Video game maker Wargaming grapples with Russia-Ukraine war

With offices in St. Petersburg, Russia, as well as Kyiv, Ukraine, it’s a company that has something at stake on either side of the conflict. And that’s causing all sorts of discomfort for the developer of free-to-play military-themed action games that include World of Tanks, world of warships, and World of Warplanes.

The company, which is based in Cyprus, has grown into a multinational game maker, with 5,000 global employees and 15 offices in the US, France, Japan, and Australia. But it was founded in Minsk, Belarus, in 1998 and has always had strong ties to the Russian market.

That put Wargaming in the spotlight before the war had even started. On February 25, though, Sergey Burkatovskiy—the creative director of World of Tanks—wrote on Facebook: “I support the operation of the Armed Forces of the Russian Federation, the DPR [Donetsk People’s Republic] and the LPR [Luhansk People’s Republic]. The rest is nuances.”

By March 1, Wargaming had cut all ties with him, saying in a statement to PC Gamer, “Sergey Burkatovskiy expressed his personal opinion on social media which categorically does not reflect the position of the company. He has been let go and is no longer at the company.”

It was a black eye for a business that until then had been navigating the crisis as well as could be expected. On February 28, it announced it was donating $1 million to the Ukrainian Red Cross “to support Ukrainian hospitals and doctors, those citizens who have been displaced, and other vital activities of the humanitarian organization as is needed.” It offered support to more than 550 affected employees. And it temporarily pulled online ads for its games that featured advancing military vehicles.

Still, Ukrainian Deputy Prime Minister Mykhailo Fedorov has appealed to Wargaming (and other game companies) to close its Russian office. (Wargaming has not responded to Fedorov’s tweet or made any announcements about the status of its St. Petersburg studio.)

Plenty of other tech companies have pulled their services from the Russian market. Apple and Google have both temporarily disabled their maps and live traffic data functions in Russia and Ukraine to protect users. Twitter has paused ads in Russia and labeled links from Russian state media. Several tech companies, including Microsoft and Meta, also blocked access to Russia’s state-backed news outlet RT in Europe. Spotify has closed its Russian office “indefinitely.” And Netflix is ​​refusing to air Russian state TV channels in the country.

Few of those firms are financially tangled as tightly with the Russian market as Wargaming is, however. (The company is privately held and does not report earnings, but in 2016, when it boasted 150 million global users, Bloomberg valued the business at $1.5 billion.)

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

In the meantime, Wargaming is helping its Kyiv staff find alternate housing and offering early salary payments, as well as paying for any travel and relocation costs should staff need to clear quickly.

But that’s not stopping former employees from pressing 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 inform players about the atrocities of war.

“You can open eyes for millions of people with just a small 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 kids, their friends are at risk. Your players—young Russian boys in their twenties—are burned alive inside real tanks as invaders. It is not glory for them, it’s a shame. And you can help the world stop this, and shed the light on the truth.”

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