Russia's turbulent history has given it a unique position in the business world. While some may fall back on the vodka-related clichs of old when entering this mind-bogglingly huge nation, a new generation of Russians are proving that this former ‘evil empire' is a legitimate, ambitious and thoroughly modern economic force.
While there is evidently some work to be done, it would be dismissive to call this an emerging market. But it remains a little odd that Russia has, so far, been neglected a little when it comes to games industry investment.
Currently, the market is defined by a large community of PC gamers, a significant level of piracy, a still-developing retail climate and a console market yet to reach true maturity. But it is publishing giant EA, rather than platform holders Microsoft, Sony or Nintendo that has made the most noise about changing all that.
MCV first revealed EA's intentions in Russia – and indeed further afield – over a year ago, and in the last few weeks that has come to fruition. A dedicated office in Moscow has been formed with the remit of pulling together the disparate strands of the Russian market. And as you might expect, EA means business.
The key goal overall is to get more people into games,” says EA's VP of Central Europe Peter Laughton.
We want to grow the overall market and the strength of franchises like The Sims, FIFA and Need for Speed will help us to do that. The Sims is already a successful series in Russia and we are focusing on key interests like football and racing to take that further.”
But it's not as easy as setting up an office and watching the cash roll in. Laughton stresses that EA's Russian operation has a very specific set of challenges ahead. A key issue is to get age ratings sorted out to bring everything in line with other territories. Having said that though, people also need to understand that this is not Europe – this is Russia, so while PEGI is an important and effective rating system that we'd like to see implemented here, we understand that things needs to be approached a little differently.”
There's no doubt that EA has the financial means to make this new venture a real success. But a market of this size cannot be transformed by a single company. Laughton urges every one of EA's publishing rivals to join the revolution – and reap the rewards.
We would love everyone else to join us in trying to open up this market. It is important that the games industry spends on marketing in Russia properly, as well as holding events – in particular, shows like the one here in November, where you can expect around 50,000 consumers.”
Anyone still doubting the potential in Russia just needs to read over that last part again: although considered by many as a developing market, it manages to hold a consumer show with a mighty 50,000 attendees, something that the more ‘mature' UK industry has tried – and failed – to do in the past.
Laughton is in no doubt how this market can be cracked. A major presence within the territory itself is a start, and is evidently preferable to managing a huge market like this through EA's Euro HQ in Geneva. Like many aspects of big business, Laughton believes that relationships must be forged between key components of the industry for things to really take off.
Publishers and retailers have to work together,” adds Laughton. We have some great retailers here – as good as any in the world. Currently publishers are very focused on the kiosks and jewel case market, but there is a huge and rapidly growing ‘traditional' retail market here. Ourselves and other publishers need to support these retailers as much as possible to get the most out of this market.”
It's easy, given Russia's history, to talk of revolution after hearing of EA's plans in the territory. EA has sent out its message loud and clear – this market needs work, but the rewards can be huge. But will other publishers respond to EA's rallying cry?