There are few who don’t know the name CD Projekt RED, as they developed the acclaimed Witcher series and have received a lot of praise for it over the years. They started out as a small studio back in 1994 in Warsaw, Poland as just CD Projekt back then. Initially, they worked on Polish localisation for major Western titles including the classic Baldur’s Gate games, published by Interplay Entertainment. After becoming friends and colleagues of companies that were partnered with Interplay, such as BioWare, CD Projekt was working on the PC version for Baldur’s Gate: Dark Alliance when Interplay eventually went bankrupt and splintered in many directions with some IP landing with Bethesda, others with BioWare. CD Projekt decided to reuse part of the code they had for Dark Alliance and that game eventually became the first Witcher in 2007.
The game was highly successful and many praised its story’s moral ambiguity and combat mechanics, as well as the dark fantasy setting and so CD Projekt began to grow. During the past decade, the game development arm of the company became known as CD Projekt RED and focused on the Witcher series, while another branch became the famous DRM-free distribution service Good Old Games or GOG for short. They take a customer-first approach to development and marketing and this has won them the sympathy and appreciation of gamers worldwide. With The Witcher recently concluded we figured maybe they have just a tiny bit of free time so we caught up with them to ask about their day-to-day.
“Go watch Nolan’s Interstellar, pause it just before they launch the Endurance into space. You’re Cooper — you feel like you’ve done a lot in life but, in reality, you’re just about to blast off. Or go watch Police Academy, or read Pratchett. We’re all of those things. And it’s often a bit crazy, but always genuine and really hard working“. This is how Paweł Burza, Community Specialist at CD Projekt RED chose to answer our favourite opener inquiry, namely to convince us to work for them as part of a little job interview role-play. He did not relent in his breaking from the mould one bit when we asked what, in his opinion, makes CD Projekt RED stand out the most among other companies: “You tell me, really! I don’t want to be the guy standing in front of a mirror saying that I look better than the other guy. Are we nice? Do you like our games? Are we working hard enough for gamers to feel OK with paying us for our work?“
Most of you are already familiar with CD Projekt RED and their work. In spite of the massive scale of The Witcher 3, the company is home to just a few hundred employees. We asked Paweł how this compared to the early days of the company and whether they had any plans to expand in the future: “If I remember correctly, The Witcher was initially developed by 15 people (we shipped with approximately 50 on board), so I guess it’s pretty crazy. And actually, there’s about 400 of us now and we’re still growing. So…, it doesn’t compare, really, as the only thing that has not changed is our approach to making games.“
“No, I don’t think anyone’s anxious about anything,” Paweł offered when we asked if there’s ever any unease about their pioneering approach to game design and technology “We’re the kind of bunch that doesn’t shy away from commitment. And we don’t commit because someone tells us to — it’s just who we are. Despite being quite a big studio, we’re not corporate.“. Of course, corporate or not, development usually comes with its own rules. We like to ask studios if they adopt a strict or flexible schedule and deadline model. CD Projekt is in the former camp. Sort of: “Of course we have strict deadlines. Everything needs to be planned and executed according to that plan. But then, everything needs to lead to gamers being happy as a result of interacting our work. So, if we think this will not be the case, we’re moving these deadlines and modifying our plans. We pushed Wild Hunt twice. Was it worth it? I think it was!”
Like many other studios, CD Projekt RED outsources some specialist work such as voice acting, but Paweł was insistent in pointing out that even with outsourced work, a very rigorous vetting process is done in-house before it winds up in any sort of game. While we were on the topic of outsourcing, we recalled that a while ago we interviewed CD Projekt RED about a great deal many things and were particularly unoriginal in asking if there was ever going to be a standalone Gwent game. At first, when it was announced we felt like we’d been betrayed by their denial, but looking back on it we noticed that it was cleverly phrased as Gwent “in the form gamers know it from Wild Hunt” would not be receiving a standalone version. Obviously, a great deal of redesign and rebalancing was in order and we asked Paweł whether any CCG specialists were brought on or if they simply used their on-staff enthusiasts.
