Sunday Thoughts: Regions

Was there ever really a good reason for region locking content? I would imagine that, to some extent, it was to protect the rights of various international distributors but with the freedom of imports and the wide availability of multi-region DVD players it does seem a little pointless now. With games this feels even more ridiculous, as the distribution channels for a publisher are typically their own rather than those of a local distributor who purchased the rights.

However, in an age of content that you can download, region locking makes absolutely no sense at all. Yes, you should make localised copies available for the various languages of your consumers but why not let people have access to whatever copy they want online? The additional costs of making it available everywhere range between none and exceptionally small (depending on if you want it hosted on a server close to the consumer or not).

With physical copies of games there are perfectly reasonable reasons not to distribute everywhere. I know that Peter was complaining recently about the fact that Sony aren’t release MLB 11: The Show in the UK, even though it’s widely regarded as one of the best sports games out there. The problem is that there simply isn’t a significant enough audience in the UK, or Europe in general, to justify the costs associated with a full-blown release of a title on physical media. Sure, there are people outside of the US who love baseball, but compared to the audience in the US it’s likely to be pretty insignificant.

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The thing is, there’s no good reason not to make it available on PSN. SCEE do have their rules for localising all content, but is it really necessary for every game? I know that makes it sound like the UK is more important than the rest of the countries falling under SCEE’s remit but it’s more a case of logistics.

If the game’s out in the US there’s not really any localisation that needs to take place for a release in any English speaking country. You could worry about converting every American English spelling to British English, but I don’t think we’re going to riot if a game has some words that aren’t spelled the British way. If you’re downloading a title from a digital store then you’re probably used to reading a wide variety of spellings on the internet anyway.

With that taken into account there’s no reason not to release it in the UK, or everywhere. That’s not to say games shouldn’t be localised from English, they certainly should. All I’m saying is just make it available to everyone as long as there are no legal concerns.

This approach could certainly be taken with Japanese games as well, particularly because there are plenty of gamers that prefer to play a game in the original Japanese rather than the localised version. Again it should be localised for those gamers who don’t speak Japanese, but there’s really no reason not to make a title easily available to those who want to play it.

It may well be that there are certification issues I’m not considering, although I’m not sure about the loopholes that are created when a title is being distributed globally. Content that comes via the internet is still in somewhat of a legal quagmire, but given that it’s perfectly possible to import games surely this kind of scheme could treat the titles in the same way.

Really all I want is to easily be able to pay for the content I want to consume. I’ll happily pay for it if someone lets me, but it’s incredibly frustrating when no-one’s making it available to you. More than anything it doesn’t make any sense from a business perspective. If people are more than willing to give you money, with almost no additional outlay from you, then why not let them?

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36 Comments

  1. Nice aticle. And put shortly; I agree. Region locking is archaic, silly and annoying.

  2. A couple of points. Just because a game’s on the PSN doesn’t make it an inexpensive act of logistics. It would still need to be tested by SCEE (as all games are) for a European market. This costs money, on this basis alone.

    Also, this smacks of selfishness. Even if it was made available for the UK why would that result in ignoring the rest of SCEE’s customer base?

    Perhaps focusing on MLB is a bad example, but in this case you’ve answered any such problems in the first paragraph: anyone interested could just import the game, various resellers are offering just that very option on amazon.co.uk right now.

    • The first point is absolutely spot on although easily worked around by charging for the product to counteract any costs incurred (as SCE always would, of course).
      That last point only answers the question if money is not a consideration (imports are usually more expensive) and if you’re happy to support an untested grey market rather than official distribution channels. SCE (and it is unfair to focus on them because they do more than most for consumers in this area) could sidestep that by releasing the non-localised version for download worldwide (not just in the UK).

      • And your counterpoint relies on adequate sales to cover costs incurred. :)

        I hear MLB 11 is great, but would it sell here?

      • Not if it’s a non-localised version. Take the same file that goes on the US PSN (presuming there is one, otherwise your point holds true) and just put it on the UK (and anywhere else) servers at a price that covers production and delivery costs for the game and from those servers. So each instance of a download pays for itself as well as the price of the game.
        That way, if it doesn’t sell in a region, it doesn’t incur costs because it hasn’t been downloaded. I’m not sure the cost of storing it on a server for six months (at least as a trial) is enough to warrant inclusion in the formula but even if it is, it’s a negligible gamble, I assume.
        For retail distribution you’re absolutely correct, it’s just that digital distribution has the potential to free us as consumers from this restriction which, I think, is starting to feel more and more outdated as we get more used to globally available media.

