Tuesday, August 01, 2006

Console Modding Versus Region Coding

Ozymandias is a Microsoft employee with a blog. I tried rewording that several times so that it didn’t sound like I was saying something I wasn’t. But it kept coming out sounding like, well like “Tommy is a 3 year old, a 3 year old with a gun!” But that isn’t what I’m saying at all. He is a blogger and he works for Microsoft, that’s all I’m saying.

Oh, and he wrote a bit entitled: The Problem with Modchips where he shares his thoughts and opinions on Modding. Modding being the purchasing and installing of special chips into your console game system; which in turn allows for playing of import games, creating your own custom content, and piracy. You all knew that unless you’re my mother reading my blog again. Everyone say hello to my mother.

So of those three in reverse order:

3) Piracy
Piracy is wrong. They are stealing. I too am a game developer and you are taking money out of my pocket. I don’t care if you wouldn’t have bought the game anyway. If you are playing it you should be paying for it.

2)Custom Content
Bah. He goes into the business model of the console systems and explains why you shouldn’t be doing what you want with your own hardware, making your own games but instead should be buying official games.

You know I don’t really see this as being a problem. I think the very few hardcore people that are making and sharing their own content are buying just as many games, if not more, than the rest of us. Plus they are gaining experience and are better positioned to get a job in the industry.

1) Import Games
Okay this is where he really looses me. Let me quote him:
The desire to play import games is at least a reason I can rationally understand, but cannot condone. Sure, there are games you might want to play that are either released earlier or, quite possibly, not released at all in your region. But sometimes companies have good reasons to either not release a title into a region or release it at different dates. It may be because of the time and cost of localization, marketing plans, ad buys, cultural considerations, or perhaps even because of the impact of piracy in the region. Whatever the case, it’s safe to assume the publisher has thought about it. The good news is that most publishers are developing with multiple platforms, regions, and languages in mind up front, so this is becoming less and less of an argument. (After all, it’s in the publisher’s best interest to sell as many copies as possible, right?)
What a load of bull$#!+ (remember my mother may be reading this so nobody tell her how to translate those symbols.) They might be valid reasons why the company didn’t release the game in that region, but none of those reasons are valid about why people that are actually paying above and beyond the cost of the game should be allowed to enjoy the game. They are spending their hard earned (well I assume its hard earned, but lets not judge) cash for the game. This is yet another sale for the publisher. On top of that they are also paying for the shipping cost of the game from what ever other region they are buying it from. Plus they paid for the mod chip and maybe even paid to have it installed. All of that so they could get a copy of a game that isn’t available in their own region.

Lets go through Ozymandias’ lame reasons and see if we can find any downside:

Time & Cost of Localization
The Company didn’t take the time nor did they pay the cost of localization and yet they made an extra sale of the game can’t really see the downside here.

Marketing Plans
Let’s not let the tail wag the dog here. Marketing plans are things to which the company does in order to get people to buy the game. Somebody bought the game, job well done have a cookie. It doesn’t spoil any marketing plan if somebody buys the game early.

“Oh my God! Somebody bought the game before our TV commercial came out! Our marketing plan is ruined! What ever will we do?”

Actually somebody buying the game early is a marketing plan itself. It is like when movie studios do sneak peeks before the movie is released in order to generate a buzz about the movie. I can’t see a problem here unless the game really sucks and they are afraid that the early purchaser is going to tell everybody it is turd in a box before their marketing plan can trick more people into wasting their money on it.

Ad Buys
WTF? He doesn’t have a lot of good reasons so he tried to fake another one but it this is more “Marketing Plan” crap. Seriously somebody bought the game without having to have witnessed some marketing spin; again I can’t see the downside.

Cultural Considerations
Like what? I think what he really means is that if the company doesn't think the game is the kind of game that would sell well in that country. I completely understand that a game company might think this due to the country's prevailing culture. That is a perfectly reasonable justification for not having released the game in that region. I do not expect a company to spend all the money it would take to sell a game in a region if they don’t think anybody there is going to buy it… but somebody did buy it! We are talking import purchases here remember. Somebody is buying the game even though the company didn’t release it in their region. That’s and extra sale!

I am not even trying to use any of this as a reason to say the company should have released the game in some other country. I know that just because some people imported the game doesn’t mean there would be enough people who would buy it to justify the expense of releasing it in that country. I am only saying that this isn’t a reason to be against somebody going through the extra effort of buying and importing it. Somebody bought the game that otherwise wouldn’t. Once more there is no downside.

