The mega-successful idol franchise The iDOLM@STER is today celebrating the release of the latest entry into the series, The iDOLM@STER: Shiny Colors, over here in Japan. With that being said, if you’re in the West and happen to be a fan of the franchise, you might have been surprised to discover that upon trying to access the game, you’re simply unable to play it.
The new game follows the idols of 283 Production and their adventures as you, their producer, raise them to become top idols. Different from many of the other recent iDOLM@STER games is that it does not feature a rhythm game element, instead focusing on story events and “idol raising” activities such as training and PR events. It also features an online mode where you can go up against producers and battle each other in “Auditions.”
Yet, the number of producers you will be able to face up against has been reduced, following the latest revelation that players cannot access the game from an IP address outside of Japan. I first heard of this on Twitter, and then later confirmed this for myself by using a proxy program, accessing the site with a Korean IP address first, and a Thai one second. The error message you receive also clearly states clear intent on the developer’s part to block overseas IP addresses, as it reads “The Amazon CloudFront distribution is configured to block access from your country.”
Previous iDOLM@STER games have only been available on Japanese-region app services, but by using a Japanese account, Western fans have always been able to get around this and enjoy the games. Such a practice seems harmless enough, as fans simply want to play the games and enjoy the series. But this time it seems as though Bandai Namco Entertainment and the developers of The iDOLM@STER: Shiny Colors have taken further measures and outright blocked foreign IP addresses from accessing the game.
It baffles me as to why they would do this. After all, the fanbase for Japanese idol series has grown significantly in the past couple of years, mostly thanks to the English-language release of Love Live! School Idol Festival in 2014. Plus, it was only last year that the cast of Cinderella Girls, Love Live! Sunshine and WALKÜRE were greeted by massive crowds when they performed at Anime Expo. So why would the developers bar already existing fans of the series from playing the new game, and in turn heavily deter new fans from getting into the series through the new game?
One reason why is that, because the game is currently not available as an app on smartphones and is only available on browsers, the lack of region locking that can be easily done on app stores has to be replicated by banning overseas IP addresses from accessing the server. Bandai Namco might be obligated to do that for legal reasons, but if that was a problem, then why didn’t they ban foreign IP addresses from playing other iDOLM@STER games in the past? Furthermore, once the app version of the game releases for mobile, that may not block foreign IP addresses thanks to the region locking of mobile app stores, but consider that they will be running off of the same server and the same code, that’s probably unlikely. It seems more like Bandai Namco is taking some ill-informed business decisions, drawing the ire of already existing overseas fans and denying potential ones a way into the series.
So, if you’re in Japan, you’re in luck and can actually play the game via the official website. Obviously, you could also use a Japanese proxy server if you are overseas. Once I’ve had some time to play the game, I’ll be sharing our thoughts on it soon as well. But in the meantime, I can’t help but proceed through the game with a sour taste in my mouth.