You’ve likely heard about region locking with older generations of console games, particularly when it came to physical copies. That often leads to the misconception that PC games have the luxury of being region free.
However, it’s not exactly black and white as the answer is a bit more complicated.
What are Region Free Games?
Region free is a term used to describe games that can be played regardless of which part of the world you are in or are living in. The opposite of this term is region locked. Early generations of cartridge-based consoles were subject to region locking due to a combination of licensing issues and technical differences related to TV refresh rates.
Early PC gaming was less restricted. If you could get your hands on discs with a game, you could more than likely play it on your computer. Even if there was some sort of region restriction, changing your computer’s language and location was enough to trick the game into working. Now that we have the internet and digital storefronts, though, things are less straightforward.
Are PC Games Region Free?
In the technical sense, not always. PC games are sometimes not region free. This needs to be examined from two perspectives: physical games and digital games.
PC games bought physically can have some form of region locking. The most common one is going through an activation process, which will usually require an internet connection. If the game’s servers detect that your game was purchased from outside your region, it may block you from playing it.
However, these systems can be tricked. The quickest and easiest way is by using a VPN, a secure connection that makes your computer appear as though it’s located in another part of the world. You could also use some method of location spoofing, which may be a bit more technical.
For digital PC games, the matter of region locking has to do with the policies of online gaming platforms like Steam. If you log into one of these storefronts from different locations, you’ll likely notice that their game libraries are slightly different. These differences are the result of cultural or regulatory matters and licensing issues.
Take countries like China and Germany as examples. Both have laws that restrict or outright prohibit the sale of violent video games. Platforms have to respect these regulations so they will delist or ban games that go against them. In turn, developers either have to make special censored versions of their games to meet restriction requirements if they want them to be sold in these countries.
How Does Region Locking Work?
Different platforms have their individual approaches to PC game region locking. In some cases, simply owning a game is enough to allow you to play it wherever you want. In others, though, you may not be able to play some of your games due to restrictions.
Steam’s library is based on the region you have registered on your account. This setting will apply to anywhere you go in the world, meaning any game you buy will more than likely be playable in other regions. For example, if your account is registered in the UK and you take a trip to China, you should not have a problem playing your games so long as you don’t change your account’s region.
Gifting PC games to others, though, is subject to their registered region. When you’re looking to buy someone a game via Steam, the platform will notify you of any regional restrictions so you can make an informed purchase decision.
Epic Games Store
The Epic Games Store is a lot more restrictive than its Valve counterpart as its PC games are not region free. Any titles you buy in one region will absolutely not be playable in another.
Origin’s games are technically region free but there is a different issue that has to do with localization. This means that games you buy in a certain region will only be playable in that language. For instance, if you buy a game from their Italian store, you’ll only be able to play it in Italian.
The GOG platform has a similar localization restriction to Origin. The language of the games you buy is tied to the region you bought them from. Therefore, GOG PC games are technically region free but are subject to language locking.
Fanatical is a third-party game key seller like Humble Bundle. When you buy a PC game from this platform, you’re effectively getting a redemption code you can use on gaming platforms like Steam.
These keys may also be subject to region locking. When you input your key into a platform, it will tell you if that key works in your region. If it doesn’t, then you may be out of luck. Therefore, it’s important to check the terms of your Fanatical purchase before impulse buying their deals.
Will UK PC Games Work in the US?
If you’re looking to buy a PC game from the UK region to play on a PC in the US, you’ll have to consider some aspects. For one, you need to start with the gaming platform the game is available.
In the previous section, we broke down how region locking works on certain popular platforms. For instance, a game purchased on Steam is subject to availability in other countries as well as the region registered on your account. The Epic Games Store, though, won’t allow you to play your UK-based PC game in the US.
It’s also important to consider what type of DRM your game uses. If it doesn’t contain software that “calls home” to check if it’s genuine, then you may be able to play your UK game anywhere else in the world, including the US. However, the presence of a launcher or other type of support app that has to sign onto a server may imply that region locking is in effect.
Will European PC Games Work in the US?
Even though the UK broke its bonds with the European region, it still falls under the same regional restrictions that may exist on gaming platforms. For most of them, the UK and the EU are on in the same, so region locking applies to both of them depending on the platform.
Steam titles are a bit on the looser side when it comes to them being region free or not. As long as the developers haven’t implemented any DRM, then you’ll likely be able to play your European-purchased title in the US. All you need to do is keep your Steam account’s region registered under a country in the EU. Some other platforms aren’t as generous or open, though. An Epic Games-purchased title will likely not be playable outside of the EU area, even if you’re trying to play it in the US.
Can I Get Better PC Game Prices By Changing My Region?
This is a tricky question to answer and will depend on the platform you’re using. In theory, you could use a combination of VPNs, region spoofing, and region registering to circumvent restrictions and get games for cheap. However, this may be more hassle than it’s worth.
As you’ve likely seen earlier in this article, some platforms lock their games’ language settings to the region of purchase. Therefore, you may end up with an unplayable title and refunds will likely be tricky to get.
Gaming platforms are also constantly trying to change the way they handle regions in order to curb cheap price hunting. You may be able to buy a PC game from a different region at a cheap price, but then a change in the platform may lead to it becoming locked or broken.
Overall, it’s better to stick to your own region for buying games. Deals are available on a near-constant basis, which is an advantage of PC gaming.