What We Can Learn from Polygon’s Trip to Poland
#technology & innovation
small, What We Can Learn from Polygon’s Trip to Poland, Illustration of The Witcher, photo: press release, wittcher.jpg
Polygon is a video game website dedicated to games, their creators and their fans. Its editors spent two weeks in Poland interviewing game developers and learning about Polish culture. This is what we learn.
cd projekt red
Some basic Polish history
Poland suffered during the war. A lot. The city of Warsaw was completely destroyed. German death camps killed millions. Even when the war was over, Poland didn’t truly become free again. The communists that took over strangled private businesses and imposed a planned economy. By 1980, the only way to reliably get food was through the black market. The black market was also where one could buy pirated music, films and even games. In the communist system, there was no such thing as copyright law or intellectual property. That only came after the miraculous fall of the communists in 1989. Today, Poland is part of the EU and as remarked by US president Obama in 2011 "because of its extraordinary success both as a democracy and as a market based economy, Poland is a model, an example for the region". How has this sudden change influenced Polish game design?
polygon.com: Polygon goes to Poland
How selling bootlegs leads to making AAA games
How did sellers of pirated games become accomplished game developers? Polygon travelled to Wrocław to interview two game developers that started off by selling bootleg copies of games. In the 1980s, the lack of copyright law meant that it was perfectly legal to sell pirated music, films and games on the streets. Anyone with a selling permit could distribute pirated copies of games. However, Adrian Chmielarz went beyond selling. He actually modified the games to give the player extra lives or invulnerability to give him an edge over his competitors. However, with the fall of communism came copyright laws that forbade piracy. People like Chmielarz had to adapt or die. He went on to found Metropolis Software and People Can Fly. Both were immensely successful with well-known games such as Teenagent, Painkiller, Bulletstorm and Gears of War: Judgment. His third studio is called The Astronauts, an attempt to scale down a bit and move away from the big name publishers. All of this started with selling bootlegs on the streets of Wrocław.
polygon.com: The Astronauts
Paweł Marchewka, CEO of Techland, started in exactly the same way. Selling pirated games in Wrocław led to him hiring some programmers and eventually the creation of their first game. Techland is now hugely successful with hits like Call of Juarez, Dead Island and the upcoming Dying Light. Both Pawel Marchewka and Adrian Chmielarz managed to evolve where many other distributors failed to see the changing political climate and change with it.
polygon.com: From Dead Island to Dying Light
Read more about Polish action games.
The Witcher - Poland’s Lord of the Rings
The Witcher was originally a fantasy novel written by Andrzej Sapkowski. It was very popular in Poland but relatively unknown in the West. That was until CD Projekt Red made two best-selling games based on the books, The Witcher and The Witcher 2: Assassination of Kings. Polygon visited the building in Warsaw where the third instalment, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, is being currently developed. The game features a unique choice-based system where decisions you make have an impact on your game. The game, like the books, deals with mature themes such as racism. Many of these themes are relatable and that is partly why the Witcher has been so successful. There is also a board game and a comic books series in the works to expand on the world of the Witcher. In fact, the game has had such a huge cultural impact on Poland that the Polish Prime Minister gave a copy of the Witcher 2 to President Obama when he came to Poland in 2011. CD Projekt Red doesn’t stop there though. It also runs the hugely popular gog.com (good old games), a DRM-free service for downloading older games. Together with the Witcher, CD Projekt Red has made a big name for the Polish game development world and this can be seen in the growing number of indie developers from around Poland.
polygon.com: How the team behing The Witcher conquered Poland
Łódź is often compared to Detroit. In their time, both the American car production capital and the Polish textile capital were seen as perfect examples of affluent, dynamic and productive centres. Today, they have to deal with depopulation, social problems and abandonment. However, the problems in Łódź are being dealt with thanks to fresh investment and government subsidies. Polygon notes that Łódź is now home to some of Poland’s best computer engineers. Old factories are often used by technology companies and indie game developers. One such company is Bluebrick. They specialize in technology consulting, software outsourcing and now, game design. It was Bluebrick that was behind the Kickstarter sensation Superhot. Superhot is an innovative game where time only moves when the player does. The project started out as a team building exercise and the demo was made in just a week. However, it was so well received that when Bluebrick announced the Kickstarter campaign, they raised $250,000, 150,000 more than they had hoped for. Examples like this just go to show the success of Polish game design in an increasingly competitive industry.
polygon.com: Poland's Detroit: life and games in Poland's third largest city
Author: Alexander Sikorski, July 2014