One of the biggest publishers in gaming has just been dealt a major blow. Despite Wargaming’s best efforts, Russia banned their Gun Zaladun game due to its alleged links with extremism and terrorism. Why did this happen? How will it affect other games that have similar themes?
Wordle is a word cloud generator that creates an image of the most commonly used words in text. This article explores everything we know about Wargaming’s exit from Russia.
It’s difficult to combine games with politics. Consider the Blitzchung debacle for Blizzard in 2019. For instance, when Daybreak was (and then wasn’t) owned by Columbus Nova, which was (and then wasn’t) controlled by Russian megacorp Renova. Companies understandably avoid attracting this type of attention, but navigating this territory becomes much more challenging when your whole organization has strong origins in the former Soviet Union.
Wargaming, the company behind World of Tanks, World of Warships, and World of Warplanes, was formed in Minsk, Belarus, in 1998 and went on to produce various single-player strategy games before launching its first online product (Tanks) in 2010. Shortly after, in 2011, Wargaming relocated its headquarters from Minsk to Cyprus, ostensibly for tax reasons but also to reassure western clients that their in-game purchases would not be used to bankroll the regimes of eastern nations. In 2011, the business released World of Warships in collaboration with Lesta Studio of St Petersburg, Russia (not Florida). For many years, Russia continues to develop the Warships game.
The company’s roots and tight relationships with production studios in both Minsk and St Petersburg have loomed big in the imaginations of Western gamers, despite the fact that it has been nominally based outside of Belarus for years. Questions about purchases in the game have sprung up on Reddit and in the official forums, as well as concerns about probable governmental financial assistance. Western gamers, many of whom are veterans of the military, want to be sure that their money isn’t being used to promote anti-western ideologies.
Similarly, many Wargaming MMO players have coined the phrase “Russian bias” to denote a particularly effective tank or ship from that country. It’s a term that’s been around for so long that it’s become a meme in the community, and the company’s playerbase doesn’t need any additional explanation. “Russian culture” has also been mentioned as a potential explanation for the company’s and developers’ occasionally rude and dismissive attitudes toward workers and consumers [Editor’s note: also towards the press.] In any event, Wargaming is often referred to as a Russian enterprise, despite the fact that this has never been officially correct.
Not only did Wargaming employ people in Russia and Belarus, but it also had a significant presence in Kyiv, Ukraine. All of this is to imply that when Russia invaded Ukraine about two months ago, players of Wargaming goods were paying careful attention to how the firm reacted. And, as it turns out, Wargaming has taken many steps that have gained the favor of consumers in North America and Europe.
First, Wargaming sent out a press statement to all of its advertising partners, announcing a global stop in all Tanks and certain Warships marketing. Executives must have realized that connecting their brand with Russian military trucks during a ground assault, with the attendant human cost, was not in anyone’s best interests.
The business then sacked a contentious creative director, Sergey Burkatovsky, for his outspoken pro-invasion views. He was fired the same day he posted this remark on his Facebook page (in Russian): “I support the operation of the Russian Federation’s Armed Forces, the DPR, and the LPR.” The rest is a matter of subtlety.”
Finally, Wargaming promised to provide $1 million to the Ukrainian Red Cross and to offer “alternative lodging, early salary payments, extra monies to facilitate travel to adjacent countries [along with] accomodation for them” to staff from the Kyiv office.
“Sergei’s perspective is in direct conflict with the company’s stance,” Wargaming stated in a statement released in conjunction with Burkatovsky’s termination. He is no longer a Wargaming employee.” The words “total contradiction” and “company’s perspective” made it look as though Wargaming was taking an official stance on the conflict, and it was surely not siding with Russia. Many gamers were also taken aback by the contribution, since Wargaming isn’t typically renowned for putting its money where its well crafted official statement is.
The largest piece of news, and the clearest indication of Wargaming’s official stance on the invasion, came over a month later, when the company stated on April 4th that it was shutting its Belarus office and distancing itself from Lesta Studios in St Petersburg. The whole statement is as follows:
“Wargaming has been undertaking a strategic evaluation of company operations throughout the globe over the last several weeks. The corporation has opted to quit Russia and Belarus after deciding not to own or manage any operations in the two nations. The company’s live games business in Russia and Belarus was handed to local administration of Lesta Studio, which is no longer linked with Wargaming, on March 31. This procedure will not benefit the firm now or in the future. On the contrary, we anticipate to lose a significant amount of money as a consequence of this choice. We will complete the operational transition as quickly as possible while adhering to all applicable regulations and guaranteeing the continued safety and support of our personnel. The live goods will be accessible in Russia and Belarus throughout the transition time and will be managed by the new owner. Wargaming has also begun the process of shutting its Minsk, Belarus facility. Employees impacted by the transition will get as much severance and assistance as feasible. Despite the gravity of this decision, we remain optimistic about the future of our firm and remain dedicated to providing high-quality games to our gamers.”
