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The History of CD Projekt: Driven by Ambitions

3 January 2021Ananto Joyoadikusumo

CD Projekt has a very long history behind them filled with innovations, ambitions, and some flops as well.

With the release of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt has titled themselves as one of the most polarizing and amusing game developers out there. They had their highs with The Witcher Series and probably their low with Cyberpunk. CD Projekt has a very long history behind them filled with innovations, ambitions, and some flops as well. While most people may hate CD Projekt’s overconfidence with the premature release of Cyberpunk, they might have just not understood the full history of the company. CD Projekt is a company defined by its confidence, ambitions, and the drive to create something that has never been done before. To get a full picture of this, let’s look at their history, starting from their humble beginnings.


The Birth of CD Projekt

In 1994, Marcin Iwiński and Michał Kiciński formed the company that we now know as CD Projekt. Back then, they were not making games as we all know today. Instead, they were importing western games and selling them in the Polish market. Their main objective was to localize these games. Localizing is translating the games into the market’s language, which is Polish in their case. In the ’90s, the gaming market in Poland was still very small, let alone games with the Polish language. This was, in part, due to the only recent emergence of Poland from the socialist rule.

With their ambition, CD Projekt immediately filled the void and took advantage of it. They started by repacking the game with Polish boxes, titles, and manuals, so that Polish people are more incentivized to buy the games. They eventually moved on to fully localizing the games. The first game they fully localized was Ace Ventura. Later on, they managed to secure a deal with Interplay and BioWare for Baldur’s Gate. Fun fact, in the near future, BioWare was the one who helped CD Projekt build the engine used for the first Witcher game.

However, CD Projekt was not going to stay in the localizing business; they wanted to create their own game. Before doing this, Marcin and the whole team secured the license of a book that they are already passionate about Wiedźmin (Polish for Witcher). The road for creating the game was not at all easy for CD Projekt. They could not find a deal with any publisher and, thus, created their own by the name of CD Projekt Red. After five years of development, CD Projekt unraveled The Witcher series to the gaming world.


The Witcher

Credit: CD Projekt
Credit: CD Projekt

The Witcher was released in October of 2007 and immediately became a massive hit. It has a Metacritic score of 81 out of 100 and garnered many positive reviews. Indeed, this game is nothing when compared to the games CD Projekt released in later years. However, if you look at the context behind its success, this game is probably the one that impacts the company the most.

Firstly the RPG genre is still relatively new and hasn’t fully matured yet, so releasing this kind of game is already very ambitious. Secondly, they are competing with similar big-titled games such as Assassin’s Creed and God of War 2, both released in the same year. Being able to rival these titles alone is already very successful, especially being their first-ever game. Thirdly, The Witcher is a new and unknown series filled with brand-new combat mechanics that actually require players to think.

Those mechanics, of course, include the signs or the elements that players can select, each having its unique capabilities, strengths, and weaknesses. There are also different fighting styles, and potions you can create for seeing in the dark or regeneration. It is also one of the rare times, during those days, that we get to see a game that provides branching dialogue. This feature alone adds so much replay value to the game. From the get-go, you can see that CD Projekt is fueled with creativity and ambition to create a brand new game.


The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings

Via: Steam
Via: Steam

In 2011, CD Projekt released the second iteration of The Witcher series. Within four years, CD Projekt exponentially stepped up the series in a lot of areas. The combat experience was far more difficult than the first Witcher game. It was also, in my opinion, one of the more difficult RPGs of the era. I got hardstuck in this game far more times than other RPG games. The character leveling is also improved and gives players freedom of customization.

There are four upgrade paths which the players can choose and customize according to their own will, each with their own set of strengths. Similar to the first iteration, Witcher 2 incorporates branching dialogues. However, this time, the choices that players make actually determines the 16 different endings of the game. The graphics of Witcher 2 is also significantly improved – the details look sharper, and the effects look shinier. This was in part because of the different engine that was used to run Witcher 2 that allowed for smoother and higher quality gameplay.


The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt

The Witcher 3. Via: The Verge
The Witcher 3. Via: The Verge

The third iteration of The Witcher series was released in May 2015 and forever revolutionized the genre. Even until this day, it is still regarded as one of the best games ever created. The world in Witcher 3 is much more expensive to explore and is integrated with more advanced dynamic environments.

Players will need to use boats and horses to traverse around the world due to sheer size. There are also more quests and side quests that players can do. Both the large open-world and number of missions cause Witcher 3 to have the longest game length out of the previous iterations. Combine this fact with the 36 different endings of the game, you will never run out of gameplay material.

The skill tree or upgrade path is very similar to the second Witcher. However, the gameplay of Witcher 3 is exponentially improved. Sources say that Witcher 3’s combat is less clunky, delayed, and much smoother when compared to Witcher 2. Of course, you will also see a massive overhaul in the graphics. The overall project is far more ambitious than any other CD Projekt’s projects so far. It has been reported that the development budget was around USD 81 million, with over 1500 people working on the project.

After its release, the game was an immediate hit. Four million copies were sold in its first week and became first in the UK and Japanese video game charts. Approximately 50 million copies have been sold worldwide as of 2020.

Later in October, CD Projekt released their first-ever game expansion with the Hearts of Stone DLC. The May of next year, another DLC was released, this time called Blood and Wine. Both these two DLC’s add to the already massive success of the game. The Blood and Wine DLC won CD Projekt an award at The Game Awards 2016 for the best RPG game.


Gwent: The Witcher Card Game

Gwent. Via: Steam
Gwent: The Witcher Card Game. Via: Steam

In 2018, CD Projekt released a card game based on The Witcher series. The game was not too popular and successful as all the previous Witcher games. However, the project was meant to be small from the start, inferring from the small budget and number of people working on it. The game managed to be nominated for some awards, such as “Most Promising New eSports Game” at the 2019 SXSW Gaming Awards.


Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales


In the same year, CD Projekt released yet another card game. However, Thronebreaker solely focuses on the solo play or single-player mode rather than the multiplayer aspect of Gwent. The game comprises a 30-hour long campaign, with a similar overall style of gameplay with Gwent. Despite this, sources say that the game did not meet its sales expectation and was not too successful.


Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 jadi game pertama dengan concurrent players 1 juta pada hari pertama.
CD Projekt

I think we already knew what happened to this game. The teaser for Cyberpunk 2077 was released eight years ago in 2012 and has accumulated massive hype in the gaming community. The game, however, did not live up to its expectations. Cyberpunk 2077 is brimming with bugs and lousy NPC’s. Console players are ripped-off due to the game’s incompatibility. It will not take much effort to find an article explaining why the game is overrated and underwhelming.


Conclusion and the Future

Despite their failures, you really have to admire the ambition of CD Projekt for creating a game that is on the scale of Cyberpunk. There is a reason why there has been no game like Cyberpunk before: it is an immensely enormous, challenging, and risky project.

After all, you can already see that this theme shines in their vision throughout their history. They jumped on the Witcher series as their first-ever game and redefined the RPG genre. They moved out of their comfort zone and created a card game. Now, they undertook the largest project in game development history with Cyberpunk. Although Cyberpunk 2077 was a major flop in the industry, I think that CD Projekt can learn from their mistake with this game. The gaming industry needs developers like CD Projekt who are not afraid to go beyond their comfort zone and try something big and new. It is developers like these that allow gaming to continuously progress and advance in the future.

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