Working at ITC publishing for 11 years, Alexander Ptitsa is not only a well-known journalist in Ukraine, but he also witnessed and covered the growth of the Ukranian game industry before it even existed. We sat down with him to talk about how he first got started as a new media and game journalist, his contribution to the Ukranian game industry and the state of the Ukranian game market.
Both of Ptitsa’s parents used to be well known journalists in their time. His father was the chief editor of a sports magazine and his mother was an editor at a magazine for Ukranian women. After graduating from Kiev State University with a Physics degree, Ptitsa used to teach information technologies at a pedagogical college and some other schools through-out the 80’s and early 90’s. While teaching young children about working with computers, Ptitsa paid a growing amount of attention to videogames. “I’m very curious about everything,” he says. “Since my childhood, I liked to acquire new information about everything in the world.” No wonder computer games quickly became one of his hobbies, besides of his passion of teaching. He started playing old adventures on the PC such as Leisure Suit Larry and Monkey Island.
In the Ukraine, the first console that were massively available were cheap clones of the 8 Bit Nintendo Entertainment System. Ptitsa bought it for his daughter, but ended up playing it together with her. The Sega Megadrive followed soon. In those times, the only games that were available in the Ukraine for both consoles and PC were all pirated. Step by step, legal versions started to appear in stores.
“When the Internet started to become available my country, I was hooked,” Ptitsa admits. “It was my dream to have access to all that information. In 1996, he got his first Internet connection.” In the spring of 1997, Ptitsa made his first website, which was called ‘webbird’. It also became his first online nickname, reflecting his own last name which means ‘bird’ in Russian. He used his website to review news and interesting topics from the Internet on a weekly basis and visitors kept coming back for more. “At that time in the Russian language segment of the Internet, there was a trend to post reviews of the web,” Ptitsa explains. “Some reviewers even created kind of trade union, called Ezhe.ru.”
Most of the websites that became popular alongside’s Ptitsa’s own were also run by hobbyists. In autumn of 1997, Ptitsa realized a lot of people were interested in videogames as well and started devoting himself completely to the topic. “There wasn’t enough reliable information about games, so I started a game site called Gammer,” Ptitsa explains. “It was one of the first Russian language game sites, along with quake.spb.ru and some others. I updated the site regularly and got in touch with some of the Russian and Ukranian developers.” Alexander’s writing did not go unnoticed at Ukraine’s biggest IT-magazine publisher ITC publishing.
ITC publishing already knew Ptitsa from his online activities and made him a good offer to join their editorial staff. He was invited write some game reviews for a magazine called ‘Computer Review’, where also he ended up working the pilot version of Domashny PK (PC for Home). Ptitsa has been working for the latter magazine ever since. ITC also started to send Ptitsa to various international events around the world, allowing him to expand his international network and getting some of the first interviews with key figures in the game industry that were published in Russian. Among them were BioWare’s Ray Muzyka, Quantic Dreams’ David Cage and others.
Seeing the industry grow
In 1998, Ptitsa would also end up helping GSC Game World receive their first taste of international fame. The Kyiv based game studio would later become known for their Cossacks and S.T.A.L.K.E.R. franchises. “When the GSC Game World CEO Sergiy Grygorovych decided to visit Milia 1998, a big multimedia and game show in Cannes, he invited me as his interpreter and for PR,” Ptitsa recalls. “He didn’t know English and he wasn’t able to explain the features of the game to the people who were going to see the game at his small stand.”
Ptitsa gladly joined the young CEO to get the first version of Cossacks the attention it needed. One of the first things Ptitsa did, was bring the people from Gamespot to Sergey’s booth to see the game. Ptitsa was also able to have Microsoft’s Ed Fries, people from Infogrames and other publishers bring a visit to GSC Game World’s small stand. The rest is history.
The Ukranian games market
Though the game market in Ukraine has been plagued by piracy for over a decade, Ptitsa has seen an increase of interest in the purchase of legal copies. “Legal games give consumers more possibilities for DLC, online gaming and so on,” he explains. “In the console sector, the situation is rather strange,” he admits. Ptitsa would later show me some game shops, where both the legal and pirated versions are displayed side by side. The latter, of course, being rather cheaper. While there is no official market for the Xbox 360 and Wii in the Ukraine, both consoles can be bought with mod-chips already installed inside of them.
The Playstation 3, thanks to its disc-protection not having been cracked yet, is the only console of which only the original games are sold of. Interestingly enough, this has resulted prices being higher for Playstation 3 games than in the west. As far as Ptitsa has seen and heard himself, the majority of consumers still prefer pirated copies. “The PSP is more popular than the DS here,” Ptitsa adds. “ I think that traditionally our gamers like good graphics and some of them prefer good graphics over good gameplay. That’s why a lot of them don’t even know about the great games on the DS.” Because of the higher prices of original games and his dislike of pirated versions, Ptitsa himself prefers to buy his games during his visits abroad and from online stores.
Ptitsa’s magazine has quite the challenge ahead of them. Recently Ptitsa is no longer a regular member of the Domashny PK (PC For Home) staff, but has been assigned to a freelance position instead. ITC Publishing took that measure in order to become more profitable.