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Back in 1998, my father was living in Japan and sent me some N64 cartridges. Surprisingly, they wouldn't fit in my American console because the back of cartridges didn't match the slot.

Articles on the internet say this was due to Nintendo wanting to block the cartridges from one region from being used in another. But what bothers me is that the mechanism was way too trivial to circumvent. I remember all it took me was using pliers to remove the blocking plastic on the back. I believe the cartridges would even still be good to be used in the Japanese consoles after this. So my question is: was it really a security feature? Did Nintendo really think that was enough to stop people from playing cross-regional games?

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Yes, it was done by using different back plates of the cartridge like shown here.

I remember all it took me was using pliers to remove the blocking plastic on the back.

I would guess you instead modified the slot to simply accept both.

was it really a security feature?

Yes, and it worked well.

Did Nintendo really think that was enough to stop people from playing cross-regional games?

Most important here, grey imports are still regular sold cartridges, so royalties go to Nintendo, just Nintendo Japan instead of Nintendo USA. This is a big difference from copying games.

Beside that, the expected damage would be rather minor. It wasn't about making it impossible, just making it inconvenient - and most of that is already done due to the fact that it's not an English language game.

As the saying goes: A lock isn't about keeping thieves out, but honest people honest.

Game companies don't earn most of their money from gamers dedicated enough to:

  • Import form overseas
  • Circumvent protection (modify cartridges)
  • Live with foreign packages
  • Live with foreign text manuals and
  • Accept foreign language on-screen text

Less than half a million people in the US speak Japanese, that's about .15% of the population, not much to loose. Out of the remaining 99.85% not many would go the length to buy a Japanese version if they can get an English at a similar price (or even lower as prices in Japan were rather high).

That leaves only a very dedicated minority of collectors - a group that no protection measure can really stop. Someone like that would simply buy a Japanese console as well.

It never pays to fighting for 100% control if 90+% can be reached with way less effort.

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