Before Venturing Forth: Past, Present, and Future of CD Projekt
Before Venturing Forth: Past, Present, and Future of CD Projekt
“From the birth of CD PROJEKT we are trying to deliver quality product, one that with the added content and an adequate price would be more attractive than pirating our games,” Adam Kiciński, CEO of the Polish game studio CD Projekt RED told me. It is a stance that brought mature and demanding fans flocking to the studio and has proven to be successful throughout the 8 years of RED’s existence.
CDP’s fans, to whom I belong, do what fans usually do – they want to know more about what is happening in the studio and what might the future bring. With the Investor’s Meeting that CDP has held some time back, we might have been given a window to see what might be coming our way.
CD Projekt is an entity that has been present on the Polish video game market for a long time. From its establishment in 1994, the company quickly rose both in popularity and financial standing by releasing and localizing games first in Poland, and then in the whole Central Europe region.
Michał Kiciński and Marcin Iwiński, the high school friends that created CDP, poured money into the localization of titles like Baldur’s Gate and Planescape Torment, when piracy was still running rampant in the region and when the economy was still in the transition phase from communism to capitalism. The risk paid off and the titles that were translated and published by the company went on to gather not only critical, but also financial success.
Many, if not all, of todays mature gamers in Poland still remember Baldur’s Gate and the pleasant shock when they realized that they were playing an epic adventure fully voiced in their mother tongue. The translation, which has also used many popular Polish actors and actresses, gathered a cult-like following with the phrase, you guessed it, “You must gather your party before venturing forth.” uttered by the deep-voice of Piotr Fronczewski.
Still, CD Projekt wanted more and in 2002 they began expanding into the game-development area with their RED studio creating an RPG based on the then-insanely popular Witcher saga written by Andrzej Sapkowski. The result, named simply The Witcher, came out in 2008 after a long time of brainstorming, concept-changing and bending the good-old Aurora engine to the studios will. A promotional campaign of immense volume followed the release with as many as 19 million złotys (about 7 million dollars) spent, much more than the budget of many Polish movie “blockbusters”.
The studio’s first voyage into the land of consoles ended in failure when The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf, the Xbox 360/Playstation 3 equivalent of the first The Witcher, crashed and burned in early 2009.
The game was never planned to be a straight-out port, but more of an adaptation handled by the French studio WideScreen Games (responsible for the 2001 Frank Herbert’s Dune and 2005 Dead to Rights II) using their DaVinci engine with design decisions left to CD Projekt.
The project was going well, at least for a while. It was lauded to have 6 different fighting styles, many more animations, a completely revamped alchemy system and some other mysterious features that would make Rise of the White Wolf “the best console RPG”, one that “console gamers yearning for mature experiences deserve,” Adam Kiciński said in the press release. The project failed for many reasons, some of them unearthed post-cancellation in a media stand-off that ensued between WideScreen and CD Projekt. The prior accused it’s partner of not sending payments on time, the latter responded that some payments were made later because of the delays in production that resulted from the troubles WideScreen’s developers had with the engine after the companies main engineer quit. Both grieved the death of the console The Witcher of which all is left is a trailer and some promo shots.
Console gamers finally got their Witcher fix in the form of The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings when it released on Xbox 360 in 2012. The sequel was built on the company’s own RED engine and marked a significant leap in production which helped tell the gripping story of the amnesiac Geralt on a quest for truth. The PC version of The Witcher 2 released a year before, in 2011, and with the critical acclaim it had gathered, it has marked CD Projekt’s name on the map. The Xbox 360 version helped enforce that with sale numbers nearing 1 million copies (5 million overall for the franchise as of February 2013) tapping into a big market previously cut-off from the PC-focused company.
Overall, as stated in March’s Investor’s Meeting by CDP’s CFO Piotr Nielubowicz, 2012 was the company’s best year yet with net profit of 28,13 million złotys (~9mln dollars), a growth of 19% from the previous year. Business is booming with GOG.com, CD Projekts’ own game distribution service, almost doubling its financial result from 2011, the companies digital-store CDP.pl rapidly gaining popularity and the main bread-maker, the game-development division, earning 2mln złotys more in 2012 clocking in at 21,7mln.
To help build on that success, a small local branch of CD Projekt RED in the United States, focused on marketing and PR for both Americas was launched, with many more in other countries planned to open in the 2014-2016 period.
While everyone can agree that numbers and charts are boring, it is important to the consumer, in that it provides CD Projekt with a safety-mat meaning that they can work on even more ambitious projects with the creative not hindered by the financial voodoo, as stated many times in the conference.
One of the main reasons of the success that the company has acknowledged is the long shelf-life of RPGs resulting in even more people trying out the games. One of the themes of CDP that fans will quickly realize is the robust post-release support that the games have been getting. Both The Witcher and the sequel have received free updates and an enhanced version of the game, fixing many bugs and remodeling some features that proved lackluster in the first release. Not only that, the company is also keen on extending their title’s life with free modding-tools released to the ever-creating community as proved by the D’jinni Adventure Editor for the first entry in the series and the REDkit for the second released not so long ago.
During the conference, a point was made that the third entry in the Witcher series will receive support involving “completely new mechanics.” Alas, in my chat with Mr. Kiciński I was assured that while there are plans for post-release content for The Witcher 3, it is too early to talk about them. “Remember that the title has just been announced,” he told me, “there are many more things to unveil.” The interesting thing is that The Witcher3: Wild Hunt will be CDP’s first day-one multi-platform release, and while PC and PS4 seem to be open for free content, Microsoft’s policy is strictly against it. Then again, Kiciński told me that there is no use searching for analogies to the Extended versions of previous CD Projekt games. For the third Witcher it will be something new so the question of what they have in plans is a mystery for now.
While The Witcher 3 is still some time due, the company intends to release two smaller, as they have said, 20 hour-long games in the time slot between Geralt’s new adventure and the release of Cyberpunk 2077. Naturally, the question arises what those games will be about.
“All I can say right now is that those two smaller (in terms of gametime) games will be supporting the existing IPs,” the CEO of the ever-growing studio told me, “Right now we have two franchises – The Witcher and Cyberpunk and we do not plan on launching another one in the nearest future”. Kiciński explained that the studio is split into three teams: two for the IPs and one for developing technologies (over 160 employees in total) so it is natural that after the launch of Wild Hunt one will have nothing to do.
It is not surprising given that the developers have accentuated many times that The Witcher 3 marks the end of Geralt’s story – meaning that the gritty world that the company has created will not be placed in the bin but will continue to be developed. All for the better, there are many stories to be told and in Sapkowski’s pulsating and lively universe even more so.
The history of the Warsaw-based studio is by all means a story “from rags to riches”. From the very beginning of working for a small base of dedicated fans on the localization of cult-classic RPGs to the creation of one, CDP has maintained it’s down-to-earth mentality and has not lost it’s focus of what they aim to do in the industry. They say that fans might make or break a studio. It’s hard to imagine why would anyone want to do the latter to CD Projekt.