Microsoft Can't Tell Us If The Xbox One Is Region-Free Or Not

Microsoft has this week released some confusing statements and policies regarding how the Xbox One will work around the world. We've tried to get to the bottom of them, with no avail.

Earlier in the week, a guide on pre-ordering the Xbox One was published by Microsoft. Saying that the console is only launching in 21 countries this November, it also says the following:

Xbox One games are for activation and distribution only in specified geographic regions. See game package and/or retailer product information, for each game’s specific geographic regions.

Which was alarming, but also lacking in specifics. If an imported game was first activated in a foreign region, would it work? What were those specified regions?

A Microsoft representative helped clarify at least one thing a little later, telling the Army Times: "Military personnel will be able to take their Xbox One and play their games with them without an issue as long as the game has been ‘activated’ once in the U.S. Your games go with you and play, no issues."

Later, the official Xbox Support Twitter account was replying to concerned users about whether the console was region-free, and said that the Xbox One would not even work if it was used in a country not listed in that initial 21.

The problem there being that the Xbox Support Twitter account was one of the most notorious suppliers of confusing information at the Xbox One's reveal.

So we reached out to Microsoft for clarification on the issue. And...didn't get much further. We were initially sent the following 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.

Again, not terribly helpful. It made a lot of suggestions, but offered nothing concrete. Meeting "country-specific regulatory guidelines" simply means passing classification. We have no idea what "broad geographic regions" are, and if the console itself is not "geographically restricted", but everything else is, how does that actually work?

So I gave them three specific examples and asked for clarification.

  • Could I import a game from the United States and play it on my Australian Xbox One ?
  • What exactly were the "broad geographic regions"? Could someone in Germany import a game from the UK and be able to play it?
  • If content is locked to a specific country, could there be multiple international accounts on the one system?

Their response was "we don’t have any additional to share beyond the statement currently". Great.

For reference, the PS3 was completely region-free. The PS4 is as well. The PS3 even allowed different international accounts on the one system (I had an Australian, US and Japanese account). The Xbox 360 wasn't locked at the hardware level, but some publishers chose to implement their own region blocks.