Many years ago, in Poland of all places, there was a budding young games company intent on making a name for themselves in the industry. A good name, at that; this company was CD Projekt, and the result of this was their new development subsidiary, called CD Projekt RED. The intent was simple. The founders wanted to develop and push their own game, moving past simply distributing and localizing games into Poland for others to enjoy. And they would start with their own game, an original and fully-developed title based on the cult-classic Wiedźmin series of novels popular even-then across Poland. Translated properly, of course, this would become better known as The Witcher, a fantasy series by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, and would–after much struggle and no small amount of difficulty–become one of the most beloved game series of all time.
The first game was an epic undertaking. The Witcher began development under a small team of less than twenty, headed by two game salesmen and marketers with no development knowledge or experience. And it showed. The long walk through the dark and dangerous woods of development hell left them without much to show for it, but for one demo acknowledge even by the team themselves as something of a weak showing. But, once this was scrapped, they made a better project and eventually got noticed in their small E3 showing by the notable and well-known studio BioWare, which had a better reputation back then. At the time, while struggling, BioWare became an invaluable asset to the small team, helping them grow and loaning them an engine. For a price, of course. But these steps helped give the CDPR team the push they needed to finalize their idea of a full game based on The Witcher, leading them to an eventual release and a deal with Atari to help publish the game worldwide.
Over the ensuing years, well… CDPR made history. While The Witcher was relatively weak as an offering and has come to be acknowledged as something of a rough start as a game that really didn’t age well, it was just a start, and even in those early days, CD Projekt RED was all about putting their best feet forward. It didn’t take too much in the way of sales and success for the team to decide to revisit the original game, leading to a redux of sorts in the form of a new, “Enhanced” edition of the game. It looked better, ran better, was more player-friendly, and fixed more issues than a lot of popular fan mods for the game. It was… well, surprising, for a company to go back and fix its own mistakes. Especially as a free update to the base game, for fans who had already bought it. But this was just the first step in CDPR’s long staircase of consumer-positive behavior.
Since the release of The Witcher, the company has seen its shares of victories and triumphs and numerous setbacks. The Witcher 2 was a huge and startling powerhouse of a game, an achievement in both gameplay and storytelling, but a few costly battles with localization and publishing companies kept the still-burgeoning CDPR nearly bankrupt. Cooler and better heads prevailed, however, and once more the company found a solid basis to both push out their next game and get it made for consoles. And that’s when everything changed because fans were starting to take notice of the company’s friendly, pro-consumer activities, such as their free DLC content and support of GOG.com–a DRM-free marketplace and gaming platform wholly owned by CD Projekt’s base company, and naturally a supportive one of The Witcher.
By the time The Witcher 3 came out, the developer was nearly a household name, and the instant classic nature of their third game, a massive and extremely well-made RPG, cemented their status as one of the most popular and beloved studios of all time. Their ensuing announcement of an upcoming game based on the Cyberpunk 2020 license and the eventual, gradual release of details on the aptly-named Cyberpunk 2077 have taken the internet and the gaming world by storm. CDPR is set to break records and revitalize the fan acclaim for the studio once this newest and possibly most ambitious title hits–even famed fantasy novelist Brandon Sanderson has taken note, and has publicly mused about giving over the license for his Mistborn series to CDPR for nothing, literally for free.
So, over ten years after the development of the first game, when CD Projekt RED brokered and signed a contract with Andrzej Sapkowski, the author of the Witcher series, he’s come forward and made a legal demand for more money. It’s not too hard to say that the wind blowing in CDPR’s favor is the sole reason for this; Sapkowski has long stated that he despises video games as a medium, has never respected them as an art form, and refused to have direct involvement in the development of the games way back when–even though it could have made him more money to do so. And now that CDPR is a hot product, with their next massive IP and a couple of Witcher side-projects coming out, he wants a piece. This is a far cry from the excited, deep-involvement of Cyberpunk creator Mike Pondsmith, an obvious fan of the genre with what could amount to the highest authority possible on his own license, who has cast his lot in with CD Projekt RED from the beginning and dedicated himself to making the 2077 property the best it can be.
Well, sadly, Sapkowski might get his way. While CDPR has refuted his claims, and the contract they all agreed on does hold, Polish law sways somewhat in favor of the creators, provided he can make and defend his case well. And their own continuing respect for the man has left the door open, as the Projekt team have made it quite clear that they want this to end amicably. But is this treatment too soft? Perhaps. While the man is a beloved author in Poland and is responsible for giving CDPR the chance to bring the series to more and more new fans over the years, it’s CDPR’s game series that have led to the 33 million sales mark for The Witcher, and the millions of new fans that have supported the franchise to new heights as it approaches gaining a new Netflix show and possible movie deal. And while the fans have held the White Wolf aloft all this time, Sapkowski should remember that the fans can also bite back.