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Game industry unites behind call to cut off Russian market

Locked out.

Last week, the Ukrainian government put out a public call to “all game development companies” to “temporarily block all Russian and Belorussian accounts” in response to Russia’s ongoing invasion of Ukraine. Now, after a slow start, many of the game industry’s major players are heeding that call and cutting off new sales in the country.

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.

Mixed responses from platform holders

On the platform level, Poland’s CD Projekt Red was among the first major game companies to block the Russian market, cutting it off from purchases on the GOG online store last week. “We know that players in Russia and Belarus, individuals who have nothing to do with the invasion of Ukraine, will be impacted by this decision, but with this action we wish to further galvanize the global community to speak about what is going on in the heart of Europe,” the company wrote.

By Friday morning, Microsoft joined in by barring Russian sales of all products, including Xbox hardware, software, and Game Pass subscriptions.

On Saturday, Epic joined the chorus by saying it was “stopping commerce with Russia in our games.” It’s unclear if that ban extends to the Epic Games Store or development clearinghouses like the Unreal Marketplace. Regardless, Epic says it will continue to allow Russian players to access its games, citing “the same reason other communication tools remain online: the free world should keep all lines of dialogue open.” (Most other companies mentioned here have allowed Russian accounts to continue to access prior purchases as well.)

While other game platforms technically remain online and doing business in Russia, sanctions from major payment processors seem to be affecting access for game purchases on some online storefronts. A (translated) error message on Nintendo’s Russian site notes that, “due to the fact that the payment service used in Nintendo eShop has suspended the processing of payments in rubles, Nintendo eShop in Russia is temporarily placed into maintenance mode.”

Credit card payments are also unavailable on Steam, though Russian users can still reportedly use existing Steam wallet funds to make new purchases. PayPal purchases were also still working on Steam before that company cut off Russian service on Saturday.

While Sony hasn’t made any public statements regarding the Russian PlayStation market, Gran Turismo 7 was made unavailable to purchase on the Russian PlayStation store on Friday. That move comes as FIA Motorsports also takes action to prevent Russian participation in events, including esports.

While Russia is a significant and growing market for major game publishers, the country doesn’t even crack the top 10 nations by game industry revenues, according to a 2021 NewZoo report. In an investor note, CD Projekt Red noted that Russian and Belarussian customers accounted for 5.4 percent and 3.7 percent of the company’s sales in the last 12 months, respectively.

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