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October 2, 2006

PS3 Region-Free Gaming, Wii Flip-Flopping Generates Discussion

Very few things generate more discussion for gamers than the release of a new platform, and we are at another crucial time with the planned releases of the Playstation 3 on Nov. 17 and the Nintendo Wii on Nov. 19.

And this has generated further discussion of regional lockouts. One of the aspects of gaming that has the most significant impact on global gaming and global game fan communities is this issue of regional codes. Not being a gamer myself, I'm most familiar with encountering regional codes on DVDs, with most DVDs only being available for viewing within a particular geographic region, with players that are from that specific region. The intention is to keep regional markets from stealing each others' business, especially since the value of DVDs and DVD players will shift from region to region.

As the Wikipedia page on regional lockout points out, this is also a way to stagger the release of content from one market to the next, without the markets being able to share content with each other. According to the site, Nintendo originated this type of behavior in video games.

However, earlier this year, Sony announced that the PS3 would not include regional codes, meaning that games could be shared globally.

As IGN points out, "the one caveat of this new region-free structure is that games made for specific regions' electical and TV standards may have problems on your TV set." This decision to go region-free is based on the development of an HDTV universal standard that's being planned for the coming years, making many of these arguments about differences in regional standards to be less important, but interesting in light of the recent lawsuit to decide exactly what high-definition really is.

Meanwhile, the debate about Wii rages on. A Nintendo Marketing VP told Wired that Wii will be region-free, but then others said that Wii would be region-encoded, with Nintendo confirming.

What difference will the PS3's commitment to a region-free standard make to users? Xbox 360 is almost completely region-locked, with a limited number of games not having regional-encoding. And it seems that the implications on global gaming culture will be felt more with a universal gaming standard in the future, causing a lot of shifts in how games are marketed and distributed on the producers' end and how the games are played and shared on the users' end.

Thanks to David Edery for cluing me in on this debate.

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