      • The cleanest answer then is to adopt the iTunes model, and let the consumer decide. Creating multiple store accounts is trivial, and the device happily works with anything downloaded.

        Would be nice to hear from someone from SCEE on this.

      • I think that we’ve proved it’s an interesting subject with many angles of approach. It would certainly be good to hear from someone with a greater knowledge and some authority.

      • An iTunes approach? Last time I checked you needed a credit card with an American address to make a purchase from the US store.

      • And yet I know in my heart a scheme like this one will still mean I’d never see Mortal Kombat or other baned titles without importing. That said I import just about everything anyway, unless I intend to play the DLC, because games are so damn expensive here that any import site it cheaper.

  3. I couldn’t agree more, when there is a demand for a game, however small, making it available surely makes some sense? Even making games region free would help, then getting an import copy would be much less of a risk. Obviously there are plenty who already do this but I suspect they have machines capable of playing those, ie, a US or Japanese console. I know I used to have a Japanese & US SNES purely for those special games that never got an EU/UK release.
    In these digital download days, this shouldn’t be an issue, the infrastructure is there, give us the choice to play something a little different ;)

  4. The challenge (IMO) is the fact that there are so many variations wrt to the law in the EMEA region (Europe, Middle East and Africa). What is acceptable in parts of Europe may not be so in the Middle East, Australia not having an R18 rating for games, etc means that the logistics could prove to make it too costly for Sony.

  5. What we should really be asking is why are Sony spending time on the PS2/PSP versions…?

  6. Uh-huh. I kind of agree with region locking to a certain extent (for financial reasons) but the fact that (utterly fabulous) games such as MLB are being overlooked is criminal.

    I’m having trouble sourcing a copy of Toro! Let’s Party! for instance. It’s frustrating.

  7. I don’t think there’s any harm in making an English-language version available globally. Okay, localisation is great for those who want it, but you only have to look on the various gaming-related forums to realise that the vast majority of gamers speak more than enough English to get by, and would probably much prefer to have such games available in English only, than not at all.

    It also frustrates me that we wait so long in the SCEE regions while they determine what can and can’t be released in some countries due to age or content restrictions. Apparently this isn’t an issue on Xbox live, with things being released globally. Why can’t Sony do that? Are they being overly-sensitive, or are Microsoft simply ignoring international laws?

    It’s not like you can’t make an overseas account and download from there anyway, so what’s the point in dividing up the content?

    • I play all my games in English anyways so I wouldn’t mind unlocalized global releases.

  8. Though not a fan of region locked content I strongly disagree with the “why not just release it for the UK anyway” point. Not only does it smack of favouritism, but this would be time SCEE could spend bringing regional Stores up to the same standard as the UK one.

    Everything takes time and effort. Devoting man hours making what is already the most superior of regional Stores even better is unfair and selfish in my opinion.

    • I think that point was more in favour of just releasing a non-localised version everywhere rather than only to the UK store. So if you live in France or Germany or Korea or Ireland you can buy the original US version that hasn’t been localised.
      It’s just likely to be of more benefit to the UK because, firstly, the UK has a wider proportion of consumers for whom English is their first language and secondly, the UK is (last time I heard) the second largest market for games in the world.

      • Perhaps. I think the bigger issue is licences. Allowing non-NA customers the ability to download SCEA content likely flies in the face of archaic processes that are in place across Sony’s fragmented divisions.

        Solution? Create a global distribution model. Publishers can submit digital content to this Sony body that can be released anywhere without localisation.

      • Some of the biggest problems for getting a release across multiple regions is getting licenses for each aspect of a game. Music for example can be a big issue especially as the license holder can vary from region to region.

        You only need to look at the trouble getting ps1 games on the psn store, and it’s worse trying to get imports on to the stores.

        Disney Family Hits actually has more songs on the US version than the European one. There must clearly be a reason one has less than the other and these songs are all “disney songs” so you would think it would be easy to get licensing.

        At least ps3 discs tend not to be region locked even if they’re not released outside their region.

  9. Even with digital distribution there is little hope for worldwide releases. Just look at the PS1 Classics, the hassle they go through releasing the desired US ones on the EU store. There seems to be a lot of territorial red tape that seems to overrule common sense.

  10. region locks are a essential feature that Sony has removed for the PS3! i hope someone *cough* geohot *cough* will release a custom firmware to bring this feature back for all consumers!

    :-D

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