The history of the gaming market, part 1

    The birthday of one of the most famous computer games in the world is approaching - Tetris. And the fact that authorship belongs to our compatriot, Alexei Pazhitnov, is all the more proud. Since then sold in colossal circulations, this game has not brought any dividends to its creator. This was largely due to a number of objective reasons, one of which was the lack of the gaming market as such in the USSR. Since then a lot of water has flowed, many changes have occurred. In Russia, a gaming market has emerged that has gone through various stages of growth. And today we would like to recall how this process proceeded, to recall the memorable milestones that have been accumulated not so little in the 30 years that have passed since the creation of Tetris.

    The first part we devoted to games for staffers, starting from the time of almost Old Testament Perestroika. In the second part, we recall the history of the formation of the market for game consoles and multiplayer games, and the third part will be entirely devoted to the latest history of Russia in casual online games and mobile entertainment.


    The virtual entertainment market began to take shape in Russia much later than in the West. This is due to objective historical factors that influenced other sectors of the economy in the post-Soviet space.

    The distribution of games that hit the USSR together with the first computers in the late 80s was strictly non-profit. Game programs that fell into the Soviet Union were freely copied using floppy disks, compact cassettes, and other storage media that were common at that time.

    The first domestic games appeared a few years after the western ones. One of the first games that quickly became popular not only in Russia but also abroad was the legendary Tetris. The game was born in 1984 in the course of solving a work problem in the structure of the Computing Center of the Academy of Sciences of the USSR. After Tetris was ported to the IBM PC platform, its popularity began to grow.

    Tetris fell behind the Iron Curtain a year later and, thanks to Hungarian programmers, became available on Apple II and Commodore 64. Around the same time, Spectrum Holobyte and Mirrorsoft acquired the rights to Tetris, and without the participation of the creator, Alexey Pazhitnov. Due to the uncertain situation with rights, profits from colossal sales of the game all over the world went to anyone except the game developer.

    The origin of the market

    By and large, the computer entertainment market began to form in Russia only in the 90s. It was more than 90% pirated, and this applied to both PC games and the console market. No special versions of games for the Russian market were out of the question. Those few companies that were engaged in the implementation of licensed (boxed) games, individually imported copies purchased at retail prices in foreign stores. Licensed software (including games) was not in demand in the Russian market, so its sale was of an auxiliary nature for the main business (most often, trade in PCs and office equipment).

    Game development involved only a few development groups. Accordingly, the games could also be counted on the fingers. So, in 1990, the game Perestroika, invented by Nikita Skripkin, was sold in millions of copies (in 1991 Skripkin became a co-founder of NIKITA, which later changed its name to NIKITA ONLINE). In 1992, Color Lines by Gamos entered the market.

    Another famous development of Gamos was an adventure game based on the cartoon “The Adventures of the Pilot Brothers. In the wake of the striped elephant. "

    The heyday and sunset of a pirate empire

    Nobody even thought about making serious money on developing and publishing games in Russia. Many authors received the lion's share of revenue from publishing their products abroad.

    The main profit from the sale of games in the 90s was accounted for by pirate firms, whose number was rapidly increasing in proportion to the growth of the hardware market. At the same time, sellers of pirated copies of games tried to give a “serious” look to their products - software diskettes were packed in plastic cases. Cases, in turn, were supplied with "printing" - a screenshot from the game printed on a matrix printer, accompanied by a small description text. However, even such products were ignored by consumers - games could be rewritten with friends completely free of charge using the same diskettes.

    Game manufacturers (primarily Western ones) sought to protect their products from illegal distribution. For example, one of the common methods of protection was the question that arises when installing the game or directly in the process of passing. It was possible to continue the installation or the game only by entering the correct answer, however, domestic craftsmen easily cracked the defense systems.

    Since the mid-90s, the domestic pirate game market has received a powerful growth driver due to the sharp drop in the cost of multimedia equipment - a set of CD-ROM and sound card. Like mushrooms after the rain, numerous points of sale of pirated discs have grown throughout the post-Soviet space (from large markets to lonely trays located in lively places). In addition, ordinary users could not replicate pirated games as freely as they did in the days of floppy disks: in the era of optical drives, this required appropriate equipment and supplies (CD burner and discs), which were incredibly expensive in those days.

