Gamescom: The Ukrainian video game makers who kept working in a war zone

Like many colleagues in the video game industry, Iryna Bilous and Nika Avayan recently arrived at the world’s largest gaming conference, Gamescom in Germany, to show off their latest title to fans. But for these two Ukrainians, the road to the trade fair has been anything but a normal journey. After Russia invaded Ukraine on 24 February, Ms Avayan, chief operating officer of the Frogwares studio, decided to leave her small village near the city of Bucha. She and seven family members, including her 76-year-old mother, bundled themselves into a car, driving for six days through queues of traffic and across country borders to make it to Germany.
With roughly 80 employees, Frogwares wouldn’t be considered by most in the industry to be a very large studio compared with the likes of video game giants Electronic Arts or Ubisoft. But supporting their staff during the war has still been a huge task for everyone. “In the morning company meeting, we have a Google doc where everyone comes in and writes that they’re OK or says if they’ve changed their location,” says Ms Avayan. “Some of our employees still live in Kherson, [which is] occupied by Russians, and the communication is very bad. Sometimes they don’t have internet and we do not know… are they safe or has something happened?”

Somehow, despite it all, office morale at Frogwares hasn’t appeared to decline – except for, perhaps, in the initial period after the invasion. “The first two weeks were like hell – I couldn’t work because of the stress,” says Ms Bilous. But she adds that, as more team members have returned, there have been office reunions and even the reappearance of the usual office banter. “We make a lot of memes,” she laughs. “It’s like, the only way to laugh now is to create memes and to joke.”

On 4 August, Frogwares announced a fundraiser for the game it has been making during the invasion. Renowned for its series of adventure games based around fictional detective Sherlock Holmes, the studio’s latest title isn’t too far from what it knows best. Sherlock Holmes The Awakened will be a remastered version of a previous game the studio made, and is described as “a Lovecraftian adventure into the heart of the Cthulhu Mythos” – a reference to horror writer HP Lovecraft and the world he created. In just six hours, the fundraiser met its goal of €70,000 (£59,000). It has now raised more than €200,000 (£169,000), with over a week before it closes. “Maybe the news annoys the public because there’s a lot of news about Ukraine,” says Ms Bilous, sitting in a booth passed every second by throngs of chattering Gamescom visitors. “But we want to tell people what it’s like to be there, in the news. So that’s why we came here.” Ms Avayan agrees: “We don’t want the rest of the industry to forget about us.”

Published by charlesghose

Charles Ghose graduated the University Of Greenwich London with a BA in Communications and Media. His university life was very enriched by his very active participation in various University societies. Charles ran the gamut of campus student communities; he was involved with the Politics and Debate Societies, Students Union, and University Of Greenwich Choir, and chamber choir. Charles Ghose acts as an independent contractor working in the very lucrative Freelance Translator Field. He has been hired by various International Humanitarian NGO's, private corporations, and The Overseas Fellowship Mission. Charles has also lead workshops for employers on the theme of mindfulness training courses for the improvement of employee’s health and well-being. Charles is a strong believer that a happy work force adds to higher productivity and loyalty to a company by employees.

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