Last night Russian tanks moved across the border into Ukraine. The invasion saw bombings near the capital Kyiv and elsewhere, with the ensuing fighting leading to the deaths of over 40 Ukrainian soldiers, The New York Times reports. The attacks come after months of escalating rhetoric and build up of Russian troops, and leave millions in Ukraine outraged and uncertain about the country’s future, including its game developers.
“As of today, the Russian Federation has officially declared war on Ukraine,” GSC Game World, makers of the upcoming post-apocalyptic survival horror game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, wrote in a statement. “Our country woke up with the sounds of explosions and weapons fire, but is ready to defend its freedom and independence for it remains strong and ready for anything.”
The roughly 300-person studio based in Kyiv called on the gaming industry and others to support its nation’s armed forces by donating to a special aid account. “Through pain, death, war, fear and inhuman cruelty, Ukraine will persevere. As it always does.”
Other developers came out with a more directly anti-war message. “Fuck the war, this morning we woke up in the middle of madness,” TallBoys–the indie developer behind Militsoiner and Where The Clouds End–posted on Twitter. “Fuck the war, there is only feelings of anger and powerlessness. Fuck the war, we do not condone it in any shape of form, fuck the ones who do and also Fuck the Fucking War.”
Ukraine is home to a number of other game studios, both big and small. Crysis 4 maker Crytek has a subsidiary there, as does World of Tanks maker Wargaming. Assassin’s Creed publisher Ubisoft also has two offices in Ukraine, one in Kyiv and one in Odessa, a major port city that was shutdown after being shelled by Russian forces last night. “If you didn’t know, the teams in Kyiv and Odessa have been central in making the games we love more accessible since [Assassin’s Creed] Origins,” wrote accessibility manager at Ubisoft, David Tisserand.
“The safety and wellbeing of our team members is always our primary concern,” a spokesperson for the French publisher told Kotaku in an email. “We are monitoring the situation closely and have already implemented several measures to help keep our teams in Ukraine safe. We also are providing assistance and aid to all team members. We don’t have more details to share at this time but will continue to monitor and adjust to the situation as it evolves.”
Update: 2/25/22, 1:22 p.m. ET: Ubisoft provided additional detail on the measures it’s taken to support staff:
Over the past few months, Ubisoft has been closely monitoring the situation and has put in place measures to help protect our teams. Last week, we recommended our employees take shelter in a place they consider safe. Ubisoft has provided all team members in Ukraine with additional funds to help them cover exceptional costs, such as those related to their travel and relocation, and has paid salaries in advance to account for any potential disruption to banking systems. Ubisoft is providing housing in neighboring countries where teams and their families can take shelter if they wish and are able to do so. To ensure we stay closely connected with all teams, we have set up hotlines to respond to their questions and needs and have put in place an emergency communication system should infrastructures grow unstable. We will continue to adapt and reinforce our assistance as the situation evolves.
With some reports speculating that much of Ukraine could fall to Russian forces before the end of the day, it’s unclear how many will manage to flee and what will happen to the rest. “Everyone has been bracing for this yet there is still a massive sense of shock that it has come to this,” a representative of Frogwares, developer of The Sinking City and the Sherlock Holmes series, told Kotaku in an email. “We have people all over Ukraine so a few woke today at 5:00 a.m. [local time] to the sound of shelling and rockets hitting nearby. The bulk of the team are in Kyiv and they have said there is a fair bit of public unrest and commotion now in the streets as people start to either stock up on supplies or try to leave for the outskirts.”
The representative went on:
As the situation keeps changing, Frogwares and the team are watching and adapting as needed. Work has slowed or stopped entirely within certain teams as individual employees set about doing what they need to do to ensure their safety first. Others logged in to at least have something to do / be able to talk to their colleagues and allow themselves some sort of distraction.
There is of course a massive sense of frustration and anger too. Our country has been invaded for reasons beyond normal comprehension and under ridiculous pretenses. And so now everyone watches in horror as a situation that has been draining us for almost 8 years gets even worse.
Russia’s invasion follows years of conflict after 2014 protests led to the ousting of then-Ukrainian President Viktor Yanukovych. Russian President Vladimir Putin called it an illegal coup, and responded by annexing Crimea. Metro series developer 4A Games announced it was relocating out of Ukraine to Malta following the violence at the time. Beatshapers studio director, Alexey Menshikov, told Axios last week that he and his roughly 30 employees planned for a “worst case scenario’ for relocation but were hoping it wouldn’t come to that.
“The situation reminds me of 2014 in general,” lead designer at Red Beat, Yaroslav Singaevskiy, told Polygon earlier this week. “There are a lot of uncertainties, rumors, and fakes. [...] The main difference is the state of the Ukrainian army that is much more capable, trained and prepared now thanks to eight years of an ongoing war. Support from the West — especially during the last several weeks — is crucial too.”
It’s not clear what that support will ultimately be or what it could accomplish. President Biden and the EU announced a new round of more severe economic sanctions on Russia. In the meantime, NATO secretary general Jens Stoltenberg condemned Russia’s invasion as a “reckless and unprovoked attack.”
Update: 2/24/22, 1:04 p.m. ET: Polish developer 11 Bit Studios, maker of Frostpunk and This War of Mine, announced today it will donate all proceeds from sales of the latter to the Ukranian Red Cross for the next week.
Released in 2014, This War of Mine is a grim strategy sim about guiding civilians through a civil war in Eastern Europe. CD Projekt Red’s PC storefront GOG confirmed it will donate its share of proceeds to the Red Cross as well.
Update: 2/24/22, 12:12 p.m. ET: Added comment from Ubisoft about its Kyiv and Odessa studios.
Update: 2/24/22, 2:20 p.m. ET: Added additional responses from game companies.