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How piracy developed in Russia: hawkers from the 90s and the rise of torrents

Piracy as a phenomenon did not arise overnight, it went hand in hand with the development of culture and technology. In this material, we analyze and recall the history of Russian piracy – how it all began, what they played, where they got games, music, films, and what the curve of piracy history in Russia came to.

clone, play
The second half of the 20th century was rich in the spread of electronic technologies. In the 1970s-1980s, the foreign technical world began to be replenished with the first computers and game consoles (including portable ones), and the gaming sphere – with arcade projects. ZX Spectrum, Atari 2600, Famicom (aka NES – Nintendo Entertainment System), Nintendo Game & Watch – have made a huge contribution to the development of the gaming industry.

In the USSR, they initially tried to keep up with the times and produce computers and even game consoles, some of which were close clones or analogues of foreign devices. So, in addition to the legendary portable Game & Watch clones, consoles appeared with an original design, but in terms of gameplay similar to Atari’s Pong games.

In the 1970s in the USSR, arcade slot machines began to be produced, most of which were hardware clones of foreign devices. For example, the popular Sea Battle assault rifle resembled the 1969 American Sea Raider.

The aforementioned ZX Spectrum also got numerous clones. It is worth noting that along with a similar example of hardware copying, a gaming one also appeared. For example, Spectrum games were loaded using a cassette recorder, which made it possible to reproduce them without much hassle.

Around the beginning of the 1990s, pirated Taiwanese Atari 2600 clones, Rambo TV Games, began to hit the Russian shelves. However, they did not stay long.

The above examples of hardware copying, in fact, are the prerequisites for the pirate expanse that unfolded in the 1990s, which will be discussed further.

“Steepler started selling Dendy”
A news article with this headline was published in the Kommersant newspaper on December 18, 1992.

Steepler became the first company in Russia specializing in television game devices. Yesterday, it began selling game consoles under its own Dendy brand, which are produced by a Taiwanese company for Steepler. In addition to the console itself, Steepler will sell replacement game cartridges, light guns and other Dendy-branded accessories through its dealer network.

According to Viktor Savyuk, head of Steepler’s video game department, the company has already invested about a million dollars in the video game business. Steepler entered into a long-term contract with a Taiwanese firm, whose name was not disclosed.

Further in the article, the principle of operation of the outlandish prefix was described, which quickly fell in love with consumers who were not spoiled by such devices. The 8-bit Dendy was the Taiwanese famiclone of Nintendo’s famous NES.

Moreover, several models were cloned, for example, Dendy Classic copied the Micro Genius IQ-501. Thanks to the right marketing campaign and low price, sales of the set-top box grew exponentially, despite the difficult economic situation in the country. It is curious that there were no representative offices of venerable Japanese developers in Russia at that time.

Model range Dendy: Classic, Junior, Junior II

However, Steepler has not received any copyright infringement lawsuits. In addition to Dendy, the company sold Asian clones of the 16-bit Sega Mega Drive, some made in Japan but destined for the Singaporean market. Sega, through its partner Nissho Iwai, tried to conclude an agreement with Stipler, but after failure they found partners in the person of the Forrus IT company.

Junior – budget version of Dendy

There is a remarkable point here. Kunimasa Yagi, managing director of Sega, came to Russia and gave several interviews to Russian publications, where he shared his thoughts on piracy in the country.

… despite the short duration of his stay in Russia, Mr. Yagi came to a just conclusion, according to Kommersant experts: it is still impossible to fight counterfeiting in this country by legal methods. “We will fight them with our high quality and low prices,” Mr. Yagi said, noting that Sega, in light of the fight against counterfeiting, would welcome Nintendo’s official entry into the Russian market. So far, Sega, through two intermediaries – Nissho Iwai and Forus – is fighting for dealers only with Steepler, and fighting for consumers – mainly with Dendy and Taiwanese copies of its own products.

Journal “Kommersant Power” No. 28 dated 08/02/1994

Later, Nintendo, drawing attention to the wild popularity of Dendy, offered Stipler a contract to sell a licensed product. But that’s a completely different story.

In addition to Dandy, there were other pirate consoles in use in the 1990s, most of which were Chinese famiclones. For example, the “kruglyash” UFO, the little-known LIFA and SUBOR (Subor). At the same time, the coolest and most official things were on the market, for example, Panasonic 3DO. But its price did not just bite, but could eat up several family budgets. Therefore, users followed the path of least resistance and price.

One of the SUBOR models

All the above examples are just a small part of the huge pirate iceberg. The heyday began in the mid-90s and continued until about the middle of the “zero”. It was in this period of time that a lot of firms and companies appeared that churned out and sold music, films and replenished the game libraries of future gamers with unthinkable speed. From the point of view of legal norms, such activities were illegal, but then, few people paid attention to it.

