Region free 3DS?

Two generations ago region circumvention was enough. Very few games supported any sort of patching on the sixth generation of video game consoles. Nowadays the story is different with each platforms from this and previous generation supporting large scale updating and patching.
Simple region circumvention isn’t cutting it anymore as the online functionality comes into way. For Pokémon it’s easy to see; people without certain patches won’t be able to trade or fight online. Second one would be Monster Hunter, where multiplayer patches could be highly important.
Secondly, there’s the problem of the consumer inability to access the possible DLC. While I’m not a huge fan of DLC myself, I know that there are those who wish to purchase so-called complete game every bit of colour variations and alternative outfits.

As such, regionthree for the 3DS is one limited little thing.
regionthree has been hailed as the loader that defeated the 3DS’ region locking. This, of course, is not the case. Wii’s region locking was defeated and humiliated harshly with sofmods, 3DS’ locking still applies. Be it the paranoid attitude of the 3DS hacking and homebrew scene towards piracy, or the fact that GateWay holds extremely harsh monopoly over both scenes, the 3DS users don’t benefit all too much from this launcher.
There exists a handful of games that regionthree allows to shine at their fullest potential. These games are single player and have seen no updates or DLC. One could argue that certain games that have more or less useless DLC belong to this category too with games that have something one wouldn’t purchase anyway. For example, Super Robot Wars UX is a complete game on itself and DLC stages only offer what one could call puzzle stages. These stand alone stages don’t add anything to the main game, but could be a nice extra if they had a cheaper price.
In order to defeat the current region locking 3DS now has would mean similar set of tools that a softmodded Wii has. I would argue that SONY’s take on the whole region locking has been rather good in comparison. There are problems that need to be faced before one can access the other region stores, but patches and other similarities are completely universal, independent from the region the system is in when it comes to physical games.

regionthree also requires you to be online during start up due to it using GateWay’s site. While I don’t have any problems with this, this is extremely bad design. There is an Android application to circumvent this problem, but otherwise the whole deal is just pretty damn bad. Even for a flashcard product this is something unforgivable and I have no idea why anyone would spent their money on a product that could brick both the console and the flashcard.

It’s like intentionally being an ass to the customer.

regionthree also raised a good question; what games are actually worthwhile importing from other regions? As this only applies to physical games, all the digital content is thrown out the window without any remorse. A lot of games are still being localised and I doubt most 3DS’ users have enough language skills to play something like New Love+. Speaking of New Love+, I’m divided if I should just throw my social life away and get one.

There are numerous games I would like purchase from local stores, but seeing how limited the launcher ultimately is there’s no way in hell I’d purchase a game I know I wouldn’t be able to take full potential out of. Then again, now people can get that 3D Sega compilation on cartridge rather than purchase them all separately from the eShop.
Anyways, regionthree shows that there really isn’t anything worth importing across regions that is not extremely niche, localised or getting a localisation. At least this is better than with PSVita, which has barely any original games. I’m extremely surprised that there is no sequel for Gravity Rush on the system already. I remember it being one of the most advertised games for the system, but now there is no advertisement for the system. It’s PSVita’s failing miserably or something. The system had promise and looked interesting, but nobody was actually making any good games for it. I can’t even collect those minimum of seven original games for the system to warrant a purchase. The list consists exactly one PSVita original game and even that is the aforementioned Gravity Rush. The rest are ports, sequels or remakes.

In that sense the PSVita shows a prevailing problem in the industry at large. Not only same stuff is recycled into new boxers, but there’s no chances taken. Of course I can’t deny that there is a very damn good reason to keep repeating the same thing over and over again, but an industry needs to renew itself at times in order to keep itself fresh. I guess the jump to 3D is a good example, despite 3D Mario historically having lower sales than 2D ones.

Perhaps people just want more 2D than 3D.

Back to 3DS and its region locking. I doubt Nintendo can just free it. This is because they most likely have a certain legal grounds that prevents them from just flipping the flag from 1 to 0 and allow the region freedom. This wouldn’t be enough. As with regionthree, the player would be unable to access any of the functions that would require different region eShop. I highly doubt that Nintendo would be willing to change their eShop system to support any kind of region freedom. It is more or less integrated to how the console functions. It would take somewhat massive reconstruction how their online store model would work. There would be a need to implement similar system that Sony already has. It just ain’t happening, but I hope I’m wrong.

I could see Nintendo releasing the region coding so that the eShop in itself, the application on the console, would still be regionally locked, but any and all physical games could fetch update and patch datas. Games that rely purchasing DLC via eShop would be screwed, but that’s something that could be slightly gotten around by patching the DLC functionality directly into the games.

I really hope I didn’t ramble too much, I was slightly under influence of brewed drink. For that, music time!

