I am an advocate of local co-operative gaming. I’ve talked about how important it is numerous times before. Ironically it is this way to play multiplayer games that has undoubtedly led to the decisions surrounding Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate’s online play being region locked.
This is because the primary audience for Monster Hunter in Japan play plays completes most of their hunting sessions locally. I’d agree that is the optimum way to play that particular game, but not everyone gets that opportunity.
Online play was touted on the Wii U version as a bit of an afterthought, a concession to a Western audience who had become used to playing the series online since the popularity of Monster Hunter Tri (and the original Monster Hunter on the PS2 long before that).
My hopes were not high about Monster Hunter 3 Ultimate having region-free online play (particularly since Monster Hunter Tri didn’t), but it has led me to question the culture of region-locked online play when it’s considered an industry standard on any other hardware.
Supposed technical limitations
No reasons have been given about why cross-region play has been avoided for this version of Monster Hunter, but I suspect the following it’s due to a combination of connection speed and the culture of communication.
Monster Hunter is a game requiring precise movement and reaction, timing is indeed key, and particularly at higher levels can mean life or death. A good connection is important but certainly not the to the degree needed for a competitive FPS game. Contrary to some hunters I have spent an extensive amount of time playing Monster Hunter Portable 3rd with the Japanese Monster Hunter community, connection speed has seldom been a problem.
I propose then that this decision may have been made to make the issue of communication between different regions that much easier.
Not only would cross-region play need more robust servers able to make numerous connections from hundreds of different locations, but this sort of online play would need some communication tools. Auto translate features that a Japanese audience wouldn’t need and wouldn’t be considered for their local version.
Incorporating these features would mean localisation for several different languages needed to be inherent in all versions of the game, in order to allow people to collaborate easily. This is before looking at the issue of voice chat, which is increasingly common.
If auto translate and communication between regions is to be taken seriously, it needs to be considered from the ground up as part of a games inception. Sounds too much like hard work? I’d like to propose another option.
How global play games can work without communication
Being a gamer in Europe, many of the games I have played online over the years have been with people I cannot understand. Be it in French, German, Spanish, Italian or Japanese. Has this hampered my gaming experience? If anything experiencing a game with a completely different audience has broadened it.
The closest sensation I can equate it to is playing Journey – when normal communication methods are removed, people find other ways to display or describe what they want to say. Be it singing notes in a pattern or drawing hearts in the snow.
Gamers generally in my experience don’t mind someone who cannot communicate or understand their language. This is overpowered by the intrinsic need to play. People only mind if you are competent at your chosen game, and if you make an effort to gesture to thank someone or praise them at the right time, and most of these concepts can be covered by in-game gestures, simple English or emoticons.
Play a game you love with someone else you cannot speak a word to and gamers find a way to use their own in-built knowledge of the game to make anyone who cannot speak their native tongue feel included.
Isn’t the entire point of the internet to connect people? Boxing us into historical gaming regions breaks up those of us who have connected with people outside of our own country. Perversely we find ourselves in situations where we can talk together entirely freely online, but cannot experience certain video games together.
Cross region collaborative games can work
I’ve spent a good amount of time experiencing the very best examples of cross-region and auto translate support. Phantasy Star Online is the yardstick by which all my other collaborative games are judged against and sadly for Capcom it managed cross-region support, collaborative play and auto-translate back in 2000 and on dial-up no less.
Crucially it’s symbol chat experience allowed people to create their own ways to celebrate or warn people by using cards and sounds to display concepts or help. Interestingly it also had optional region-based servers for people who preferred to play with people from their country, or in their own language.
For the most part though people mingled, for the short time the Dreamcast and later Gamecube versions were really alive it really felt like a universal game, a melting pot of language and play.
Final Fantasy XI took things a step further, as a party of six adventurers were always needed to complete missions or defeat monsters. Auto translate in this game was robust enough for you to have simple conversations with someone, highlighted to show you were using this option, and automatically translated into the language of all the other players around you. It was this system that allowed me to not only party, but understand and thank the numerous Japanese players I partied with over the years in the game.
Perhaps next time?
With Capcom working with Nintendo to host the online play for this game, either party could have made the decision to allow cross region play in Monster Hunter for the first time, they could have done this easily by setting aside a few ships specifically for multi region play, but for whatever reason they didn’t. I only hope this is a mistake they don’t make again.