The state’s flagship patriotic video game flops

The Bell

The much-heralded launch of a state-funded patriotic adventure video game — set in 1612 and based on resistance to Polish forces waging war against Russia — has fallen flat. Critics said the game, The Time of Troubles, was boring and failed to compete with others on the market.

  • The game is based on a historical novel by Mikhail Zagoskin, a nineteenth century writer, about the boyar Yury Miloslavsky, who first swore allegiance to the Poles but then switched sides during the conflict to join the Russian People’s Militia. Zagoskin’s novel was published in 1829 to rapturous reception. 
  • Almost 200 years later, the video game could not recreate that success. According to modern critics, it’s a flop. On a fundamental level, it’s just plain dull. Around 80% of the game time is spent moving from place to place, with a further 10% wasted on dialogue. Only some 7% involves fighting battles (based on an obsolete game engine in which players click the opposition to death with a mouse) and the remaining 3% is devoted to stealth missions. Although it does a decent job of recreating the atmosphere of the period, there is nothing interesting to explore in the virtual-historical world, critics complained. 
  • The Time of Troubles was financed by the state-run Institute for the Development of the Internet (IRI), which provides funds to create “patriotic” content. It was the first major project from developer Cyberia Nova, which previously created graphics for other companies. The Time of Troubles and other state-funded games are intended to steer Russian gamers away from imported foreign releases, said IRI head Alexey Goreslavsky. 
  • The Institute spent at least half a billion rubles (about $5.4 million) on the game’s development. That’s pretty cheap by the standards of modern video game production. For example, The Time of Troubles’ main reference point, Ghost of Tsushima, cost $60 million, while Russian studio Mundfish spentabout $25 million developing its shooter Atomic Heart.

Why the world should care

Russia’s first state-funded video game didn’t work out at all. Either the job was rushed, or the studio lacked the experience to do it properly. The Time of Troubles retails for $20, but it has no prospect of commercial success. Reviews are either critical or neutral. It all begs the question: What was the point of spending millions of dollars on developing it in the first place?


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