Nintendo’s region locking, possible future and past

In a recent QA discussion, Iwata of Nintendo touched a little upon Nintendo’s policies on region locking. Zelda informer has a translation on the bit that matters. Much like other similar sessions, Iwata’s comments on the restriction are rather empty. While he does make a proper comment on the worldwide troubles when it comes to global licensing and localisation, Iwata regards that there is too many problems on region free console despite its possible benefits to both customer and service provider.

Whether or not Nintendo will make a move towards region free consoles is an open question, but because it’s Nintendo I would not get my hopes up.

This QA sparked a small discussion on the ‘net about Nintendo’s region locking. Nintendo has a history for region locking when it comes to their home consoles as each and every has a form of region lock implemented in them. In handhelds however, the DSi was Nintendo’s first and this was simply because of the eShop.

In reality, there is no real problems with region free consoles in modern gaming. Any and all handheld consoles were universally produced to be compatible with one sort of software, and thus there was no reason to region lock anything. The whole idea of a handheld is to have it everywhere you go and have the software working on it on the go. The GameBoy line and the DS enforced this and you can find many stories where people travelled to other regions and buying games there for their own region GameBoys.

In this regard, Nintendo has stopped producing handheld consoles as they are perceived. The DSi, 3DS and Flanders all are home consoles in handheld form. The idea of a handheld console on the go is the core basic of it. With region locking, the core of portability takes a hit. Because Nintendo forces the user account to be locked to the consoles rather than on a server, losing or having the console breaking down essentially causes the consumer lose everything digital one that particular console. That is a risk Nintendo should have taken into account from the get go and remove such possibility. How Nintendo is handling their user accounts at this moment is horribly designed and against the benefits of the customer, and thus against the benefits of Nintendo themselves.

There are completely valid legal reasons to limit the user access to different region online stores on the consoles, that much is true. SONY’s PlayStation Network is brilliant in this regard that the store is tied to the account region, and has the gray area that allows the user create different region accounts if one knows what they’re doing. This benefits SONY and allows more sales software globally than what it normally would have. Microsoft’s account system is less flexible, as the consoles are tied to a region as is the online store, but the developers are able to select whether or not lock their games to a particular region.

In order to enforce the core freedom of a handheld console while enforcing the online region lock, one possible solution would be to lock the online store, eShop in Nintendo’s case, to the account region while allowing the physical cartridges, or the games themselves, to be region free. This causes some problems, such the inability to access add-ons and updates to the game software if they’re only available on the online store. This could be solved by allowing the games access their online store page and nothing else, thus allowing the customer to fully take use of their software while limiting access to any other part of regionally locked material on the store. It’s not a perfect solution, but the companies could also form agreements where the contents of the games are licensed for use in a particular software on a console without limitations. It would be a legal jungle to tackle and entirely possible feat to do. It would require a paradigm shift in the companies, however.

Earlier on, Iwata has mentioned that region locking is due to cultural differences and the aforementioned legal restrictions. However, to say that they employ region lock because one regional culture may deem certain aspects as offensive or something similar is outright stupid. If that was the case, every nation would need its own region code and localisation and that’s not happening. Iwata would actually have a good chance here to come out and say how Nintendo encourages people to experience others culture through video games and see the differences as well as the common things cultures share.

With the discussion of Iwata’s QA it became apparent that not all were familiar with Nintendo’s history of region locking. Many claimed that the Super NES and N64 were region free consoles. Let’s take a look what sort of locking mechanism Nintendo has employed through the years in their home consoles.

The NES had a chip called 10NES and physical cartridge differences to enforce region locking. The NES and Famicom cartridges were different in size and shape as well as having different pin layout. The NES carts had their own chip inside, which the 10NES checked. If there was a conflict between the chips, the console would refuse to run the software.

The Super Nintendo followed some of the NES’ practices. The US got a abomination of a redesign, making a physical lockout between NTSC carts. This physical lockout is easy to bypass in either US or JPN console with removal of pegs that prevent different region cartridge insertion. PAL region console has a CIC chip, which functions like an upgraded 10NES chip. The PAL region used the same superior design the Japanese had, but because of the physical differences with the malformed US carts and the CIC differences with Japanese cart, the PAL console can’t run either.

The N64 region lock is the same as with SNES at its basics, but due to common design worldwide, the US and JPN only had raised surfaces preventing insertion of different region carts. This is easily solved by removing surfaces. There are five different variations of the N64 CIC chip in both NTSC and PAL of varying rarity. For example, Starfox has its unique chip for whatever reason.

With the removal of cartridges, physical differences between regions died out. The discs are uniform across regions, but the consoles still have a bios chip that check certain pathways on the PCB. The Game Boy Player add-on is region free in itself, but the disc required to run the device is not, as per standard. The Wii has a region check routine tied to its IOS system. Wii U has similar system to it, but it should also be noted that the Wii U GamePad is also region locked for whatever God forsaken reason.

