Following Russia’s invasion of Ukraine in February, life in both countries has changed. While Ukrainians fight for survival, Russian citizens are dealing with the effects of sanctions and other restrictions.
Russian authorities are playing down the effect of the West’s efforts, but even humble video gamers know that things aren’t the same as before. The thousands of companies that stopped servicing Russia in March include many focused on video game development and distribution.
On Steam, for example, buying some games is at best problematic and at worst quite the headache for Russians, especially when it comes to payment options. Some publishers no longer allow their content to be bought in Russia at all so when new games are released – especially good ones like Spider-Man Remastered – there are hurdles to overcome.
PC gamers have been waiting for Marvel’s Spider-Man Remastered for some time and when it was released last Friday there were few disappointments. Published by Sony’s PlayStation Studios, the game apparently lives up to the hype but gaining access to the game on Steam is a game in itself for Russians, but not an impossible one.
On the day of release, online store Buka made a post on VK.com announcing that Russians could buy the game directly from them. As the first comment shows, users questioned whether they would need to go on an ‘adventure’ to get the game working but apparently it’s not too difficult.
Buka’s claim that they are selling the game needs clarification since what they’re actually selling is activation keys for the game on Steam. Any key buyers will need to download and install the game using Steam itself and then provide their key to get activated by the platform.
The process isn’t uncommon. Many Steam users buy keys from third-party platforms for various reasons, including to obtain cheaper prices reserved for other markets. Some key suppliers are entirely legitimate but others have been called out by videogame companies for obtaining keys via dubious means, or for assisting users to access prices unavailable at home.
There’s no suggestion that the keys sold by Buka were obtained illegally, but licensing can be extremely complicated. The claim that regions need to be switched suggests that the game isn’t available in Russia by design, most likely linked to sanctions and licensing. In short, the game might play via Steam but whether it’s doing so in a licensed fashion is up for debate.
Nevertheless, many Russians aren’t concerned and they’re even prepared to pay much more than the prices they previously enjoyed versus most of the rest of the world.
Russians Happy to Pay to Play
Considering that international Steam users have previously attempted to utilize low Russian pricing to get a bargain, the current situation with Spider-Man Remastered represents a big change. Steam lists prices in Russia as ‘not available’ but Buka’s price for an activation key is 3,999 rubles or $64.29. That’s more than the $59.99 applicable sales in the United States.
The origin of the keys isn’t mentioned by the retailer but availability is listed as Ukraine, Russia, Georgia, Turkmenistan, Azerbaijan, Armenia, Kazakhstan, Kyrgyzstan, Moldova, Tajikistan, Uzbekistan, and Belarus.
According to prices listed today on SteamDB, Ukrainians pay just $37.88 to enjoy Spider-Man Remastered directly on Steam and the platform won’t run out of copies no matter how many people order. Buka, on the other hand, has completely sold out, meaning that Russians will now have to wait for new supplies.
There are other options, of course.
Spider-Man Remastered Was Pirated on Day One
Despite some unsubstantiated rumors claiming that Spider-Man Remastered would arrive with Denuvo protection, that didn’t turn out to be the case. Reports suggest the game’s minimal protections were removed in minutes, with pirate copies appearing online even before Steam users received notifications it was available to buy.
While pirated copies will remain attractive when legal copies are unavailable, reports from Russia suggest that schemes to overcome sanctions are thriving. Some estimates suggest that the activities of gray market entrepreneurs in the video game market could’ve grown by 50% since sanctions were imposed.
Faced with problems relating to payment processing and then game publishers refusing to supply Russia, online marketplaces now carry ads for Steam accounts created outside Russia that come preloaded with games. Other services claim they can buy games on Steam that are unavailable in Russia and then transfer those games to customers using Steam’s gifting system.
Another popular scheme gathering momentum features intermediaries opening PlayStation Store accounts in Turkey and then using those accounts to buy the cheap games available there. These are then sold in Russia at a premium, netting good profits for the middle men.
How long that will continue is unknown but both schemes are vulnerable to closure, if online services have the will to stop them.