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Regional lockout

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What's the purpose of locking a game on the online storefront when it's 100% digital?

A regional lockout (or region coding/region locking) is a class of digital rights management preventing the use of a certain product or service, such as multimedia or a hardware device, outside a certain region or territory. A regional lockout may be enforced through physical means, through technological means such as detecting the user's IP address or using an identifying code, or through unintentional means introduced by devices only supporting certain regional technologies (such as video formats, i.e., NTSC and PAL).

Regional lockout may be enforced for several reasons, such as to stagger the release of a certain product, to avoid losing sales to the product's foreign publisher, to maximize the product's impact in a certain region through localization, to hinder grey market imports by enforcing price discrimination, or to prevent users from accessing certain content in their territory because of legal reasons (either due to censorship laws, or because a distributor does not have the rights to certain intellectual property outside their specified region). Regional lockouts in video games have been achieved by several methods, such as hardware/software authentication, slot pin-out change, differences in cartridge cases, IP blocking and online software patching.

Most console video games have region encoding, however some consoles such as the Game Boy family, the Nintendo DS family (with the exception of the Nintendo 3DS), the Nintendo Switch, the Neo-Geo family, the Xbox One, and the PlayStation family (except for the PlayStation and PlayStation 2) do not.

Beginning with the eighth generation of consoles, producers began to give up on regional blockades, knowing that it is more harmful than helpful. There are still some exceptions, however, such as the aforementioned Nintendo 3DS. Also, some PC launchers like Epic Games Store and Steam still practice region locking, despite evidence proving it makes things worse.

Why It Sucks

  1. This is nothing more than limiting the availability of the content; for example, a large number of NES games have never come out in Europe, and the 10NES chip prevents starting games from the USA and viceversa.
  2. It infamously encourages piracy.
    • Also, the problem is when someone has a family, e.g. in the USA and lives in Europe, when sending a game as a gift, most of the time the game will not run through the regional lockout in consoles.
  3. It can hinder game collectors, as it essentially forbids playing games that were never released in the region they live, or to spend considerable amounts of money on games that are hard to find in their region.
    • This is even worse with older games, since companies can't profit from them any longer, essentially forcing players to spend high amounts of money for no reason.
  4. While it's possible to remove region encoding (thus nullifying the effects of region locks) with homebrew software, this requires programs typically available only through console modding, which is also a way to run pirate software on the console, and in turn may encourage piracy of games unavailable in certain regions. The Nintendo 3DS, Wii and Wii U are among the worst offenders.
    • Console modding is also hard for consumers to pull off, due to the constant risk of an online ban or even worse, bricking the console altogether, rendering it unusable. Many consoles like the PlayStation 2 or mostly game consoles from that generation are notable for requiring console mods and software mods are next to nonexistent or at least less risky variations.
  5. Not only does this apply to video game consoles but to online games or MMOs/MMORPGs where many game companies restrict their servers exclusively to their region(s) and/or restrict their properties to their own regions. A significant example of this are Korean or East Asian game companies. Because South Korea is very data centric and among other factors such as video game addiction, the government requires that players have valid identification that is tied to personal information and thus foreign consumption of those properties is strictly stuck in the country unless outsiders buy Korean accounts and use VPNs or anything those lines to access them.
    • Movies and TV shows are prone to this as well. The DVD and Blu-ray region codings are notorious for that. While the DVD region coding can be easily defeated, the Blu-ray's is more difficult to do the same, despite the simpler approach. While doable, it requires hardware modifications. (Fortunately, most Blu-ray discs are region-free, including the Ultra HD variation). What's worse is there is another form of Blu-ray region coding: the country code, which prevents discs in two different countries in same region (for example USA and Japan in region A) from being played in each other's players.
    • Some internet content is hidden in certain regions with the use of the customers' IP address to detect the location they are connecting to a website on. However, this can easily be bypassed by using a VPN (which also makes the user of the VPN anonymous from trackers), making regional lockout on the internet completely pointless. The Great Firewall of China, which is responsible for the mass-censorship of websites from other countries in China, can even be bypassed with a VPN, though it might be hard to do so.

Trivia

  • Even though it has been discouraged today, as stated above, Epic Games Store still practices region locking. Certain Steam games are region locked as well, such as the Super Robot Wars series[1], The iDOLM@STER Starlit Season,[2] the Surge Concerto games (Ciel Nosurge DX and Ar Nosurge DX), and Dead or Alive Xtreme Venus Vacation.
  • Printer manufacturers also use regional lockout to prevent the import of ink from other regions in addition to DRM.

Gallery

Comments

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  1. Mainly for Macross characters (due to Harmony Gold's meddling until April 9, 2021) prevented a global release with these characters.
  2. Even with Shiny Festa and CINDERELLA GIRLS VIEWING REVOLUTION is localized, as well for an English patch of One for All, they have no plans to make it purchasable outside Asia players. To buy it legit for outside Asia, see this guide for buying region-locked games.