Non-Wargaming players may find it difficult to comprehend the magnitude of this choice. Not only is Wargaming shutting its first location (in Minsk), but that office was also responsible for a significant portion of the creation of World of Tanks, the company’s flagship title — and Tanks, although well-known in the west, is hugely popular in Russia. Last year, a study (co-sponsored by Wargaming, so take it with a pinch of salt) placed World of Tanks as the best game in the nation among gamers aged 16 to 64. One has to ask what financial consequences Wargaming will face, not just in terms of restructuring costs, but also in terms of goodwill from gamers in the nations that have lately been evacuated.
It’s impossible to determine what the reorganization implies for the goods. The games will be kept running in Russia and Belarus, but only “during the transition period,” according to Wargaming. According to community speculation, the games will continue to function independently in those countries, much like the Chinese servers have been split for many years. Even two and a half weeks after the initial news, we have yet to hear anything substantial from Wargaming on the subject.
The closures have not been well received by everybody. Employees in the Minsk office said they were notified of the closure at the same time the announcement was made public, which caught them off guard. “That section of the crew that is registered at the Minsk office is just in a trance,” one Minsk employee said (translated from Russian). Team leaders were characterized as frantically trying to communicate with their teams but missing the knowledge they needed to do so successfully.
Warships gamers swarmed the official forums with inquiries regarding the news, which were answered with silence for many hours, causing confusion among the Wargaming regional offices. The EU forums permitted debate on the subject, but the North American forums originally allowed it, then removed all connected topics, only to restore them hours later. After an entire day and several pages of forum speculation, a North American community manager issued an official statement confirming Wargaming’s intention to move the Russian operations of World of Tanks and World of Warships to Lesta Studio, assuring that players outside of Russia would not lose any currently held game properties or purchases.
“Operations in Russia and Belarus for World of Warships will be relocated to Lesta Studio. Wargaming has been undertaking a comprehensive evaluation of its business operations throughout the globe over the last several weeks. The corporation has opted to quit Russia and Belarus after deciding not to own or manage any operations in the two nations. The corporation began the process of shutting its studio in Minsk, Belarus, on March 31, 2022, and moved its live games business in Russia and Belarus to Lesta Studio, which is no longer linked with Wargaming. This procedure will not benefit the firm now or in the future. On the contrary, we anticipate significant losses as a direct consequence of this decision.”
Wargaming looks to be planning to continue operating World of Warships in countries other than Russia and Belarus. The game servers will continue to function normally, and players’ accounts, as well as any in-game property acquired via purchase or other methods, will be unaffected.
The players, on the other hand, are concerned about the issues that were not – and still are not – answered.
“Operations” usually refers to the game’s current maintenance, not future improvements. The notice just mentioned operations and made no mention of development. Will World of Tanks and World of Warships continue to develop? If so, who will be in charge of development, and how will this affect the previously mentioned timelines? The radio quiet in April was ominous for a firm that has been seeking to enhance relations with its playerbase, and has mostly succeeded. Weekly broadcasts have resumed, but community teams may only answer to player concerns by saying, “At this moment, we have no new information.”
Without a doubt, closing offices and transferring development and operations is a significant and difficult task. While many participants agree with the concept, the haphazard or nonexistent communication inside the organization as well as with consumers is very concerning. While some North American and European gamers were previously hesitant to buy games owing to worries over Russian ties, they are now hesitant to invest money on a game with an uncertain future. All those in that camp can do is hold their breath and hope that their favorite WWII arcade simulator will be alright – to say nothing of the workers and other residents of the bombarded territory.
The high seas are the last frontier in many MMOs, whether you’re the commander of a historic battleship or a feisty pirate queen on the deck of a smuggling vessel. Join the MOP team here at From the Depths for periodic expeditions into all of the current ocean-going MMOs. Just don’t capsize our ship!
From the Depths is a series of articles that will be published on Wargaming’s departure from Russia. In this article, we take a look at everything we know about the move so far. Reference: belarus flag.
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