“We do have quite a lot of CCG/board game buffs on board. We’re gamers, so it’s quite impossible not to have them. Actually, the original GWENT was a product of fans of CCGs wanting to squeeze in something like that into Wild Hunt, so there’s your answer. GWENT is now made by a dedicated team consisting of Wild Hunt veterans (Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, former Lead Quest Designer, is now on point with the single player campaign of GWENT; Karolina Stachyra, a Senior Writer responsible for many memorable things from Wild Hunt like the Bloody Baron quest, is on board as well). As to how we’ve redesigned GWENT, the answer is this: we took the core rules (best of three, cards as resource, bluffing) and made a new game. With actual PvP balance. Closed Beta is launching on October 25th, you can still sign up on playgwent.com.” Well, we suppose that saves us actually giving you that piece of information about the beta ourselves. Thanks, Paweł!
As some, but not all of you may know, there is an important distinction between CD Projekt and CD Projekt RED, but rather than doing any of the research ourselves, we just asked Paweł to tell us a bit more about how they’re organized over there and what each arm of the company does: “CD PROJEKT Group combines all the entities you’ve mentioned: CD PROJEKT RED (the studio), GOG.com (the DRM-free digital distribution platform) and other, smaller administrative bodies that help everything run smooth. We’re all (well, mostly, as we have offices all around the world) in the same complex of offices in Warsaw. RED and GOG.com have full autonomy, the Group part is only there for technical/financial/legal reasons so that everything runs smooth. As for communication, we all know each other and party together. Hope this sheds more light on things.“
Now, what you probably don’t know about our work here at Developer Focus is that we usually send studios a list of questions, much like an interview and then weave a little article out of the answers to give it a more storied flow. While we’re loathe to break the 4th wall and show you how the sausage is made, we do believe that the following question and its answer need to be experienced in the same way that we did. Please excuse the brief drop of decorum:
PressA2Join: You were reluctant to talk to us about Cyberpunk 2077 last time. We assume that you’re not yet ready to reveal a lot about the game yet, but we’re hoping you could talk to us a bit about the behind the curtains matters surrounding it. With CD Projekt RED having focused on high fantasy for so long with the Witcher series, Cyberpunk seems to be nothing short of a cognitive shift. What philosophies were you able to retain from your approach of the Witcher Series and what aspects did you have to change? Anything specific (or vague) that inspired the setting and themes of the game that you’d like to reveal at this time?
Paweł: “Nice try! 🙂“
Maybe next time, then. In the meantime, we asked about the seemingly high number of prominent Polish game development studios and publishers and what they might think the cause may be. We proposed government subsidies such as in Norway as a possible cause, a cultural predisposition or simply random happenstance, but Paweł offered a different take on things: “This might be connected with Poland maturing as a market in general. I mean, 20-something years ago copying games wasn’t essentially illegal. The generation brought up on bootlegged games matured and wants to pay the world back by creating quality entertainment. Perhaps that’s the reason, or it’s the yoghurt or something entirely else.”. However, it seems like the high number of local companies doesn’t worry them much: “As for the competition, it doesn’t work like that. We all compete globally, on every market. Doesn’t matter where you’re HQd at.“.
One of our curiosities that were sated was the studio’s attitude towards ending the adventures of Geralt of Rivia for now: “It’s a situation where you’re sad on the inside, because, we’ll something’s ended, but, on the other hand, we all want to kick ass with Cyberpunk 2077. Plus, there’s GWENT. It’s as The Witcher as it can get, trust me.“. At least spirits are high and people are looking towards the future. On a tangent, Paweł told us that CD Projekt RED was interested and curious about VR technology but that no specific plans are in place for integrating it in their games for now. That seems to come up a lot, doesn’t it?
We finished off the interview asking about employee amenities that people working at RED get and this is what we received in response: “Sure we do! Not counting bigger two-day parties outside of the city, once a month we turn the studio into a giant house party. You get medical care, sports-related stuff. Just visit cdprojektredjobs, we’re always hiring.“
You know what? We’re going to leave that last bit in. I think they’ve earned it. Thank you Paweł for your time, thank you CD Projekt RED for the great games and we’ll see you very soon, hopefully.