The Russian market is booming, with companies such as EA making inroads, and Russia's largest publisher, 1C (Space Rangers, IL-2 Sturmovik
) knows the market better than anyone.
Most recently, the firm is reparing for the international release of the latest title from Russian developer Katauri, Kings Bounty: The Legend
- a fantasy RPG title based on a classic New World Computing IP, and has just announced its first multiplatform titles
We caught up with 1C sales director Nikolay Baryshnikov to talk about the current climate in Russia, the company's continuing international expansion, and to discuss the games which have been hits in Russia -- if perhaps unknown here.
What has 1C been up to recently?
Nikolay Baryshnikov: We've traditionally covered the former USSR territories as a publisher, but now we have an expanded international presence. We want to keep our leadership in local markets, but expand our activities abroad, and have made several agreements with Western companies to bring our titles to other parts of the world.
We would like gamers all over the globe to have a chance to play our games, and are starting to sign more publishing deals with European and U.S. developers which we will announce very soon.
You've also been doing a lot of expansion -- purchasing Ino-Co, rebranding Cenega as a 1C outfit...
NB: These are actually not the only purchases we’ve done recently. Expect some news pretty soon! We are actively strengthening our development and international sector. Cenega Publishing was renamed 1C Publishing EU and covers large deals in Central Europe. We have also opened offices in London (1C UK) and in Beijing (1C Asia Pacific). We have also closed two big publishing deals with Atari and 505 Games which will bring our games both to North America and Europe.
We have recently signed a deal with GDL, which will also allow us to ship some of our older titles which never made it outside of Russia to other European countries. There are some pretty good games in our back catalogue so why not deliver these to the audience in Europe?
How has the distribution agreement with Atari been?
NB: We have already released several games together and are now preparing for our biggest launch -- King’s Bounty: The Legend
. This should become one of 1C’s biggest titles -- I was really impressed by the overall quality of Katauri’s latest game. These guys have proved once again (since the release of Space Rangers
) that they can deliver highly addictive and interesting games.
There were some doubts since after creating a space game it is not that easy to switch to fantasy, and many fans in Russia were demanding a third game in the Space Rangers
saga, but the developers decided to do something really different. It turned out to be another big success for them. The game has been recently released in Russia and got both great ratings in the press and high popularity among gamers.
What other games have you published that were popular in Russia?
NB: It's difficult to name just a few. Among others, I would point out the Soldiers: Heroes of World War II/Faces of War
action/RTS series which features a complex AI and physics systems (every single item on the map is destructible); Perimeter
, an innovative RTS which has terraforming as a part of gameplay; and of course the Space Rangers
titles, which are an interesting mix of RPG, adventure and turn-based battles in a huge living world which acts on its own, even without interference from the player.
The are also several titles only recently released that definitely deserve players’ attention. Ones like Fantasy Wars
, a turn-based strategy title, and Death to Spies
, a stealth action game taking place during World War II.
In comparison, which of 1C's titles have been most popular internationally?
NB: Our biggest success was the IL-2 Sturmovik
line-up that sold all across the world, even in Japan which is considered to be a very “console” market. The second biggest 1C title was Hard Truck 2: King of the Road
which did very well not only in Russia, but in Germany and overseas in the U.S. Both franchises sold over 2 million units worldwide each.
How bad is piracy in Russia now?
NB: The situation with piracy has improved a lot in recent years. I can’t say that we have managed to eliminate all pirated products, but it is not dominating the market anymore as it was 5 years ago.
Still the piracy level is probably around 60-70 percent, as opposed well over 95% in the past.
Despite that, PC games still seem to be your main interest (and the main interest of other Eastern European countries) Do you see that changing?
NB: It's true, PC games still occupy the biggest part of the market, but the situation has changed a lot recently. The share of console titles is getting bigger each year. Quite a number of Russian developers have been developing console game as well. I think that this tendency will keep on evolving in the upcoming years as well although PC games will still remain a huge power on the local market. We have two console titles
coming out this year from our internal developers as well.
How big are you now?
NB: 1C now has over 900 employees in the HQ office alone and covers a huge territory. 1C’s distribution network covers major Eastern and Central European markets. 1С products are distributed through a network of partner companies in 600 cities of Russia and CIS -- around 8000 partners all across Russia and the CIS plus our own retail chain which includes about 40 shops in all major Russian cities.
How has the Russian dev scene been developing?
NB: The Russian game industry is growing and I would say getting older and much more professional. It is getting very similar to Western Europe or the USA. More and more Russian developers have started working directly with Western publishers to create games for them. This brings foreign experience and methods. Game development in Russia is becoming more professional and more expensive. In terms of costs it is becoming comparable to Western standards.
How do Russian developers differ from those in other regions?
NB: Some years ago game development in Russia was more a hobby than business. But things are changing fast and, just as I have mentioned before, our industry is moving towards international standards. There are still some peculiarities though. Many Russian developers still put the most effort in the creative side of their project -- they want to deliver something original above all else.
Yes, a lot of people have thought of Eastern Europe as a place for outsourcing, but thanks to developers including CD Projekt and GSC, people are noticing the original titles.
NB: We've never thought of Eastern Europe as an outsourcing market only. As the leading publisher in the region we always had quite a significant share of games developed in Russia and other ex-USSR countries in our portfolio. Even more, some Western publishers are developing their games in Russia. We’re not talking merely outsourcing, but full-scale game development done by a Russian studio.
So is it still a place you think western publishers should look to for outsourcing?
NB: The situation is changing and more companies are doing full-scale development but that doesn’t mean that there aren’t any companies providing quality outsourcing services either! However, the level of experience and professionalism of Russian teams allows them to produce more than only outsourcing.
Does the Russian government show any interest in the industry?
NB: No, the government treats the game industry just as any other industry in Russia. There are absolutely no benefits.