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Why are games still region-locked?

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In the year 2013, I have no idea why regional restrictions are still in place in videogames. Well, I understand the legal reasons, and all that nonsense about distribution rights, but in today’s internet-connected global village, that sort of nonsense should be a thing of the past.

Unfortunately, it’s not. The PlayStation 3 and its little handheld sibling the Vita are essentially region-free (when it comes to games, at least), and Microsoft hasn’t enforced region restrictions (leaving them up to publishers) – but for some reason both of the Nintendo’s current systems – the 3DS and the Wii U are locked to the region they’re purchased in. For the 3DS, at least, this makes absolutely no sense; it’s a portable system and something you’re likely to travel with – and you can’t buy games for it while doing so.

Unfortunately regional restrictions probably aren’t going away any time soon – and as you’d expect, it all comes down to money; different companies have different licences to distribute games in differemt territories.

Activision’s cross-eyed community manager Dan Amrich explains why those looking to import games from other regions might end up disappointed.

“You can’t infringe on that Japanese company’s rights or that American company’s rights by releasing the game in the opposite territory if you don’t have the legal right to do it,” Amrich said. “Region locking sort of helps police who has the rights to make what money in what territory.”

It also makes it easier for publishers to track how many copies of a game are sold in a particular region – and make changes to game content to make them more suitable for different locales.

“Is the content that you’re releasing in Country A acceptable in Country B?” Amrich said. “Germany is notoriously hard-nosed on things like violent content in video games.”

Last Updated: January 30, 2013

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