Welcome To Russia, Where Most Of Your Friends Are Video Game Pirates

Editor's note: A couple of weeks ago, we published a story about people who pirate Halo 4. The game has not been officially released, but people were pirating it left and right. A former video game reporter and critic in Russia named Tim Seyfelmlyukov read that story and reached out to me. There was nothing strange about all this piracy to him: in Russia, he told me, just about everyone pirates games. Intrigued, I asked him to write about his experiences in a country where he'd tell you that anyone who wants to play Halo 4 is already playing Halo 4.

In my former career as a game journalist I wrote quite a few game reviews. I had owned an Xbox 360 since 2008 and had a PlayStation 3 debug console-for reviewing early games-since 2010. I reviewed most games on the 360. Sometimes a week or two before release I'd get a copy with a "Not for Sale" yellow sign. I would play it a little bit, beat it, and then write a review.

Here in Russia while playing a review copy you can be 100% sure that half of your friend list is already playing the game. Some hardcore players have already beaten it (sometimes for full fledged 1000 Gamerscore). So how does the journalist feel when he's writing a review for a game everyone is already playing? It's quite strange and awkward. I think there were about 10 guys on my friend list playing Dishonored a week before release date. Last week there were a few guys playing Halo 4 in co-op sitting in a comfortable Xbox Live party fearing totally nothing. FIFA13 a week before the street date playing online? Sure! Resident Evil 6 a month before the release and with half of the achievements unlocked: check!

What's the problem with the gaming industry in Russia?

First. The games are expensive. Like very expensive. The ordinary price for the console version of Max Payne 3 in a local retailer like "Eldorado" or "Technosila" is $US85 (2700 rubles). You can search the web and find some barely legal shops which sell it for $US48 (1500 rubles) — mostly imported copies from Europe. If you are truly short on money then it is possible to dig a little deeper and find some forums like Xboxland and Xboxrussia where you can buy a used copy for a super cheap price of $US28 (900 rubles). That's how it goes as far as legal way of obtaining games.

But I have to say that all of the above-mentioned ways are applicable only to big cities like Moscow, Saint-Petersburg and alike. If you are "lucky" enough to live in a small city with 500k population you're gonna be stuck with this price scheme: $US85 for a new game in local retailer and $US50 for a used game. In Moscow the average monthly salary is 52.000 rubles ($US1650), according to Moscow officials, but in most of the Russian cities people make their living with 17.000 rubles ($US540). Not really suitable to fork out $US85 for a game while paying for rent and loans, is it? So most Russian gamers pirate.

Second. Is it hard to pirate a console game? The answer is no.

You have to jailbreak your PS3 or mod your Xbox 360. The average price for such service is about 1500 rubles ($US48). There are hundreds of people who do it extremely fast. They don't fear anyone and do it openly in some shopping centres.

Then, you need to get a game. With the Russian internet being quite good now — a stable 20Mbps or higher connection is present in almost every city — a console game can be downloaded from thousands of torrent trackers and file sharing sites in 45 minutes or even less. Next, you need to burn the game and upload it to your HDD. So there has to be a PC for this stuff. If there is none, you just go to a local, unofficial gaming shop and buy a pirated game already burnt to a DVD with printed artwork and a box with cover. It's a no-brainer as there are lots of such shops that sell pirated games, music CDs, DVDs and other media almost openly, especially in big "tech" malls such as "Gorbushka" and "Savelovsky" in Moscow. The price is about 300 rubles ($US10). And this would be almost legal because the shop even issues a receipt.

And if you want to do it at home, the process is totally simplified. Just buy some blank dual-layered DVD+Rs, download games and burn them with special software. It's even possible to play online. Your Xbox has been banned? No problem, you sell it for $US100 on your local Xbox forum or on the Russian Craigslist wannabe named "Avito", buy another one there in barely mint condition for $US160 and mod it for $US48. Here you go until the next ban. Sony and Microsoft do sell their consoles officially in Russia. But nothing stops people from reselling them. Banned Xboxes are really cheap and are often used for offline play and also for Freeboot modding — JTagging and enabling game and homebrew boot right from HDD. On forums and through online auctions old Xboxes from 2007 or 2008 cost around 5000-7000 rubles ($US160-$US224) rubles depending on condition and accessories included. Slim Xboxes cost around 7000-9000 rubles ($US224-$US288), also depending on what's included, sometimes even with Kinect. The new official Xbox is 10000 rubles ($US320) for the 250GB version and 14000 ($US450) with Kinect and 250GB. The pricing is quite the same for PS3 — 11000-15000 rubles).

