Russia’s ambitions for “digital sovereignty” had an abrupt encounter with the real world this week, with the country’s plans to become Russia’s state-funded “national gaming engine.” (Opens in a new tab) the smoke went up as soon as his parliament realized that the project would cost a lot and gain little. He is not dead yet, however, Vedomosti reports (Opens in a new tab) that an unnamed private investor has intervened to support the project.
Digital Development Minister Maksut Shadayev called the saga of the Russian tech industry’s plans for a domestic alternative to Unreal Engine and Unity a “painful story”. For good reason, too: Shadayev told the Duma—the Russian parliament—that the proposal for a Russian engine was “badly monetized” and would cost far more than it would bring. A bucket of cold water was once burned for a national ambition. very hot indeed.
Shadayev added that it would be “useless” for the Duma to talk about subsidies for Russian developers who have committed to using a domestic engine. It seems reasonable, considering that the Russian national engine is purely hypothetical at this point and that Shadayev himself has just removed the possibility of obtaining state funding. But he wonders whether Russian developers are making business plans based on securing “patriotic” subsidies.
The minister said that the project would have to rely on private funding if it is to continue, and it seems that someone has heard it. Sources have told Vedomosti that a private investor — so far unnamed — has stepped in to fill the funding gap left by the Russian state. Sure enough, in July, Russian media reported that the project would cost “millions of rubles.” (Opens in a new tab) to ever see it come to fruition. A private investor—unless a particularly rich and spendthrift oligarch—might not be enough to get the project off the ground, but it’s probably enough for life support.
It’s surprising to see those plans receive a rough reception in Russia’s parliament: they were backed by big names in Russia’s tech sector — the country’s state-linked Facebook alternative VKontakte — as well as support for internet backbone Rostelecom. . It seems, however, that even the heavies cannot escape reality for long. Although Western sanctions have had less impact (Opens in a new tab) More than the forecasts suggested, the Russian economy is still in a very delicate situation. It turns out that no amount of protection can make it a good idea to throw billions of rubles into a game engine in wartime.