In brief: Game piracy has long been popular in Russia, but the exodus of Western companies from the country following its invasion of Ukraine saw the practice skyrocket. In 2022, 69% of gamers said they'd played at least one pirated game, while 51% admitted to pirating more games than they did in 2021.
A survey carried out by Russian online game development platform School XYZ (spotted by TorrentFreak) highlights the explosion in piracy after numerous game devs and publishers pulled out of the market.
Almost seven out of ten gamers played a pirated game last year, with just over half confirming they were pirating more in 2022 than they were a year earlier. Around 20% said they had pirated more than ten games, while 27% confessed to pirating more than three.
Not all participants were pirates: 31% said they had pirated nothing, all of whom were against pirating. Moreover, just 7% said they had purchased nothing through official channels, suggesting the other 93%, even the pirates, had bought at least one game legitimately last year.
Game piracy isn't a new issue in Russia, which had considered legalizing piracy to avoid sanctions. A 2019 survey of 2,000 Russian by ISET Softvea LLC (via Ars Technica) found that 91% preferred pirated content across mediums, with cracked games proving to be the most popular type of pirated content. Only 9% of respondents said they bought content exclusively from official sources.
Russians have few options when it comes to buying games legally. Microsoft, Ubisoft, Take-Two, EA, Activision, Epic, Sony, and Nintendo as just some of the big names to have stopped the sale of their products in Russia following the invasion, but the bigger problem has been companies like Visa, Mastercard, and PayPal suspending their services, making the purchase of games from online platforms much more difficult.
As with many modern technologies, video games are playing a big part in the Russia/Ukraine conflict. We've seen Counter-Strike: Go being used to skirt Putin's media restrictions and inform Russians about the war. There was also Microsoft's warning of Russian agents trying to infiltrate gaming communities. On the hardware side, it was reported in April that the Ukraine army was using the Steam Deck to control machine gun turrets.