So let's dig into some figures. All of them are unofficially provided by my friends and former colleagues in publishing companies, retailers and platform holders. There are about 1.7 million Xbox 360s and about one million PS3s sold in Russia. My sources told me that the current install base is estimated as 1.2 million 360s and 700,000 PS3s (some consoles were broken, some exchanged). There were more Xboxes sold because it was always easier to mod them and still play online. Jailbroken PS3s mostly can't get online. And now check this out: the best-selling games like FIFA and Call of Duty sell 3000-10000 copies per platform. Only 500-1000 copies of games like Enslaved or Shadows of the Damned are sold in Russia. The most popular officially-sold games are the family games (dancing, racing sims, kids and other Kinect stuff) beside such huge hits in Russia as Call of Duty and FIFA.

So my fellows in different retailers are saying the same thing: "The consoles are selling quite ok but the games are treated like an additional commodity, accessories. Nobody is interested in selling them". That's why all the big retailers are filled with such games as Fallout 3, Tekken 6, old Need for Speed installments and other old stuff. People don't buy games at big retailers. And shops are totally uninterested in selling games.

But if you watch forums, gaming sites, ask your friends, look at your friend lists, everyone is playing Call of Duty, Battlefield, FIFA, Need For Speed, Borderlands, GTA. So if people don't buy these games, it's obvious they pirate them. If asked about pirating games almost anyone says: "Games are expensive, I can't afford them but I want to play them." Since there is almost no law enforcement going after people playing pirated games or distributing them on the web, people do it everywhere in Russia. Most of them are even proud of cutting their costs and fucking over "greedy developers/ publishers". The problem, some will say, is industry "greed".

After years of talking to hundreds of people and seeing thousands of forum comments I can say that the majority of gamers who pirate games don't understand that developers don't want to make games for pirates. If they don't get money they don't make games. It's that simple. But everyone is laughing and saying "let the stupid Americans pay for their games".

Things are getting better. My sources in the retail and modding community are saying that everyone is tired of modding their Xboxes and PS3s. So Russians are now cautiously getting into used games. It's really easy to buy some used games for the price from $US10 (like Mass Effect or Call of Duty 4) to $US48 (Dishonored, Darksiders 2). Gamers are starting to understand and cherish the online services which are unavailable for their modded consoles. (Even those 360s with modded harddrives that are running Halo 4 these days might get banned; so for some it becomes less of a hassle not to pirate.)

If games become more affordable then people are going to buy them a lot. Look at PC gaming. PC games are priced a lot cheaper in Russia (though region-locked ,sometimes), not to mention those legendary Steam sales. For example: Borderlands 2 for PC costs in retail about 600 rubles ($US19) and Xbox 360 or PS3 version will empty your pocket for 1800-2600 rubles ($US58-$US83) depending on your luck. That's why PC gaming is really strong in Russia. And that's why barely anybody buys console games.

And you know what happened this morning? Black Ops 2 was pirated because some shops broke street date.

Top Pic: The Kremlin, at sunset, via the Flickr feed of John Leach.

Moscow-based Timur Seyfelmliukov has been a gamer since 1993. He started writing amateur articles about games when he was 15. In 2010 he became an editor of the dedicated gaming section in Lenta.ru, the biggest Russian-language news site. Beside his main job he covered games for Russian media outlets including RIA Novosti, RIA TV, Digit.ru, Games TV, Xboxtra and Gamemag. Now Timur is the head of PR in Boomstarter, a Russian crowdfunding platform created after the huge success of Kickstarter. Though busy at his main occupation Tim is still a passionate gamer and sometimes give his opinion about games to Russian media.


    They pay $85 for games? Damn I'm moving to Russia! They are cheaper than buying retail in Australia.

