Formed in 1994 Polish publisher CD Projekt was the first to introduce fully localised products to the Polish gaming market. In more recent years the formation of its development arm Red studio, producers of the 2007 PC RPG title The Witcher, and creation of DRM-free digital distribution platform GOG.com (Good Old Games) have seen the publisher establish its wider market credentials.
Here, in the first of a two part interview, Red studio's senior producer Tomasz Gop and GOG.com's PR & marketing specialist Lukasz Kukawski discuss outsourcing, content cuts and the state of the Polish gaming market.
Q: What are you working on at the moment?
Tomasz Gop: Well it's probably not too much of a surprise to say that I'm working on The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, which we started developing almost as soon as we'd released the original Witcher game in 2007. We'll definitely be launching this title on PC and we're hoping to also release it on one of the consoles, though we're still in talks on that.
Lukasz Kukawski: At GOG.com we're working on adding more publishers to those whose games we already offer on the service and I can say that we'll be adding two big publishers this year [the first of which was Activision, announced last week].
Q: You mention a possible console version for The Witcher 2. It's well known that the original Witcher game was due to be adapted for consoles under the title The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf by French developer, Widescreen Games, but that project was abandoned. Are there any plans to resurrect that development?
Tomasz Gop: Well, as you know, development on that title was suspended after things didn't work out with Widescreen Games and that's where it remains, suspended but not cancelled. Ultimately we walked away because of concerns over deadlines and the overall quality of the project and I'd say that the guys at Widescreen weren't solely to blame for that.
Walking away was a very hard thing to do but I think we learned a lot about outsourcing and we'd love to see Rise of the White Wolf released on consoles at some point, perhaps we could go back to that after the release of The Witcher 2.
At the time, however, we weren't prepared to make the cuts that seemed necessary in order to bring the project in on time, when we were still in the alpha stage when we were supposed to be near the end of the beta, cuts and compromises were a very real possibility.
Q: Being forced to cut content from a title and not deliver all that was visualised at the start of a project is surely something that no developer wants to do. How do those cuts affect development?
Tomasz Gop: Having to cut any game is tough and always the developer would rather not have to do that at all if it's to the detriment of the project. It was hard when we were faced with having to make cuts to The Witcher, especially as what we were having to cut was because of censorship in certain countries and the themes had already been established and described in the books and read by millions of people so we really wanted to keep those parts of the world in the game. Fortunately we didn't have to change as much as we feared: we had to modify some of the character models and remove some of the mature sexual elements of the game for the US release, but it still required additional investment to prepare the game for different markets.
But to have to drop anything and compromise on the way that the fantasy world was imagined and described was very tough. It was actually a bit like having to harm your baby!
Of course it's not just what you have to cut out it's also about how that affects the rest of the game and the challenges you face with keeping the rest of the game world consistent.
There were a lot of difficult decisions to make because of the inconsistencies between different rating boards. The differences between the US and some of the European rating boards for example and their feedback to us on different elements of the game was totally different.
Lukasz Kukawski: For us [at GOG.com] it's different, we're offering titles that aren't our own so we don't have access to the source code of the games. We have the master copies so our focus is on making sure it's compatible and optimised to work on the more recent operating systems but we cannot modify any of the content.
However, our service is such that these games have been released on various markets before and in some cases where games have not been released to some markets, perhaps for our neighbours in Germany for example, there is little point not offering the titles to players in specific countries because they could simply change their county location in their profile and they would have access to those games! Really what it means is that in certain countries we cannot promote GOG.com there.
Media outlets and the gaming press are afraid of carrying promotion for our service because of the ban and general disapproval of violent games in Germany but despite this I'm pleased to say that the German market is still in the top 5 or maybe top 8 of our markets. Maybe they hear about the service on English sites like this one and that's how they find out about it...
Q: How's the Polish gaming market looking, what's your view on how healthy the Polish development scene is?
Tomasz Gop: I think the gaming market in Poland is definitely on the up. From what I've seen there has been a rise in the number of outlets that spread information about games over the last two years, and also there are more people buying consoles. With regard to developers though I think that we have between five and ten big developers in Poland but it's still not enough as far as I'm concerned. I believe that it is a place where a lot of people can make great games, but there just aren't enough investors at the moment.
Lukasz Kukawski: Also, in the last few years we've had several big publishers opening offices here in Poland so now there's a Ubisoft Poland office, a Sony Computer Entertainment Poland and also Microsoft has an office here. So it's getting bigger, and more people are talking about games but also the way they talk about games is different. They're not talking about them just as kid's toys any more, like they were ten years ago.
The mainstream media are also talking about games and game developers and, for example, The Witcher was the biggest thing that had happened on the Polish games market. Then last year Techland released the second of the Call of Juarez series which I think was a big success for them so it's getting better and better.
There are lots of really programmers and designers here that have quite specific and original ideas for games and so I think it won't be too long before we'll see Polish developers gaining consistent renown on the gaming scene at a worldwide level.
Tomasz Gop: Certainly a lot of programmers have left Poland over the last few years and I'd like to see them returning to Poland to boost the industry here, I'm not sure if that movement has already started but I'd like to see that happen soon.
Tomasz Gop is senior producer at CD Projekt's Red studio; Lukasz Kukawski is PR & marketing specialist at GOG.com. Interview by Stace Harman.