
To make matters worse, what if you have to move? You won’t be able to buy any games in the country you move to unless you import games from the country you bought the console from or buy a new one. Not only that, some games might censor content in a localized release. For example, the western release of Fire Emblem Awakening censored the DLC in one of the scenes while it’s left uncensored in Japan. Because of this reason, people might be deterred to import the uncensored version.
On the other hand, licensed Anime releases and streams are the same way. Traditionally, Europe receives fewer releases than America. The only way people in Europe can support the industry is to import DVDs and go out and buy extra equipment so that it can play on a PAL television set and bypass the region lock. To make matters worse, streaming sites like Crunchyroll, which is aims to give people the option to legally stream Anime, is only available in select countries. I can understand why the Anime industry wants to region lock is to prevent Japanese people from reverse importing. At the same time, they are just forcing people to download fansubs rather than use the legal alternative because they can’t buy the physical release or stream it in the country they are in.
What are the benefits of going region free?
Besides being able to import or watch anything, you get more choices such as exclusive designs for consoles that are only available in Japan such as the Pokémon Center Eevee 3DS XL. Most importantly, you can play any games from different regions, which can be used as supplemental material if you are studying a foreign language. This is what I am doing since I’m studying Japanese and use text heavy games to practice my grammar and learn new vocabulary. Furthermore, some Japanese Blu-rays, especially those containing subtitles are region free despite costing a bit more than a localized release.
But in short, if there are no region restrictions, most Anime fans outside America don’t have to resort to fansubs.
Will Region Free be the end of localization? What about parental controls?
Some people fear that if Nintendo gets rids of region locking, we will see fewer localizations. In my opinion, this is not true as companies can still localize games if there is demand. For instance, Sega announced that they are releasing Project Diva F in the west because a good amount of people imported the game. But in general, if there is a demand for a certain game, they are going to do it no matter what.
On the other hand, parental controls can be resolved in a simple manner as well. While each country has different rating systems such as America’s ESRB and Japan’s CERO (コンピュータエンターテインメントレーティング機構, Computer Entertainment Rating Organization), it doesn’t mean that implementation of parental controls has to be complicated. Let’s take the Playstation for example. They assign different levels, which different rating systems can adjust to meet its needs. As shown above, Persona 4 Golden is rated Mature and assigned a level of 9 while Genkai Totsuki Monster Monpiece is given a D CERO rating, which is assigned a level of 8. Because of this, I think Nintendo and others can easily adjust its rating system to work like Sony’s.
In the end, I think there are more benefits to going region free rather than staying region locked. The truth is, not everyone is going to go out and import games unless they know the language or is in the process of learning it. Not only that, people won’t import if you simultaneously release the game or DVDs/Blu-rays in the first place. However, the continued practice of region locking won’t just only limit the choices fans can make, but can potentially restrict the amount of revenue these companies could be making. Because of this, going region free can be a win for both consumers and companies.
What do you think about region locking in general? Do you think companies should abolish the practice or continue with it?