    At the same time, the fight against piracy, which was initiated by the developers themselves, intensified significantly in Russia. Businesses managed to get the authorities to regularly conduct raids on the most popular pirate sites - the Moscow Mitinsky Radio Market and Gorbushka. Discovered pirated copies were seized and destroyed, merchants and, less commonly, point owners were held accountable. This led to a serious reduction in the range of domestic games in illegal circulation, but had practically no effect on the spread of Western games: the interests of foreign publishers were still not protected by anyone.

    Among the few domestic projects of that time, one can recall the game “Russian Roulette” (Buka company), “Twigger” (NIKITA ONLINE), “Kremlin Dungeons” (NewCom) and others.

    In 1997, a new round of counterfeit control took place. The Association for the Suppression of Computer Piracy (ABCP) was created. It included a number of domestic companies - developers and publishers of games and distributors of multimedia. The organization has repeatedly declared close cooperation with the K department of the Ministry of Internal Affairs, together with which it conducted raids on the most popular trading floors, seizing and destroying confiscated pirated goods.

    The situation in the game market has changed a lot during the 1998 crisis. The sharp increase in the dollar made the sale of licensed Western products virtually unprofitable, which prompted foreign publishers to revise the pricing policy on the domestic market. In the late 90s, “economical” solutions began to appear on sale. Outwardly, they were not much different from pirated products (it should be noted that by that time pirated and licensed products were equal in quality of printing), which was traditionally sold in ordinary CD cases.

    Such solutions, dubbed the jewel case, cost almost as cheap as pirated discs. At the same time, the user who bought the jewel case was sure that he was acquiring a legal product, which was provided with the support of the publisher, a guarantee of quality and, importantly, does not contain viruses and other unpleasant surprises. For game publishers, the issue of such circulations was important in that their products could be distributed on the same distribution channels as counterfeit products (markets, individual points, “crashes”). This greatly expanded the reach of the potential audience. Over time, as the catalog of games was filled, as well as the expansion of its own sales network, the prices of licensed products gradually increased by publishers (approximately from $ 2-3 in 1999 to $ 20-30 in 2008).

    At first, this practice did not meet with understanding among all market participants. Some publishers believed that the low cost of a copy would not even be able to recoup the money invested in product development, not to mention making a profit. However, an unprecedented level of jewel case sales showed the opposite. So, the first circulation of the game Heroes of Might & Magic 3 (1999) in Russia amounted to more than 70 thousand copies. For comparison, previously a circulation of 10-15 thousand copies was considered an excellent achievement for hit domestic games (for example, Russian Roulette was sold in such a circulation).

    By the beginning of the 2000s, only three players were present in the licensed game market: Buka, 1C and New Disk. These three companies not only completely controlled the market, but also very actively competed with each other for the sake of obtaining rights to publish certain games. However, many other official market participants had "affiliated" pirate publishers, which were in considerable competition with the three above-mentioned companies, releasing pirated versions of their assortment. Examples include the once-well-known brands such as 7 Wolf, Fargus, Triada. The most high-quality translations were made by the pirate studio Fargus, which led to the gradual capture of a significant market share by its products. In the mid-2000s, competition between pirated publishers went into an acute phase, and the apotheosis was the official registration of the Fargus trademark and an attempt to obtain an injunction banning the release of pirated products under this brand to all other pirate companies. The pirates sued the pirates.

    In the future, almost all domestic publishers and representatives of Western structures in Russia used budget solutions to stimulate sales of licensed products. It can be said that it was the crisis of 1998 that became the necessary catalyst that greatly spurred the development of a civilized game market in Russia.

    Another event, which, in the opinion of many participants in the gaming market, seriously affected the growth in sales of licensed products, was the release of the StarForce3 protection system, which was introduced to developers and publishers in the early 2000s.

    With the advent of the system, many incidents are connected, sometimes quite unpleasant. For example, a major gaming resource publicly refused to review games where this protection technology was used, since editorial staff repeatedly had problems launching new products on their PCs. Such complaints were related to the protection algorithms that were used in the system. So, one of them was data integrity checking. One, even the most insignificant, scratch on the disk could cause the game to fail, because StarForce assumed that the drive contained a pirated copy of the media. However, despite such incidents, the system coped with its main task - to delay the release of the pirated version from the date of the game release as much as possible. This allowed to protect more than one expensive game project of both Russian and foreign development.

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