For those of us outside the US, and some even still in, there’s always been a bane to our existence. That thorn in our side is otherwise known as Region Coding.
Arguably, one of the most aggravating forms of copy protection that has ever been introduced. Developed originally to prevent people from trying to use incompatible software with incompatible hardware, it evolved into simply a form of price discrimination. Publishers argued that people would be able to purchase software cheaply overseas, so developers and hardware makers decided to simply prevent their own customers from buying something they wanted.
The original Playstation was the first time this was introduced on a significant level. Sure, it wasn’t possible to play NES/SNES cames from different regions, but that was mostly due to cartridge and model size differentiations then blanket banning. Plus, in those days the large majority of titles were translated from Japanese, as well as the import market small and seriously niche, if it could even be called that.
With the excuse of PAL/NTSC still lingering, Sony decided that it would prevent owners of PAL consoles from using NTSC content and vise versa. This proved to be a significantly stupid idea, birthing the explosion of a console modding scene and making the PSX software library one of the most pirated in the world. While customers who still, actually, wanted to import Japanese, US or European games, were penalised and ended up turning to modding to get around the draconian limitation.
Hardware makers still point to region coding, saying “hey, it worked”, citing consistent sales in regional markets, but at the same time don’t realize that its completely counter productive. Protecting local markets is one thing, but people will always find ways around problems. Why else would someone in, say, the UK or Australia need to mod their Xbox360 to play Tales of Vesperia. Oh, that’s right, because its region coded and impossible to play an Asian/US copy.
But why bother? Why re-release a game that, on release, will have terrible sales figures because one, it’s completely missed the hype around original US/Japan release and thus will slide completely under the radar. And two, services a niche market that wouldn’t even bother needing a local release since most of its target market is savvy enough to have bought it from Play Asia on its original release.
I will say that Sony deserves a medal for stripping region coding from both its PSP and PS3 titles. While I’m most cases I’ve opted to support local releases anyway, the odd bargain I’ve found overseas or a title delayed for release has provided an unexpected sense of freedom. But at the same time, they snapped in half for even offering it for Blu-ray. The river runs both ways Sony, especially when you are planning on releasing both in the one package. But that really shouldn’t be much of a surprise to anyone, since they implement region coding on almost all of their BD releases anyway.
I’m sure some of you are saying by now that its optional, and that developers don’t have to lock games if they choose not to. Well, yes, but that’s like me asking you if you’d like a bowl of soup or a Wagyu steak for dinner. You’re going to take the one that probably offers you a larger slice of the pie, regardless of how many people it will end up screwing over in the end.
The only thing we can hope for, eventually, is that developers just say no to region coding, or DRM in general. It makes criminals out of legitimate gamers who want to have access to everything on offer. But until then, some of us will just have to hope and pray that every new obscure release has “No Region Protection” listed under its title in the PA catalogue.