Escape from Tarkov and War Thunder developers keep silent about the war and stay friends with the occupiers. World of Tanks creators are still on the Russian market, trying to please everyone and save profits

Dmytro Rayevskyi
Yevhen Spirin
Escape from Tarkov and War Thunder developers keep silent about the war and stay friends with the occupiers. World of Tanks creators are still on the Russian market, trying to please everyone and save profits

With the beginning of the full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, sanctions against the aggressor also affected the video game industry. The largest game publishers — Ubisoft, EA Games, Rockstar — have limited sales of their products in Russia and Belarus. And Steam, GOG and Epic Games stores have stopped accepting payments in rubles. But Russian players have already learned to circumvent the bans of publishers and shops — there are many instructions about how to do this on the Internet. The situation with the game developers of the aggressor countries is even more complicated. Many of them are not officially Russian or Belarusian, but have long opened offices in Europe and work from Britain, Hungary, and other countries. Russian developers usually donʼt comment on Russiaʼs aggression against Ukraine, continue to cooperate with Western companies and sell their games to Western players. Babel tells about the games Escape from Tarkov, World of Tanks, and War Thunder, which are popular in Europe and the United States, and about the behavior of their developers, who deliberately do not publicly state their position on the war or order advertising from outspoken supporters of the Putin regime.

The developers of Escape from Tarkov are friends with Russian combatants, but prefer to remain silent

Escape from Tarkov is a multiplayer first-person shooter made by the Russian company Battlestate Games. There has been no official full release of the game yet — itʼs still in beta. But in fact, since 2017, Escape from Tarkov can already be bought and played. Books about the universe of the game have already been published, even a TV series was in production. Escape from Tarkov is a very popular game, especially among Europeans and Americans: in 2020 the developers reported that up to 200 thousand people played in Tarkov at the same time. The popularity of the game is evidenced by the number of streamers on Twitch — an average of 13.5 thousand per day, and the game-dedicated community on Reddit — almost 800 thousand participants. 60% of the game streamings are in English.

Distribution of the game does not depend on Steam or other large stores, one can buy Tarkov only on the official website, and play on servers around the world. It is noteworthy that in Russia there are only 8 game servers, and in the US there are more than 15 of them. The head office of Battlestate Games is now based in London, part of the team works in Russian St. Petersburg.

After the start of a full-scale Russian invasion of Ukraine, the Battlestate Games team did not comment on these events. The companyʼs executive director, Nikita Buyanov, disappeared from social media altogether and returned only on March 27, saying he was "rearranging" things. The developers donʼt answer the playersʼ questions about the war on social networks, only once a Battlestate Games employee Damir Gabasov under the nickname damirka_ea answered on Instagram that "everything will be fine". At the Escape from Tarkov forum, moderators quickly remove all mentions of the war in Ukraine, as does the game ʼs subreddit.

The Battlestate Games team managed to keep quiet. Now they are almost not asked questions, and in early June, the news of the release of an update for the game — Escape from Tarkov Arena — were picked up by the largest Western publications about games with no questions asked.

But the question of Battlestate Gamesʼ position on Russian aggression in Ukraine remains. Prior to the invasion, Nikita Buyanov and his company actively partnered with companies in the Russian military-industrial complex. Here they recorded a joint video with the Kalashnikov — went to the shooting range, advertised new developments. And this happened more than once, so that is a long-term partnership. Buyanov recorded joint videos with Dmitry “Goblin” Puchkov, a Russian translator and blogger known for his anti-Ukrainian stance. And Puchkov himself was a guest at the Battlestate Games studio.

Another partner of Battlestate Games is 715team, a group of gun owners and tactical training enthusiasts from Kaliningrad who had a very popular YouTube channel before the war — with over a million subscribers. Buyanov appeared on video by 715team, the leader of the group Roman Chernov nicknamed Khors made streams playing Escape from Tarkov, they went together to the shooting range of the Kalashnikov. And there is even a reference to 715team in the game itself. Roman Chernov and Nikita Buyanov are friends who advertise each other.

In early March, Roman Chernov recorded a video message about the Russian invasion, in which he condemned the very fact of the war, but shifted some of the responsibility to Ukraine. And in June he announced that he was in Donetsk and planned to take part in hostilities against the Ukrainian army. As of now, all photos of Roman were from Donetsk, not from the front lines. But now he is a combatant who has clearly supported one side of the war — Russia. In recent years, Chernov always wears a mask or covers his face in photos, but he has not done so before, so itʼs easy to identify him: there are old videos.

If to look closely at the circle of communication of Nikita Buyanov, it turns out that not only Chernov among his entourage supports the war. For example, on April 4, 2022, Buyanov posted a photo on Instagram, where he is standing on the shooting range with Stas Kostin — another armed enthusiast who runs social networks under the nickname Shawarma Unicorn. His Telegram and Instagram pages have posts in which Kostin does not hide that he supports the war. He is involved in raising funds for equipment for the Russian occupiers and carries "humanitarian aid" to the occupied territories.

Roman Chernov in occupied Mariupol, June 13, 2022.

Battlestate Games employee Damir Gabasov also does not comment on his attitude to the war in Ukraine on his social networks. But he travels to shooting ranges and war imitations, his entourage uses symbols of support of the "special military operation". Here is a photo of Gabasov, made by a user with the nickname beard_cliff. And hereʼs this user with V chevron — one of the symbols of Russiaʼs invasion of Ukraine. Stas Kostin and the head of Battlestate Games Nikita Buyanov train together when he is in Russia. Damir Gabasov demonstrates his affiliation with 715team.