At the same time, there were also objective reasons: the difficult economic situation in the country and sometimes the complete absence of options for purchasing licensed products. So “piracy” has become a cheap and easy way to join the multimedia world.

In the 1990s, there were a lot of companies that mass-produced CDs. This business reached its greatest peak at a time when personal computers were no longer something outlandish. The names of many pirate studios were gradually forgotten, but some of them will be in the memory of users for a long time.

Fargus
One of the most famous companies was Fargus, which started its work in 1996 and initially traded in clothes. The company was engaged in the localization of both high-profile projects of its time, and frankly passing games. Moreover, the former received the most reverent attention, in terms of translation of texts and voice acting.

Blade Runner is one of the first localizations, and not bad ones.

The following notes could be seen on the cover of the games. “In Russian” – this meant that only the text was translated. “Completely in Russian” – the game is fully or partially voiced. “Voiced by professional actors” – the studio really hired real theater and film actors to voice some projects. In this case, on the cover, at the bottom, a star of golden color could flaunt. All discs were packaged in a standard CD box, had a cover and back side with screenshots of the game. The yellow triangle at the top, with the company name in the center, became the studio’s signature feature. At the same time, the names of some games were mercilessly distorted and more exotic ones appeared, for example, the Kingpin shooter became “Bro”.

In some games, bugs could be found, and the studio released patches to fix them. At the same time, this was not typical for all projects. Fargus is one of the few studios that has launched its own website with game announcements, amateur walkthroughs, reviews, screenshots. There was even a forum where one could not only communicate, but also get advice. It is curious that during the years of Fargus’ work, her releases were “pirated” by other underground studios.

The Fargus website can only be found in the web archives

And they even made a cover with a characteristic yellow triangle, like, for example, the Superhit studio. Fargus disappeared from the gaming horizon around 2005. The reasons for the company’s departure are not fully known.

7th wolf
7th Wolf appeared in 1998, and a former Fargus employee had a hand in its creation. After the launch of The Seventh Wolf, intense competition immediately arose in the game market. Unlike Fargus, 7th Wolf changed their cover design quite often. The Wolf had its own website, in addition, they had a hand in the release of the Discman newspaper, which talked about the world of video games. Sometimes in the projects of the studio, some of the content was mercilessly cut out, and even sounds. Although even without this, the translations were not ideal.

The most famous games localized by the “wolf” are Diablo 2, Half-Life, Resident Evil, Grand Theft Auto: Vice City. The latter, by the way, was localized almost completely, including the voice acting of dialogues and text. In addition to PC games, the company also released console projects. 7th Wolf went out of business in 2011.

Triad
A relatively young studio, Triada Multimedia, started in the late stages of the development of the pirate craft, in 2000. In addition to games, the studio released films, software, music, and encyclopedias. Another of her chips were collections of games on DVD. It is worth noting that most of the projects were made quite soundly, without mistakes and glitches.

On each disc in the installation menu was a brief annotation of the game.

Other filibuster studios
In addition to the aforementioned studios, known to the wide mass of players, there were also smaller filibusters in the gaming field.

For a long time, the “Spent” meme was popular in everyday life, which came from the “spent” version of GTA San Andreas. In GTA, when the protagonist died, the inscription “Wasted” popped up on the screen, which in slang meant “Done”, “Carried out”. With a light hand of localizers, a literal translation appeared on the screen – “Spent”. And this is not the only “masterpiece” in the game.

This is the Russian Project studio, which operated from 1993 to 2004 and is remembered for its collections of various games. Next, it is worth mentioning Torum Media, which for the most part churned out other people’s localizations. Game covers featured a vertical yellow stripe with the studio’s name at the top. This move gave a strong resemblance to the design of the “Toys” series from 1C.

Similar activities were carried out in the CDROM Media studio, which also did not hesitate to copy other localizations and released them under its own “proprietary” symbol.

Until about the end of the 2000s (although you can find it on sale even now), double-sided DVD game collections were in use. Most often, their cover did not contain the names of the localizing studio or other source data.

Phrase

They bought a pig in a poke – some games simply did not start or were bugged.

“Jolly Roger” embraces multimedia
As with games, music piracy flourished in the 1990s and early 2000s, when the market was flooded with a mass of audio cassettes, and then CDs by foreign and Russian artists. In principle, the process of re-recording a cassette was not difficult, especially since many people used audio cassette duplicators already in the late 1980s. The advent of the MP3 format also made the task easier, because now the files weighed much less than the WAV format and it was possible to fill an entire discography on one disc. In 1995, the newspaper Kommersant published a study, according to which 95% of the audio cassettes sold were pirated. For CD, this figure reached 64%.

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