Double Agent
Lockdown - February 28, 2002 - Erin Mehlos

Disclaimer: The opinions expressed within this column are those of the participants and the moderator, and do not necessarily reflect those of the GIA. There is coarse language and potentially offensive material afoot. I'll give you $50 for that loaf of bread! Don't say we didn't warn you.

Friday is imminent. Fear for your souls.

Let's go.

Everybody loses


I can't think of any way at all in which consumers benefit from regional lockouts. The only party who benefit are the manufacturers (and, I guess, the retails, distributors who don't have to compete with imports from other regions). In fact, I think the only time that the manufacturer really benefits from regional lockouts is when there is a large (and usually inexcusable) delay in releasing a game/console in a particular region.

If the game gets released simultaneously, nobody's going to pay the extra cost of importing a game when they can just walk into their local shop and buy it off the shelf. If the game doesn't get released at all in a given region, then the regional lockout prevents the publisher selling a few extra units to importers. On the other hand, if there's a prolonged delay between releasing a game in the US and releasing it in PAL, then the regional lockout is the only thing saving the publisher from losing half their PAL sales to importers. Here in PAL land, we're still waiting for FFX, MGS2 and ICO, among others. If we could just jump on the net and order them from the US, by the time they were released here there wouldn't be enough demand left. Half of us would have already bought and played them them, then probably sold/traded them on to others, meaning that the number of people left still willing to buy the official PAL release (even with the extra goodies that some publishers give us) wouldn't be enough to justify the original cost of doing a PAL conversion in the first place. So publishers would stop doing PAL conversions unless they could get them out at the same time as the US version, meaning PAL gamers who were unwilling/unable to go the import route would end up missing out on even more games than they do now. The publishers would thus lose out on those sales, as would the rest of the local distribution/retail chain.

The answer, of course, is to get rid of the delay in releasing games for new regions. It's fair enough to have a delay between releasing in Japan and releasing in the US, since there's translations to be done and voice acting to be recorded, etc, but why the delay in then releasing a game in PAL? Surely it's possible to do the PAL conversion and translation into other European languages concurrently with the NTSC development and English translations? I mean, it's the same number of man-hours in the end, regardless of whether you do them at the same time or one after the other. Of course, I don't know a lot about the inner workings of game development so there may be some valid technical reasons why this can't be done, but that wouldn't explain the games which get released almost simultaneously in the US and PAL.

There's a court case going on here at the moment involving Sony and the Australian Competition And Consumer Commission (a government run department responsible for protecting consumer rights). The case concerns modchips - Sony wanting them banned because they allow people to run pirated games. The ACCC says they should be legal because they allow consumers access to a wider range of games with more price competition. As a guy from the ACCC said, Sony are a multinational company that are quite happy to enjoy the benefits of globalization, but are trying to prevent their customers benefitting from it. One interesting thing the Sony guy said was that if modchips only allowed users to play genuine imported and not pirated ones, then Sony wouldn't have any objection to them. If that's the case, then why don't Sony just stop using the regional lockouts on their consoles and software? Then gamers wouldn't miss out on games that don't get released in their territories, and the modchip manufacturers wouldn't have a leg to stand on, since the only use for them would be piracy without the legitimate cover they use of allowing people to play imported games.

You've just finished reading another piece of semi-coherent rambling by
Randall Flagg.

And what a good place to start tonight this semi-coherent piece of rambling turns out to be.

The middle

S'up Erin,

I feel that the games industry will be one of the last branches of digital media to address the issue of regional lockouts. With publishers obtaining so much of their revenue from the bewildering variety of international publishing deals there is really no reason why they would feel the need to change the status quo unless their hand was forced.

Interesting things are happening in the world of DVD region control, with Australia considering the idea that it may be unconstitutional. Meanwhile Sony's victory over the manufacturers of the PS2 Messiah chip will potentially impact multi-region DVD imports in the UK. While there are probably few people outside of the respective industries who really understand the vagaries of international distribution ( and I'm certainly not one of them ) I believe that changes will come down to the policies of individual national Governments.

The technical reasons for region control ( differing systems etc. ) belong to the dark ages and the position of publishers is possibly more tenuous than ever - but with the announcement that Microsoft are using Region Lockout on the X-box I think things won't change for at least another hardware generation.

