Region locking has been something of a hot topic recently, with both Sony and Microsoft confirming that their next consoles would be region-free, allowing buyers to play games from anywhere in the world. That means that Nintendo is the only one of the "big three" which continues to utilise region locks in its hardware — both the Wii U and 3DS will only play games from the territory they were purchased in.
We've spoken about region locking in the past, and even suggested that it's not as big a deal as some people are making out. However, developers are, by and large, not in favour of region locks. Not Enough Shaders has spoken to a few notable Wii U and 3DS studios to gain their perspective on the topic, and they were all overwhelmingly in favour of removing the policy.
Here's Renegade Kid's Jools Watsham:
In this era of digital distribution, region locking doesn’t make much sense. Every game should be a simultaneous worldwide release, because DIGITAL. Right now, we have to submit our games to NOA and NOE, separately. This slows down the process and can make it difficult to achieve a simultaneous release in different territories. Being able to submit one game to Nintendo, and then have the option to release in all territories would be a big improvement on the submission system.
The age rating boards also need to take note from the ESRB’s example of how publishers apply for age rating. The European age rating systems is something that also slows down the process for us.
SnowCastle Games founder Bendik Stang agrees:
I think Region Locking is a self-damaging form of DRM. It limits legal distribution and strongly motivates paying customers to start using pirated software. Imagine buying a product legally on a vacation or getting it shipped from a different region, only to find that it does not play on your hardware due to a region lock! I’m sure many with that experience have been so frustrated that they have taken the time to figure out how to use pirated games instead.
Andrew Augustin of Notion Games LLC shares the same feelings:
I personally do not understand the concept behind region locking. I can’t see the benefits of this. There’s nothing worse than not being able to play a game that you are really interested in because of it not being able to play on your region specific console. It limits the potential for gamers to experience all the game for a system they support and it limits the amount of players a developer can reach out to. No good at all.
Not all of the developers spoken to were so in favour of removing the lock, however. Uncade's David Byres is on the fence:
To be honest I’m not sure where I stand on the region locking issue. Removing it I think would be great for consumers, but from what I understand having separate regions allows lower pricing in poorer countries. One thing I do hope for, especially as digital distribution becomes more prolific, is that most content will be localized thereby removing the need to import games in the first place.
Maestro Interactive's Monty Goulet goes even further:
In my own gaming collection I have three imported titles. Shonen Jump Superstars, Last Window, and Xenoblade Chronicles. Given that you might assume that I’m totally in favor of region free consoles but I’m not 100% on other side of this debate. Consumer choice is always good. However, I can clearly see the reasons why Nintendo wants to lock down its systems, and just because Microsoft and Sony have decided against it doesn’t make Nintendo’s reasons any less valid.
One of the main reasons I can’t see why the abolition of region-locking will make any difference is purely personal; I simply don’t import that many titles. Secondly, release dates are now closer together than ever before. In the case of the Wii U, Pikmin 3 will launch across all three territories in the space of three weeks. Are you honestly going to pay more to get the Japanese version? Now I know most of the debate is over titles that won’t be released in certain regions so I want to mention that as well. It’s a safe bet that if a region free console existed during Xenoblade chronicles, it would have never made it to Europe, and ultimately the US as the petitioners simply would have imported it.
Region locking allows Nintendo to manage its international business in a more effective manner, as it knows that money spent marketing games in a particular region will — for the most part — result in games being purchased in the same region, not from another. From a business standpoint, I can clearly see where Nintendo is coming from and support it, but as a gamer, I would love to be able to play more titles than what are available in just the US.
It's worth noting that all of the developers Not Enough Shaders spoke to deal exclusively in digital games — had they spoken to publishers or developers tied to publishers, the response may have been slightly different for the very reasons Goulet outlines; physical distribution is a totally different ball game to digital. Still, the tone is clear: most developers don't want region locks. The real question is will Nintendo listen to them?