One of the big points of contention in previous generations of gaming consoles was region-locking: the practice of artificially locking a physical or digital game to a console from that region. The Playstation Vita is Region Free, which means you can play games from any region on any Playstation Vita. The Vita’s main competitor, the Nintendo 3DS, on the other hand, was region locked. This meant that you could not play Japanese games on an American console, and so on. Let’s study this a bit more, as well as the pros and cons of region locking.
One of the best arguments for region locking is that it makes licensing much easier. You see, a lot of big games are distributed by different companies in different regions. By region locking a game, a company can ensure that the distributor from another region won’t encroach on their business.
For licensed IPs in particular (the Star Wars and Marvels of the world) this is handy, because they usually have preexisting distribution deals on different regions that are not game-exclusives. Indeed, the practice of region-locking has been going on for ages, with DVDs being region-locked and even some Blu-Rays as well. This is common practice across many industries, including gambling and online casinos. Even the best casino in Australia can be region-locked, as the regulations for online gambling differ from country to country.
Despite the negative reception among fans, region-locking has actually allowed many games to exist: it is cheaper to license a game for a distribution in a single region, than for worldwide distribution. Therefore, more games (particularly in Japan) were published through region-locking than would have been possible without it.
The biggest con against region-locking comes from a consumer perspective. The idea that we won’t get a game localized in our language of choice is one thing. But going back to the Japanese example: there are many games published in Japan or Asia (funnily enough, different regions in some cases) that have English subtitles but that you cannot play on a region-locked console from the United States or Europe.
So, for consoles like the Playstation Vita, it was actually one of the few key decisions that Playstation got right in terms of being a consumer-oriented choice. The fact that the Vita isn’t region-locked allowed a contingent of international publishers to continue producing physical Vita games long after North American production ended (Playasia being the biggest).
For a console like the Playstation Vita, it really helped bring games across. I am a fan of playing imported games and there are many we didn’t get in the West, or that are cheaper in their Japanese/Asian/European form than in North American guise.
To be honest, this might be a controversial opinion, but I get the appeal and value of region-locking. From a consumer perspective, it may seem very restrictive. And it is. But from a realistic business perspective, it allows publishers to have more control over distribution deals, and this has resulted in more games being published than would have otherwise been possible.
Is it ideal? No, of course not. And there are ways to circumvent these measures on a 3DS, for example. But it’s important to know that these things are not as cut and dry as we’d like them to be.