Free speech? Publishers rights?

Gaming wouldn't feel quite the same without its grey market.

- Keith

As you imply, the decision to do away with regional lockouts/encoding being more or less up to hardware manufacturers is pretty well dead-on as far as I can tell. I had kind of hoped Microsoft would spearhead something of a globalization movement among console manufacturers, yeah, but that's been sort of shot in the ass with their intentions of region-specific peripherals and whatnot.

Condition #3 - Perfect Competition
First off, kudos for the Coupling reference yesterday...shows like that remind me why PBS deserves support despite thrusting Barney upon us.

As far as territorial lockouts are concerned, I'm going to guess most of us will agree on one thing: If games were universally identical (save language, of course) and available in all areas, nobody would give a toss about territorial lockouts. It's only when games are altered for specific regions (*cough*MGS2*) or outright cancelled for others (*Shenmue2*hack*) that we get all hot and bothered over it. And then lo, online petitions sprout like weeds, and everybody's unhappy. So companies, please, I ask as kindly as I can, fuck the lockouts, won't you?


You make a pretty decent point. If games were a homongenous product (excepting the obvious difference of language), there wouldn't be nearly so much call to import, but I don't think it would eliminate the desire for foreign games entirely. There will always be that small percentage of impatient gamers with enough extra cash to throw around and the "need" to have a title immediately to keep the import biz alive, albeit on a smaller scale.


Erin -

I don't see the point of regional lockouts, honestly. I think they cost the manufacturers and the industry as a whole more than they're worth. Think about it. Import rates would rise, as a region specific console would not be necessary, and many people turned off by having to mod an existing console or import a new one (such as myself) would swarm the import shops.

On top of this, manufacturers will save money on mass production, only having to run a single print of a game, not three or for. The money they saved and made through increased sales would more than compensate the loss from people only having to buy one system. Throw in slightly decreased development costs from not having to constantly invent new encryptions to beat the hackers, and it seems everyone would make out better.

Another benefit from doing away with region specification is that international networks will run smoother and experience fewer conflicts. Having every console speaking the same language without having to go through a few patches first would increase stability. Just look at the Windows Me/XP difference. Me was patched a few more times than necesary, and is much less stable. A slightly askew comparison, but similar ideas.

Same with periphrials.

One last reason. As a Christian, I happen to be one of those globalist/end of the world types. But even form a secular viewpoint, globalism seems to have people all warm and gooey inside. Just look at the unification in the War on Terror. Even Russia and China are talking to us again. Global video game consoles and games are just one more step. You are on the way to destruction. Make your time.



Ray Stryker...HA HA HA...

I really can't say I follow your "manufacturers will save money on mass production, only having to run a single print of a game, not three or for" premise, dude. There are a lot of North Americans and Europeans without extensive lexicons of recognizeable kanji characters that would probably object to one, homogenous run of a game. Localization would still have to take place if developers had any intention of selling in a foreign market to anyone but the comparative niche of Japanese-speakers, necessitating not only a translation effort but a new production run -- only now that Japanese-speaking niche has already long since imported, leaving a company with less sales to offset their localization costs.

There would, however, be an economic advantage, I suppose, to producing only one run of a console and dismissing all the anxiety over modchips and whatnot. This still leaves us with the underlying problem, though, of non-Japanese-speakers being up Shit Creek, as it were, when companies inevitably begin to give up on localization efforts because their revenue on foreign shores isn't enough to justify anything but a domestic release. The end result would be North America finding itself in the same proverbial boat as the PAL territories, those poor bastards.

Irish lament

I would just like to point out that at long last FF VI has been released over here in Ireland & the UK...woohoo!!...and with a playable demo of FF X, lucky us.

Wow, we are soooooo far behind you gits in the US!

Regional lockouts are evil I tells ye!! Us sods over here have No FFTactics, ever...No Chrono ANYTHING, ever...and no FFX until the summer...

We did get Chocobo Racing and Ehrgeiz though, oh the joy of it all...

And on a similar-ish topic (kinda), I could probably count all the region 2 anime dvd's without taking off my socks.

