Ukrainian gaming community reacts to conflict outbreak

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On the morning of February 24, 2022, the Russian government launched a large-scale military attack on Ukraine. Among the many Ukrainians who are speaking out and asking for support are the game developers. Ukraine is home to a large community of game makers, all of whom are feeling the effects of the escalating geopolitical conflict.

Members of the gaming community in Ukraine estimate that the country has more than 400 game-based organizations and provides jobs for more than 30,000 employees. Several game studios from Europe, Israel and Russia have offices in the country, and outsourcing and hiring make up a large part of the industry in Ukraine. Even if you don’t know, it’s very likely that you’ve played a game created or supported by a Ukrainian studio.

Several game studios have been talking about the conflict on social media. GSC Game World, the developers of the Stalker franchise, tweeted:

Frogwares, creators of the recent Sherlock Holmes: Chapter One, said: “We can’t just watch. Russia attacks our homeland and denies Ukraine’s sovereignty. We try to stay safe, but this is war, there are no two ways to do this… . We are a peaceful nation, and in all the years since we gained our independence, we have never attacked or threatened anyone. This situation will affect our work and could destroy our lives.”

Mobile game studio Gameloft terase: “Gameloft is home to two studios in Ukraine – Kharkiv and Lviv – and we want to express our support to them and everyone affected by the current events in the country. We have been monitoring the situation closely in recent weeks and are in constant dialogue with our Ukrainian studios. We are all deeply saddened by the current events and our thoughts are with our dear teams and community members in Ukraine.”

The history of Ukraine with gaming

Alexey Menshikov worked at Ukraine’s first game company, Action Forms, in the 1990s, then worked in and built game studios. He is currently the head of Beatshapers, a 20-person mobile game studio based in Kiev, Ukraine. He’s checked in with his people and they’re safe, but he’s worried they’ll stay that way if the war continues and the whole country gets involved.

Menshikov is part of a diaspora of the Ukrainian games industry, where leaders have migrated to other countries, such as the US, in search of capital and other resources to support their efforts to lead international operations with ties to Ukraine’s development teams . Menshikov now lives in Los Angeles and manages the studio remotely.

In the past, much of that tradition has been in rental companies that make parts of a game, such as the core programming or art, while the design is handled elsewhere. But increasingly, Ukrainian studios and developers have moved up the gaming food chain towards making games and original titles.

Beatshapers CEO Alexey Menshikov

GamesBeat’s Dean Takahashi first encountered Ukrainian game makers in 2010, when he met the developers of Gameprom, a maker of pinball machines for mobile devices. He was surprised to learn that they had worked on so many pinball titles, and was impressed by their ingenuity. They didn’t grow up playing pinball. Instead, they learned by watching YouTube videos and then creating their games.

Much of Ukraine’s gaming activity is concentrated in the capital Kiev, which for many years was home to the Casual Connect Eastern European game developer event. The recent GamesGathering event in December attracted more than 1,500 people. “We’ve grown a lot of companies, and many like Wargaming have a big presence in Ukraine,” said Menshikov, who started out as a sound designer and, like many Ukrainians, taught himself game development skills.

The Ukrainian game developers with whom GamesBeat spoke say the country’s education system is a key factor in the game industry’s boom, with universities providing talented programmers and creatives who can step right into the industry.

Game Studios in Ukraine

Major studios in the region include Russian-Irish mobile gaming developer Playrix, which entered Ukraine after acquiring local studios Zagrava (in 2019) and Boolat Games (in 2021); Ubisoft, which has offices in Kiev and the coastal city of Odessa; and Plarium, the Israeli developer behind Raid: Shadow Legends.

Esports is also an important part of the Ukrainian gaming community. The government recognized it as an official sport in 2020, with Oleksandr Borniakov, Deputy Minister for Digital Transformation, acknowledging that “millions of Ukrainians” loved watching esports. The country’s teams are also regular winners at major events, with Natus Vincere (or “Navi”) being one of the biggest teams.

Natus Vincere released a statement on Twitter that reads:

Great player Oleksandr Olegovich Kostyliev, aka “s1mple” tweeted that his hometown was shelled during the first conflict.

This isn’t the first time game developers have been hit by the ongoing conflict between the two countries. Two major pre-2014 Ukrainian studios were A4 Games and Arkadium, both of which were forced to relocate their offices after Russia’s annexation of Crimea. A4 Games moved its studio to Malta at the urging of its publishers, and Arkadium’s team in the region (Arkadium is also based in New York City) chose to move to St. Petersburg.

Thundermark CEO Yuriy Dyachyshyn runs a game studio with 40 people. The company has tried to think of contingencies to help its employees by advising them to move to the western part of the country, Dyachyshyn said in an interview at this week’s Dice Summit in Las Vegas.

At the moment, studios continue to ask for support as they follow the guidelines of the Ukrainian government. WePlay Esports said in a statement this morning that the office in Ukraine will continue to function for the time being “Work in the Ukrainian office of WePlay Holding is in full swing…. All employees of WePlay Holding are aware of the government instructions to follow. and continue to work from home.”

G5 Entertainment, a casual/mobile games developer, also said: “G5 Entertainment is closely following the escalation in Ukraine; we currently have no reports of our personnel being involved in hostilities. We advise our employees to follow the advice of the Ukrainian president to take shelter at home at this time and not to move. We have some employees who have moved before, while the majority remain in their residence.

“At this point, we have given Ukrainian workers two days off so that they can take care of themselves and their family and friends. We remain committed to our employees wherever they are and do our best to support them in the immediate situation and will continuously evaluate what measures are most appropriate to support them in the future.”

Other members of the global community are reaching out to show their support. 11 Bit Studios, the Polish developer behind This War of Mine, has stated that it will donate all proceeds from its games to the Ukrainian Red Cross, and GOG has expressed its support for this.

Earlier this month, as conflicts escalated, game development agency Amber opened a new studio in Kiev. Amber CEO Jaime Gline said at the time, “Our presence in the Ukrainian market will not only bolster our creative capacity, but also send a timely and strong message of our support for our team in Kiev and the wider Ukrainian game dev ecosystem.”

We at GamesBeat send our best wishes for the well-being and safety of the gaming community and all citizens currently in Ukraine.

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