One of the most appreciated aspects of Sony’s consoles this generation – and this applies to both the PS3 and the PSP – is that, when it comes to games, they are “region free”. What does this mean? For those of you who don’t know, various forms of media are typically locked into one region, and can only be played on devices that originate in that region. If you look on the front and/or back of any DVD or BluRay you purchase in North America, you’ll typically see a “Region 1” somewhere on it. This means that it can only be played in DVD or BluRay players native to “Region 1”, which is basically all of North America.
Now, with games things are typically the same. For example, Microsoft and Nintendo’s consoles are region locked, meaning you either need a console from the region the game originates in, or you need to modify your native region’s console to make it “region free” (which is typically illegal and we absolutely don’t approve of doing this). Then we have the PlayStation 3 and PlayStation Portable. According to Sony, it is left up to the developers whether or not to region lock their games, but the systems themselves don’t require it. That being the case, the vast majority of games for these systems are compatible with any system in the world.
This is basically heaven for importers, whether you’re importing the latest JRPG from Japan to the United States, or importing a game from the United States to Europe because you have no idea when the game will come out there. You can play Japanese UMDs on a European PSP, or North American PS3 games on a Japanese PS3. It doesn’t matter, mix and match how you please.
This leads to my point – why doesn’t Sony simply have a worldwide PlayStation Store, and forego with having a separate one for each region? What would be the point of this, you ask? Mostly ease of use for the end user. This came up recently as I tried to download a couple PSP demos from the Japanese PlayStation Store. Do you know how difficult Sony makes it to even log in to another PSN account from your PSP, aside from your default one? Because I forgot my original Japanese PSN account password and e-mail address, I decided to make a new one, safe in the knowledge that I would know what the log in details are. This went well, but when I tried to log into it on the PSP it told me I wasn’t supposed to use someone else’s PSN account. Except that it wasn’t someone else’s, it was mine. Add this to the fact that the PSP by default doesn’t support multiple profiles for multiple PSN accounts, like the PS3 does, and this just makes one frustrating experience overall.
Now, downloading Japanese demos for the PS3 is a piece of cake. Here the issue is purchasing full games – you need a Japanese PSN card (or a credit card from an Asia-based bank). The easiest way for those outside Asia to purchase stuff from their store is to buy a Japanese PSN card from a place like Play Asia. Once you do that, you can input the numbers and add a certain amount of Yen to your account, thus being able to buy stuff off the Japanese PSN.
Again, a worldwide PlayStation Store would solve all these issues. So, let’s rehash a couple things – 1) the majority of games are already region-free and 2) there is nothing to stop anyone around the world from creating a PSN account from another region. The conclusion I’m getting at is how it would make sense for Sony to just merge all the various regional PlayStation Stores into one massive entity. Dollar/Euro/Pound/Yen amounts and the languages would obviously be different depending on your region or your PS3’s settings, however the idea here is to be able to, for example, purchase Japanese games with a North American PSN account. This would circumvent the need to purchase a Japanese PSN card and apply that amount to a Japanese PSN account – all in a language that most people in the West can’t read.
I think one reason for the different regional stores initially was that it takes a certain amount of localization for the games. All I have to say is – if you aren’t going to localize a game, then don’t. Simple as that. I don’t expect all these Japanese games I’m interested in to ever be localized, but it would be nice to be able to purchase them without all the extra hassle.
What do you think? Do you think it would be an interesting proposition for Sony to merge all the regional PlayStation Stores into one for ease of use? Along with that, do you think they should allow multiple PSN accounts on the PSP, just like they do on the PS3? In my opinion, there is a lot that Sony can do to improve this whole experience. If they are going to not require region locking on their systems – and don’t get me wrong, I’m infinitely grateful that they don’t – they should provide easier access to game downloads from other regions. Then we can all be one big, happy, global family of Sony minions.