My point? Bah, who needs a point when there's whinging to be done!

In the words of Ragamuffin: "Can you feel my pain?...the pain!?!"

Part of the evil merry-go-round that is Square's continual refusal to release anything decent in any manner remotely resembling timely to the PAL territories is the way in which they've judged the receptiveness of the market with crap like Chocobo Racing and Ehrgeiz. Obviously, titles like these aren't going to generate the kind of revenue that make localizing worthwhile, so, companies apparently reason, Europe isn't worth courting, leaving European gamers with little option but importing, taking more away from the would-be sales of domestic releases. And the spiral of death continues....

Fight the tyranny

Maester DA Erin

first of all let me say that region lockouts are anything but "light and fluffy". thay are one of the worst plagues to ever hit our planet! (along with boy bands, girl bands and Micro$oft) they're sadistic measures who's only aim are to keep people from playing a game at the same price and at the same time, and I ask you WHY!? aside from pain and suffer what good are thay trying to achieve by it? in fact all they've done so far is help greedy companies take advantage of Europeans. one would think that because we get everything last (MGS2 PAL will only be released in about 3 more weeks) we shouldn't at least pay too much for it BUT NO, while a normal PS2 game costs $50 in the US the same game costs about £50 in the UK (£50 = $70) how is that fair?!

but where there's a will there's a way, you can always import! or can you...? just a couple of months ago a nice little site called was going to release the ultimate PS2 modchip! it was the first chip that could play everything, including legal backups and ORIGINAL imports (such a chip could even boost sony's sales) and what did Sony do to thank them? thay took them to court and skinned 'em to alive! (well, not really). when Sony was asked about how thay feel about modchips they said: "we will only allow a modchip that can play original imported games only" but no one can make such a chip, why? because sony made it illigal to copy their original/non-original disc recognition technology (%#*$ hypocrites!!!)

when I heard about what has happened I had only got a new PS2 two months ago, but I knew what I must do... I sold my console and bought a new one, an american one so in the end what did thay accomplish by all those hours in court and lawyer fees? I was importing now and I'm still importing today only this time I have to import because I can't play domestic software anymore, and if you consider the fact that my domestic region is PAL it isn't such a big loss...

Jordan Roffman, who'll one day rise to power from the shadows and free us all from this tyranny!!!

I have a feeling you're not going to appreciate the tough love Nich is about to lay on you, my friend....

Advocating the Devil ... or The Man, at least

I'm going to make the case for lock-outs, because no one else will, and I know how much of a drag unanimity is in DA columns.

First, I want to make it clear that I'm not talking about copy protection. It's possible to have copy protection without regional lock-outs; the technology is there in official Region 0 DVDs and was mentioned during the early development stages of the Xbox as a feature that Microsoft was thinking about implementing. Pretty much everyone in the world can see the benefit of copy protection.

The reason why regional lock-outs exist is a little less immediately obvious, but you can see why with a couple of counterexamples. It's been oft-bemoaned in this column that European readers don't get as many games as we do, and when they are blessed with the latest hit title, it's generally months and months after the US market has gotten it. The main reason for this, as I understand it, is because pretty much everyone in Europe who's going to buy a videogame knows he's got to import if he wants to get anything new and fresh, and so he does. Over time, the practice of importing games from the US (weird idea to us, but it happens) has become so ingrained and entrenched in that market that there's no point in companies doing an official release. Most Euro releases are in the same English as the US version, so they're not getting anything there, and it doesn't even matter if you're a German--if you could choose between the Japanese version now, the US version in eight months, and the Euro version in a year and a half, what's the difference between one set of illegible symbols and another?

Now, European gamers craving their fix still have it tough. They have to import systems, they have to get power converters, they might even have to get entirely new television sets to accomodate the NTSC standard those consoles use. And yet importing has still managed to put a serious dent in console game sales over there to the point that putting out an official version of the title is more trouble than it's worth. Imagine what would happen if they didn't have to deal with that, and could just order a game from the States, pop it in, and play it 5 seconds later with no hassle.

Well, then you'd have the music industry.

