It’s January 10, 2014. The time is 1:39 AM and I’m reading a book about the history of video games. Or at least I’m trying to: every few seconds, my eyes dart back to the clock that sits in front of me — as if my glances would make 2:00 AM arrive sooner. I was waiting for something. And that something was the release of Metal Gear Rising: Revengeance (MGR:R) on Steam. But unlike the vast majority who were eagerly staring at the countdown timer on the store page, I wasn’t here to be one of the first to start and finish the game. No, I was staying up for the release because I was having this nagging worry in the back of my head.
As you may have heard, on December 19, 2013, MGR:R was discovered to have the never-before-seen “AllowCrossRegionTradingAndGifting” tag, which was set to “No” on its entry on Steam DB. This means that players are unable to trade or gift copies of this game to friends in different regions. Before this, games on the popular DRM software could be freely passed between players in any part of the world, providing a sort of “loophole” in the system. People who wanted to get their games cheaper could ask someone living in a region with lower prices to purchase it for them. But more relevantly, people who are unable to purchase certain games due to region restrictions could also easily bypass this by asking someone in a non-locked country to buy it for them.
Watching my cousins play the Metal Gear Solid series as I grew up, I became fond of the games and the series’ characters. I never played because I was and still am bad at stealth games, and would much rather prefer button mashers. So when I heard about a hack-and-slash Metal Gear game being released on the only gaming platform I have — the PC — and featuring one of my favorite characters as the lead, I was ecstatic and couldn’t wait to get my hands on the game.
This happy feeling, however, did not last. Searching “Metal Gear” in the Hong Kong Steam store did not bring any results and clicking a link to the game’s store entry only brought up a page telling me that “This item is unavailable in your region.” MGR:R could simply not be purchased in my region. I was disappointed but definitely not discouraged. After looking around on trading forums, I found traders who were selling “Rest of World (ROW)” versions and realized that the game could actually still be traded as long as the copy did not have a warning that restricted trade (as was the case of copies purchased in a number of South American countries). Various things happened and in the end, I miraculously found myself with a gift copy of the game fully activated and listed on my Steam game library over a week before release. I thought that was the end of my problems with restrictions but boy was I wrong.
The region lock struggle continued: a week leading to MGR:R‘s release, the Steam forums were abuzz with the possibility that despite having the game in your library, players could still be locked out from playing the game if the tag “onlyallowrunincountries” were to be placed (similar to the Russian version of Skyrim). This would make a message appear for players in restricted regions telling them that their game is unavailable to play in their current country. These restrictions can be changed by publishers at any time and can happen from as early as before the official release of the game or as late as a few years after that. In some cases, customers can later find that a previously non-restricted copy they purchased would be rendered unplayable in the region they lived in. Looking at changes in MGR:R‘s Steam DB history, this was a totally plausible possibility.
So the big question was:
“Would I be able to play this game at all?“
It’s 1:54 AM. I put my book down, walk outside my room and make my way to our desktop PC in the living room. I switch it on and log into my user account. 2:00 AM arrives, so I quickly start up Steam and click on “METAL GEAR RISING: REVENGEANCE” in my game library so I can start unpacking the files I pre-loaded beforehand. Time remaining: 30 minutes. Great, more waiting before I could get my answer. Time passes and soon it’s 2:32 AM. I take a deep breath before pressing “PLAY“. A window comes out and slowly, a series of logos appear one by one before reaching the game’s title screen. A sigh of relief escapes my lips and I take a screenshot to commemorate the moment. My question has finally been answered.
For now, the game is running fine despite me being in a restricted region. I’m happy to be one of the lucky ones who have managed to have so far won the battle against these region locks, but only time will tell how long this victory will last. No one knows whether these restrictions will change in the future, but one thing is for certain: those who have risen victorious in this battle will probably be enjoying this game as much as possible before that time ever comes.