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‘We’ve seen things a lot worse than this’ Pro-Russian hackers try and fail to blackmail Ukrainian video game developers
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2: Heart of Chornobyl, due for release this year, is one of the most anticipated games in the industry’s history. Last year, its developer, a Ukrainian company called GSC Game World, announced that the game won’t be sold in Russia, nor will it include a Russian-language voiceover. In response, a group of pro-Russian hackers is currently trying to blackmail the game’s creators, threatening to release “dozens of gigabytes” of hacked materials meant to spoil the game if the company doesn’t apologize for its “disrespectful attitude” towards the game’s Russian and Belarusian players. So far, the attempt has failed.
In March 2022, the Ukrainian video game developer GSC Game World announced that its highly anticipated game S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2, which is slated for release by the end of this year, will not be sold in Russia. The company also changed the game’s title from Heart of Chernobyl (the city’s Russian name, rendered in English) to Heart of Chornobyl (the city’s Ukrainian name). Then, in the summer of 2022, GSC Game World revealed that the game will not include a Russian-language voiceover, though it will offer Russian subtitles.
Now, pro-Russian hackers have threatened to publish dozens of gigabytes of materials about the game if GSC Game World doesn’t apologize for its “disrespect towards players from Belarus and Russia.”
On March 11, the administrator of a group for fans of the game on the Russian social media site VKontakte said in a post that they had obtained an “enormous amount” of materials related to the game. According to the user, the stolen materials include information about the game’s plot, a description of the cutscenes, concept art, and maps.
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The administrator published multiple screenshots as proof. He promised not to publish the rest of the hacked content if GSC Game World fulfills three conditions before March 15:
- The company must “come to its senses and rethink its attitude towards players from Belarus and Russia” and apologize for its “disrespectful attitude towards simple players from these countries.”
- It must add Russian-language localization back into the game.
- It must unblock the group’s profile on the game’s official forum, which the user claimed was banned “for no reason.”
“We’ll wait until the 15th for the company to change its policy […] to accept its own fans no matter where they’re from, and for the return of RU localization, if not in the release, then at least as an add-on,” the statement said.
GSC Game World responded to the ultimatum the following day, confirming on Twitter that one of its employees’ accounts had been hacked, and that this isn’t the first time the company has dealt with hacking, threats, and attempts to “damage the production process and the company’s reputation.”
“We’re a Ukrainian company, and, like most Ukrainians, we’ve seen things a lot worse than this: destroyed homes and lives, the deaths of our loved ones,” read the company’s statement.
The game’s creators asked users not to look at the leaked materials or share leaked information so as not to ruin people’s experience of the game.
After GSC Game World’s response, the blackmailers made several more posts on VKontakte in which they shared photos of concept art for several game characters. “Unfortunately, the company viewed our request to reconsider their attitude towards ordinary players as a hostile one, but we don’t want to upload the most important materials unless absolutely necessary,” they wrote, vowing to publish 10 gigabytes of the 30 they claimed to have on March 15 if GSC Game World doesn’t give in.
S.T.A.L.K.E.R. 2 is one of the most anticipated releases in video game history. It was first revealed to be in development in 2010, but its first official screenshots and trailer weren’t released until 2020. That same year, the game’s developers announced that the game would finally come out in 2021, though they’ve since pushed the release date back multiple times, one of which was due to the war. They’ve promised to release the game by the end of 2023.
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