While Microsoft's controversial Xbox One policies regarding used games and online authentication are a known quantity at this point, the implications of these restrictions are not yet fully clear. A disclaimer posted on the Xbox.com website for the benefit of pre-order customers, for example, has raised the issue of region-locking — not just for games, but for the console itself.
Xbox One may not fully work in regions where it has not been officially released
Wording such as "Requires account on Xbox Live in an Xbox One-supported Xbox Live country" and "Xbox One games are for activation and distribution only in specified geographic regions" have been interpreted by some to mean that the Xbox One will impose strict limitations on how it can be used around the world. It appears that the console will not fully work in regions where it has not been officially released.
@gi4ouR You'll be able to play when you return home. I travel with an Xbox 360 for road gaming. ^PS— Xbox Support 2 (@XboxSupport2) June 12, 2013
Communication from Microsoft's official Xbox Support Twitter accounts would seem to back this up. Various messages advise travellers to "play when [they] return home" and prospective importers to "wait until the console is available in their region."
@il_cattivo They would want to wait until the console is available in their region. ^PS— Xbox Support (1-5) (@XboxSupport) June 12, 2013
Japan, one of the world's biggest gaming markets, is not on the list of 21 regions Microsoft says will get the Xbox One this year. Although Microsoft has struggled to make an impact in the country, the Xbox 360 did gain a small following among hardcore Japanese gamers, who would be the most inclined to take special measures to play the system ahead of a local release. With Asian countries unlikely to see the Xbox One until late 2014, gamers in the region may face a long wait with no recourse.
Sony has said that the PlayStation 4 will be region-free, like the PlayStation 3.
@Crofna Unsupported countries would not have the full experience, and may not work. ^PC— Xbox Support (@XboxSupport1) June 12, 2013
The Verge contacted Microsoft for clarity on the geographical issue, asking whether the system is IP-locked and if it could be used outside a supported country, and was provided with the following statement on region-locked games:
Similar to the movie and music industry, games must meet country-specific regulatory guidelines before they are cleared for sale. We will continue to work with our partners to follow these guidelines with Xbox One.
Since the statement did not address our concerns directly, The Verge followed up with a pointed question about whether the console would be functional in all parts of the world. Microsoft responded with an updated statement:
At this time, we have announced Xbox One will be available in 21 markets in November this year and additional markets later in 2014. Similar to the movie and music industry, games and other content must meet country-specific regulatory guidelines before they are cleared for sale - which means that games will work in the broad geographic regions for which they have been cleared, much as today with Xbox 360. While the console itself is not geographically restricted, a user's Xbox Live account, content, apps and experiences are all tied to the country of billing and residence.
It remains unclear how, if the Xbox One requires an Xbox Live account from the country of residence, and if that must be an "Xbox One-supported Xbox Live country," the console can be described as "not geographically restricted." The wording would also appear to contradict information given out by the Xbox Support team.
Microsoft would not comment further on the issue.
The company's messaging on the Xbox One has been confused from the start; it took weeks before setting the record straight on the console's online requirements. Sony won over many gamers with an impressive, consumer-focused showing at E3 — for Microsoft, however, the week continues to be dogged by negative reactions to the Xbox One's unusual restrictions on how people play their games.