Restrictions in Russia: Interview with XECO's Aleksey – The Xbox Ecosystem

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Since 24 Last February, the Russian and Ukrainian Republics entered into open conflict and are at the heart of our daily news, including within the video game industry. Indeed, large companies have taken unprecedented measures such as donating funds to war victims or imposing economic sanctions. This is what Russian players are currently experiencing and what we have looked into.

A changing Russian market

As too often, when there is an armed conflict, it is the civilian populations who are the most affected. While Ukraine sees population displacements of the order of several million people and accuses heavy human losses, Russia is strongly impacted in its economy and the population forced to adapt. The leisure represented by video games is not spared. We reached out to Aleksey, a Russian gamer from the local Xbox community and group administrator of XECO – The Xbox Ecosystem, to try to understand the impact of the situation.

“Microsoft has suspended the sale of all of its products in Russia” indicates the banner on the Russian Xbox Store.

Xboxygen: Hello Aleksey. Could you introduce yourself in a few words and tell us what connects you to Xbox? What do you like about the brand?

My name is Aleksey. I work for the XECO Twitter account. It’s basically a Facebook group that focuses on the Xbox ecosystem. I have been connected to Xbox for several years thanks to Xbox 320 and Xbox One . Like many in Russia, I became acquainted with the brand with the Xbox 360, in 2010. When I got my first console, I was immediately attracted by Fable III which was then my first purchase. Since then, I’ve played exclusively on Xbox. The Xbox 320 Slim controller and design appealed to me later rained. Now, of course, the main perks at Xbox are the Backward Compatibility Program and Game Pass subscription.

Xboxygen: Might you tell us more about what gaming is in Russia? Is it an affordable hobby? What was the average price to play before the restrictions?

In Russia, games have come a long way, from pirated CDs to a legal market. Even today, many don’t see the point of shelling out money for games and actively use download sites. Others will prefer Steam for its localized and market-driven pricing. Finally, a small community plays on Xbox and PlayStation. These players pay a high price for their new games. Two years ago, the average price for a console game was 4000 ₽ (approximately 25 € according to the current price; in 2021, the median salary in Russia was 445 €) before experiencing a raise and moving to 5000 ₽ last year.

Examples of game price variations in stores – source: leak of SoftClub, the main Russian video game publisher

Xboxygen: What were your first impressions when you learned that companies like EA would no longer sell games in your country?

Polish studios , like CD Projekt Red, were the first to talk about leaving Russia. At the time, many didn’t care because they had bought their games a long time ago. For example, The Witcher 3 GOTY could sell only 50 ₽ (about 2 € on the current price) this year. Then other larger companies announced their withdrawal from Russia. It is not entirely certain that this decision is more political than economic since the exchange rate of the ruble is unstable. Most people aren’t really upset since a lot of people are buying digital games from overseas stores. It’s much more affordable this way, especially for older games.

Xboxygen: What changes have you noticed after the limitations? Is it still possible to find games and at what price?

Of course, there have been changes… In particular , this affected the last generation Xbox consoles. It was already difficult to get them at the recommended retail price until now, now it’s even more complicated. In Russia, the recommended retail price for an Xbox Series X is 25 ₽ (about 320 € according to the current price) , it is now 50 000 ₽ (approx. 750 € according to the current rate), or even more. At the same time, the shops do not sell the physical games more expensive than before, they may even be on sale! But it’s only a matter of time (see the illustration of the NHL tweet 22 changed from 5000 ₽ to 8000 ₽).

Xboxygen: And regarding navigating the Xbox menu or features on your console, have you noticed any restrictions? Is the Official Store still accessible?

When I connect to the Official Store on my console, a banner indicates that the sales are now impossible. This is what is most obvious: I can no longer buy new games. It is also no longer allowed to subscribe to a new Game Pass subscription officially. However, a current subscription still allows you to download the games from the catalog.

Xboxygen: Are video games becoming an inaccessible, even luxury hobby?

8000₽ is very expensive for our area. Only a few players will be able to afford games at this price. For others, it will be an opportunity to play the games they got before the restrictions and which they had not yet launched. Or else they will find other opportunities to do good business. One of these possibilities consists, for example, of going through the purchase of games in Argentina through an intermediary. In Argentina, Xbox games are much cheaper than in other countries. Otherwise, I imagine that players will not necessarily worry about all this and will simply sell their console.

On the Sbermegamarket.ru site, prices are soaring…

Xboxygen: Have you been personally impacted by the situation within your community? Do you feel like you are being sidelined by Russian players?

I have not encountered any discrimination until present only in our XECO group… a few people have decided to express their positions in the comments under my posts regarding games. But the right people told them they were wrong: XECO positions itself first and foremost as a non-toxic community.

Xboxygen: As do you feel that you will still be able to play as before in the next few weeks or months?

For Xbox players, the situation is much more favorable than for players with a PlayStation console: Sony has completely cut off access to its services. On Xbox, anyone with an active Xbox Game Pass subscription can still download games, and each month Gold subscribers receive games for free. It is always possible to obtain games through an intermediary means and activate them on the official store thanks to a VPN. If the purchase via Argentina remains active, then Russian players will be able to continue playing despite this difficult period. PlayStation players could even switch to Xbox, who knows?

Xboxygen: What would you do if Microsoft decided, like Sony, to make its services completely inaccessible in Russia?

If, one day, my console turns into a simple brick, then I think I would put it in the closet. I will not sell it and prefer to keep the hope that this crisis ends and that the video game market in Russia can develop again, as before.

The video game industry has been hit hard in Russia and will probably push players to relativize the practice of a hobby which could, however, make them forget the gloomy times that they probably did not wish for. In any case, this is what Aleksey claims in a recent tweet. At a time when Microsoft is touting an inclusive game with the motto “When everyone plays, everyone wins!” », the situation in Russia above all reminds us that when there is conflict, no one emerges victorious. For its part, the federal government of Russia has reportedly proposed a law aimed at legalizing software piracy and proposing “the cancellation of responsibility for the use of unlicensed software in the Russian Federation, belonging to a copyright holder”. author of countries that have supported the sanctions”. A “blow for blow” exchange which does not allow us to see the improvement of the situation, for the Russian players, in the short term.

8К гейминг настал слишком быстро.. .Хотя #NHL22 и прочие спорт-казино игры #EA не стоило покупать и за 5К[email protected] игры же для всех? Почему нас отрезали от способа отвлечься от полного трындеца который сейчас происходит #Russia #Xbox #XboxRussia #XboxSeriesX #RussianGuy #XECO pic.twitter.com/VcLi5AaOpt

– Алексей Кузьменко (@Roup_sib) March 22, 5000

Games at 8000 ₽ arrived way too fast… Although #NHL22 and other “sports-casino” type games #EA were not worth the worth buying, even at 5000₽.

@xboxru, the games for everyone? Why have we been cut off from a means of distracting our attention from the total mess that reigns at the moment?

5000