Sony/MS Region Protection VS Nintendo

I finally got an American Playstation 2. Last summer I bought a Japanese PS2 thinking that within a few months a real working chip would come out and I could then use it to play American games. That chip did come out a few months later and then Sony jumped all over it. It was several more months until I could find a place that sold the new chip and according to their site it does not work with my particular model 🙁 So, now that I have a job again I finally got an American PS2 which means I can play I.C.O., which by the way I bought last November, and I can play GTA3 and even my own game Jak & Daxter which I still have not played yet (my sister is sending me my copy).

But, I had an interesting thought. The #1 *valid* reason that people give for making chips for PS2 is that they allow one to play import games. Lots of games come out first in Japan and people don’t want to wait and lots of games come out only in Japan and people want to play them. Both PS2 and XBox (and PS1) all use semi sophisticated means for preventing users from playing games from other regions. To defeat this system generally require a special chip. The problem is, that same chip not only allows you to play games from other regions but it also allows you to play pirated copies. Note, some people will claim its use is to allow you to play backups so you can backup your games. While I’m sure a few people do that I don’t personally know of any.

Anyway, Nintendo on the other hand has always used a fairly simple method to protect their games. On the Super Nintendo and Nintendo 64 as they both used cartridges the only difference between Japanese and American carts is there are little posts inside that cartridge slot that match holes in the cartridge. The position of those slots and holes is different on Japanese carts vs American carts. Remove those posts and you can put any cartridge in. On Gamecube a single switch (no chip) added to one connection inside the machine switches the machine from a Japanese to an English machine or visa versa.

I was thinking recently, I wonder if that prevents piracy on the Nintendo systems. The reason being there would be no legitimate reason to make a chip for one of those system. The only reason to make chips for those systems would be to pirate games.

There are some flaws in my logic. The first 2 Nintendo systems are cartridge based and its much harder to copy carts than CDs.(*) The Gamecube is DVD based but the DVDs are small. You can not currently buy Gamecube sized DVDs for making copies (although maybe you could use regular DVDs and just take the top off your Gamecube!?!)

Anyway, I’m curious if because of that, Microsoft’s and Sony’s systems which require a chip to break actually end up promoting piracy more than a simple system like Nintendo’s.

(*) Yes I know that Nintendo’s cartridge based systems now have emulators and people pirate the roms left and right. I feel that the emulators came out late enough in the life cycle of those systems that the associated piracy didn’t really effect sales AND, for the most part the experience of those games on the emulators is not as good as it is on the real system so mostly I think people collect the rom files for notalgia and/or just to be pack rats.

That also reminds me of the whole DVD region issue. DVD can be set to 6 different regions such that only DVD players from the same region can play DVDs marked for that region. I understand there are many reasons for this. One for example is that different companies distrubute and advertise a DVD in different countries. If Company A sells the new Star Wars DVD in America 5 months before Company B sells that DVD in England than if people in England could play DVDs from America they’d all just buy it from Company A and Company B would go out of business. Some will say, “then they should release it at the same time”. Well, if you thought about that a little you’d realize that different countries have different markets with different products. While Star Wars may be released everywhere, a Benny Hill DVD might not. The point is the Company B may already have a full schedule, they’ve only got so many people and so much time they can’t release every DVD as soon as it’s ready. They need to get their ad campain ready, they need to coordinate with magazines, TV, distrubutors etc etc etc. Also in the case of Japan they need to have both subtitles and new dialog in Japanese recorded. That takes time.

Another issue people bring up is the cost difference. For example a legit DVD in Taiwan might cost 1/2 the same DVD in America. Of course there are two ways to look at that. The Studio looks at that DVD as a $20 DVD but the cost of living in Taiwan (*example*) is lower so nobody can afford to pay $20 in Taiwan. So, in order to at least get some sales they do the Taiwanese a favor and lower the price to something they can afford. The problem is of course that some American sees that DVD being sold for $10 in Taiwan and thinks they are getting ripped of paying $20 in America when in reality the studios are doing something nice for Taiwan not evil to Americans.

