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The Truth Behind The Wii U Regional Lock Rumor

Although no one is surprised, it looks like the Nintendo Wii U console will be locked regionally. This means that the company’s protocol is to stop the Wii U from playing games beyond specific territories. Only software sold in the same region can be played on the Wii U. No one will be importing a console from Japan in the near future. Nintendo has employed this policy in the past. As far back as some of the Nintendo DS models, there was a similar regional lock, and of course the Wii and the 3DS followed the same protocol. Before the DS, physical differences in the hardware varied by region, and acted as a regional lock of sorts.
What is regional locking and why is it employed? A regional lock is a barrier to make it impossible to play media made for a device in one country or group of countries to be played on a device in a different country or group of countries. The main regions are North America, United Kingdom/Italy, and the remainder of Europe. Nintendo is rumored to have actually invented the regional lockout, but software has been designated for use in certain countries for years. This lockout is achieved through the use of a physical stop, a chip, or programming codes.
The Nintendo consoles uses something called a 10NES chip to verify the region designated for a particular game. The game will fail to start if chips inside the cartridge and the console conflict. Though the North American version of the Super Nintendo entertainment system is not region locked, the Nintendo 64, the Nintendo GameCube, and the original Wii are all locked by region. Regional locks could be defeated by taking off plastic tabs along the lower edge of the cartridge slot for the Nintendo 64, Nintendo GameCube and Wii. But when the Wii system got an update to version 3.3, this was no longer possible on the Wii. The only other way of defeating the Wii regional lock is by modification of the console itself.
Nintendo isn’t the only game company to lock by region. Sony initiated region locking on both the PlayStation and the PlayStation 2 consoles. However, all games released from 2006 to mid way through 2012 on the PlayStation 3 are not region locked. But halfway through 2012, a developer named Atlas decided to region lock the game Persona 4 Arena. They say it was in an effort to reduce excessive imports, because every version of the game had the same language support and attributes, but different release dates by region. Some Sony games delineate online gamers according to region, like Metal Gear Solid 4. Furthermore, content downloadable to the PlayStation 3 is locked by region.
Sega has its own share of region locking. Games on the Mega Drive are free from region locking, but some of the more recent titles can be locked by region. Sonic the Hedgehog 1 and 2 have no region lock, but Sonic the Hedgehog 3 is locked.
The Xbox 360 from Microsoft is also region locked. However, the developer of the game decides whether or not to regionally lock the title. As a result, there are many region free games that will play on any unit from any region.
So why is region locking a preferred practice in the gaming world? Most importantly because of pricing. It is nearly impossible to set one pricing infrastructure that translates worldwide. Locking a console by region removes the need for identical prices in every country. Another reason is sensitivity. Some games sold here in the United States might be considered offensive by religious are political standards in different countries. Locking certain games out by region removes the possibility of the games being played in sensitive regions. Finally, regionally locked consoles more easily enable a staggered launch of a game, thereby giving the manufacturer time to stock up on product before each region’s release triggers another wave of buyers yearning for the new game or console.

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