543 Days of Gamedev During War
It's been over 500 days since Russia invaded Ukraine, and we've been working non-stop to help our Ukrainian colleagues get through this, and to take care of the people we've relocated all around Eastern Europe.
Here's a thread on what life is like for our colleagues and what we've been up to:
For the last 543 days have been trying to do exactly that -- make games -- just on Dark Souls hardcore difficulty level.
Going into it, the philosophy was straightforward:
Worst case scenario: prepare for it while hoping for the best
Preservation of life above all else
Nobody gets left behind
So let's recap, starting with Saving Everyone in Ukraine.
On January 19 2022 Joe Biden says that the US will have a "discussion" if a "minor incursion" happens by Russia into Ukraine
I get a panic attack and gather an emergency meeting. What do we do in case of full scale war? What are our plans? Let's prepare for the worst, and hope for the best
Who is located where? How many cars do we have? We go through all possible scenarios, and make sure people are stocked up and ready to go.
Early February 2022 we have people lined up on expedited Dutch work visas, getting ready to be picked up in Kyiv
I shutdown our family Airbnb business and prepare for an influx of colleagues seeking safety
February 24 2022: Russia invades Ukraine. Code black. Worst case scenario.
Emergency living space setup in Hologryph's office
At this point we've already established communication lines and plans of action for the worst case scenario. It was mostly to do with getting everyone out to the Western city of Lviv where we had prepped shelter. We got extremely lucky to have the team at Hologryph NOT break the lease on their old office, as the weekend before the invasion they were moving into a new location. The old office was used as an emergency living space. Fuel, food, warm clothing, blankets -- the team at location was able to take care of everything. All while going down into bunkers during air raid alarms, in the freezing cold of Ukrainian winter.
Evacuations to Lviv, Ukraine took place in a coordinated, almost rehearsed way
Ahead of the invasion shelter was setup in Lviv, Riga (Latvia), and Hilversum (Netherlands)
Several heart breaking stories took place, mostly to do with pets who couldn't handle the stress. No human lives lost.
Second priority was getting everyone who can leave out of the country. This included relatives as well. One specific instance is crazy, because we got a team member out the day before the invasion started, he was able to get his EU residency permit and hop on the last flight out. For everyone else, they had to stand for hours and even days in line at the border (assuming they get there safely). We've successfully evacuated everyone we could, and set them up in both corporate housing and my own personal living space. My house and my parents' house were refugee shelters for months. Our now-shutdown airbnb business has been housing colleagues rent-free since the beginning.
Colleagues waiting in an unheated staircase for the air raid sirens to stop
Ukrainian colleagues successfully evacuated to Lviv
Everyone eligible evacuated to EU
I want to thank my paranoia for kicking in, and forcing everyone to plan out a worst case scenario with the sole goal of life preservation.
Here's a recap of this I did in March on Twitter:
Evacuating people w Russian passports
We knew we couldn't have people in Russia. It's not possible to have a healthy working relationship with someone who supports or is ignorant of what's happening in Ukraine.
While the operation in Ukraine was happening, we also had a massive effort extraction operation happening in Russia. Get 100 people out of a country, and find a new place for them.
Snapshot from tinyBuild 2022 Annual Report (Page 19), citing $1.7m in expenses towards relocating team members
Freedom of travel is something I've had to figure out my whole life. Much like a Russian passport, my own Latvian non-citizens passport doesn't allow free travel almost anywhere. You need visas. You can't get visas easily. So we settled on Serbia as a location where people could relocate to. We would get last minute tickets out of the country, and get people anywhere - to Turkey, or any other neighboring countries that'd accept people w Russian passports. From there, people would have couple of days to regroup while we'd figure out how to get them to Serbia.
Within Serbia itself we'd rent dozens of apartments and hotels all while figuring out how to setup a legal entity and make sure people are getting paid.
Trusting colleagues with your life.
Saving lives in Ukraine. Relocating hundreds of people. We didn't make any of this conditional, and spent millions of dollars doing so. I won't get into the personal side of this with extracting sick relatives.
When the dust settled we all continued to work with a general compassion to each other. I believe we created bonds you can't forge artificially. In this whole exercise you could clearly identify the colleagues you'd trust with your life.
Recap in numbers
People relocated: 150+, including significant others
Total money spent: $3m+
Total money raised: $300k+
We've been raising money at events through charity auctions, as well as helping industry peers figure out how to donate money effectively. To know their donations will be put to good use.
Over the past few months I've been talking more and more to industry peers affected by the war. So if you're a gamedev lead/executive trying to make sense of it all and how to move forward, feel free to reach out. I'm happy to talk in more detail. My contacts are easy to find. E-mail or DM on Xitter.