Anyway, the problem is, at least in Los Angeles, the populations of non English speaking people are getting larger and larger. That means that at some point the DVD publishers will need to put out one DVD with all languages. At least for L.A. they would need Cantonese, Mandarin, Vietnamese, Korean, Tagalog, Spanish, and possibly Russian and Turkish. That would seem to work against some of their regioning issues. I wonder if things would be better or worse for them with no region codes.

  • anon_Dids
    Take for example…

    … CD sales.

    You can play CDs from anywhere in the world on your CD player but that hasn’t created mass parallel import companies of foreign CDs, did it?

    (Even though some territories like England get most of the new music releases first)

    Once again the manufacturer’s excuses are phony (I think)


  • greggman
    Music vs other Media

    It’s true that Music doesn’t seem to have those mass parallel import problems.  On the other hand music has no translation problems either.  No need to add subtitles or over dub with new dialog.  The point being it’s easier to release all at once maybe.

    Another difference might be the market is more segmented.  For at least half the world it seems like American companies publish most of the movies.  Here in though Japan there is a healthy local music industry promoting Japanese artists (however bad they are ;-)).  For movies that’s mostly not true.  My point being maybe there isn’t the demand for import music as much as there is for import movies.

    Just a thought.

    I still think the main reason is, like I mentioned, different companies are setup in different regions to handle promotion, sales and distribution.  When those companies do their job well the industry gets maximum sales.  Since they can’t (or don’t) coordinate worldwide such that the same DVD is released everywhere about the same time they have this region code to try to prevent a gray market from taking the local company’s sales until they have time to release it themselves.

    Whether that market would actually form I’m not sure.  I think it would form between English speaking countries.  But, I think a better solution would be no region code and better coordination.  Less lawyers 😉

  • anon_Dids
    Piracy is not mass-market

    I think it’s also down to the fact that I don’t think piracy or paralell import will ever be mass-market.

    There is an element of hassle and it will always be easier to just go down your local shop.

    I don’t think the mass market will ever be into, for example, ripping or downloading CDs into mp3s. It’s too much hassle.

    This seems to be supported by the fact that, even though they’d like us to believe that p2p network piracy are killing them, the music industry just posted another record year.


  • greggman
    Piracy is not mass market *YET*

    Piracy is only not mass maket yet because it’s not easy YET.  It gets easier everyday.  When I worked at Naughty Dog I had my 60cd changer under my desk.  When I went to my new job I took a CD-Walkman and about 60 CDs.  Then I looked around the office and noticed EVERYBODY WAS LISTENING TO MP3s from their PC.  I asked if they owned the CDs or not.  Generally they owned less than 1/4th of them.  Worse, nobody owned them because in Japan it’s legal to rent CDs from Tsutaya (Japanese Blockbuster) so they would just go over there, rent a few, come back and rip’em (we happen to be a 5 minute walk from the largest Tsutaya in Japan)

    I immediately downloaded an MP3 XPack for Windows Media Player and ripped all 60 CDs and took my CDs home.  Note: With Windows Media Player I pop in a CD and click “Copy from CD”.  It automatically gets the track names, artists names, album name, CD cover art, and organizes your music by Album, Artist and Genre.  How much easier can it get?

    The issue now is that MP3s are great for people that work with a computer long ours and are allowed to listen to music while they are using it or people that have broadband at all times like students in dorms.

    The mass market isn’t there yet because everything else is not in place yet.  In America, broadband is at less then 10%.  Not true in Japan or Korea. If/When America gets to high broadband penatration that will be one less road block.  Another is that until recently you could only play MP3s on your PC or on little MP3 devices.  Now though, Apple has comericials for iPod.  Toshiba has a clone.  Sony has 3 models of HDD mp3 home units out.  Nearly all car stereo manufactures make models that play MP3 CDs.  There are cell phones that play MP3s.  Sony and Apple’s ad campaigns are about “rip and play”. If we ever get broadband wireless everywhere that will be it.  I’ll just rip my CDs at home and listen to them from my car directly from my hard drive back at my house.

    There’s also the issue that while mom and pop may not get it.  Today’s studends and kids do and they will be tomorrow’s market.

    As MP3s get more and more useful and easier and easier each day piracy will rise (unless the music industry gets smart and makes it easier to go legit than not) 😉