A regional lockout (or region coding) is a class of digital rights management preventing the use of a certain product or service, such as multimedia or a hardware device, outside of a certain region or territory. A regional lockout may be enforced through physical means, through technological means such as detecting the user's IP address or using an identifying code, or through unintentional means introduced by devices only supporting certain regional technologies (such as video formats, i.e. NTSC and PAL).
A regional lockout may be enforced for several reasons, such to stagger the release of a certain product, to hinder grey market imports by enforcing price discrimination, or to prevent users from accessing certain content in their territory because of legal reasons (either due to censorship laws, or because a distributor does not have the rights to certain intellectual property outside of their specified region).
Regional lockouts in video games have been achieved by several methods, such as hardware/software authentication, slot pin-out change, differences in cartridge cases, IP blocking and online software patching. Most console video games have region encoding.
The main regions are:
- Japan and Asia (NTSC-J)
- North America (NTSC-U/C)
- Europe, New Zealand and Australia (PAL region)
- China (NTSC-C)
Nintendo was the first console maker to introduce regional locks to its consoles. Games for the Nintendo Entertainment System (NES) were locked through both physical and technical means; the design of cartridges for the NES differed between Japan and other markets, using a different number of pins. As the Famicom (the Japanese model) used slightly smaller cartridges, Japanese games could not fit into NES consoles without an adapter (and even with that, they could still not use the extra sound functionalities of the Famicom due to their differing hardware). Additionally, the NES also contained the 10NES authentication chip; the chip was coded for one of three regions:
A game's region is recognized by the console using the 10NES chip. If the chip inside the cartridge conflicts with the chip inside the console, the game will not boot. The 10NES chip also doubled as a form of DRM to prevent unlicensed or bootleg games to play on the NES. The redesigned NES console released in the 1990s lacks the 10NES chip, and can play PAL games, although Famicom games still need a converter. The Famicom does not include a 10NES chip, but is still unable to play imports due to the aforementioned size difference.
The Super Nintendo Entertainment System (SNES) and the Super Famicom use differences in cartridge cases. A Super NES cartridge will not fit in a Super Famicom/PAL SNES slot due to its different shape and two pieces of plastic in the SNES slot prevent Super Famicom cartridges from being inserted in the SNES (both PAL and NTSC). PAL SNES carts can be fully inserted in both Japanese and American consoles, but a similar chip to the 10NES, called CIC, prevents PAL games to be played in NTSC consoles. While physical modification of the cases (either console or cartridges) is needed to play games from the different regions, in order to play games of different TV systems, a hardware modification is also needed. Regional-locks could be bypassed using special unlicensed cartridge adapters such as Game Genie. The Nintendo 64 features similar lockout methods as the Super NES. The GameCube, and Wii are all region-locked. The regions are:
- NTSC-U (North America, Singapore, Malaysia and the Philippines)
- PAL (Europe and Oceania)
- NTSC-J (Japan, Hong Kong and Taiwan)
- NTSC-K (South Korea)
The Game Boy and Nintendo DS product lines do not use regional lockouts for physically distributed games; however, software specific to the Nintendo DSi are region-locked, and cartridges released by iQue in China can only be played on DS models produced by iQue (although they remain compatible with other DS cartridges). The Nintendo 3DS line however, does enforce region locking for 3DS-specific software, with the exception of Nintendo 3DS Guide: Louvre, which is region-free.
All PlayStation 3 games except for one are region free. Even though publishers could choose to region-lock specific games based on a mechanism that allows for the game to query the model of the PS3, none did so during the first six years after the launch of PS3. The first game to be region-locked on PS3 is Persona 4 Arena; publisher Atlus declined to reverse its decision despite substantial outcry by some of their fanbase. The decision was made to avoid excessive importing, because all versions of the game share the same features and language support, but have differing price points and release dates in each region. Way of the Samurai 3 is also region-locked but only on Slim models. There is region locking for backwards-compatible PlayStation and PlayStation 2 games, as well as DVD and Blu-ray Disc movies. Additionally, some games separate online players per region, such as Metal Gear Solid 4: Guns of the Patriots. PlayStation Store only contains content for its own country, for example the EU store will not supply usable map packs for an imported US copy of Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare. In addition, downloadable content for the PlayStation 3 systems is region-matched with the game, so you need to buy DLC from US PlayStation Store to use it in a US game. More specifically, the PS3's file system includes region-of-origin, so DLC cannot be shared between different region games much like save files cannot. Also, the PSN Store is tied down on a per-account basis to each user's PSN account, and payment methods for PSN is also region-locked. For example, A user with a Japanese PSN account will only be able to access the Japanese PSN store despite owning on a US PS3, and can only pay for a game with a Japanese PSN gift card or Japanese credit card. However, with a few rare exceptions, notably Joysound Dive, downloaded content from each PSN store are also region free, as are PSOne and PS2 classics offered on the store.
