The Ukrainian government reportedly requested Valve, Microsoft, and Sony to refrain from selling Atomic Heart in their country; urging digital retailers to consider “limiting the distribution” in other countries as well.
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Dev.ua initially reported on the statement from the Ukrainian Ministry of Digital Affairs, which was later cited by PCGamesN, whom the Ukraine government provided with an English version of the statement.
Ukrainian Deputy Minister of Digital Transformation, Alex Bornyakov, stated, “Regarding the situation with the release of the game Atomic Heart, which has Russian roots and romanticises communist ideology and the Soviet Union, The Ministry of Digital Transformation of Ukraine will send an official letter to Sony, Microsoft, and Valve requesting a ban on selling digital versions of this game in Ukraine.”
“We also urge limiting the distribution of this game in other countries due to its toxicity, potential data collection of users, and the potential use of money raised from game purchases to conduct a war against Ukraine,” Bornyakov implored.
“According to media reports, the game’s development was funded by Russian enterprises. Therefore, we call for all users worldwide to avoid this game,” the minister insisted. “We also want to emphasise that the game developers have not publicly condemned the Putin regime and the bloody war that Russia has unleashed against Ukraine.”
The claims aren’t entirely without merit, though there are some caveats. A report from The Escapist Magazine breaks down claims that may have inspired the Ukrainian government’s fears.
Russian Affiliation Allegations
The outlet reports that the allegation of funding comes from developer Mundfish having GEM Capital as an investor. The venture capital investment fund (specializing in video games) allegedly has a founder with ties to Russian state-owned oil and gas company Gazprom.
This could suggest that the Russian Government may have some level of vested interest in the game’s success.
Further, Mundfish itself was founded and, for a significant amount of time, headquartered in Moscow, as confidently claimed by EuroGamer in 2018 following the game’s announcement.
However, it should be noted that the company relocated their main offices to Cyprus, Greece (also the same location as GEM Capital’s HQ) in 2022.
User Data Allegations
There are also claims about the developer providing user data seem to the Federal Security Service (FSB), seemingly stemming from a report by Ain Capital in January of this year.
Under machine translation (via DeepL), the company’s policy in Russian territories warns “Processing and security of Data in the Company shall be carried out in accordance with the requirements of the Constitution of the Russian Federation, the Law,” and other Russian data laws. Despite this, the policy’s scope is stated to “respect the constitutional rights of citizens of the Russian Federation and citizens of other states.”
Mundfish also stated they kept user data in part to comply with actions and duties “imposed on the Company by the legislation of the Russian Federation in accordance with federal laws.” While emphasizing user data wasn’t disclosed to a third party or without consent, there were exceptions.
These included cases where data would be disclosed “at the request of authorized state bodies, legal proceedings,” providing specific lawful purposes were defined, with only the data required for exactly that purpose along with data gather by Mundfish as stated.
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Speaking to GamesRadar, a Mundfish spokesperson denied the user data allegation. “Our game and website DO NOT collect any information or data. The website’s privacy statement is outdated and wrong, and should have been removed years ago. We have shut down the shop to assure our fans of the integrity of our studio and products. We apologize for any confusion on this matter.”
For Mundfish’s part, the developer had previously addressed the accusations and speculation surrounding their political leanings on January 16th, taking to their official Twitter account to inform the public.
“Guys, we have noted the questions surrounding where we, at Mundfish, stand. We want to assure you that Mundfish is a developer and studio with a global team focused on an innovative game and is undeniably a pro-peace organization against violence against people,” the statement prefaced.
“We do not comment on politics or religion,” Mundfish continued. “Rest assured; we are a global team focused on getting Atomic Heart into the hands of gamers everywhere.”
“We do not, and will not, condone contributors or spammers with offensive, hateful, discriminatory, violent, or threatening language or content,” the developer concluded.
Regarding Ukrainian minister Alex Bornyakov’s claims that the game “romanticizes” the Soviet Union, it seems that this appraisal of the game’s message comes from a surface level pertaining its marketing material.
Set in an alternate timeline during the 1950s, Atomic Heart depicts a history in which the USSR defeated the Nazis with advanced technology. Met with their end, the Nazis responded by unleashing a deadly plague, it’s effects resulting in the deaths of millions of people across the world.
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In the face of this staggering population loss, the world turned to the Soviet Union’s robotic creations to pick up the slack, thus propelling the nation to ‘World Power’ status.
Underneath its veneer of pop-Socialist realism, however, Atomic Heart actually uses the USSR and the concepts of Communism to tell a tale of greed, deception, pride, and ambition gone awry.
Multiple attempts to seize personal glory and power are shown to result in nothing more than the suffering of others and the loss of liberty.
Likewise, the only robots who don’t just blindly attack — namely a fleet of maids — use their softer demeanor to trick the populace into taking comfort in the endless stream of propaganda they constantly espouse from their speakers.
The setting also features citizens under “social rating” system akin to real world China’s social credit system. Some NPCs even have their ratings lowered for being too “freethinking” and disobeying their superiors.
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