Russia is home to the eighth largest video game market in the world, worth about $2.7 billion in revenue, according to a 2021 estimate from data firm Statista. But following Vladimir Putin’s invasion of Ukraine, the game industry rallied together to say “Game Over” by halting game sales in Russia as a sanction for its attack on a sovereign nation. (Some include Belarus in the boycott because of that country’s active military support of Russia.) Many video game developers and publishers – from small indie teams to the three biggest names in gaming – are participating in the boycott, at least to some extent.
On March 2, 2022, EA first showed its support for Ukraine by removing the Russian teams from FIFA 22 and NHL 22 e-sports competitions. EA followed up a day later, further adding that “we have made the decision to stop sales of our games and content, including virtual currency bundles, in Russia and Belarus while this conflict continues. As a result, our games and content will no longer be available for purchase in our Russian region storefront on Origin or the EA app, including through in-game stores. We are also working with our platform partners to remove our titles from their stores and stop the sale of new in-game content in the region.”
On March 3, 2022, Polish indie horror developer Bloober Team (Layers of Fear, Blair Witch) announced on Twitter that it will no longer sell its games in Russia and Belarus, and that it would start pulling its products off Steam. (Valve hasn’t taken any direct action with Steam’s availability in Russia.) Bloober Team said, “We understand that our decision might affect many Russian and Belarussian players who are not involved in this invasion, but we strongly believe that every step that can help stop the war is worth taking.”
On that same day, another Poland-based studio, CD PROJEKT (Cyberpunk 2077, The Witcher) also took to Twitter and said they will be working with their partners to suspend digital sales and cease physical stock deliveries as well as games distributed on the GOG platform. They wrote, “The entire CD PROJEKT Group stands firm with the people of Ukraine. While we are not a political entity capable of directly influencing state matters, and don’t inspire to be one, we do believe that commercial entities, when united have the power to inspire global change in the hearts and minds of ordinary people.”
On March 4, 2022, Eurogamer reported that Sony had quietly pulled Gran Turismo 7 from the Russian PlayStation Store. Also, Microsoft stated in a blog post that they would be suspending Russian sales of all Microsoft products and services, including Xbox hardware, software, and Game Pass subscriptions. Likewise, Call of Duty maker Activision Blizzard announced that the company will no longer sell or ship new copies of its mega-hit franchises to Russia, and will also cut off in-game purchases to the region.
One day after Activision’s “Game Over” announcement, Eurogamer reported that Epic Games said it too was halting transactions within the country – but with a caveat. “Epic is stopping commerce with Russia in our games in response to its invasion of Ukraine,” the company explained. “We’re not blocking access for the same reason other communication tools remain online: the free world should keep all lines of dialogue open.” Epic is publisher of the globally popular multiplayer game Fortnite.
On March 7, 2022, two more major gaming companies joined in the boycott of Russia. Ubisoft (Assassin’s Creed, Far Cry) updated a blog post expressing support for Ukraine and its team members based there, to add that it had decided to suspend sales in Russia. Take-Two told GamesIndustry.biz that it had stopped sales of games and ended marketing support in both Russia and Belarus, as well as preventing people in the two countries from installing its games. That includes Grand Theft Auto V, which is the third most-popular game in Russia behind Counter-Strike: Global Offensive and Dota 2 (based on monthly active users, according to NewZoo data).
As of March 10th, Japan-based Nintendo is among the very last game companies to say “Game Over” to Russia, although they notably kept politics out of their decision. A Nintendo spokesperson told Eurogamer, “We have decided to suspend shipping all Nintendo products to Russia for the foreseeable future. This is due to considerable volatility surrounding the logistics of shipping and distributing physical goods.”
Nintendo’s statement makes no mention of Russia’s invasion of Ukraine. And what about digital goods that don’t require logistics? Oh well, this whole boycott Russia effort is mostly just virtue signaling anyway. So they may as well make their PR move and get on the bandwagon like everyone else.
Seriously, these are game companies, not political organizations. It’s their business, so they can sell (or not) to whomever they want. But how are video game boycotts going to make Putin stop killing innocent Ukrainian civilians? The boycotts will only harm ordinary citizens who happen to be Russian and have no control over what their President does. For them, “Game Over” equates to guilt by association.
As it turns out, Gabe Newell’s Valve Corporation doesn’t agree with that treatment. Valve still leaves their games wide open to Russian players – no bans for Russian IP addresses, no restrictions on sales in Russia, no server bans from Russia. While Valve has had to postpone the 2021-2022 Dota Pro Circuit (DPC) Spring Tour for Eastern Europe due to the conflict in that region, all other regional competitions for the Spring Tour are expected to proceed as planned. Professional Dota teams from around the world are welcome to participate in the international tournament, no matter where they live or what language they speak.
Here is Valve’s announcement:
“Dota is inextricably a global game. The very name of The International itself is testament to a shared celebration of sport that connects people of every nation into a singular community of passionate fans. Our goals with the tournament and the DPC as a whole have always been focused on showcasing the enormous power of this human connection that thrives on participation from all parts of Dota fandom.”
Team Spirit, champions of The International 10 and the Winter Tour Regional Finals for Eastern Europe, have a roster that is comprised of two Ukrainian players and three Russian players. On March 24th, they posted on their Facebook page that the team was relocating to Belgrade, Serbia, so they can continue playing. Their statement says, “The accessibility of esports has always been its unique feature… Esports has never known borders and it has never been tied to a dot on the map.”
What are your thoughts on this issue? Are you glad to see so many game companies unite to boycott Russia after its invasion of Ukraine? Or do you agree with Epic that online multiplayer games are a means of free and open communication to which access should not be blocked? How do you feel about Valve’s loyalty to its Dota 2 players worldwide? Should gaming be a safe space beyond the influence of governments and politics or not? Let us know in the comment section below!