Video game maker Wargaming grapples with the Russian-Ukrainian war

With offices in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as Kyiv, Ukraine, it is a company with something at stake on both sides of the conflict. And it causes all sorts of discomfort for the developer of military themed free action games which include tank world, world of warships, and World of Warplanes.

The Cyprus-based company has grown into a multinational games manufacturer, with 5,000 employees worldwide and 15 offices in the United States, France, Japan and Australia. But it was founded in Minsk, Belarus in 1998 and has always had strong ties to the Russian market.

This put Wargaming in the spotlight before the war even started. On February 25, however, Sergey Burkatovskiy, the creative director of tank world— wrote on Facebook: “I support the operation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and the LRP [Luhansk People’s Republic]. The rest is just nuances.

On March 1, Wargaming cut all ties with him, stating in a statement to Gamer on PC“Sergey Burkatovskiy expressed his personal opinion on social networks which categorically does not reflect the position of the company. He was fired and is no longer with the company.

It was a black eye for a company that had so far weathered the crisis as well as one would expect. On February 28, he announced that he was donating $1 million to the Ukrainian Red Cross “to support Ukrainian hospitals and doctors, citizens who have been displaced and other vital activities of the organization. humanitarian as needed. It offered support to more than 550 affected employees. And it has temporarily removed online ads for its games featuring advanced military vehicles.

Yet Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov appealed to Wargaming (and other gaming companies) to shut down his Russian office. (Wargaming did not respond to Fedorov’s tweet or make an announcement about the status of his St. Petersburg studio.)

Many other tech companies have withdrew their services from the Russian market. Apple and Google have both temporarily disabled their maps and live traffic data features in Russia and Ukraine to protect users. Twitter has suspended ads in Russia and labeled Russian state media links. Several tech companies, including Microsoft and Meta, have also blocked access to Russian media RT in Europe. Spotify has closed its Russian office “indefinitely”. And Netflix refuses to broadcast Russian state TV channels in the country.

However, few of these companies are as financially tied to the Russian market as Wargaming. (The company is privately held and does not report earnings, but in 2016, when it had 150 million users worldwide, Bloomberg value the company at $1.5 billion.)

While tank world, the company’s biggest game, is a global hit (and that audience has now grown to over 160 million players over the past decade), it has a large concentration of players in Russia, where it launched initially. Banning players from this country would be a huge blow.

In the meantime, Wargaming is helping its Kyiv staff find alternative accommodation and offering advance salary payments, as well as travel and relocation costs if staff need to evacuate quickly.

But that doesn’t stop former employees from pressuring the company to do more. Vitalii Tymoshenko, a former project manager at Wargaming’s Kyiv office, urged Wargaming to use its influence in Russia to educate players about the atrocities of war.

“You can open the eyes of millions of people with just a little news article on your website or an in-app message,” he said in a LinkedIn post. “Ukrainians are dying, thousands are sitting in shelters. The lives of your employees, ex-employees, their children, their friends are in danger. Your players – young Russian boys in their twenties – are burned alive in real tanks as invaders. It’s not glory for them, it’s a shame. And you can help the world stop this and shine a light on the truth.

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