70% of Russian Gamers Are Pirates Following Western Publisher Exodus

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Russia's invasion of Ukraine and the exodus of Western businesses from the country is having a profound effect on the videogame market, a new study has found. Seven out of ten video gamers said they'd pirated at least one game in 2022, with 51% admitting that they pirated more in the last year than they did previously. According to one estimate, Western publishers' could see lost profits reach $300 million.

piracy encryptMany events have contributed to the rise and fall of online piracy rates over the past 20 years but few – if any – can match the fallout from Russia’s invasion of Ukraine.

Western companies’ partial or complete withdrawal across all entertainment sectors has profoundly affected content availability. Pre-2022 content libraries remain accessible in some cases but fresh releases of movies, music, and videogames are mostly a thing of the past, at least how things stand today.

The chaos in the movie market has been well-documented over the past 17 months and there are now signs that the videogame market is unlikely to escape a similar fate.

Seven Out of Ten Gamers Now Pirate

According to a survey carried out by online game development platform School XYZ, the departure of major international videogame publishers from the Russian market led to a sharp rise in the number of video gamers playing pirated games.

Almost seven out of ten video gamers (69%) said they’d played at least one pirated copy in 2022, and more than half (51%) said that they’re now pirating more than they did in 2021.

As first reported by the Russian news outlet Vedomosti (paywall), the study was conducted across all regions of Russia and took into account all unlicensed game formats, in most cases downloaded from torrent sites.

While over a quarter of respondents (27%) said they’d pirated three PC games in 2022, and 20% confessed to pirating more than 10, other figures from the study are more positive. Of the 31% of gamers who reported pirating nothing in 2022, all said that they were opposed to piracy. Just 7% of gamers admitted to buying no games at all in 2022, meaning that 93% bought at least one piece of legitimate content.

Availability and Convenience

It’s long been argued that if content isn’t made available through legal channels, people will find a way to pirate it. Equally, if content is made available but customers are subjected to an inconvenient process to access it, that can contribute to higher rates of piracy.

According to Alexander Kuzmenko, the former editor of Russian videogame magazine and gaming website Igromania (Game Mania), it’s not just the departure of publishers including Sony, Microsoft, and Nintendo causing problem for gamers.

When platforms like Steam and GOG, known for their ease of access, stopped supporting Russian bank cards, barriers appeared in a previously frictionless system. Yegor Tomsky, CEO at Watt Studio, agrees that buying content has become much more difficult.

“Players are used to buying games on Steam in one click, and now, to buy a game, you need to perform the same actions as when downloading a pirated version, so everyone chooses to save money,” Tomsky says.

Multiple Factors Could Further Increase Piracy Rates

As the Russian economy faces huge difficulties directly linked to the invasion of Ukraine, some fear that game piracy rates are heading towards the 90%+ mark last seen around two decades ago.

People everywhere are trying to save money and according to Konstantin Sakhnov, co-founder of Vengeance Games, overseas game publishers may see lost profits reach $200-$300 million. A report from Kommersant published today indicates that local companies are also feeling the pain.

According to data published by job search platform HH.ru, during the first half of 2023 the number of vacancies for video game developers in Russia plummeted 38%.

During a recent Russia – a Land of Opportunities meeting, President Putin dismissed ideas that videogames are mere toys; even as part of a multi-billion dollar business, they have an important role to play, one that transcends money.

“The videogame should help a person develop, help find himself. It should help educate a person within the framework of universal human values ​​and within the framework of patriotism, and broadly from a humanitarian point of view.”


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