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1C's games boss Nikolay Baryshnikov

The Russian gaming giant on a challenging market and the importance of niches

1C Company is perhaps the dominant force in Russian gaming: a developer, a publisher, a localiser and even owner of a 280-store retail chain. Its success has regularly crept beyond Russia and the CIS countries' borders, however - breaking through with revered flight sim IL-2 Sturmovik and its sequels, and carving out a decent niche on PC with strategy titles such as Men of War and King's Bounty.

With console availability relatively new to Russia, console development is perhaps in its infancy there. 1C is gradually moving beyond its PC roots though, making 360 forays with Captain Blood and IL-2 Sturmovik: Birds of Prey - but it does so in tough times for retail gaming. GamesIndustry.biz recently talked to 1C's head of gaming Nikolay Baryshnikov about the challenges the industry faces, the strategies it's pursuing to survive, and the Russian government's attitude to gaming.

GamesIndustry.bizI'm hearing that the Russian government is looking to support the local games industry - has any of that filtered down to you?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

I'm not that involved. I know that in general there's some movement, that the president said we have to support high-tech IP. I know that there's some initiative that basically government understand the games have become media and a lot of people can be targeted with this media, as with TV and cinema. They're doing things in TV and movies, but they're not doing anything in games. So I've heard there's some idea that government should support local development, blah blah blah. There have been some discussion in the press, but I'm not sure there have been any real steps, that anybody has said 'take this million dollars,' make this great pro-Russian gaming. I haven't heard any single story that that's actually happened.

GamesIndustry.biz Would you welcome it for 1C, though?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

Obviously. Our market is not big enough to support full development cycle just for local sales. Most of the Russian developers are predominantly on PC and even international market is not performing well enough to recoup high budget PC games. So any help that we can get from the government in terms of funding or tax breaks etcetera, obviously we would want it.

GamesIndustry.biz Which is preferable for you – the funding or tax breaks that could lure experienced developers from other countries over here?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

I think that the idea is the government... how I hear it is that we should produce triple-A titles, properly international titles that would be based in our kind of culture. We have to introduce some facts the way that we see them. But is has to be of the quality level for international games. So I don't think the government's interested in wasting a million dollars on D-class titles that nobody wants to play.

GamesIndustry.biz Could Russian games – or 1C games – get to that kind of level without any government assistance?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

[Long pause]. It would reduce a lot of commercial risk, I'm sure. At the moment it's more a buyer's market than a seller's market, so for example I would like to make, I don't know, Men of War 5. But now I would rather... instead of risking everything making the game, and finding out in two year's time that nobody plays strategy games anymore, nobody plays PC games any more, or nobody's interested in, I don't know, Afghanistan or something. I would rather meet some advice or better funding from the international publishing, yeah. I will sell you game and it prompts a great idea. Or my government say, we'll contribute 50 per cent of the budget. And then okay, our commercial risk is much lower, we'll do X amounts of units in Russia, we'll do X amount in France.

GamesIndustry.biz Do you feel you have to move away now from things like strategy titles and into more potentially mainstream games like your hack'n'slash title Captain Blood?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

It's a good question. Moving to multiplatform development can open bigger market, but then I think the industry is in such state now that it's almost impossible to make money even on a good game. Because marketing budgets are tens of millions dollars, consumers are expecting that they're going to pay $40 or $60 and get amazing things. Hundred hours of gameplay, tens of thousands of hours of DVD footage, super multiplayer, this and this and this. If we did this it would be, I don't know, $200 million... If we produce something of great quality but it lacks this component or that component, then press says, 'oh, 85. I played the game, it's kind of nice, but it has no video or any of this shit'. And consumer says 'it doesn't have multiplayer, I'm not going to buy it.' So it's catch 22.

GamesIndustry.biz How can you fight that kind of problem – when you've got something like Red Dead Redemption stealing all the air in the room, as Remedy put it?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

There are lot of industries that are competing for our time, which is our most important resource. So you might have 3 or 4 hours a day of free time, and you could play social game, buy iPad, go out with girlfriend to café... Time is precious. I think there was a time when there was less entertainment, so you had millions of people spending five hours a day playing a game. Now they have lots of tempting offers – fly to Germany for just £9.99, buy iPad, play this free-to-play game...

GamesIndustry.biz What is 1C's response to that?
Nikolay Baryshnikov

[Pause]. We've been successful in niches, and I think that's a good way for us to go. Try to find a niche like we did with IL2 [Sturmovik] or Rig'n'Roll or Men Of War, and try to number 1, 2 or 3 – the top three in the niche. Not compete with hundred million dollar development, with Call of Duty 7 – but make the best game and target it at much smaller groups of fans. We have developed a couple of highly accepted IP so far, like King's Bounty, Men of War. I think it would be a good idea to continue development. We'll have a spin-off where we are actually developing King's Bounty massive multiplayer game, maybe one day we'll take it onto consoles and maybe to iPad. We managed to achieve something and we have some loyal fans that might be interested in buying few more products which are out there.

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Alec Meer

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A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.

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