How to Play Region-Specific Games Anywhere
Gamers have been looking to play foreign titles for decades now. From the days of the NES and on, there have always been restrictions in play. Sometimes the cartridges were a different shape, and sometimes the coding wasn’t designed to be read in your region.
For the connoisseur of foreign games, the mod chip was a tool frequently used to allow compatibility with overseas titles. However, those days are largely gone; a new scourge of region-locked games built on internet restrictions threatens to shrink the market for gamers in place of the old methods.
Because so many games have online capabilities or literally require a constant connection, it isn’t too hard to prevent someone in the US or EU from playing a game locked to Eastern Asia. The reverse is also true; players in China sometimes find they can’t play online American games because of their geographic location.
Thankfully, there’s a few different ways to get around these restrictions, depending on the type of game. As the game market has expanded to a mixture of console, PC and mobile, there are going to be different ways to attack the problem. The first method works great for PC and mobile games.
Get a VPN
The new standard in both internet security and avoiding regional restrictions is found by using a Virtual Private Network (VPN). These handy services aren’t free, but they come at a relatively affordable price point between $5 and $13 per month.
Basically, a VPN is a remote server you set your PC or mobile to connect to before the rest of the internet. Your connection is routed through this server, which affords you several benefits.
The first and most obvious benefit for handling region-specific games is the new IP address. When you connect to games or other internet services, they request your IP address, and deny you if you’re in an area on their blacklist. In the case of using a VPN, the VPN’s IP address is what’s given rather than yours.
Good VPN services, such as ExpressVPN, have a variety of different servers located in countries throughout the world. You’ll be able to navigate around the usual restrictions as though you were a local.
If you’re playing more competitive games, a VPN becomes even more crucial because the anonymity prevents malicious activities such as DDoS (Direct Denial of Service) attacks or the insertion of bad data into your stream. These kinds of things can knock you offline or even destroy your device.
Game events are relatively public, and if their WiFi isn’t properly secured, it can mean a world of trouble unless you’re on a VPN. Even children have been able to hack into others’ systems in just under 15 minutes on unsecured connections.
Just be choosy about the VPN you go with; there are some free and cheap options available, but they can slow your connection down and really interfere with gameplay. This is a non-issue with the good ones.
While it’s not as secure as a VPN (VPNs encrypt internet traffic), an old fashion proxy is sometimes enough to do the job for less serious gaming. There are some free options available, just as there are some free VPNs.
The main issues with a proxy are availability and reliability. Because these services tend to be offered for less intense service, there are often limitations on how many people can connect to the proxy, limited bandwidth and fewer choices. They’re not a good choice for more competitive games.
But they will suffice for less serious web-based games or even mobile games that don’t require a ton of data usage. They’re particularly useful for downloading games that don’t require a constant internet connection, as once you have the game you can play all you want.
There’s some good news and some bad news when it comes to dealing with regional restrictions on consoles. The good news is for Xbox and PS4 users; these consoles have no official regional restrictions, and their games will work regardless of the locale. A PS4 game will play on any PS4, as will any Xbox One game on any Xbox One.
The issue comes when you want to enjoy a certain country’s online content. While you may be able to play games from anywhere, the downloadable content is still going to be regional. If you want to alter the region you’re getting content from, you can use a Smart DNS.
If you’re using a service such as ExpressVPN, they include guides on exactly how to set this up, depending on the console. Xbox One and PS4 both have slightly different interfaces, but the procedure is largely the same.
Once you have your Smart DNS address from your VPN provider, you just need to go to your console’s connection settings. Everything gets set up like normal, except when you get to the DNS section you enter the DNS numbers you were given.
Regrettably, Nintendo fans are out of luck. Both the Wii U and the 3DS are region locked by hardware. There are no legal programs that will allow you to play foreign games on either console. That includes the eStore; American users cannot download games from the Japan store, or vice versa.
Officially, Steam’s Terms of Service stipulates that you cannot use a VPN to play their games. This is largely to prevent the purchase of cheap games from countries with weaker currencies (games purchased in Brazil or Russia, for instance, may be considerably cheaper).
In spite of that, VPNs will still largely work, but I would recommend using your own discretion and being very cautious if you choose to try one for this purpose. Violating Steam’s ToS can lead to your account being banned or otherwise removed, so by using a VPN for their games, you do so at your own risk.
Most regional restrictions aren’t too difficult to get around, but there’s a few (hardware-based restrictions) you can’t do much about. Consoles aside from Nintendo’s have thankfully been moving away from regional restrictions, though the same can’t be said for the rest of the internet.
Geo-blocking is an increasing problem for net-based services. While there are a few different solutions, getting a VPN seems to be the simplest and most effective countermeasure. Considering picking one up even if you aren’t dealing with regional restrictions, as they’ll make your internet that much more secure.
Have you ever imported a game or modified one of your systems to play imports? Tell us about it in the comments.
About the Author: Isa Cox is a technology enthusiast and internet security expert who enjoys sharing tips and tricks with fellow gamers. She recommends that you check out Secure Thoughts for reviews on the best VPNs to unblock regional-restricted content and protect your privacy.
Header source material: By Sergey Galyonkin [CC BY-SA 2.0], via Wikimedia Commons