      Where the hell are you shopping?


        I think you were born in 2012 not knowing what prices we paid for games. But judging from you using the internet at age 0, that is impossible. So either you are stupid or ignorant of game price in Australia.

        Not to mention Russian steam keys are EXTREMELY CHEAP.

          Yes, it's easy to get games cheaply these days, but the fact still remains that the SRP in Aus is usually above $85, and that's what you'll pay if you just wander into, say, EB or Harvey Norman without looking around first.

            Walk into JB-hifi... This is the price they sell in Melbourne.

          jeez, no need to be offensive. He's just pointing out some cheaper prices. Obviously everyone is aware of the Australia Tax, but cheaper prices /do/ exist so we don't have to waste time feeling sorry for ourselves or proud of our misfortune.

      My thoughts exactly. High cost is hardly an excuse their are other countries where the cost of games is just as high. It seems to me that 'Everyone else is doing it' is a more fitting excuse (albeit a terrible one). Especially coupled with 'the country is corrupt as hell'.

      That's what I was thinking! Damn it, Australia! For anybody reading, GameStop's Australian equivalent, EB Games, sells new releases for another $90 to $120 dollars, and because our currency is near equal, you can count that as US dollars.

      I agree $85US is about $103NZD thats cheaper than most shops here for new release games unless you go to nzgameshop.com or something.

      I think you missed the bit where people only earn $540 - $1650 a month.

        exactly. their "average" salary is about a quarter of what australias "average" salary is. so, when a new game comes out, you could either spend an entire weeks wage on it, or pirate. i know which road i'd be taking. hell, i used to pirate every game i wanted 4 or 5 years ago, because i earnt stuff all. now though, i buy everything. because i can.
        i still have a flashed 360. hasn't been turned on in about 3 years. i also have a jailbroken ps3. 0 (zero) dumped games on it.
        maybe once their economy improves, they'll start shelling out for full priced games. especially if prices drop over there.

          So what you are saying is that if i early around that amount its ok for me to pirate?
          got to love the student life as a gamer then =P

        Exactly. It's not just the base cost of the product, but how proportionate it is to their wage that counts.

        I'm not condoning it being a justifiable reason for piracy, but in Russia they would seem very expensive.

    Better yet: http://www.ozgameshop.com/

      Ozgameshop has the best price on a lot of games. BO2 for example is $55. F**k Steam and its $90 price tag...

      Don't they sell Grey market games?

        Nah, OGS are clean, the worst they sell are NTSC-J which unless I am mistaken certainly isn't grey.

          Grey market includes the fully legal practice of importing rather than going through the local distributor. So yes, OGS is grey market, but there isn't anything wrong with that.

            Oh, okay. I thought it was like, uh...
            A friend came across a site that sold CD keys, including the brand new Borderlands Double for a low low price of like $20. A ridiculous bargain, too good to be true? Some further snooping revealed that in order to use the CD keys with your Steam account, you had to fool it into thinking you lived in Russia... Yeah.
            We quickly turned 360 degrees and backed away. His own googlefu turned up the old "Grey Market" terminology, which is what I was thinking of.

            What a boring story!

              That sounds like it also fits within grey market, as it is digital importation. It would be more of a black market thing if the proper parties aren't getting their cut, as you suspected was the case for your situation, but it is difficult to know for sure.

    Lets be honest here russians are doing it correctly. They pirate games so much distributors have to lower the costs and have no power. Where as in Australia and USA we have NO power and get bent over all the time by them....

    It's not really surprising that piracy is high where income is low. That's really the difference, I think, between Australia and Russia.

    I know I complain a lot about regionalised pricing discrimination, but I don't really think it's unfair for nations with low average income to have lower prices (Ex: BL2 @ $19). But it does frustrate me when prices are raised for us over the US. That should be the maximum every time.

      I think that's the point most other commenters are missing...
      "In Moscow the average monthly salary is 52.000 rubles ($US1650), but in most of the Russian cities people make their living with 17.000 rubles ($US540)."
      Times those by 12 for yearly wage = $19800 in Moscow or $6480 elsewhere. PER YEAR.

