Back in the first decade of 2000-s there was a high expectation among technologically perceptive lawyers of legal aspects of videogame industry, especially of such products as massive multiplayer online games. A few initial books and articles on the topic, one of the most popular being the book by Benjamin T. Duranske’s ‘Virtual Law: Navigating Legal Landscape of Virtual Worlds’1, were based on the hypothesis that soon, if not in a matter of days, a whole new branch of law would appear. A completely new world is created by means of computer simulation. The relationships inside such world are, however, between real people who feel real emotions, and have real interests, rights and objects of legal protection. However, in particular, it is not clear the law of which jurisdiction shall apply, if it should be applied at all, and where to draw the “magic circle” that divides real worlds with enforceable laws and virtual world that might turn to be a jurisdiction of its own. Unfortunately or not, by this date the virtual law project has not succeeded for various reasons. However, there still is a number of legal problems which are not a routine matters of corporate or contract law and relate specifically to the nature of videogames. What is state of the art by 2020 in Russia?
According to Newzoo data, Russian videogame market has 65.2 million players. Approximate calculation of money they spent on videogame products in 2018 is USD 1.7 billion2. Russia’s games market is No. 11 in the world rank. As the analytics highlight, “60% of men and 39% of women play PC games, while 21% of men and 13% of women play console games. The majority (81%) of paying gamers spent money on in-game items or virtual goods in the past six months”2. In this context, Russian law is developing rapidly in all things related to intellectual property, technology and information. The Internet media and digital entertainment industries are no longer uncharted waters for the courts and authorities. New cases and areas of concern emerge. This is due in large part to the fact that the closest field, the Internet business, is already receiving both regulatory attention and opportunities to better structure business and protect rights using tools provided by the legal system. The most relevant trends of the Russian jurisdiction seem to be twofold:
This suggests that launching a product for the Russian market now may require more attention than before and includes both obvious areas, such as advertising restrictions, regulation of audiovisual services and others, not mentioned here explicitly, and new areas that might soon become relevant for the game industry, as in other areas. That said, the following array of less conventional questions may arise, or already have arisen, on the Russian market in the corresponding areas of law:
Besides these genuinely legal practical problems, it is also important to take into an account the context of policy and social perception. For instance, as far as it comes to public morality aspects, besides universally accepted restrictions, such as criminal liability of child pornography and similar issues, modern Russian policy is to support traditional values. The Information Security Doctrine states that “the informational influence on the population of Russia, and first of all, youth, increases, in order to erode traditional Russian spiritual and moral values” (Section 12) and that such influence should be “neutralized” (Section 23). This policy approach may shape media attention, legal interpretation and enforcement, and even private perception of videogame products.
Alternatively, in addition to genuine moral values, Russian legislation is especially sensitive to the issues that can be summarized as “historical memory”. One of the strongest examples is that the period of WWII is considered as especially important for the Russian history. It was mentioned before that there is a special criminal law against intentionally wrong demonstration of the role of USSR in the Second World War, but controversies may arise even without interference of law. An illustrative example is the decision of the Russian publisher not to distribute the game Company of Heroes 2 (Relic Entertainment, 2013), made after a long and intensive public debate between videogame players, developers, experts and other participants caused by the fact that the narrative of the game provided a picture of Soviet Army that was rather alternative to the official one accepted in Russia.
“CoH2 manages to use almost every single Russia-related trope… Gulags, army without any weapons, Russians shooting their own soldiers in the back. By the third mission I was honestly expecting to see bear cavalry.” (Sergey Galyonkin). “Its critics say that while the Eastern Front did see unprecedented barbarism and cruelty, Relic has been selective in its narrative choices, preferring to ignore what people in Russia celebrate as a noble sacrifice that did more to save the world from Nazism than the American-led invasion from the West. In Russia and other former Soviet countries, the Great Patriotic War is about a heroic unified cause, not about repressive leaders throwing men against machine guns. The issue is complicated by Cold War myth-making by the Soviet Union and by Hollywood. Facts are obscured by a long, hostile political climate that has always sought to make claims on history.” (Colin Campbell)6.
This discussion occurred more than six years ago, before the rise of modern Russian information legislation. In current regulatory environment, it is advisable to be mindful of potential impact of the narrative on how the game would be perceived not only from public opinion perspective, but also from the legal one.
Returning to the starting point of this article, videogame law project did not succeed as a separate branch of law. Maybe, we will see the resurgence of its next wave as soon as virtual and augmented reality markets cease to be niche, and become such mass markets as, for instance, smartphones. We will see. In any case, irrespective of the current outcome, it would still be hard to argue that videogame industry poses some quite interesting legal problems, which already become quite relevant for practice. Such problems may not be related to complex contracts of sale and purchase of magical virtual swords or luxury space stations between users (work that some lawyers have always dreamed of). And, of course, there is a plenty of “old-fashioned” legal matters that videogame industry needs to resolve on a daily basis, such as corporate or taxation matters. However, there still is a number of problems that are dictated by the very nature of videogames that by nature present an unusual combination of intellectual property, content, and technology. This combination affects how the legal relationships develop in videogame industry and market.