Most physical lockouts can be circumvented in a way or another. mmmmonkey is a good site to start with older console region modding, if you’re into that. Modern consoles are another thing, and often bring piracy with the homebrew scene.

Monster Hunter and multiplayer could be even more open

Few of my friends have been asking me to get back into Monster Hunter with MonHun 4G. I did enjoy MonHun on the PSP despite the controls being rather atrociously laid out. Claw Grip is one of the unhealthiest and hand hateful position you can have your hand in. Despite my stance against CAPCOM products due to their awful customer and business practices, my interest to play with my friends took the better of me.

Or it would have if Japan would still allow worldwide multiplayer as a standard.

It’s not surprising that CAPCOM divided servers. The division between East and West has been a standard, but there’s no real good reason to create the split. They can give reasons ranging from server problems to connection speeds to language barriers. Any and all customers who are even a bit tech savvy can call out on their bullshit. Language barrier wouldn’t even be a problem, if it was treated in a proper manner. 3DS’ own regional locking is not a problem either, as there’s more than enough games that don’t give two shits about regional lock in Online multiplayer, but for some reason you can’t play local multiplayer with different region consoles/games for some God forsaken reason. Granted, regional promotions, events and addons could pose a problem, but even in that the following example shows how it’s done. Much like with Pokémon, it would be possible to have every language mingle with each other with no problem, and regional things would only apply for that region. For example, if a Japanese and English version players would play together, Japanese would see チャージアックス (Charge Axe) while English would see Charge Blade. This is a matter of coding, and it would seem that CAPCOM doesn’t want to put that extra effort in making the series a worldwide experience.

That’s actually a point that should be emphasized. Monster Hunter has always been a game where you gather your party and go hunt some monsters, despite certain issues earlier in the series or the limit of access to other players. In Japan, AdHoc play is extremely easy as you could find Hunters in almost every corner of any of the larger cities. You could find a hunting party during your train trip and have a short session with the before the train trip ends. Not so much elsewhere in the world, locally practically impossible. I don’t expect Japanese developer to understand different cultures, as it is apparent not even Nintendo wants to deal with West. It’s sad to say, but Japan doesn’t give two shits about Western markets. That is the reason you see Monster Hunter most on handheld consoles rather than on home consoles nowadays. The average Japanese person has no time to sit down and play their consoles anymore. Then there’s the sad fact how the number of children in Japan has been in a steady decrease, which translates to whole lot of other problems to those who wish to create successful kids’ franchises from the past decades. As such, tapping to the Western market would be their absolutely best deed they could do. I can even offer an example in form of Nintendo; during the 80’s and mid to late 90’s, Nintendo had a strong Western presence. They worked with Western developers and have Howard Lincoln as their contact person, who communicated between the two sides. However, after Lincoln moved on, Nintendo’s attitude towards their Western developers, which at that point was essentially Rare, went cold. It’s all cultural of course, and Japan’ long history of being only with themselves and excluding everyone else is well known. It’s sad to see this sort of paradigm has not vanished with time, but has taken numerous different kind of forms.

If we could create the most idealised MonHun game, I guess that one would be Monster Hunter World, where CAPCOM would put every and any content from past games into one massively comprehensive game. Like the given title, the game would be worldwide, calling any and all players to join one massive community of hunters. All the differences the players would have from any point, they all would be connected by their wish to slay dinosaurs and dragons. Basic MMO solutions with servers and whatnot of course would apply, but the point is to bring people together without limitations. Knowing CAPCOM, this is impossible due to their ineptitude to properly satisfy their customers to a large extent. Otherwise it would be completely possible for them to do something like that, it’s not like CAPCOM has seen this sort of products, just in a more limited form.

In the modern era of online multiplayer gaming, exclusion is far from good form. There is no reason not to create an all inclusive multiplayer experience, where everybody could play with anyone from anywhere from the world. Connections can (and often will) vary from bad to worse, but that’s all part of the experience in the end. There’s a lot of people across the world with various attitudes and ways to communicate, and we can’t really understand these people unless we can mingle, even if it is through a hunt of Rathalos. The standard messages most online multiplayers have are often enough to convey the feelings and meanings of the players, but more than not the gameplay and how they act during it allows us to see the similarities we share. There are those who are there just to hunt and help others, there are those who are there to compete for the best pieces and some are there to show the ropes to all newcomers. It’s all about the experience, and limiting who we can play with is directly taking a piece out of that experience.

Of course, one problem is that Monster Hunter is far more popular in Japan than in Western regions but perhaps the more free multiplayer could help in this.

