Pokemon Go developer Niantic has become the latest company to answer Ukraine’s call to cut off Russia by stopping downloads of its games in the country. But Niantic is also going further than some of its peers, saying that “gameplay will also be suspended [in Russia and Belarus] shortly.”
“We stand with the global community in hoping for peace and a rapid resolution to the violence and suffering in Ukraine,” Niantic said in a tweeted announcement late Thursday night.
Niantic joins major game publishers—including Take-Two, Ubisoft, Electronic Arts, Activision Blizzard, Epic Games, and CD Projekt Red—as well as all major game console makers in preventing new players from obtaining their games and products in Russia during the ongoing invasion. But those other game companies have largely stopped short of suspending access for Russian customers that previously purchased games before the sanctions started.
Epic Games was explicit in making this distinction, saying that, while it is “stopping commerce with Russia,” it is “not blocking access for the same reason other communication tools remain online: the free world should keep all lines of dialogue open.” Thus, Russian players can still enjoy Fortnite, even though they can’t buy in-game items or win cash prizes in Fortnite tournaments.
Niantic, though, is taking the extra step of cutting access to its games in Russia. That covers Pokemon Go—which wasn’t officially available in Russia until late 2018—and newer titles like Harry Potter: Wizards Unite and Pikmin Bloom.
Suspending Russian access is an especially direct move for Niantic’s games, which all rely on a player’s GPS-tracked location for access (though there have been ways around this in the past). Shunning the Russian market might not be a major sacrifice for Niantic, though; the country didn’t even rank in the top-10 countries by total players in January 2021, according to Statista data.
In addition, collecting money from Russian players has likely been increasingly difficult for a company like Niantic, as major payment processors and the Google Play Store have already cut Russia off.