Nikita Buyanov in training with Stas Kostin, April 4, 2022.

There are even more examples from the entourage of the leadership of Battlestate Games, people with whom they go to the shooting range and training, and who openly support the war against Ukraine and even take part in it. The recipe of Battlestate Games is simple — no public statements about the war or a hint of them on social networks, no war symbols on personal pages. So you can simultaneously earn income from Western audiences and live in London — and be friends with Russian militants, even take photos and videos with them. The main thing is that the symbols of war — Z or V — do not get in the picture.

Wargaming is in no hurry to leave Russia and Belarus despite official statements

In 2021, a study by Nielsen showed that the most popular video game in Ukraine is World of Tanks — an online real-time game in the genre of arcade tank simulator. This game is made by Wargaming, which appeared in the 1990s in Minsk. Following the launch of World of Tanks in 2010 and the great success of the game, the company moved to Cyprus and opened offices in Kyiv, Vilnius, London, Prague, and two US cities.

Now Wargaming is one of the largest gaming companies in the world. Its CEO Victor Kislyi is a billionaire. World of Tanks is played by more than 160 million people worldwide, the game even entered the Guinness Book of Records for the number of players simultaneously present on one server — more than 190 thousand. In addition to World of Tanks, the company produces similar games World of Warplanes and World of Warships.

Wargaming has been silent for more than a month since the invasion began on February 24. On April 4, the company officially announced that it condemned the war and left the markets of Russia and Belarus, transferring its gaming business in these countries to Lesta Studio, a partner company with which it is severing all ties. The company closed its office in Minsk and opened two new ones — in Warsaw and Belgrade.

"The company will not profit from this process — neither today nor in the future. On the contrary, we expect significant losses as a direct result of this decision," Wargaming said at the time.

Lesta Studio is a gaming company from St. Petersburg, which has existed since 1991 under the leadership of Malik Khatazhayev. Since 2011, the company has been working with Wargaming on the game World of Warships. In addition, in 2015, these companies jointly launched the Wargaming Academy project, an educational platform for game developers. Khatazhayev and the management of Wargaming have always called their relationship a "partnership" and emphasized the autonomy of Lesta Studio.

However, the documents suggest otherwise. Ukrainian YouTuber OLDboi made a small investigation. Lesta Studio can be found in the Unified Register of Legal Entities of the Russian Federation. According to an extract from the register, since 2015 the 100% owner of Lesta Studio is WARGHAMING GROUP LIMITED, registered in Cyprus. That is, Lesta Studio is not a partner, but just a branch of the company.

In April, Wargaming announced that the process of legal change was not yet complete. However, two months have passed since then, and Lesta Studio still belongs to them: there were no changes in the registry. So legally the company, despite the statements, has not left the markets of Russia and Belarus.

At the same time, Wargaming not only declared an anti-war position, but did something in that direction. On February 27, one of its founders, Sergey Burkatovsky, was fired from the company for speaking out in support of Russiaʼs invasion of Ukraine. And the Kyiv office of Wargaming donated 30 million hryvnias to Ukrainian hospitals and for the humanitarian needs of migrants.

War Thunder has turned off gaming chats and is buying ads from a “DPR” blogger

The main competitor of military simulators from Wargaming is the game War Thunder of the Russian company Gaijin Entertainment, which is now based in Hungary. War Thunder combines simulations of combat aircraft, armored vehicles, and navy. This game is also quite popular, including in the West — in 2019, War Thunder entered the top of the Steam platform as a game that is played by more than 25 thousand users simultaneously.

On February 26, Gaijin Entertainment announced that they remained "out of politics".

"Gaijinʼs offices, owners, directors, servers and employees are based in the EU, so the game is not in danger of closing down. However, in these difficult times, we think it is wrong to publish anything that can be portrayed as propaganda for war, and our game is, after all, about military equipment. We have always stayed out of politics and will continue to refrain from statements that may have a political overtone. We firmly believe that wars should remain only in the field of video games. We pray for peace and security," the statement said.

Two days later, the developers turned off internal game chats so that "they would not be used for political discussions that could offend other players". All that remains now is a voice chat in which members of the game teams can communicate only with each other.

Since then, there has been no mention of the war in Ukraine from Gaijin Entertainment. The president of the company Anton Yudintsev is not present in social networks and did not express his own position. However, one of the companyʼs PR partners was Russian blogger Aleksei Smirnov, who often promoted War Thunder and another company game, Crossout, in a video for his YouTube channel "Large-caliber Disturbance”.

A fragment of the video channel Large-caliber Disturbance advertising War Thunder, shot in the occupied part of Donbas in 2021.

Smirnov is included in Myrotvorets, a Ukrainian database of pro-Russian activists and combatants as a mercenary and accomplice to the terrorists. On the channel, he posted videos of tests of various weapons — from small arms to armored vehicles. The team of the Militarny, Ukrainian military portal, conducted an investigation in 2021, in which it proved that Smirnov shot his videos in the temporarily occupied territory of the "DPR". And the weapons and equipment he tested were supplied by Russia.

Now Aleksey Smirnov is actively traveling to the occupied territories, transporting "humanitarian aid" to Mariupol and other cities in southern and eastern Ukraine. On June 16, he posted a video of a road in the direction of Sievierodonetsk, where fighting between the Ukrainian army and the Russians continues.

Gaijin Entertainment has never commented on its cooperation with the Russian occupiers.

Translated from Ukrainian by Anton Semyzhenko.

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