Fortnightly, the Hawk gives you the good, the bad and the ugly of the whole Xbox LIVE Marketplace content. This week, we delve into region lock and internationalization.

When you buy a car, it’s possible you find out some advanced features are not available, as they were planned for support of the infrastructure available in the country where the car comes from. It could be that the radio has functions for satellite broadcasting. That’s why you buy it from a local retailer, as most of the time the vehicle will have the features available only for the local market.

But let’s say you find out there are features that are locked, as the manufacturer believes they are only for the same origin location. You think to yourself: “Why? I could use them in here without any problem! Why lock it out? Doesn’t the car comes already with it?”

This is the dreaded limit in Microsoft’s plans to become the #1 selling console around the world: the region lock.

Most of the international Xbox 360 customers have had, and continue to have to deal with this. And we’re not talking about modified consoles and pirated games, no sir. We’re talking about people paying U.S. dollars to get Microsoft Points cards, or having a credit card in the U.S. registered on their console to buy stuff. We’re also dealing with U.S. personnel around the world, like embassy families or military units. People that understand the meaning of doing things the right and legal way, but have to deal with the “This content is not available for your area” message. This is the player base that wonders how come the first Gears of War downloadable map pack still shows a region lock, but the rest of the maps for the same game have no problems whatsoever. They are also unable to download the Halo: Reach demo without success.

And the examples keep piling on. The old Smash TV; the free Zune videos (free!!!); Buku Sudoku; Duke Nukem 3D — you name it, it’s probably applicable.

This is the kind of stuff that normally fuels the piracy crowd. They will tell you this is the reason for their fight: once you put something on the Internet (the mother of all internationalization efforts), you have no reason to lock it out for the rest of the world (transmit it locally then, they will say!). Oh, we will do tricks to work around this (remember the Japanese accounts creation in LIVE to play some demos?), but the truth is, an entertaining device so powerful as this should get no reason to block out content for their users. You know there’s a soccer or cricket fan in the U.S., or a NASCAR follower in Africa or Asia. We have American people living everywhere, just as we have Latinos or Japanese people in the U.S.

Maybe I’m wrong, because there are legal terms and contracts that have been established to allow a third-party sole-rights distribution of a specific-content. But what happens when we’re dealing with a console that has a one-way channel to distribute its content? That means the limits are coming from the same origin, as these third parties have no way to deliver their authorized content from their end (coming back to the Buku Sudoku issue. A company in Mexico has the sole rights to distribute the game for Latin America, but that does not include the 360 console. Result? I cannot test the demo or buy the game). Who’s loosing due to this whole situation? The players… and Microsoft.

Another thing is the amount of new services being added up to the LIVE Gold membership. Netflix, Hulu Plus, ESPN, the upcoming LIVE TV and YouTube services — all of them are giving more value to the paying members. Unfortunately I pay, and they’re not for me. All right, I know most of them are only available in the U.S. But I have ESPN in my DirecTV subscription. And Netflix is now coming to South America. So what’s the excuse?

Finally, we have seen Microsoft adjusting the LIVE experience based on country. Japan, Mexico, the UK, Spain and Colombia have their LIVE environments supporting all the local stuff. But we’re still missing the same for a lot of countries, and if they can do one, can’t they follow suit with the rest? There are people fighting against the piracy trend by buying all their stuff as they should, but they’re getting no love back.

If a person in the U.S. wants to have their LIVE experience in Japanese, either because that’s his homeland or cause he’s an anime and manga fanatic, let them. The same is for the people outside: I have my 360 set to the U.S. because I love enjoying the newest content, English is my second language, and I have a lot of friends in the U.S. gaming community. Of course, there’s also the fact that Venezuela is not supported as a locale for LIVE.

As the world moves on to a free and international market, we should allow gamers to fully enjoy the gaming experience no matter where they are or how they play. They’re doing everything the legal way, so give them some love back. And give me my Gears of War map pack, for Christ’s sake!


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