As if we all didn't see this coming, Famitsu has reported that the Wii U will be region locked, allowing gamers to only play games from their console's corresponding country.
"What can be played on the Wii U is restricted by a region-lock feature; software not sold in the same region cannot be played."
The news comes as no surprise though because Nintendo has never released a region free home console. Fans of Nintendo's handhelds have a more relevant bone to pick, however, since the 3DS is the first Nintendo device to lock out other regions.
In a world of constantly fluctuating economies and exchange rates, solidifying a fixed currency is the best option to run a predictable business model and cut out any "cannibalism" with foreign purchases. However, import gamers are sick of modifying their consoles to play Japan-exclusive games, and ex-pats (like yours truly) have an incredibly difficult time getting a hold of games as it is. Sadly, these markets are insignificant enough to cut them out.
The necessary evil relationship between physical distribution and region locking are as old as video games themselves, but what scares me is locking out entire countries from foreign digital distribution channels. Already living in Japan, I am unable to access any EA, SEGA or Capcom games through Steam, and can't even access the American Origin or Android markets without any IP workarounds, which is more of a pain than its worth.
Sony does not allow my American credit card to work through a foreign IP, that leaves me to nag my father for a $50 PlayStation card every once in a while. I can't sling too much mud at Sony though, because 99% of its games are region free, letting me play my expansive American PS3 collection on a Japanese machine.
Also doing a good job, Apple allows me to access every iTunes market throughout the world. It's amazing how simple and easy it is to get software, music and games through them, and guess what, they are also the most valuable company in history. Obviously, letting me access my home country's isn't affecting them too much.
You would think that distribution would become easier through advanced technology, but these kinds of limitations are already starting to really affect a future of seamless entertainment. Imagine being totally shut from buying any film, video game, program, or digital information from a foreign country ever again until an American publisher declares it OK, true total blackout. Scary stuff.
I have a feeling that region locking is going to seem pretty lenient once digital distribution totally takes over.