Vlad Suglobov: ”Instead of banning our games in Russia, I’d rather use the money to help Ukraine”
I have lived in California for the last 11 years and I am an American citizen. I came to California to establish G5’s marketing operations, but I was born and raised in Russia and as a Russian, I am disgusted by this invasion, and I full-heartedly condemn it.
I have a first-hand account of what is going on from my employees and the people I personally know in Ukraine. Let me be clear: there is no justification for what is happening. Russia and Ukraine and NATO had their disagreements, and we can get bogged down in those details, but there is no justification for this “special operation,” which is a full-on invasion that Putin has started – none. It has created enormous human suffering in Ukraine, and I suspect it will do the same for people in Russia.
Look at our first press-release, we said “two days off”. What were we thinking? But two days at that moment sounded like a lot of time, considering that the world has just changed overnight.
These past two weeks have been a nightmare for me. On a personal level, the closest experience is the death of a close person. You go through the same stages. And every morning you wake up and suddenly remember a terrible thing has happened.
During the week the invasion started, I was in Moscow with my family for a funeral. We had not visited in a long time and were glad to go over, but we returned on the last direct flight to Los Angeles. That plane flew back to Moscow and never flew again.
I saw the speech that Putin gave on TV, and I got more and more worried. The next morning – airstrikes. It was a complete shock. There’s a stage of denial. Am I dreaming? Time slows down incredibly. You just can’t admit to yourself a war has begun. Look at our first press-release, we said “two days off”. What were we thinking? But two days at that moment sounded like a lot of time, considering that the world has just changed overnight. Who knows what happens tomorrow? What really is happening? When you are inside of this nightmare evolving in real-time, and you are mentally shell shocked, two days is forever.
G5 established its Ukrainian office in 2008 when we were already a publicly listed company in Sweden. We saw a great opportunity in Kharkov (Russian spelling for the city of Kharkiv, reds.anm.), and very quickly, it was our largest office. We paid all taxes, unlike our peers, who liked to use gray schemes that were abundant and ignored by the country’s authorities. We did it because it is our policy and because we do want to be a force for good in any country where we operate. We also have a presence in Russia, and while for many years it was smaller, it has been gaining recently and is now close in size in terms of headcount.
We treated everyone the same. G5 is a meritocracy and we have top managers from both countries. Over 40% of our employees are women. Large stock option payouts last year went to both Ukraine and Russia. Virtually all our teams are cross-border and on our group calls we always have people from both countries. Before covid, we would regularly get together on our TeamUp conferences in different parts of Europe, and we would talk about business and drink a lot into very late hours, of course.
I guess we were good at this, and we have created this bubble of friendship and collaboration, which really worked even after the 2014 Russian annexation of Crimea and after we moved everyone to WFH in 2020. We did not have to use English to communicate in our company, which I thought was fantastic for efficiency. We had the ability to tap into a combined population of 175 million very talented and hard-working people and be a force that improves standards of living and promotes friendship and collaboration.
Within this bubble of collaboration, I guess we did not pay enough attention that other economic ties were weakened and a change of rhetoric happened. In retrospect, the writing was on the wall, some people took it seriously, but I didn’t listen enough, and many of our Ukrainian colleagues did not believe this could happen until the last moment. We could have done more to prepare; we did some critical things, but we could have moved people out well in advance if we believed in this threat. This was a terrible mistake that is going to remain with me.
Our Russian employees are doing what they can: some went to protests and got arrested and their limbs broken, some worked insane hours to keep us going through this. The teams are still working together.
I live and work in the US, which is our largest and most important market, but as a Russian, I enjoyed contributing to building this company as an expression of my personal views and beliefs. It gives me a lot of joy that together we were able to build a global brand and a company and an audience this big with our own products that we have created ourselves, from our ideas, and that are in demand all over the world. There are not many companies like this. Maybe our cars are shitty (I prefer German), but we have this!
This invasion is not only an attack on Ukraine and on my values, it is also an attack on our business on many levels. But our team is amazing. They have stepped up and rallied around keeping our business alive, the business they built over the years together. I am forever grateful for this. Our Ukrainian employees who can work, are working right now. Even as they fled across the country, they looked after the servers. They have worked to make it possible for their Russian colleagues to help with their projects. Our Russian employees are doing what they can: some went to protests and got arrested and their limbs broken, some worked insane hours to keep us going through this. The teams are still working together.
It may be hard to do right now, and problems for Russians are minimal (still?) compared to the problems of Ukrainians, but please don’t bunch all Russians together. I know brilliant people who love Russia, despise Putin, lived abroad, but chose to return to live and work in Moscow. Even more so regarding Russians abroad: many left because of Putin in the first place. Let’s not repeat these mistakes. Whatever indiscriminate anti-Russian hate is going to happen, is going to be used by Putin to further his narrative.
There are now calls to remove our games from Russia. I thought about it, and for now my thinking is, I’d rather use their money (or whatever is left of it, realistically) to help our Ukrainian employees and Ukraine. This is less virtue-signaling and PR, but more doing, which is my preferred mode of action. However, there’s a lot going on in my head right now and we evaluate the situation one day at a time.
We are going to support our employees no matter where they are. For our Ukrainian colleagues, we basically told them their jobs are safe, they don’t need to worry about work (and yet many do!). We are advancing their future salary and we keep the payments going through this, indefinitely at this point. We help them organize communication and once they are in safety, we help them settle. We are establishing our operations in Poland and Turkey with the goal of offering employment there to anyone who is going to apply. We also see more people joining our office in Malta. My expectation is that our talent footprint is going to become much more diversified as we revaluate country risks and the risk of sanctions.
Our immediate revenue generation is not under threat. But our ability to do work for the future is impaired right now as many employees are still unable to work, and the situation remains uncertain. We are getting help from outsourcing services, and I am very grateful to our partners who were able to help. This means a lot. We are also prioritizing our resources on our largest and growing games to make sure that whatever negative effect on update development we have is limited to smaller games.
We are not coming out of this the same, but I am optimistic that we will be able to keep our business growing and most of our team together. To everyone who reached out during this challenging time offering help or just saying kind words: thank you, it means a lot. Our thoughts and prayers are with our employees who are still in Ukraine and we hope they will stay out of harm’s way.
Vlad Suglobov, CEO, G5 Entertainment
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