By Eelcire 3 Comments
There's this game I want to play. It has been released, and I can purchase it; yet if I place it into my Xbox 360 it won't play. Downloadable content has been released for a game that I enjoy, yet I cannot purchase it. Do publishers not want my money?
Millions of dollars can be spent on a single project, from development costs to marketing; all in hopes of releasing a product that will not only recoup the money spent on this project, but those beyond as well. On the other side of the spectrum is the consumer base, money in hand and ready to spend on products that interest and entertain them. On the most basic level this seems like the classic supply and demand model of economics. There is something wrong in this model however. The publisher won't sell this product to all consumers interested in it. And should a customer obtain a copy of the product through other retail means, it won't work. Not because the consumer doesn't have the correct equipment to run it, but because that product has been locked out from where they live.
Wii, has it all wrong. Playstation 3, kind of has it right. Xbox 360, not quite right either. All three of these systems have some form of region protection in them. Region protection is a means of control; a way for a publisher to decide who gets what products and when. So when a game is created and sold first in Japan, anybody who doesn't own a "Japanese" system cannot play said game for either the Wii or the Xbox 360; Playstation 3 got this part right. However this is not the case with Blu-ray movies which is, while though better than DVD, split into regions.
There are a few reasons as to why a company might limit their potential consumer base. The most obvious of reasons would be the language barrier. Of course not everyone speaks or understands the same language. So when budgeting out a new product, be it a movie or game, it must be determined ahead of time where initial releases will be and from there produce and market accordingly. Another reason why a publisher might not release a product to a certain region comes down to cultural issues. Different regions have different stances on things such as violence and sexuality, so products (mostly games) need to be adjusted for each region before release. But not every publisher can afford to have their product released in every region, and all these concerns a publisher might face when releasing a product have to do with the general consumer market. These concerns the publishers may face still don't explain why a consumer cannot use a product if it has been imported.
So there is this game I want to play. It was made in and only released in Japan. It will most likely never be released outside of Japan due to North America being a prudish nation. It is also a game I most likely couldn't even read much of as I really don't know much Japanese. Yet, I am still willing to buy this game because it is something that interests me. The publisher need not even worry about localization or bringing the title over here as I will be more than happy to import the title. But I don't because the game won't play in my Xbox 360. Why limit a potential sale?
In an ever increasing global economy, publishers need to rethink how a product is produced and marketed. This is especially true with the emergence of digital downloads, which surprisingly (or not) are coming out region locked. Why? There are no physical barriers for launching a title globally. And the language excuse falls apart as again it costs almost nothing to release a digital product; why not tap into those potential sales in other regions. Only cultural sensitivities may hinder a global release, yet across multiple regions I see this number or letter on every package. What was it again, oh yes a rating! That is what the rating system was for, so that parents actually do their job in parenting and if something in a product offends them then it is their choice not to purchase it.
So there is this game that I have played that was released here quite awhile back; an RPG that had been released first in Japan, and then later in North America. I read on message boards of those that would like to play said game. They are perfectly capable of speaking English and have money in hand to purchase this game, yet it won't work on their system either. "Please wait while we localize this release," you as the publisher say. Why wait? They have money NOW, they want to play this game NOW, and they understand the game NOW. That's not to say don't bother localizing the title, as there are even more consumers out there who will appreciate the extra effort being put into the game. But why limit sales by forcing consumers to wait on a product. By the time the game is finally released, those initial customers that were willing to import will have moved on and forgotten about the game. A sale was lost; not only that, but these consumers may have also been potential extra sales for DLC.
What should be a simple economics 101 supply and demand business is instead a complicated and limited experience for consumers. Region protection only hurts, both publishers and consumers; and by limiting a sale now, publishers risk losing future potential sales. I am able to import and book and still able to read it (if I can) without restrictions; it would seem books don't need region protection. One thing (only thing I can think of) that the music industry got right is not implementing region protection on music CDs. I have a few CDs that were never released in North America, yet I wanted to support these artists. It would seem music doesn't need region protection either. Recently, F.E.A.R. 2 was released on PC and in quite a few regions. However, a retailer in the UK got a limited edition version only available from them. I was able to import this version and it plays on my PC in North America just as well as it would on a PC in the UK. It would appear PC games don't need region protection either (though I have found a few games from Japan that do, in which I just change my system locale to Japan). If the above industries can survive without region protection, then what of movies and [console] games?
In short, the movie and game industries need to catch up with the global marketplace. Of course their services will still be needed for the localization of games to cater to mass market consumers. But in this global marketplace there are still those that should not be limited to what they are able to purchase or use based on where they live. Region protection isn't protecting anything except outdated and invalid excuses.
Region protection protects nothing. Let the importers play their games and movies!