In the end, I could always buy an European 3DS or N3DS Flanders, but to quote a wiseman; Fuck that shit. While I understand why Nintendo chooses to go with region locking, I agree with all the people criticising it. It’s an old method to control a market, and both SONY and Microsoft have opted for better solution to some extent. I have to say that I am rather fond how PSN overall works with its regional differences, as it allows the gray area market to work full force via PSN codes, for SONY’s benefit no less. Screwing with customer can end up the customer screwing with you, and then it becomes a never ending cycle. For companies developing consoles, keeping an eye on the hack scene and what is most popular function among the users would be a good place see what the truly core customer may want to see from you.

Microsoft has been changing their Xbone policies a lot.

Ever since Microsoft was laughed at by pretty much everybody in and out the game industry, they’ve been periodically changing their policies with Xbone. It’s a very positive thing to see Microsoft taking in all the flak and reassessing their position with the console. They’ve had so much negative press since the E3 that it would have been a sort of miracle if they had stayed with their initial plans rather than taking a different approach.

Now Microsoft has made another good step, which emulates SONY’s policies, which dictate that the console is free of region locking. Free region home consoles are becoming a standard, which is a definitive welcome change in the overall scenario. Now if the rest of them could be free of region limits outside the account the user is tied to.

SONY has been rather good example on their account system, where the user is able to open an account to any region store where he wants. There’s some gray area what needs to be to fully utilise them, but that’s something that hasn’t been hurting anyone and mostly has brought more profits to SONY and its partners.

While Nintendo was initially somewhat a forerunner with the whole ‘net connectivity with the Famicom, they’ve been far behind how the current world functions. There should be no restrictions why I shouldn’t have the option to have one account that works on all Nintendo systems that have the ability to function with their current Virtual Console or whatever it’s called now.

Microsoft has been rather humble while still trying to lift their image. Still, what we’re hearing from the is just about the console, what it does, what doesn’t need to be attached to it in order to function and so on. Mostly we’ve heard stuff that isn’t really relevant for an actual game console to have to function, and no region locking is actually the first news that has some level of impact on what people will play on the console. Now, Xbone has larger library of games, if you’re willing to import.

Nowadays importing has become just as easy as any Internet purchasing. I’ve have no idea how customs are handled in various other countries, but locally it’s as simple as getting a letter, which states that the customs officials have taken package until the customs are payed. From their website you fill in a form and pay the customs according to the form and the package is released. Even after customs most games will be cheaper to import form outside Europe rather than buy them locally, which is pretty sad when you think about it. Back in 1997 importing was hard. You had to know certain people who knew certain people, or had an access to a random import service. I have no real recollection if ’97 saw an Internet shop that was willing to ship abroad from US, but I think there was at least one. Back then some of the prices were about as much inflated as the worst eBay prices.

Microsoft also took out the compulsory Internet connection a while ago, which makes the machine itself rather import friendly as well. It’s sad to think that home consoles are doing better on the region free front rather than the hand held consoles.

What region free consoles gives to the customer is power to decide over their purchase in more free way. With the Internet there are no boundaries where or how you can get your item, whatever it may be. Only legislation stands in your way. Only electronics seem to have bullshit limitations why you shouldn’t be able to use them in any given region. GameBoy didn’t have region, as you could buy any game from any region during holidays and play it on your machine.

As region free console allows the consumer more freedom on choice on his purchases, this also means a slight paradigm shift how the company has to approach their systems. SONY’s account based system is a good middle ground, but it’s unfortunate to see that they still enforce use of PSN Cards, as an European credit card can’t purchase US/JPN games those regions. This is somewhat comical, as I’ve been able to buy Japanese Virtual Console game with my European console. Is the system intended to work like that? No, but at least it works and they’re getting my money for the product I want to purchase.

It’s damn weird that the user has to cheat the company in order to purchase their product in more legit way.

With region locked consoles and games the companies have been established that the software won’t work within certain region, which on the other most likely has lessened number of complaints and similar contacts. I know one person who called local SONY branch and complained that his game didn’t work on the PlayStation he bought from a ship validated by them. Turned out the had bought the game from Russia. General source of complaints from older times would have been picture being a mess due to wrong signal, black-and-white screen and with machines their power overloading due to different output from the wall socket. That’s why we have power bricks and socket adapters. This is also why I’d rather see hand held consoles using real batteries, and you wouldn’t be tied down to a rechargeable battery. Unfortunately, the 3DS and Vita consume way too much power for any sensible use of AA-batteries in them.

Honestly speaking, there’s very little chances that we’re ever going to see completely region free console, if it has an Internet based service. This is because of various business contracts with distributors between regions varies widely between regions. Then you have the in-game license issues, which actually prevent some of the older games being released on modern consoles… like Mega Man Legends 1 and 2. And that’s mostly because CAPCOM refuses to pay money to get more money.

However, you wouldn’t find me complaining much if the future consoles and their account systems would have similar loopholes as PSN.

Well, it’s a good thing that Xbone is region free, as it’s a glimpse of sanity in a place which wants to see what you’re doing all the time.