        Curently being on centrelink, i get double that of their other cities. This is why I get mad here when people pirate thinking they are too expensive. People would rather spend $100 for a night of booze here than pay half that for something that will last more than a night and they will remember it too.

    It exactly like most Asian countries excluding Japan. Legally brought DVDs and Games are so expensive in places like Indonesia that the local populus would have to spend half their months earning to afford one DVD from a Department store

      forget half, more like two month's wages for your average entry level worker. It's only half a month's wage if you're a uni graduate on a medium level company. The price of a single bag of chocolate is like equivalent to 10-16 meals.

    Welcome to Australia, where EVERYONE is a pirate.

    Make russia look bad christ, do you honestly know a single person who has NEVER pirated software or media?

      People who have done it so few times they can count on their fingers aren't exactly the same kind of thing as someone whose entire game library is pirated.

      I wouldn't consider myself a pirate. Sure, I've downloaded a few TV show eps that I've missed and haven't been available on a catch-up service or whatever. Otherwise the closest thing I can think of is a custom version of Guitar Hero III someone put together that I downloaded for Wii, which contained all of GHII's songs. I see nothing wrong with that since the game just flat-out isn't available to me at all, if it were I would have bought it. Otherwise the rest of my 80-odd Wii games are all legit. Same goes for the 80 or so DS games, my flash card was only ever used to check out some cool homebrew stuff.

      You my friend, should take a trip to a neighbouring Asian country and see what REAL pirating is all about.

    Out of all of this the only thing I like is the Russian move to Steam. The more I buy on Steam the more I like Steam. It's not the cheapest but when it's that easy and sales regularly cut prices further - playing on PC is a no brainer.

    I wanted to laugh each time I read "rubles". Damn you, Simpsons.

    They can't afford $85 for a game but, they can fork out for a new box if theirs gets banned?
    "Your Xbox has been banned? No problem, you sell it for $US100 on your local Xbox forum or on the Russian Craigslist wannabe named “Avito”, buy another one there in barely mint condition for $US160 and mod it for $US48".

      This clearly doesn't happen as often as desirable new games come out. It's comparable to buying one game at $85 and playing that game and only that game all year.

      your XBOX doesn't get banned every time a new game comes out. You'll probably get banned like once a year, if that.

    Errr guys, if their games are $85 and their average monthly salary is $1650, thats ~5% of their monthly wage. If you're on 50k in Australia, you'd be paying ~$2500 for a game. From the evidence given, people there are more than willing to pay $10 for a game, which still works out at $300 as a percentage of a 50k Australian wage. The market IS there, the prices legal aren't, hence the piracy. This issue is completely different to petty self-entitled westerners who can afford it, but choose to pirate anyway.

      who earns 50k a month? Not me.
      I think you mean 50k a year? which is 4.16k a month, which is 2%.

        ROFL, wow yeah that was a major oversight on my part. Argument isn't as potent anymore, heh. I think the main point stands though, people are still buying games there, but the legal price points just aren't competitive with what people are willing to pay. Valve has made this realisation there which is why they actually get sales on Steam in Russia. This is unlike western countries where people are unwilling to spend any money if they're pirating.

    How are they comfortably sitting in an Xbox live party playing Halo 4? The Internet is still the Internet in Russia... I don't get it... Do they hack Live as well or some crap? They would still get banned regardless.

    I wonder if high prices is part of a strategy against pirates in some countries?

    They might figure that if they lower prices, while they may sell some more copies. It won't be enough to bring in more revenue. So they find a sweet spot. Where any higher they sales shrink and so they make less. Any lower any extra sales will not make up loss in revenue from the higher price.

    In Australia the high prices is basically just gauging the consumers though. Especially when it extends to downloadable purchases.

      Gaming in some countries has a very high entry point, hence why piracy is not only encouraged but also blatantly advertised by businesses. When I went back to the Philippines, Demon Souls cost me 4000 pesos (about $90AU) and considering the average wage is around 150-200 pesos a day, it's impossible for the majority of Filipinos to afford games. Piracy as such has become a booming business there. If I could show photos, one section of a large shopping mall in Manila are shops which sell counterfeit products, pirated software and modded gaming consoles which cost only a fraction than the retail price (You can buy a pack of 10 of the latest PC games with the crack and DLC's included, for 70 pesos). And it's a very big industry which is why the police don't really care much about them.

