About This Site’s Purpose

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My name’s Chris, and I’m a European gamer.

Now, this sounds somewhat like the start of an Alcoholics Anonymous confession, but accepting you have a problem is the first step towards curing it, and as European gamers, we have a problem.

I’ve been gaming since the early 90s. Cutting my teeth on a Commodore 64, I progressed to a Sega Mega Drive, got a Game Gear later on down the line, and today I have pretty much every major games console, aquired mainly second hand through boot sales (they’re wonderful things).

Yet for all this time, and for all of my fellow EU gamers who are in similar positions, we were being screwed over in 3 ways:

1) By our TV standards
2) By our location
3) By our currency

Still not with me? I’ll walk you through the points. First, let’s look at TV standards. I shall let this scan from a 1993 issue of SNES magazine Super Play (specifically, a special called “Super Play Gold”) point it out (click to see it in full):

The difference between 50 and 60Hz

The difference between 50 and 60Hz

The difference here is plain to see, but as Super Play notes even back in 1993, this was an easily fixable problem, as televisions did exist with the ability to play back at NTSC speeds and with non-squashed pictures via the PAL 60 standard – the PAL system’s colours but the full 60Hz speed of NTSC. This actually works out as being better than NTSC as regular PAL is technically better – the sole flaw in the system is the lower frame rate.

So, the first point is easily demonstrated. What about the other two? Let’s look in more detail at point 2 – location.

Europe is located physically (obviously) in a different spot to the two other major centres of gaming in the United States and Japan. Because of this sizable difference, games companies tended (and still do!) to release games in the 3 regions with dates nowhere near each other. Here are some examples from history, in handy table form, of some well known games on some well known formats, one per system:

Game Name Format Japanese Release USA Release European Release
Super Mario Bros 3 NES 23/10/1988 12/02/1990 29/08/1991
Super Mario World SNES 21/11/1990 13/08/1991 04/06/1992
Super Smash Bros N64 21/01/1999 26/04/1999 19/11/1999
Animal Crossing GameCube 14/12/2001 15/09/2002 24/09/2004
Super Paper Mario Wii 19/04/2007 09/04/2007 14/09/2007
Thunder Force II Mega Drive 15/06/1989 14/08/1989 ??/??/1990
Virtua Fighter Saturn 22/11/1994 ??/05/1995 08/07/1995
Power Stone Dreamcast 25/02/1999 07/09/1999 14/10/1999
Grandia PlayStation 24/06/1999 30/09/1999 30/03/2001
Final Fantasy X PlayStation 2 19/07/2001 20/12/2001 29/05/2002
Resistance: Fall of Man PlayStation 3 11/11/2006 14/11/2006 23/03/2007
Halo Xbox 24/04/2002 15/11/2001 14/03/2002
Rock Band Xbox 360 Unreleased 20/11/2007 23/05/2008

As you can see, Europe is regularly months if not years behind the USA and/or Japan when it comes to releases. It’s gotten better than it used to be (for example – Super Mario Bros 3 was released here a good 9 months after it’s sequel had been released in Japan, and 2 weeks after the USA got the sequel as well!), but games still do slip under the radar. To a degree this is understandable – European games tend to be in a different language or 3, but honestly – does it really take 6 months to edit some menus on Rock Band? Some games aren’t even translated at all from the American release yet still take months to get here!

And this assumes a given game even gets a release here at all. EarthBound immediately springs to mind as one example of the many SNES titles never brought over, along with Final Fantasy VI, a game that the European region didn’t see until Square re-released it everywhere on the PlayStation – and even then it was 2 and a half years after the American port.

Finally, we come to the third point – currency. As a British citizen I can only speak for the UK, so I will do. Obviously this third point isn’t relevant any more when buying older games, but it was then and still is the case now that you can usually buy a video game from the USA, in the same language it will be when it is released here (the American English translations are very rarely touched, despite the delaying of a European release. Go see how many games have “Mom” or “color” or the like in them), before it is released in this country, for less than the UK listing price will be, despite it coming from the other side of the planet.

Games companies like to blame this last point on VAT, but please – we’re not stupid. Rock Band is a perfect example – after working out conversion rates, import charges and even adding on VAT on top of that, the bundle comes out to about £150, when the UK launch price was £180. Where has this extra £30 come from? Price gouging. The industry at large has a history of this – Nintendo was prosecuted for price fixing in the UK in the mid 90s, for example.

So, now we come to the end of this little piece and you’re wondering how you can avoid all this hassle. How to play games at full speed and full resolution, earlier than the delayed release dates and at a cheaper price to boot. The answer is of course to import, but games companies on the whole don’t like this losing of control, which is why a lot of consoles have region locks and blocks.

What this site is here for is to help you get around them.

We look at systems as a whole, and ways to play foreign games on your European system. Whether it’s cartridge extenders, firmware hacks, or even physical modding, we’ll show you how to break the protection and get your games running. We’ll even point out along the way the systems that don’t have these problems, to enable you to be a more savvy consumer.

Then there is the newest trend. Downloadable games are starting to hit now, in larger and larger numbers, whether it’s the PlayStation Network, Xbox Live Arcade or Wii Shop Channel. Many of these are locked to service accounts, meaning that you’ll need to have multiple accounts for many regions. Where this is doable, we’ll show you how and what you’ll need for getting the download onto your system.

One final point. Some of the methods we’ll be showing you could conceivably be used to play pirated software. RegionFreeGamer would like to emphasize in the strongest possible way that we don’t approve of pirating software that’s still actively making money for its parent company. This will no doubt fail to deter hardcore pirates, but we’d like to hope you’ll support your favourite game coders.

Happy gaming!

— Chris, 28th October 2008

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