Ever wonder why no one but Tokyopop will bother selling videogame soundtracks? It's because, if you're the kind of person who would buy them, you already own everything you want. If you really dig game soundtracks, you will import them. If you are a fan of Japanese pop music, you will import it. If you're really into Pulp and Island hasn't announced a release date for We Love Life yet, you will import. There's absolutely nothing stopping you except a couple of bucks extra for overseas shipping; when you get the CD, you can just pop it in your player and listen to it right there, because there's no regional lockout.

So the next time you complain that regional lockouts make it impossible to play the games you want, consider the alternative: you could get no games at all, or at least none that didn't require substantial investments (like our poor Euro brethren) to access. Did it hurt when I had to pay $400 for a second PS2 so I could play stuff like La Pucelle? You better believe it. But knowing that lock-outs help people like the staff of Atlus and Working Designs keep food on the table eases the pain a bit.

-Nich Maragos

I've visited the issue of the neglected PAL territories and their consequent importing habits pretty often in DA. I'd tend to agree with you that putting most of your gaming money down for imports instead of the domestic product doesn't exactly encourage companies to put out a European release in a timely matter -- if at all -- but at the same time I can't ignore what a cyclical problem this is. God knows it has to be difficult to want to wait an additional two, three, six -- hell, twelve -- months for an often inferior product, in the rare case that a game even makes it as far as Europe.

As an individual who just confessed to paying $400 for an import PS2 to play the likes of La Pucelle, surely you understand the driving sentiment, here, Nich.

Incidentally, you're actually not the only one to ride to the defense of regional lockouts today, and moreover, not the only one with a sermon on supporting domestic releases....

And now ... a message for the conscientious gamer

This will likely be the overwhelming sentiment in this batch of letters, but it's my opinion that regional lockouts suck. I don't like them. They keep me from playing import games.

Lockouts have a fairly logical reason for existing though. Being able to play the import version of Guilty Gear X on the Dreamcast has kept me from buying the much later released PS2 version of the same game. I've talked to other gamers like me who have done the same thing.

Then again, Sammy chose to give the US the original instead of opting to bring the enhanced Guilty Gear X Plus (Japan's simultaneously developed PS2 version), which I would have gladly consumed. Despite that justification, I know that I'm not doing anything to help GGXX make it stateside. If it doesn't I'll have to deal with it and try to import the sequel as well.

I do try to be a conscientious gamer. If I like a certain game or type of game, I'm willing to show my support in dollars. Another way is to give feedback when companies solicit it. Fill out and returning those registration forms most people casually rip from the instruction booklet and throws directly into the trash, or take part in a web poll for example. These are the only ways a publisher will hear you.

I like RPGs, I'd heard that Namco was making a PlayStation port of the J-only SNES RPG Tales of Phantasia . So I put down the $$$ for the sequel, Tales of Destiny, when Namco went out on a limb and localized it. I filled out the registration form to show my approval. A Namco representative later called me on the phone, and after a 10 minute phone survey they asked if I would be interested in seeing other installments in the series. I expressed a strong, positive opinion to the Namco representative.

A couple of years later Namco localized Tales of Destiny II in North America. I know I didn't single handedly bring this title over myself, but I'll be damned if I didn't make myself heard. Bitching and whining on messageboards are really the most selfish and unproductive displays you can put on as a gamer.

You want La Pucelle? Buy Rhapsody (still available directly from Atlus on their website). You want Persona Innocent Sin? Keep spreading the word about the series, and consider buying the Devil Children even if cuteness is not your bag. Take part in the polls on the site asking you what RPG series you'd most like to see a sequel to, or send a mail to And while you're at it, you could buy similar games Atlus has actually published. If a company doesn't make profits they can't afford to take risks.

If you don't like the look of the new Zelda, but you failed to take part in the related poll on Nintendo's official site, you missed a chance. Miyamoto didn't change the look of the game, but he did respond to the sentiment expressed in the results of that poll in an interview.

Everyone does have their own budget, and of course total freedom to buy what they want with no obligation to let a company know how you feel. Not trying to tell anyone what to do here, just trying to get people to think.

Justin Speer

I can't say I've ever, in the history of my gaming career, had a rep call me regarding those damn registration cards. Yet I continued to fill them out, because some preternatural awareness -- some higher being, even -- called out to me to do so.

