In this article, game designer and producer Chris Keeling takes a detailed look at the Russian video game market.
The Russian-speaking audience of today is very similar to the Western market of the 1990’s. Since most people reading this are already familiar with the current Western market, I will focus on the nuances of the former-USSR (mostly Russia, being the largest and best example) rather than the Western player base.
The penetration of technology in general, and the internet in
particular, especially for games, is much lower in Eastern Europe than
in the West, although it is growing rapidly. While broadband connections
are available to nearly 100% of Americans and over 80% of us use them, only 43% of Russians are
online at home, up to about 50% when you include mobile devices. The
rarity of games and consoles affects their price as well, and they cost
about double here what they cost in the US. PC ownership is still fairly
high, although Russians typically keep their computers longer and lag
behind the West in early adoption of technology. This tends to focus
games in Russia away from consoles and toward PC and online games,
particularly games that can be downloaded and that don’t have high
The average income in Russia is around $790 per month (over
twice what it is in Belarus!), which is less than a third of the US
average. Although food costs tend to be fairly low, finished goods are
expensive, including clothes, cars, and other goods considered
necessities in the West. Even with the low prices for food, the
proportion of income spent on subsistence remains quite high – around 35% of total income (vs.
about 6% in the US). The combination of high prices and low income
leads to a lower standard of living in general, and widespread dissatisfaction with work and life.
For the game industry, this leads to increased popularity among free to
play (F2P) games and extremely high levels of piracy for retail box
Unlike the West, where we are finally seeing more and more female gamers, the Russian gamer is still 95% likely to be male.
They typically play for socialization, to experience consumption, and
as an escape from their hard lives. Russians visit social media sites
like Facebook and vKontakte far
more often than any other cultural group in the world. For many, their
connection to the outside world through the internet is their lifeline.
Because of this, games that include a social aspect are popular,
especially those that include competition and cooperation as primary
features. Russian players are natural clan-builders. Also, unlike the
West (where sports games are cool, shooters are mainstream, and
everything else is shunned as nerdy), Russians see historical and
strategy games as more acceptable, while Americans see these genres as
even geekier, on practically the same level as fantasy MMORPGs.
The crux of the matter lies here, where player expectations are
vastly different. The combination of high cost, low availability, and
piracy mean that Russian gamers are more tech-savvy, used to playing
games made for other markets that have been hacked and are run from an
ISO on a virtual drive. Even after they manage to get the game, they
have to figure out how to play it, with no manual and no way to contact
support. They’re true hackers – and once they find a game they like,
they stick to it, play it with their friends, and pass it around. They
take their gaming seriously.
The hardcore gamer drives the Siberian Express over here, and
prospective publishers should keep that in mind. On the other hand, the
growth of F2P and online games means that games are becoming more
accessible to (and less pirated by) more players in this region,
reducing barriers to entry.
So there you have it. The Russian audience has limited access to
current technology, internet penetration is relatively low, money is
tight, prices are high, life is hard, and they are willing to crawl
across broken glass to play good games, as long as they’re cheap. As I
said at the beginning, this is very much like the Western market of the
1990’s. But at least we know exactly where this market is headed, and it
won’t take them 15 years to catch up!
[This article was adapted from Chris Keeling's blog, A Connecticut Yankee.]
Chris Keeling is the Director of Product Vision for Wargaming.Net in charge of the the design and production in the
Americas, and occasionally lends his design sensibilities to Wargaming.Net's awesome free-to-play online games made in other countries. For
more excitement, see his woefully outdated portfolio at www.chriskeeling.com.