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Tonich avatar 6:30 AM on 04.01.2014  (server time)
Gaming in Provincial Russia. Part Two

Hello again!
I am continuing to discuss the topic of gaming in provincial Russia that I’ve started in my previous blog. Now that we’ve learned that gamers here suffer from different forms of prejudice and social disdain, as well as difficulties in tracking and acquiring games they might like, it’s time to move on to the most controversial but inevitable topic.

Problem Three. Piracy
There is a rather popular historical anecdote that can serve as a sort of epigraph here. When Nikolay Karamzin, a prominent 19th Century Russian historiographer, was visiting Paris, he met a group of Russians there who had been living abroad for some time. Naturally, they asked Karamzin to describe in a few words what was going on in their homeland. But the guest did not need many words anyway; “Stealing” was his answer.

Two centuries have passed since Karamzin’s time, and I don’t think anything’s changed in this regard. So, no wonder Russia is simply notorious for its huge piracy issues. Yet, as all thieves have their reasons, so do the pirates. So let me try to analyze the issue and list at least some of them.

1. Economic reasons. Generally, these are the ones I mentioned in the previous part; being a gamer in Russia is too much of a luxury. Console game prices can be nothing less than insane, and even way cheaper PC games can sometimes become barely affordable for an average salarymen where I live. Besides, one can often have a hard time finding the games you like in retail – especially the more obscure titles.

2. Mentality. There is a slang word in the Russian language – “khaliava” (халява) – meaning a freebie, something you can get for free and without any investment on your end. If a Russian has a chance of getting something for free they would never pay money for it. When I talk to some of my friends and tell them I had bought a game on sale really cheap their response is usually one of a genuine surprise. “Why”, they say, “You could’ve just pirated it”. And then I’d have to awkwardly think up some lame excuses like access to multiplayer (which I hardly, if ever, use) or better stability, or even box art! “Because it’s the right thing to do” is not reason enough for them.

And on the other hand the mysterious Russian soul is generous enough to let my countrymen share anything they've got. I guess that all makes us Russians natural born pirates, huh? :)

3. Legislature issues. A mid-2000s Russian politician was rumored to say, “It’s easier to surround the whole country with barbed wire than to prosecute Russians for illegal downloading”. I think the quote describes the current situation perfectly. While the government knows of the piracy issue and its scale, they just do not have any effective and, more importantly, adequate countermeasures. All the anti-piracy laws being discussed in the State Duma look like all-out online censorship at best and something Orwellian at worst. Sometimes there are show trials that end in ridiculous fines against seemingly random people. And the ISPs don’t look like they have a slightest care for what their clients do, too. Not long ago some of them even supported piracy by offering their own file-sharing services (although now most of them have moved on to legal digital distribution).
What I actually think is that in terms of piracy the Russians need to be taught rather than disciplined. We’ve got to break that con mentality, teach people to purchase at least what they can afford. I strongly believe that under current conditions the best scheme is “buy what you like”. I will even go as far as saying that if everyone in Russia followed that scheme piracy would do more good than harm. I’m really going to play devil’s advocate here, even though I know I will be frowned upon.

You see, when you buy a brand-new, fully priced game you take risks. Risks that the game you buy disappoints you, that you get not exactly what you expected, or that it is plain broken. And the more you paid for the game the bigger is your frustration, right? Now imagine you have been saving money for a couple of months to buy the new installment in a franchise you really like – and it’s total crap (a story from my personal experience BTW). Imagine you’ve done it twice (true story still). Will you still blindly buy anything you anticipate? And what about brand new titles? The risks have just gone up.
Demos could be a solution to this, but we all know the final game can turn up something different. Besides, in Russia demos are rather unpopular due to the fact that they are never translated into Russian, making it harder for the majority of gamers here. The translations themselves are a different issue though and I will certainly discuss them, too.
That is why quite a large number of gamers (myself included) use pirated games to get a glimpse of what they actually are and then proceed to buy the ones they liked, resulting in more purchases then would have been made without their trying first. Because of the risks, see? But unfortunately the gamers who follow this scheme are still in the minority – although, as far as I can see, now their numbers are slowly but steadily growing.

And another major issue that often makes me think piracy is an option is the quality (or lack thereof) of the Russian localizations. But I think I’ll discuss it separately, in Part Three of this blog.

Thanks to everyone who read it to the end! ;)

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