UPDATE 2.15.10: In a very happy surprise, the game is region-free after all. My sincere thanks-- and my preorder-- to Cave.
Well, guys, the holiday season finds me a tad sick. Too cold, too much merrymaking, too much to drink-- a long walk in a rainstorm that was, perhaps, ill-advised-- and I've spent the post-holiday season lying in bed with tissues in my nose, watching cartoons and sniffling. But something has me up, ladies and gents. Something has me pissed off.
You will recall that Japanese arcade shooter developer Cave recently won some good will among niche gamers with their Xbox 360 port of Mushihime-sama Futari by making the game region-free, which no Japanese 360 developer has ever done before. Cave's people explained this as a "test run" for the international market. People were pleased and the game sold briskly.
Now Cave has another arcade port coming: Espgaluda 2. While no announcement had been made one way or the other, common sense dictated that Cave would embrace Futari's international success and go region-free for this game, too. I had put the game on my to-buy list and continued about my business, whistling obliviously. After all, why would anybody squander the good will and renewed interest created by the last release?
So of course it turns out that Cave is thinking about doing exactly that. I'm going to cut and paste the relevant piece, a personal conversation with Cave general manager Makato Asada from a reliable source:
Anyways, I asked him if ESPGaluda II BL was going to be region locked. I didn't get the full on Japanese teeth-sucking or anything, but he did say the vote isn't in yet. He was glad that foreigners bought Futari, but they were still considering whether to do it for BL. There is apparently far more work than flipping a flag to make a game region free. It has to be approved in every region it plays in, so there is not only money to think about, but unfortunately resources to deal w/ the same process 5 times.
This sounds like Japanese for "no dice." I want to harp on one of these sentences in particular: "He was glad that foreigners bought Futari, but they were still considering whether to do it for BL." What kind of thinking is this, guys? You're glad you sold some copies but you're not sure if you want to sell some more copies of another videogame? Isn't selling copies of videogames the whole idea, Cave? Isn't Cave small and niche enough that it needs every single sale it can get? Comeoooon.
The other thing we learn is that it's apparently a pain in the ass to get a game cleared as region-free: the game has to be cleared for every region it could possibly be played in, and this costs money and time. If we read between the lines, it's possible that the sales on Futari didn't make up for the resources spent making it region-free.
But then I look at the regional compatibility list. There are very few games that a Japanese gamer just can't play on a Japanese 360. If a game didn't come out in Japan, it probably was released region-free, and as such can be imported. A lot of these region-free games aren't from big publishers who expect big returns. A few of them look like outright shovelware. And yet these publishers can go to the trouble of dealing with the region lock procedure. Why shouldn't Cave-- and all the other Japanese 360 publishers-- have enough pride in their excellent work to hold themselves up to standards that shovelware does?
What pisses me off more than this lamentable situation is the reaction of the typically elitist, myopic buttermonsters in the thread. In summary: "who cares? Just buy a Japanese 360 like I did!" This misses the point. Region locking the game instantly cuts off the overwhelming majority of potential foreign buyers. People who are willing to pay $300 for a new console to play five or so videogames-- all of which are in the same genre-- are in the extreme minority. There are probably more people who did it to play Idolm@ster. That's how niche this is.
Yes, it's possible, but it's ludicrously impractical-- have fun not being able to walk into a local store and buy a videogame for your 360 without consulting The List, or having to import points for your Live account because your Japanese account won't take your foreign credit card-- and unless you only care about 2D arcade shooting games, it's money you could be spending on a lot of other things. It is not a great situation.
Neither is being at the mercy of region lock, of course. You know what's a great situation? Region-free videogames. Region-free videogames own. Hook us up, Cave. These games are not going to come out in the West. If they do, they are not going to sell unless something drastic is done to make them palatable in the mainstream. Importing is the only way we're seeing these games in the west. If you can afford to make this commercial and sell Dodonpachi underwear that warns the ladies that your dick is the final boss, you can afford to deal with region-lock.