When you buy a game from Steam or another platform, or you pick up a physical copy of a game at a store, you want to make sure that you can activate and play the game in your region.
Most gaming platforms like Steam use some form of region locking. If you buy a physical copy of a PC game, it might also be region locked because you usually have to activate the game on one of the gaming platforms in order to play it.
Buying a game in a region where games are cheap is tempting, but there are two reasons for why it could turn out to be a bad idea. You might not be able to play the game at all, or you might not be able to play it in your language. Let’s dive deeper into region locking so you can be confident that you won’t be locked out of the games you buy.
Region Locking on the Popular Gaming Platforms
Each gaming platform handles region locking differently. You’ll want to understand the rules of each platform so you don’t end up with a game you can’t play.
If you buy games directly from the Steam store, you shouldn’t have a problem with region locking provided your region is set to your country of residence (which it is by default). When you run Steam and go to the store, it will be the store for your region.
If you want to give someone a game on Steam as a gift, you’ll see the region restrictions on the gift delivery page before you pay. I’m stating the obvious here, but if the person you’re giving the gift to does not live in the regions listed for the game, they won’t be able to play it, so there’s no point buying it for them.
How can you tell whether a game will be region locked? The store page for the game will have a notice if the game will only be playable in certain countries. The notice will be in a box with an orange border.
For more information about region locking on Steam, including what to do when you’re traveling and you want to buy a game, check out the official Steam documentation.
Origin doesn’t have region locking, but don’t jump for joy just yet. It restricts the localization of its games based on region. The available languages for the game will depend on what region you’re in.
Let’s say you’re in the US and you think, “Oh, that game is so much cheaper in Russia. I’m going to trick Origin into thinking I live in Russia so I can get it cheap.” You might be able to pull it off, but you’ll find out that you can only play the game in Russian. Stick to your own region, and you’ll never have a problem.
UPlay has region locking. You could run into a problem if you buy a game in one region and try to activate it in another. Even when a game isn’t region locked, it could be risky to buy it in another region. You might find out that you can only play the game in certain languages.
The Epic Game Store
Epic Games uses region locking. If you buy a game in one region, you won’t be able to play it in another.
GOG games aren’t region locked, but the languages available for the game do depend on the region. You could buy a game in a different region because it’s cheaper and think you’re getting a bargain, but then discover that you can only play it in Russian or some other language.
Region Locking on Third-Party Sellers like Fanatical
When you buy a game from a third-party seller, you always get a key that you have to activate on Steam or another platform. I buy games from Humble Bundle all the time, and when I do so, I receive a key. I then pop over to Steam and activate the game. When I paste the key into Steam, it checks whether the key is locked to a region. If it is, and I don’t live in that region, I’m out of luck.
The same will be true if you buy a game at Fanatical, Green Man Gaming, or anywhere else that sells keys, because that’s what third-party gaming stores are actually selling. When you buy a game from them, you get a key, and you have to activate that key with a gaming platform. The key might be only be good in specific regions.
Before you buy a game, check the information on the game’s store page to make sure you’ll be able to activate the key you receive in your region.
Are Gaming Keys I Get from a Giveaway or a Friend Region Locked?
Sometimes gaming sites give away keys, or maybe you have a friend who gets a key for a game they already own, and they give you the key. Will the key be region locked? It could be.
Keys can be tied to a region. Usually NA/EU (North American/European) keys aren’t region locked. But if the key is tied to a region where PC games are cheaper than they are in most regions, you could run into a problem. For example, you wouldn’t be able to activate a Russian key on Steam if you live in North America.
Normally giveaways will be NA/EU keys, or worldwide keys, meaning that everyone can activate them. But if you do get a key and when you try to activate it, you get a message saying that the key is invalid for your region, this will be why. The key is tied to one of the cheaper-priced regions. You’re out of luck.
Why is There Region Locking for PC Games, Anyway?
Region locking exists because games are priced differently in different regions. For example, you can usually buy games cheaper in Russia than you can in the US. But why does that matter?
Once upon a time, there was no region locking for PC games. When gaming platforms like Steam introduced differential pricing (different prices for different regions), some enterprising gamers in the cheaper regions would sell games to gamers in the more expensive countries at bargain prices.
For example, a gamer in the US would pay much less for a game if they bought it from a Russian gamer, rather than directly from Steam. They’d send money to the Russian gamer, who would gift the game through Steam to the US gamer. Steam closed this loophole by region locking gifts.
Other platforms also have region locking, or they restrict the languages that a game supports. For example, games bought in Russia must be played in Russian. This means the games aren’t really sellable to gamers in other regions (unless they speak Russian).
Another reason for region locking is cultural sensitivity. Some games just aren’t available in some regions because the type of content they contain has been banned or would be offensive to gamers in those regions.
Regions Can Play a Role in MMOs
I want to bring up one consideration that applies to MMOs (multiplayer online games). MMO keys are like any other game keys, so everything discussed in this post applies to them.
But there’s something else you have to think about with an MMO. Some MMOs have different servers for different regions. For example, there might be a North American server and a European server. In some games you choose a server when you sign up, but others just assign you the server in your region.
If you live in North America but all your gaming friends live in Europe, this could be a problem if the MMO will force you to play on the North American server. Many MMOs don’t force you onto your region’s server, or they let you create characters on more than one server. But I wanted to bring it up so that you’re aware of this. It’s best to find out what the situation is for an MMO you’re interested in before you buy it.
Bottom Line for Region Locked Games
PC games can be region locked, but if you buy a game directly from your regional store on the popular gaming platforms, you don’t have to worry about region locking. For example, if Steam is set to your country of residence and you buy a game on Steam, you’re golden.
You have to worry about region locking when you buy a game from another region’s store or from a third-party seller, but you can avoid being disappointed by carefully checking the game page of any game you want to buy.
If you’re wondering whether you’ll be able to play a game in a specific language, check the store’s game page or ask on gaming forums.