from the no-games-for-you! dept
When it comes to Russia’s aggressive war in Ukraine and the world’s response to it, timelines obviously get quite compressed. I’ll admit to being somewhat surprised at how much relative unity there has been in the West’s response to Putin’s attempt to destroy European peace with its invasion of a neighboring country. This isn’t to say that more couldn’t be done, of course, but the cohesive response has been nearly as admirable as the fight the Ukrainian people are putting up against a formidable enemy. On the list of ways the world has responded, it perhaps seems something of a lesser thing that Ukraine called on the video game companies of the world to essentially blockade Russia from its activities. Lesser or not, however, the call was heard and several major players in the video game industry have done as asked.
We’ll start with the larger gaming marketplaces and studios, several of which have voluntarily decided to simply cut the Russian market off from their services.
French mega-publisher Ubisoft became the latest game company to take action against Russian customers Monday morning, telling Bloomberg that it is “suspending its physical and digital sales” in the Russian market. Take-Two announced a similar move earlier in the morning, telling Mashable that it is stopping “new sales, installations, and marketing support” in Russia and Belarus, including purchases made through the Rockstar Game Launcher.
The new announcements come after a flurry of similar actions taken by large game publishers over the weekend. Activision Blizzard announced late Friday that it will be cutting off games sales and offering a two-to-one match on employee contributions to relief organizations operating in Ukraine. Electronic Arts also announced Friday that it is halting Russian game sales, including the sale of virtual currency bundles in its popular games, “while this conflict continues.” That action comes after EA Sports earlier removed all Russian teams from FIFA 22 and NHL 22, mirroring similar moves from international organizations managing those sports.
Before anyone wants to launch into a lecture about how cutting access to video games is far different than parking troops on Russia’s border, you’re missing the point. There is a multilateral squeeze of the Russian citizenry happening through sanctions and voluntary actions being undertaken, of which this gaming embargo is a part. Parts of the world are now actively denying Russia’s citizens access to aspects of global culture. Agree with that as a tactic or not, it’s damn well going to be felt by the very people that at the ultimate level allow Putin to retain power. An end to this madness only happens if Putin himself feels pressure to do so and that can ultimately only come from his own pissed off people. Every little bit helps.
The platform level is getting involved here, as well. GOG was the first marketplace to cut Russia off from the market. Eventually both Microsoft and Epic joined GOG. Then Nintendo did as well, though it appears its hand was forced due to payment processing sanctions. Same goes for Steam. Sony hasn’t said anything publicly at the time of this writing, though some games have already been pulled from the Russian market.
And this has trickled beyond the developer/platform space as well. Esports organizations are also cutting Russia out of the game, so to speak.
On Wednesday, the popular ESL Pro League became the latest to announce it was barring “organizations with apparent ties to the Russian government, including individuals or organizations under alleged or confirmed EU sanctions related to the conflict” from participating in its events. The league stopped short of sanctioning individual players on those teams, though, saying they were “not complicit with this situation” and were welcome to still compete “under a neutral name, without representing their country, organization, or their teams’ sponsors on their clothing or otherwise.”
Now, at least one team has complained that it isn’t sponsored by the Russian state and is being unfairly targeted simply for being Russian… and that’s a complaint worth paying attention to. There’s a fine line to walk here. Those in favor of this blockade and its IRL counterparts do want to squeeze the Russian citizenry and make them feel pain due to their leader’s decision. But we also absolutely need those folks to eventually be on our side.
Still, this is cultural seclusion we’re talking about here. That isn’t to be done lightly, but it’s hard to argue that this sort of collective action doesn’t fit the bill in this case. Now we await the reaction from the Russian public.