At last ... I know who that higher being was.

Foiling the attempt

Regional lockouts exist so that us gamers don't try to take a stab at the latest and greatest software from Japan before a publisher can make money off it. And one mind defend that only the hardcorest would import something, but you're wrong. The Game Boy has no lockout on it. When Pokémon Gold/Silver was released in Japan (way back in the beginning of 2000), it was imported by many, many people. Many of the children in my neighborhood were running around playing imported copies--not what you'd call hardcore in the slightest. The game was available quite freely, as there were many import ads in game magazines. I believe even QVC was letting buyers pay for imported copies in one of its Pokémon extravaganza shows. So many people were playing Japanese Pokémon Gold/Silver, in fact, that it might have significantly damaged sales if it wasn't an RPG with so much text. (People wanted an American version so that they could read all the deep, thoughtful dialogue such as, "I like shorts!" in English, and bought the domestic version as well; this probably wouldn't have happened if the game was an action game, racing game, etc.)

Now, can you imagine what would've happened if this was, say, Mario Sunshine? When I bought my girlfriend her GameCube for Christmas, I made sure it was a imported hardware (with a U.S. modification), just so that we COULD play these types of games months and months before their domestic release. The average gamer, though, isn't willing to pay a hundred dollars more to be able to do this when buying a console, and probably isn't even thinking of it at the time. And when they do hear about a game they want that's available overseas, the trouble of paying a technician to keep your system for a few days to mod it, much less do the work by oneself, discourages the enthusiasm of importing--it's not worth it, when the game's going to come out in three or four months.

It's probably not something you'd think the average gamer would consider, but you'd be surprised at how many people come into my local game shop, asking if they can import a game, and if it will work (there aren't many import stores in New England, but I can only imagine how readily available these games must be elsewhere). Believe me, people would if they could. Lockouts are perhaps the only wall that keeps a seemingly unrealistic threat away from publishers. The fact of the matter is that this is a very real and serious financial threat for publishers that few people acknowledge or even consider.

Xbox is able to do away with its lockout, perhaps because Microsoft realizes its Japanese support won't be absolutely fantastic. Most of the games people want will be released in America first, or very soon after its Japanese release. Furthermore, much of its Japanese support will either be ports of existing PS2 or GameCube games, or titles that will see simultaneous multiplatform release.

I don't really understand how locked-out peripherals would have any financial effect, unless you were talking about some strange controller like the Bemani guitar, the DDR dancepad, or that forty-button Tekki Xbox controller, which was supposedly ripped from the innards of a REAL "Vertical Tank." But even then, unless there wasn't a regional lockout for the game associated with this device, what makes you think people are going to have a use for them, if there's no domestic version? In other words, why would they need to import one of these controllers in the first place?

Anyway, I feel that regional software lock-outs are a very important part of the industry, especially when a large portion of these games are still coming out of Japan. Removing them would be an absolute disaster for the publishing industry, especially those that have product delays of Victor Ireland proportions. Though this wouldn't be a problem for publishers that bring over text-filled games like RPG's, it presents an absolutely huge dilemma for those that give us the standard action / adventure game fare. Christ, many Japanese games now have English dialogue. This is a concern that I feel very strongly about, and I think that if Microsoft later develops a very strong Japanese showing (doubtful, I know), American publishers will be tearing the software giant several new assholes.

Steve S. Freitas

I should probably comment on all the good points in this letter, but I've gotten pretty bored with that tonight, so I'll just flagrantly disregard all that and insist that regional lockouts are necessary because of tiny creatures....

The voice of reason


I realize that many gamers are inconvenienced by regional lockouts. "Why should I have to import a new system, and pay more money, just so I can import games they aren't gonna release over here anyway?" Many, if not most, gamers feel this is just a ploy by behemoth, soulless, multinational corporations to screw them out of their hard-earned money. The fact of the matter is, they could not be more wrong. These lockouts are implemented for a very specific and important reason: safety. This is a subject not to be taken lightly, and I encourage anyone planning to import to read this carefully before proceeding any further.

