Microsoft And Modchips, Part III: Imports

Yesterday I responded to Ozymandias' reasons why he couldn't endorse modchipping for adding new functionality, such as that supported by the excellent Xbox Media Center software, because it would harm Microsoft's business model, in which they subsidize the hardware and depend on you buying software and accessories. The assumption here is that every hacker who uses his Xbox for running Linux and XBMC spends less time gaming and buys fewer games. The real allegation there, of course, is that all hackers are really interested in is pirating games.

Ozymandias listed one other reason he thought someone might want to modchip an Xbox, and, not surprisingly, he doesn't condone this one, either.

Click "read more" below from the front page for the entire article.

The desire to play import games is at least a reason I can rationally understand, but cannot condone. Sure, there are games you might want to play that are either released earlier or, quite possibly, not released at all in your region. But sometimes companies have good reasons to either not release a title into a region or release it at different dates.

Of all the reasons Ozymandias gives for saying there are no reasonable and justifiable uses for modchips, this one is the lamest. His reply is that developers have "good reason" for releasing a game only in one region.

Most of the reasons he offers are entirely beside the point.

It may be because of the time and cost of localization, marketing plans, ad buys, cultural considerations, or perhaps even because of the impact of piracy in the region. Whatever the case, it’s safe to assume the publisher has thought about it.

If a company doesn't want to localize a game for every region on the planet, that's fine. This is obviously not an issue for importers because they know what they are getting.

If the title in question is somehow culturally inappropriate for certain markets, that's fine. If a customer is willing to import a game, or travel to purchase it, he or she most likely already knows what kind of game it is. Nobody is going to import an upskirt photography simulator bash'em up (don't laugh, they exist) from Japan and then complain it's not kid-safe or is culturally inappropriate.

The marketing plans, ad buys, and other factors are also of no consideration in an import situation. Nobody is asking a company to change their policies in that regard, or to introduce a game in a country where the market is too small to support the expense of an official launch. What people are asking for is a way to use legitimately purchased games on legitimately purchased consoles without having to install a modchip that violates the warranty and banishes the user from Xbox Live. Microsoft is creating the necessity for modchipping here by siding with the publisher's preference for an unnecessary degree of control over the title, and against the consumer, who just wants to lawfully use what he's paid for.

Piracy comes up here again, but it's a red herring. Concerns about piracy in a given region cannot possibly be addressed by region coding. Any modification one can make that enables piracy also defeats the region lock. This is true not only for games but for DVD movies as well.

The good news is that most publishers are developing with multiple platforms, regions, and languages in mind up front, so this is becoming less and less of an argument. (After all, it’s in the publisher’s best interest to sell as many copies as possible, right?)

The bad news is that Microsoft isn't doing enough to encourage this. They should be saying to developers that they're sorry, but they don't believe region locking is a value-added feature they want on their console.

No one is questioning the prerogative of a company to not publish a certain title for any particular market. The question here is that if someone should contract a third party to move a SKU from one market to another, or simply to purchase a title while traveling in another market, that if there are no real technical issues preventing it, one should expect that legitimately purchased title to work.

Region locking is an arbitrary restriction that serves a purpose that is only useful to the publisher, and only in certain very specific cases. And in nearly all cases, it is only harmful to those customers who have legitimately purchased a title and want to run it on an unmodified Xbox. Piracy here is a non-issue, since by definition they are already running a modified console and are therefore completely unaffected by the region lock. In short, just as is the case in region codes on DVDs and DVD players, the restriction only affects users who are purchasing legitimately, and does absolutely nothing whatsoever to discourage behaviors the publisher wants to avoid.

What Ozymandias is saying is that neither he, nor the publishers, care that it is possible to buy a game that is labeled as compatible with an Xbox, that is a legitimate and licensed copy for sale by an authorized reseller, but that you cannot play because the game and the console were not targeted by their respective producers for the same market.

So if you go to Japan, for instance, and see a game that will never see the light of day in the US market, and want to play it? Tough luck. Buy a Japanese market Xbox, it's the only way. Or use a modchip and incur Ozymandias' wrath (not to mention giving up Xbox Live).

Microsoft should take this one tiny step to champion those to whom they owe their place in the console market: the console owners. They should tell the developers that their console does not have a region locking feature because it is unnecessarily restrictive to legitimate game buyers, and an ineffective means of copy protection.