Thursday, January 23, 2014

The Conundrum of Region Locking

Lately I have seen many complaints about Nintendo having region locking on their systems, likely because they keep the newest ones hack resistant. The complaints on their own are understandable, it can suck for some people, but the way in which the complaints are worded makes me realize one problem: Few people know why region locking exists.

The problem is not cut and dry, Nintendo didn't wake up one morning and say "it would be a great idea to keep some regions from getting games!" On the contrary, it's not even their fault. They gain nothing, as a company, with region locking. So you may ask why they do it, it's because they have no choice in the matter.

First there are the hardware problems. Regions are typically one specific format or another, all other formats are considered alien, and so in the past they had to develop everything based on the region itself, a television that was made for PAL could only understand PAL in other words. Luckily this aspect is becoming a thing of the past as most hardware is no longer bound by such restrictions, but before then the costs to develop for all regions was four times that of one. The effect will be discussed in a moment.

So there is one roadblock, though that one is fading, now we face the next roadblock: Content

Each country has it's own, often ignorant or prudish, idea of what is considered legal content in media. The rating system was suppose to end this problem, but it has only made it more complicated because no one can agree on the same rating system. Games, specifically, are designed to target specific audiences. This means that they must try to keep the ratings the same in all countries. Developers in one country though will make the game based on that country's ratings causing it to get different ratings in other countries.

This means they have to make many different versions, one for each country it's released. Nintendo uses the ratings from the most strict country for each region to cut down on some costs, but it still costs them to make other versions for each rating system. The effect is the same as the hardware problem, the company must invest more money to make the product more widely available. Nintendo simply cannot afford this yet. So they continue to delegate the responsibility to the developers, which makes sense anyway.

However, to make sure they are not held responsible for laws broken, they have to lock your system to the region you claim to be in, this makes sure they are not liable for your buying a product that is deemed illegal by your own government. Yep, the crux of the issue, the governments.

This is the biggest roadblock, governments can sue companies for just about anything they want, and even the US government will harass a company that even tries to upset the apple cart by using laws which should not even exist. This means companies have to appease them, and even pay fees just to put their products on the shelves. If they fail to make the government happy, then they get sued by that government for selling an illegal product.

Nintendo has to pay all these fees, and extra development costs, just to give you, the loyal gamer, a chance to play their games. The company as a whole lost a bit of money, a few bad investments in systems they developed. This means they do not yet have the extra funds to appease the governments in the way that other companies do, like Sony or Microsoft, resulting in them having to dance around laws those others do not have to obey.

Considering all this, the very fact that Nintendo has managed to jump ahead on only one system, is actually astounding. So if you don't like region locking, place the blame on who it belongs, and that blame belongs on you. You control your government, no matter what country you are in, so it is your fault you have region locking, ultimately. Of course most of us don't mind, we just love the games we get and pay little attention to the others, and we can sit idle playing those games all we want. The ones who need this eye-opener are those complaining.

The politics involved in this matter is very heavy, and I could post pages and pages on how badly the US government is doing, even more if I were to look into all the other countries. Just a word to the wise, learn what your government is doing, what it is feeding you, and compare it to what you learn from other people who are in other countries, you may be shocked at how screwed up your laws are.

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