To fully understand the ramifications of this issue, one must first understand how games are made. A group of game developers is summoned by a publisher who wishes to make money. Publishers generally make money by paying people to make things, and then selling them. So, since they've summoned game developers, they usually tell them to make a game. The game developers then rush to their offices high in the mountains. At these altitudes, they farm and harvest tiny creatures known as Woosoohuushuu. These Woosoohuushuu undergo rigorous training procedures, and the strongest and smartest are selected to become a part of the game. The rest are generally eaten with a mild white sauce, although sometimes a fresh primavera is used. The selected Woosoohuushuu are then taped to the underside of the game disc. (You may think I'm lying... "I've never seen tape on my games," you say, but believe me - 3M has done wonders with their line of invisible tape). As the game disc spins at high speeds the tiny Woosoohuushuu scream in abject terror. Since they're so small, the human ear cannot hear their distraught cries for help, but these multinational corporations have sophisticated electronics research divisions, and have created precice receptors to decipher the agonizing pleas of the Woosoohuushuu. (As an interesting side note, turning a PS2 on its side changes the percieved acceleration of the Woosoohuushuu, ever so slightly altering their pitch. Using this techniqe can produce interesting results, such as the much fabled "I Love Lucy" ending to Final Fantasy X in which Tidus won't let Yuna dance for the sending, and Yuna whines about it. Try it sometime!) These receptors refine the raw fear, and distill it into Polybase-4T, the substance from which most conventional polygons are composed. The rest you can figure out on your own, as I seem to have strayed from my point.

The potential danger arises from sending these Woosoohuushuu overseas. You see, under international treaty, Woosoohuushuu are inelgible for foreign visas. A North American release of a title uses only purebred North American Woosoohuushuu (which is actually Canada's 2nd largest export). If a Japanese Woosoohuushuu were to find out he had been illegally transported overseas, he may become crazed and/or violent. This behavior stems from the Woosoohuushuu's innate antipathy to being sent to prison (they have very supple figures, and wouldn't last two days). When they discover they have broken the law, they lose their grip on reason, and in extreme cases may break free of their bondage and attack the nearest living creature. While Woosoohuushuu attacks are rarely fatal (and actually quite laughable), Sega, Sony, and Nintendo got tired of getting complaints about "poor little Fluffy" and paying medical bills for allergic children.

These corporations, who value nothing more than customer safety and satisfaction, made the logical conclusion to include regional lockouts on their systems and games to discourage unsanctioned importing, and thus reduce Woosoohuushuu attacks. You see, what gamers need to realize is that while this may be an inconvenience to them, it is truly for their own good. After all, these companies are always looking out for the little guy, and want only what is best for them. I hope you will pass along this information so that those out there who are disgruntled or confused about regional encoding will know the truth behind the system.

Now you know, and knowing is half the battle!

-Wise Master Hibb

And there you have it.


Ms. Mehlos,

Perhaps it's because I was a little bored at work today, or perhaps I'm just insane. But I was thinking today about how it would be nice to be able to apply just a few RPG rules/clichés to real life.

For example, I would've liked to have taken what I call "the shen mue approach" to work today, which pretty much consists of answering any questions by saying in a smug voice, "Oh no no no. I've been too tired lately. Ask someone else will ya?" Or perhaps the "dumb townsfolk approach" to work would've sufficed. Like any inhabitant of an RPG town I only have 2 replies to all questions, the first time someone talks to me they'll get reply #1 something like "Welcome to Denver!" anytime after that they'll get reply #2, something like "At night I hear strange noises from the CAVE up NORTH, perhaps you should go to the CAVE up NORTH." That'll usually get people to leave you alone. Asking for office supplies in the shen mue style is always fun, "Excuse, I'm looking for some pads of paper. Do you know where they hang out?" then reply to their answer just as Ryo would "Office supply closet?...I understand..."

Seeing as how the column has been a bit on the serious side lately, region lock outs, politics, et al. I figured this would make a spiffy topic, to see what RPG clichés people wish they could use in real life.

Mr.. Cruz-wishing he could go into any random house, rummage through people's drawers and take what I want, including weapons without anyone raising an eyebrow.

A good, casual topic for a Friday, I think.

Closing Comments:

Maybe you should speak to Mr. Cruz if you need more information on topics -- he lives on the northeast edge of town.

- Erin Mehlos

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