PlayStation Portable has no region locking for UMD games; however UMD movies are locked by region. However, Sony has confirmed that it is possible to implement Region-Locking on the PSP, and the firmware will disable features based on region. For example, Asian region PSPs will not display the "Extras" option on the XMB despite having been upgraded to the US version of Firmware 6.20, preventing owners of such PSPs from installing the Comic Book Viewer and the TV Streaming applications. Sony's states that the "Extras" function will remain disabled on Asian PSPs until the features are officially launched in the region and gives no reason for the option being disabled aside from that it is not yet launched. Nevertheless, this prevents Asian PSP owners from using the above-mentioned applications on Asian PSPs, as the applications are installed through a PC; and users from the region are not blocked from downloading the application, allowing installation on non-Asian PSPs that have been imported into the region.
As per its predecessor, PlayStation 4 will not be region-locked, although it is still possible to develop region-locked games. However Sony's official stand is that they discourage developers from region-locking and will only relent on special cases (as with the PS3 Persona 4 Arena exception mentioned above).
Japanese Sega Mega Drive cartridges have a different shape and will not fit in the Genesis or PAL MD slot. Japanese Mega Drive systems have a piece of plastic that slides in a place of the cartridge when the power switch is turned on, inserting a Genesis cart will make it impossible to turn on a Japanese MD. Minor modifications to the plastic locks in the systems will bypass the regional locks. However, the console main board was designed with language and frequency jumper sets which originally activated features in the same ROM for the different regions, this feature was later used to enable software-based regional locks that display warning messages that prevent the game from being played. Switches placed instead of the jumpers will bypass the locks. In region-locked games, if there is a multiple language feature, it can be changed with the switches after the game has booted-up (as it is the case of Cyber Brawl/Cosmic Carnage for the Super 32X).
Sega Mega-CD games are region-locked. The region can be changed when making CD-R copies but it's not always possible (i.e. Sengoku Denshou in American consoles will hang in the Sega license screen with a region-changed CD-R copy).
Most American Sega Saturn discs can be played in Japanese consoles, but most Japanese games are locked for American and European consoles. Like in the Mega Drive/Genesis, the use of a switch replacing jumpers, will circumvent the region-lock but won't change the language. In addition, the use of certain unlicensed backup/RAM cartridges will also allow a console to play games from different regions, except for games that use proprietary ROM-RAM carts. Games from different television systems may have graphical problems.
Sega Dreamcast GD-ROM discs were region-locked, but this could be circumvented with the use of boot discs.
The original Xbox as well as the Xbox 360 are region-locked, although it is up to the publisher if a game is region-free or not. A number of games are region-free and will play on a unit from any region. Digital content through Xbox Live are also region-locked, such as DLC, movies, and apps.
The Xbox One, was initially planned to have a region blocking policy that would have prevented its use outside its region in an effort to curb parallel importing. However, Microsoft later reversed the policy and the final retail version of the console was not region-locked.
Amongst PC games, regional lockout is more difficult to enforce because both the game application and the operating system can be easily modified. Subscription-based online games often enforce a regional lock by blocking IP addresses (which can often be circumvented through an open proxy) or by requiring the user to enter an national ID number (which may be impossible to verify). A number of other games using regional lockout are rare but do exist. One of the examples of this is the Windows version of The Orange Box, which uses Steam to enforce the regional lockout.
Hewlett-Packard print cartridges have been regionalised since 2004. Thus they do not work in printers with a different region code, unless the user calls technical support for the device to be reassigned to the appropriate region. Canon print cartridges for the Pixma MP 480 will not work in printers of that type with a different region code either (even when listed on the packaging of the Canon printer cartridges in question).
In September 2013, it was reported that the packaging of the Samsung Galaxy Note 3 in America and Europe contained a warning label stating that it would only operate with SIM cards from the region. A spokesperson clarified the policy, stating that it was intended to prevent grey-market reselling, and that it only applied to the first SIM card inserted.
|Wikivoyage has a travel guide for Regional coding.|
- PAL region
- Regional converter
- Fan translation
- Trusted Platform Module
- Parallel import
- Parallel importing in video games
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- PlayStation 3 Secrets
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