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Is region-locking games still relevant in this day and age?

A padlock sitting upon a laptop keyboard

The Impact of Region-Locking on Gaming Industry

The recent kerfuffle of Sony no longer allowing 177 countries that are not supported by the PlayStation Network (PSN) to purchase their newer PC titles (Helldivers 2 and Ghost of Tsushima) has brought the age-old topic of region-locking back into question.

Region-locking has long been a contentious issue in the gaming industry, primarily due to its significant economic implications. By restricting games to specific regions, companies aim to control market prices and release schedules. However, this often leads to pricing discrimination and a lack of competitive pricing, which can alienate potential customers and reduce overall market penetration.

The practice of region-locking also raises serious concerns about consumer rights. Gamers are forced to adhere to arbitrary geographical restrictions, limiting their access to a broader range of games and hardware. This not only stifles consumer choice but also impacts their rights to freely access content for which they are willing to pay. It's a practice that seems increasingly outdated in a digitally connected world.

As the global market continues to evolve, the relevance of region-locking is being called into question. Digital distribution has made it easier for consumers to access games from anywhere, diminishing the effectiveness of region locks. Moreover, the global interactive entertainment industry is moving towards a more inclusive model, where regional barriers are less significant, reflecting a shift in consumer expectations and market dynamics.

Historical relevance of Region-Locking Policies

Legal Compliance

In the past, before many global standards for entertainment ratings were widely accepted or regulated, it can be a legal challenge for some games to be published in some regions. Different countries have varied laws regarding digital content distribution, and navigating these legal landscapes requires extensive resources that not every developer/publisher is ready to take on. However, that is hardly the case any more, and less in the case for bigger corporations like Sony which has such a big global presence already.

Service Agreements

Some of you out there might remember the days when massively multiplayer online role-playing games (MMORPGs) were also run by separate providers in different regions. And for some regions without a dedicated provider, one had to jump through multiple hoops to get through the region-locks. As consumers, it may not be apparent, but there are service agreements to the provision of MMORPGs to specific regions, and the companies are just abiding by them.

This is partially to address the concern of player satisfaction. Even with the high-speed internet of today, there tends to be some form of latency (delay or lag) when the server which is hosting your game is across the Pacific Ocean. Publishers and developers do want to avoid situations where they are supporting multiple regions at once and not be able to provide the best for all regions at the same time. However, this concern is also dependent on the game design; does it require close to no latency for players to enjoy the game?

Language barriers

Another commonly cited issue with running multi-regional games is the language barrier between players. How should they communicate if they do not share any common languages?

There are a number of games that have overcome that with the use of emotes and icons to help with communication. A simple thumbs-up can mean approval or acknowledgement. A location marker can draw a party member's attention to that area, coupled with some arrows to show the desire to move there... etc.

On top of that, some games have auto-translation available for key terms and commonly words in games, like in Final Fantasy XIV. Which is one of the reasons why it is still one of the top MMORPGs till today. Players can communicate and socialise even without a common language.

As such, I believe that language is not entirely a valid reason for publishers to deny players from different regions from accessing their game.

Prevalence of Hackers

I do recall a time when I was prevented from playing an online game because my entire region was locked out of it, and the reason being that the region I belong to is the source of hackers, gold farmers, and account thieves. I cannot deny the numbers and statistics showing the origin of hackers, but outright denying a service to a whole region based on a generalisation that all players from said region are hackers? That does sounds a lot like "discrimination" to me.

On top of that, there are measures against hackers, with anti-cheats and bot-detection, is it still absolutely necessary to lock a region out entirely? Perhaps it is not economically viable for the developer to put in anti-cheat measures into the game, then whose responsibility is it to ensure a cheat-free gaming environment for the players?

Is region-locking games still relevant now?

Going back to the fiasco with Sony Interactive Entertainment and the 177 countries, there is some dissent brewing among the gaming community. They have already faced significant backlash from the Helldivers 2 community when they tried to force every player to have a PSN account. The reviews of the game fell astronomically within 3 days, turning the Steam reviews from "Mostly Positive" to "Mixed" and then "Mostly Negative". It has since reverted to "Mostly Positive" when Sony walked back their statement.

Regardless, it should be obvious that gamers will feel restricted and unfairly treated when region locks are involved. Even more so when it is implemented post-game launch; the trust built in the community can be shattered in an instant, and the unity of gamers cannot be underestimated.

In the everchanging gaming industry, the practice of region-locking appears increasingly archaic and counterproductive. Despite its historical roots in market control and anti-hacking efforts, the global nature of today's gaming community calls for a more open and accessible approach. The gaming community have shown themselves to be more united than ever, further highlighting the need for the gaming industry to reevaluate and potentially abandon this outdated practice. As we move forward, it is crucial for the industry to prioritize consumer satisfaction and global inclusivity over restrictive, profit-driven strategies that no longer serve their intended purpose.


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