      Yeah I laugh when steam has new releas dl titles for full rrp.. Then visit cjscdkeys and buy a steam key for a fraction of the price.. Uk based, works on aua account

    But we make more money than them. So it not really more expensive, if you know what I mean x

    Factor in the cost of living though. I live in canberra 2nd dearest city to paris to live.. Screw these price gouging kents, I buy legit, but from countries other than australia..

    $US 85 is VERY expensive, huh? Derp. You don't see rampant Australian Xbox game piracy. We pay as much or more.

      And we earn a hell of a lot more too. Herp derp.

      THINK before you post. Even a part time worker earns more than $500 a month in Australia.

    Hate the frankly bullshit guys spout on forums about Aussie game prices. Don't think I have paid more then $79 for a game in about a year - and most new releases today go for $69. Not just at JB either. Big W and sometimes Kmart are the same price. Once games are even 6 months old the price drops like a stone and you can pick them up for $48 or less.

      lol, $48? In other countries with similar incomes to us and LESS tax, those games would've dropped to $15 or $20 in 6 months time.

      If you are happy paying that much, grats. I'm not. I hope this tech review pricing inquest puts a bit of pressure on digital tech co.'s

    Not much different from Brasil, but double the price. I now live in Nz but used to pay over USD120 for a new game for PS3 back home. There is no way you can justify first-world prices in third-world countries/non-traditional markets like these 2 countries. When I had a PS1 you couldnt even find original games (if you did, for USD200, Im serious) so all mine was pirated for USD5. Good times, now I feel like a sucker for paying this much for fkin disc. Now I have an Xbox in Nz and regret not getting a Ps3 cuz charging for online games is ridiculous :/ Gaming has become an expensive thingy

    I love the sheer number of people who complain about Aussie game prices compared to the number of people willing to DO something about it.

    Mark Serrels posted a great article months ago about how Australian Games Pricing is such a huge issue but that most gamers seem either entirely apathetic towards the issue or they just import games online anyway. When there was a review into the issue, there were a measly 88 submissions, compared to the 80,000 plus submission to the R 18+ issue.

    So that tells me you guys like complaining about about having to spend money but when it comes to actually taking action, you don't really care.

      Did you submit? Kotaku did not submit.

    I feel prices are ok here ATM. I paid $150 for mortal kombat on snes. That was in the 90s when $150 was worth substantially more than it is now. Had to save my pocket money for a long time.

    Kids these days want everything NOW and for nothing.

    I didn't know what to expect when I started reading that article, but it was a good read, thanks. My thoughts:

    Surprisingly I sympathise with the Russians. If games cost that much compared with what I earned then I wouldn't pay for them either. No wonder PC gaming is undergoing even more of a renaissance there than elsewhere.

    I no longer pirate games - I just can't do it. I pirated a lot at university because I had no money, but after I graduated I pretty much immediately stopped. Lately I've been struggling financially but I still pay for my games - although for AAA titles like my most recent purchase XCOM I am forced to find very cheap legal sources like getting steam keys from greenmangaming (I won't go any dodgier than that, I know it does get cheaper..)

    Partly I no longer pirate because I respect the people who make good games too much, especially indie developers and people like GOG who deliver us nice DRM-free packages. I want to support that. Also steam has had something to do with it, but that's another essay.

    "So my fellows in different retailers are saying the same thing: “The consoles are selling quite ok but the games are treated like an additional commodity, accessories. Nobody is interested in selling them”. That’s why all the big retailers are filled with such games as Fallout 3, Tekken 6, old Need for Speed installments and other old stuff. People don’t buy games at big retailers. And shops are totally uninterested in selling games."
    Well, it's not entirely correct. Yes, consoles sells are quite good but shop makes about 100-200 rubles on every console sold (3-6$) whereas console game gives about 300-400 rub(10-13$), and even more money is made on console accesoires (gamepads, things like Move or Kinect), so it's not true that shops has no interest in selling games. At least not the shop where i was working. (Sorry for my mistakes, english is not my native language)

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