Region locks have been a standard “feature” of most consoles ever since the days of the NES/Famicom, but it seems like the practice of restricting users’ ability to play games from foreign markets is going the way of the dodo bird: the PS3 and Xbox 360 were region free (sort of,) as are the upcoming PS4 and Xbone. The Wii U seems like it might be the last console to feature region locking, and some fans have taken to Twitter and Nintendo’s own Miiverse social network to encourage Nintendo to drop the antiquated policy.
Before E3, members of the popular NeoGAF message board ran a highly organized campaign to let Sony and Microsoft know that they didn’t want “always on” DRM or used game restrictions on their next-gen systems. They bombarded Sony and Microsoft employees on Twitter with direct messages, flooded their official Facebook pages, and they even wrote physical letters voicing their concern. The campaign appears to have worked: Sony announced at E3 that the PS4 would be DRM free, and Microsoft soon backtracked on their own ridiculous DRM policies shortly afterward.
NeoGAF members have now turned their sights on Nintendo. GAF’s latest fan campaign hopes to put an end to region locking on Nintendo’s latest systems, and they’re using the same tactics that worked so well with Microsoft and Sony: Nintendo’s Facebook and Twitter accounts have been bombarded with legions of fans demanding the end of region locking, and Nintendo’s own social network, Miiverse, is currently filled with tons of surprisingly well drawn posts advocating a region free policy for the Wii U and 3DS.
Nintendo “pioneered” (for lack of a better word) the idea of region locking with the NES and Famicom, and all of their consoles since then have featured region locks. Back in the 8 and 16 bit days, region locks could be circumvented with a cartridge adapter or by simply snipping off part of the system’s casing, but ever since games switched over to optical media, region locks have been built into most systems’ OS’s. The PS3 and Xbox 360 featured selective region locks: neither Sony or Microsoft required publishers to lock their games, but they gave them the option to do so if they wanted to (so far, only one PS3 game, Atlus’s Persona 4: Arena, has used the PS3’s region locking capability.) Nintendo is the last of the “Big Three” to require region locks.
Nintendo has yet to issue an official response to NeoGAF’s lobbying, but they’ve shown in the past that they’re receptive towards these fan campaigns. Last year, Nintendo finally published Xenoblade Chronicles in America in response to the popular “Operation Rainfall” campaign, which used a lot of the same tactics that NeoGAF is currently employing.
Unlike used games or always on DRM, region locking probably only affects a very small percentage of the overall gaming public. Of course, even if they are a niche, import gamers are potentially a video game company’s best customers — importing games isn’t cheap (ordering a PS3 new release from Japan will usually cost you somewhere between $75 to $120, and that’s not counting limited editions) so the people that are concerned about region locking are probably their most dedicated and “hardcore” consumers (i.e. the ones most likely to buy a new game every month or week.) Your average casual consumer isn’t going to pay a premium to get games like Gundam Extreme VS. or Captain Rainbow, so Nintendo is really only hurting their most dedicated fans by sticking with region locking.
Nintendo has obviously made some huge mistakes over the last few years, but some of their policies have actually been pretty smart: while gamers had to actively lobby Sony and Microsoft to not restrict the sale of used games on their systems, there was never any question about the Wii U’s capability to play used games, and while Microsoft is continuing to receive flak from indie developers in regards to self publishing, indie devs have always been able to self publish on Wii U. Nintendo’s bizarre adherence to the antiquated practice of region locking is definitely at odds with the common sense that Nintendo displayed with those other policies and puts them another step behind MS and Sony, so the fans are right: the end of region locking is overdue. Nintendo needs to do all they can to curry favor with hardcore gamers right now, and putting a stop to region locks would be a good place to start.