Impact of Piracy in the Region
Okay this is the KEY POINT deserving of capital letters. If they are against modding of console systems for the very understandable reason of possible software piracy then why keep with the practice of region coding and restricting of consoles and games? It is companies like Microsoft that are region restricting the damn things in the first place! If people didn’t have to mod their console in order to play a game they imported from another region they wouldn’t also be able to play pirated games. Would some people still mod their consoles to play pirated games, sure. But modding wouldn’t be going more and more main stream with each console generation and in turn increasing the market for pirated games! (slam your fist down on the table when you read that, it helps with the effect.)

I do not currently own a modded console. But I do own a region 1 (United States region) Microsoft XBox, Sony Playstation 2, and Nintendo Game Cube each of which I bought the week they were released while I was in the United States. As you should know I moved to and am currently living in Australia now. Australia is region 4. I can not go down to my local game store and purchase games to play on any of those three systems because they only play region 1 games and aren’t modded to play region 4 games. My only choice is to import them from the United States which is a big pain in the ass so I haven’t been doing it.

In the past I have always bought all console systems that have come out right when they were released. I have yet to buy an XBox 360 and I probably won’t be buying a Sony PS/3 or Nintendo Wii right when they are released because I don’t want to buy a console that is restricted to region 4 because I will most likly be be going back to the US sometime in the future. Now I will admit I am not even sure if any of these systems are region restricted but I haven’t read anything to the contrary.

Game companies have not gained any new console video game sales from me in the last 2.5 years and they are losing out on selling me their new expensive console systems all because of region coding. The only way they will regain me as a customer is if I move back to the United States or if I am willing to start modding. Well either that or Microsoft can ship me a region 4 XBox and copy of every region 1 XBox game I own and then be willing to swap them all back plus any new one's I've bought while in Australia for region 1 versions if I go back to the United States. Somehow I'm sure they will have some detailed buisness model rational on why that isn't a good idea even though the current buisness model that I just spelled out doesn't have me doing any actual buisness with them.

Doing localized language versions is understandable, doing different packaging for each reason makes marketing sense, doing NTSC and PAL version is still unfortunately necessary even if just about all new PAL TVs support NTSC signals. But adding the region coding requires additional coding, packaging and versions without adding any real benefit in return. I’ve heard some song in dance in the past about how it’s done because retailers are demanding it, but since they are the ones selling and shipping the games to people ordering them outside their own region I do not believe it.


BugHunter said...

Pounding my hand on the desk makes other employees jump. :)

My parents were in Australia last year picking up my brother from melbourne (he lived there for 2 years). While there they came across a neat family game for PS2 so they bought it. Arriving home, I brought my PS2 to the homecoming party at their request only to discover that we couldn't play the game because of region coding. Crappy console companies ruined my families party with this region crap! It's total garbage! Why in the world wouln't Australia, UK, and US be the same region anyway?

Oh and the last paragraph is a repreat of one of the other's.

Joseph the Fourth said...

Whoops. I thought that paragraph was better suited for a conclusion so I moved it but forgot to delete the original. fixed.

They have the same problem with DVDs but somewhere along the line they kind of stopped caring. I can play my entire United States region 1 NTSC DVD collection on either of my 2 Australian region 4 DVD players on my two PAL TVs.

I know there was a internation lawsuit being talked about 2 years ago where the European Union was claiming that region coding on DVDs was in violation of some international price fixing law or something to that effect, but I havn't heard anything else about it.

faraz said...

I love this post. It sums up what I've been thinking for years. Region locking consoles is ridiculous.

I think that there is another reason why region locking may be done: to make more money.

Let me explain, games and systems sold in Australia cost a lot more than games and systems that are sold in the States.

For example, if we convert the price of the Wii sold in Australia to USD, we'll get close to $307...which is nearly $60 more than what the system costs if you buy it in the States.

Games also cost a lot more in Australia. Wii games will cost the USD equivalent of $76.5 in Australia, but they only cost $49.99 in the States!

So (this comment is getting long, but anyway), what I'm trying to say is, since the US and Japan are key markets, maybe Nintendo makes the systems there a little cheaper in those territories and then tries to make a little bit more money on the side by enforcing region lock and extorting money from people in other countries just to make some more money. (As an aside, check out the cost of systems in Mexico and Brazil listed in Wikipedia...what's going on there!?)

I could be way off here and I'm sure there are other factors involved (tax etc.) in the price differences, but I've always wondered why games and consoles have to cost so much more in Australia when compared to many other countries.

Anyway, the whole thing sucks. I really thought Nintendo had grown up about the whole region lock thing. The DS is region free and I think the Wii should be too.