Game companies take a break from Russian business

When Russian tanks began rolling across Ukrainian soil on February 24, the immediate global reaction was surprisingly swift. Governments have come together to impose tough sanctions on Moscow, while international companies have begun to withdraw their operations from Russia.

However, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov noticed that two of the biggest gaming brands in the world had remained conspicuously silent.

“You are certainly aware of what is happening in Ukraine at the moment”, Fedorov tweeted on the official Xbox and PlayStation Twitter accounts March 2.

Fedorov included an open letter to game development companies and esports organizations, calling on them to block Russian game accounts and prevent Russian gamers from participating in professional leagues.

“We are sure that such actions will motivate Russian citizens to proactively stop the disgraceful military action,” he wrote.

Fedorov also called on Sony and Microsoft to exit the Russian gaming market, but blocking and banning individual accounts could help penetrate Russian President Vladamir Putin’s propaganda network to show Russian gamers that the world is against invasion.

For a senior Ukrainian official, highlighting the role of the gaming community in the midst of an active war proves that video games are not mere diversions. The multi-billion dollar global industry is more than just digital places where people can meet and connect. It’s also an incredibly visible way to send a message around the world.

In the West, video game companies were quick to take a stand against the invasion, but those in Japan were slower to act.

On March 4, Microsoft answered Fedorov’s call and took a public stand against the Russian invasion, halting sales in the country and expressing support for Ukraine. The Xbox maker was joined by Activision Blizzard, one of the biggest gaming companies in the world, and Epic Games, maker of hit Fortnite.

As global pressure mounted in the days after the invasion began, Sony quietly pulled Gran Turismo 7 from the Russian PlayStation Store on March 4 without an official explanation. However, it wasn’t until March 9 that the company announced that it was officially suspending the sale of all PlayStation products in Russia, including consoles and games.

“Sony Interactive Entertainment joins the global community in calling for peace in Ukraine,” Sony said in an official statement.

Sony also shut down digital PlayStation Store operations in Russia. According to CNBC, Sony is donating $2 million to the United Nations High Commissioner for Refugees and Save the Children.

Nintendo, the other major Japanese game console maker, has been less forthcoming in its stance on the dispute. While Nintendo initially remained silent, the Kyoto-based company put its Russian virtual store eShop into “maintenance mode”, making it impossible to purchase new digital games and process ruble payments.

On March 8, Nintendo also decided to delay the release of Advance Wars 1+2: Re-Boot Camp, which features the invasion of a fictional country in order to weaken global stability.

Nintendo did not specify that Russian aggression in Ukraine was the cause, instead writing that the decision was made “in light of recent world events”. The game’s new release date will be announced at some point in the future.

Nintendo is also, as CNBC reports, ceasing shipping of its products to Russia “for the foreseeable future” due to “considerable volatility surrounding the logistics of shipping and distributing physical goods.”

Other Japanese game companies, including Sega and Koei Tecmo, took less ambiguous positions, announcing they would donate to humanitarian efforts in Ukraine.

Gambling is too often seen as a mere means of escape. But the industry has grown and the games it produces are, at best, veritable works of art that honestly reflect the era in which they were made. The games industry also has a responsibility not to hide from the world and to face it head-on, whether in the virtual worlds of the games themselves or in the online communities that underpin them.

Can the gaming community do more to support Ukraine? Undoubtedly, and in the days, weeks and months to come, Nintendo and other Japanese gaming titans will hopefully take a tougher stance in the face of the worsening crisis.

After all, Ukraine needs all the support it can get – both in reality and virtual world.

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