If publishers and developers think of Russia, they often think of piracy. Gevorg Akopyan has some advice on how to prevent piracy and what Russian gamers expect and like from games.
When you start a conversation about the Russian games market most people think either about excellent but complicated air flight simulators or crazy games like »Stalin vs. Martians«. Oh, and there is »Tetris« with almost half a billion sold copies (officially).
Some publishers strongly believe that their games are not appealing to the Russian audience or, to contrary, they are confident that their title will sell hundreds of thousand copies. Though, it is always hard to predict whether the game is going be successful or not, in this piece I’ll try to list six features that will make it easier for your title to get into Russia’s top grossing lists.
1. Localize your game
I know, it is a pretty obvious one. Everybody knows this. But few studios do this.
People enjoy taking adventures in a friendlier environment, and what says »you’re welcome« better than the language you grow up with. Smaller publishers usually think that they will be happy with only English speaking audience, but they don’t know how small it actually is. This is because they work in IT – a very high educated industry where people usually know 2-3 languages or more, whereas when it comes to general audience, this is different. And this is far more different in Russia where most people outside Moscow rarely know English well enough to play through an entire game. So when you put your product on the Russian Steam store without at least localized subtitles, you automatically get tons of negative user reviews because your game »is too complicated to understand«, »too boring« and, the most beautiful, because »just localize it, you non respectful jerks!«
In today’s industry where almost every studio is trying to implement a story in their games it is crucial to communicate your message to the player. To do this you both need to speak the same language. Horosho?
2. Release your game simultaneously
Russia has one of the most sophisticated gaming communities in the world. Local gamers need to have the newest game the day it is released in other countries. If a localized version isn’t available right away, the game is going to be translated (badly) by enthusiasts and pirated (heavily) by everybody else. In addition, if the game is released three weeks later compared to other regions you can lose up to 50 percent of sales.
If that sounds barbaric to you, just imagine how it would feel like if all of a sudden the newest episode of »Game of Thrones« wasn’t available in your country for a week after premiere, whilst the rest of the world was enjoying it. And this happens even with long awaited games from popular AAA series. No wonder developers lose potential customers.
Remember what Gabe Newell said 5 years ago: »The people who are telling you that Russians pirate everything, are the people who wait six months to localize their product into Russian. It doesn’t take much in terms of providing a better service to make pirates a non-issue.«
Mr. Newell was right. In the following five years Russian Steam market has grown significantly. This is the reason for my third point in this article.
3. Don’t forget about PC
Russia is huge on PC. Console market is slowly getting stronger despite recent financial crisis (which is still in full strength, by the way), but if your title doesn’t belong to an A-list franchise and you still want to sell hundreds of thousand copies, make a PC version. According to the research done by Mail.ru, Russia’s IT giant and online games operator, more than 61 percent of active Internet users who play games prefer to do it on PC.
Still not convinced? That is probably because you don’t know that Russian Steam market is the second biggest in the world after the U.S. according to Steam Spy. It is the second biggest in all terms: number of users, number of owned games by a single user, active players, play time etc. So make a PC version, please. It will also help you to boost console version’s sales. PC gamers usually generate all the buzz on the Internet in Russia so there is a chance that console gamers will hear about your game and buy it for the platform they own.
4. Work with media
There is a lot of discussion about the impact that the press and so called new media can have on a game’s success. Some developers think that a great game will sell no matter what and they are probably right, but if you want to sell hundreds of thousand copies, influence on game’s reception and communicate a certain point, you need to work with the press.
First of all – press releases do work. As a former editorial director of the most influential Russian gaming outlet, I know that editors need them. For most media this is the best way to get information. They read press releases, they address questions to PR managers regarding certain statements, they request comments and they publish it.
You can hire a copywriter or an agency to create press releases for you, although I suggest you do it yourself if you are an indie developer. But make sure you localize all press releases as well. By sending out a press release in English you lose about a half of potential coverage. Why? Unfortunately, some editors just don’t know any English and some of them are reluctant to the idea of reading emails from people they don’t know. But the most crucial reason why they don’t care is that they have too much work to do as it is – editorials are always understaffed. Reading through some press releases in English regarding unknown titles is not their priority. I understand that some developers will get offended by this – »How do they dare to not recognize MY game?« But it is what it is. And it’ll get even worse over the next few years.
With new media it’s even worse. Bloggers cover only those games that come to their attention, and their attention span is incredibly short.
So if you want to get a lot of coverage from the press and new media, consider hiring a local agency. It is rather cheap, but tremendously effective. They’ll localize all the assets and communicate them to the right press the right way; they’ll organize interviews and encourage stories, take on community management (Steam threads moderation is always a pain) and more.
5. The setting should be appealing
Russians prefer certain settings and genres. Don’t expect for an American football simulator or a JRPG to sell hundreds of thousand copies. At the same time if you have a quality strategy, first person shooter or a tactics game set in WW2-period, you are almost golden. Local developers and publishers know that, which is why they’ve produced lots of games about WW2 over the tears. A lot of them had poor critical reception but that did not stop them from selling big numbers. There are quite a few globally acclaimed game series set in WW2 that came from CIS countries though. Titles like »Blitzkrieg«, »Silent Storm«, »IL-2 Sturmovik« and »Men of War« are well known in Europe.
As of today many development studios have closed due to financial crisis of 2008. But that does not necessarily mean that the demand for war games is over. Russians tend to like realistic settings more than others, and WW2 is their favorite. Mostly because the Second World War had a strong impact on many generations of ex USSR countries.
Of course this is changing and global trends touch Russian market as well as any other. Nowadays top selling charts are more or less similar to Europe’s. But WW2 games are still popular, although they’ve adapted to market’s needs and went online. The best examples of this transition are hugely successful Free2Play online games like »War Thunder« and »World of Tanks«. So …
6. … consider making (publishing) a Free2Play game
The financial crisis made ruble’s purchasing power weaker and prices went. As a result Free2Play titles, which were doing great as it is, became even more popular amongst Russians. So if you really understand how Free2Play works and you think you can develop a game with smart monetization, consider marketing it in Russia.
The tricky part is that F2P audience is very divided. Different researches claim that close to 45 percent of online players regularly make purchases. But the vast majority of revenue comes from only 8 percent of the players. So make sure that you have lots of premium content to offer that will not break the game.
One of the examples of a good marketing thinking is »Warface«. The game was mostly produced by Crytek Kiev (although Seoul and Frankfurt offices took part) with an understanding what Russians like. This is a) a Free2Play b) first person shooter c) with great graphics d) for PC e) in realistic modern war setting f) with real licensed guns. It makes more than 100 million Dollars each year.
Of course there is no 100 percent formula to success to anything in life. This is especially true in such an unpredictable industry as games. But learning about the regions you are releasing your game in and being smart about your actions will always pay out. So … Be wise.
About the author
is Marketing and Business Development Manager at SoftClub.
Gevorg has been in the games industry for 6 years now, starting as a game journalist at Mail.ru to. Later on he lead Russia’s most influential specialist outlet, Igromania. There he served as an editorial director through web, social, mobile and print channels. In 2016 Gevorg has joined the team of SoftClub – Russia’s biggest game distributor and localizer.