To be honest when it came to gaming I never really paid all that much attention to region locking but I knew of the practice from my days covering tech and entertainment in general.
I am probably no different in this regard than most of the people who live in North America (one of the region locking classifications) and are pretty much oblivious to the whole concept.
For those of you not familiar with what region locking you can get a complete explanation on Wikipedia but the TL;DR of it is basically this:
A regional lockout may be enforced for several reasons, such to stagger the release of a certain product, to hinder grey market imports by enforcing price discrimination, or to prevent users from accessing certain content in their territory because of legal reasons (either due to censorship laws, or because a distributor does not have the rights to certain intellectual property outside of their specified region).
This is basically just another way to say that publishers can make more money (or offer bundles) on games based on what region they are being sold in.
Right now there are four regions: Japan and Asia, North America, China, along with Europe, New Zealand and Australia being lumped in together; and depending on which region you live in you will find access to, and price paid for a game, varying greatly.
In the past such region locking was primarily something that affected console gamers; or at least it was more obvious, and was standard operating procedures ever since Nintendo first introduced the idea with their NES systems. This type of thing wasn’t really all that prevalent in the PC gaming world, or at least it was never as obvious as it was in the console world.
However with the advent of both online gaming and online game distribution systems like Steam and Origin being able to region lock a game on a mass scale became much easier. The majority of the time the region locking was based on which servers you could access for a game. If you lived in the US or Canada you could access the NA servers and if you lived in Europe you could access the European servers but you were restricted to those servers. which meant that if you lived in Europe and bought and online game you couldn’t play with your friends in the US (unless you were willing to go through some pretty fancy footsteps)
This type of locking of a game to a specific region has been made exceptionally easier with the increasing use of strictly online distribution of games through services like Stream and EA’s Origin. Needless to say region locking has become, or is becoming even more of a standard way of doing business right across all types of gaming platforms.
The problem is that the whole idea of region locking in this day and age of the global Internet and online gaming is that it is becoming even more obvious to everyone that this is more about a money grab than it is about any sort of copyright issues.
A good example of this region locking happen even with the newest (read early access pre-beta games) of online MMO type games is the go-live situation with Wildstar; a new take on the old MMO game made famous by the likes of World of Warcraft, Nexus, and Everquest.
As with all types of these online games you are restricted to the region locked servers based on the country where you live, regardless of how you bought the game. Even if you bought it via Amazon if you live in Europe you can still only play on the game’s European servers and unable to play on the NA servers with any of your friends who might live there and are playing the game.
Needless to say this has angered a whole bunch of people who are buying into Wildstar and live outside of the US and Canada as they find themselves unable to play with their friends in those two regions. This has led to one very good friend of mine to launch a campaign calling for NCSoft, the game publisher, and Wildstar to stop region locking the game.
The fact is that region locking a game, any game, in this day of global gaming is just plain ridiculous and there really is no reason for it to be done. Increasingly game companies that do this are looked up as being greedy and gamers are no fools when it comes to this type of treatment by gaming companies. In the long run this type of thing only give the companies that practice region locking a big black eye.
It is time that gamers finally called the companies bluff on the practice and demand that the practice be stopped. It shouldn’t take having to get a refund and your account banned in order to open a new account in the region locked area where all your friends are play (as is the case with Wildstar).