Nintendo’s Region-Free Policies Have Created Unintentional Discounts

The modern gamer is a thrifty one, and with good reason. Discounts and bargains have become more commonplace in recent years. Between Steam Sales, Humble Bundles, and other bargain-based events, people have found workarounds to buying video games at full price.

One of the more exploitative methods involves buying games from a different region. For example, back in 2014, Russia’s currency had heavily fallen in value, affecting the price of various goods. This meant that people could buy games at a lower rate by purchasing from the Russian Steam Store instead of their own.

It should be no surprise then that crafty gamers have discovered a way to exploit Nintendo’s region-free policies on the Switch’s eShop.

Nintendo and Region Lock

Nintendo has a longstanding history with region-locking their consoles. Ever since the NES, the company has employed both physical and digital means of restricting games to only work with their region-appropriate console (e.g. PAL vs. NTSC).

Japanese cartridges (top) for the Super Nintendo/Famicom were physically different from their American counterparts (bottom). This was an early physical form of region-lock, since they could only fit in their respective region-specific consoles.

However, Nintendo stated back in 2014 that they were interested in pursuing alternatives to region lock. Then-president Satoru Iwata claimed that region control had offered negligible benefits in the long run. With their next console, the company would seek out a solution that better served their user-base.

Those changes did in fact happen with the release of the Switch. Both physical and digital titles from different regions can play on any Switch console. This has allowed for people to have access to titles that may have otherwise been available in their home region.

As was the case with Russia’s pricing exploitation, gamers have found a way to abuse both regional pricing and the Switch’s region-free policies. It’s surprisingly easy and technically legal (but still deserving of a finger wag and a brusque “tut-tut”).

Indies, Accessibility, and Profit

The average minimum wage in Mexico is around 88 pesos, roughly $4.50 USD. On the whole, Mexican citizens earn less than their U.S. counterparts. Some developers are conscious of this and have priced their games accordingly:

“We wanted to try and make sure [Stardew Valley] was accessible to as many people as possible, as well as fairly priced for each particular market. We also didn’t want to raise the price of a digital download just because the platform is different… All I can do is urge people not to abuse the deal and cross markets for that reason, hopefully the price is fair enough to discourage that.” (CEO of Chucklefish, r/NintendoSwitch discussion thread)

Naturally, people can and will abuse this. is a website dedicated to finding the lowest possible price for any given eShop title and directing the user to the appropriate region. “Discounts” regularly appear on r/NintendoSwitchDeals, advertising lower prices that are simply region-dependent pricing.

Access to international eShop libraries allow gamers access to titles that would otherwise be unavailable in their home region (mostly Japanese weeb games).

While some devs like Chucklefish have adopted a generous approach to pricing for foreign markets, others have taken measures against region-hopping. Yacht Club Games originally sold Shovel Knight on the Mexican eShop for 225 pesos, approximately $11 USD. However, soon after they discovered people gaming the system, they more than doubled the cost. While this was done to prevent abuse, the Mexican user-base suffered as a result.

This has raised concerns about appropriate pricing and profit for the indie developers. In many cases, developers have accepted certain markets as lower profit due to pricing. While Nintendo has made great strides to open up accessibility for indie development, plenty of work remains.

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3 responses to “Nintendo’s Region-Free Policies Have Created Unintentional Discounts”

  1. Rowan Idris Carmichael Avatar
    Rowan Idris Carmichael

    “(mostly Japanese weeb games)”

    Weeb games? Come on newnormative. You are better than this. I don’t need to tell a site that pushes different perspectives and being open, that terms like weeb games just tend to package a whole culture of games with a silly wrapper making them easy to dismiss as a whole. I get having a jovial tone but surely there’s a better way to do this. (I wouldn’t say this about other sites, but given the presented ideals I feel this is a mismatch here)

    That aside and on to the topic at hand…

    Regional pricing differences are an interesting force. Growing up in Australia and living in Japan I get some of the more expensive gaming price points out there. Australia is much better than it was in the mid 2000s though.

    So, despite multi language stuff still being pretty common, and the original reason I started buying games from the US going away (Xseed and Atlus games now regularly come to Australia) I still just often buy games from the USA eshop because that $15 dollar or so saving is worth it. Plus the US PSN and switch shops with already lower base prices tend to have better sales in the end.

    There’s no good clear solution though because people live in so many different situations.

    1. Kyle Rogacion Avatar
      Kyle Rogacion

      Yeah, I was kinda on the fence about using that jokingly since it really didn’t apply. The Japanese eShop is pretty varied so it doesn’t exactly work.

      At any rate, yeah I was always amazed at how much games cost in other countries. I view it in much the same vein as pirating. You can never really stop the people that abuse the system, but that shouldn’t mean everyone gets punished because of that. The best attempt at a solution will at least seek to please the broadest base possible while still allowing the devs to profit.

      I love the direction that Nintendo has taken with the Switch in regards to region-lock. It’s a great environment for indie devs to develop in. Like you said, people live in so many different situations so it’s good to see that some devs are conscious of that in their pricing. Ease of access, regular sales, and low price points from the get-go also help to stymie the flow of people that would abuse region-free pricing.

      1. Rowan Idris Carmichael Avatar
        Rowan Idris Carmichael

        It’s really tough because people are trained so hard to search for the best deal. This is one of those situations where equality isn’t fairness.

        Steam actually had similar issues a long time ago when they finally cracked the russian market, deemed for the longest time to be too far gone to piracy. For a while it was that you couldn’t gift between the super cheap and normal priced regions of steam, and now it’s a 10% difference prevents steam gifting.

        Of course, steam effectively region locks with geo IP tracking anyway, which mitigates part of the problem.

        Wonder what the balance of freedom and regional pricing is?

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