On December 20, 2019, the fantasy series The Witcher started on the streaming service Netflix. Fans of CD Projekt Red's role-playing game series already knew the stories of the witcher Geralt von Riva. But for the broad television audience, The Witcher was something new – and apparently just the thing for the approaching Christmas holiday.
The Witcher (buy now for € 129.99) became a huge success for Netflix: According to official information, the first season was the most popular TV show of 2019 and reached 76 million views in the first month alone – i.e. viewers who watched at least two or more minutes. What many did not know until now: The Witcher is based on the books of the Polish fantasy author Andrzej Sapkowski, more precisely on the short story volumes "The Last Wish" and "The Sword of Providence".
One of the best known brands in the entertainment business grew out of the creative "finger exercises" of a former sales representative. The most interesting thing about it: The success connects film or series and video game business. The first season of the Netflix series catapulted The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, which was already released in 2015, back into the charts. Geralt von Riva has arrived at the Olympus of entertainment. The witcher doesn't really want to fit into the mainstream.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/04/thewitcher03-pc-games.jpg" alt = "Would you have recognized him? Monster hunter Geralt von Riva saw in the first branch of the- Witcher series is by no means as cool and heroic as in later parts.
Source: Moby Games
The slightly different fantasy
To get to the bottom of The Witcher's recipe for success, we naturally have to start with the template. Andrzej Sapkowski, born on June 21, 1948, is not a trained writer, but actually an economist who later worked as a sales representative. In his spare time, however, he read a lot and had a special soft spot for fantasy novels.
In contrast to classic fantasy works, however, his style is characterized by the partly satirical reinterpretation of sagas and myths, social criticism and sometimes even bitter humor. He wrote the two short story volumes and the Geralt saga, consisting of five books, which focus on the witcher Geralt von Riva. Sapkowski's unusual fantasy approach fit perfectly into Poland's zeitgeist in the early 1990s and later earned him international recognition.
Now that we know the author behind the The Witcher universe, which started as "Wiedźmin" in 1990, we are devoting ourselves to CD Projekt Red. School friends Marcin Iwinski and Michal Kicinski founded CD Projekt (1994: CDP.pl). Both were interested in video games since childhood: Iwinski sold cracked games in Warsaw markets, Kicinski later worked in a video game store.
But CD Projekt Red did not start as a two-man development studio. Initially, Iwinski and the team specialized in localizing western games. The business with in-house developments was too delicate due to the still widespread software piracy scene. The right decision! The first success came with the localization of the graphic adventure Ace Ventura. The breakthrough finally came with the role-playing game Baldur's Gate by Interplay: the team hired professional Polish speakers for the game, which was released in 1998, and packed extras like a card into the pack. This highlighted the localized version and gave the company tremendous success. On the first day, the Polish variant sold 18,000 times.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/04/thewitcher06-pc-games.png" alt = "When it comes to naming his horses, Geralt von Riva is extremely creative, because he names everyone of its mounts roach (in English "Roach").
Source: Moby Games
License purchase and litigation with the sorcerer
The company should have subsequently taken over the PC porting to the console hit Baldur's Gate: Dark Alliance for Interplay. Unfortunately, Interplay ran into financial difficulties and the project was canceled. At this point, Iwinski and Kicinski had to make an important decision: localize and distribute foreign games or develop their own? You know the answer.
Already in 2002 the first developer studio – CD Projekt Red was founded in Lodz under the leadership of Sebastian Zielinski. The team had already had an eye on Andrzej Sapkowski's works. Although the rights for a The Witcher game lay with another studio, they were not used. CD Projekt Red secured this license for a low price from today's perspective. As Zielinski later explained, you only paid 35,000 zlotys (about 8,500 US dollars) – and in two installments.
Zielinski even explained that Sapkowski initially refused to sign the first draft contract because "Gerald" was not listed as the main character, but "Geralt". In general, the 71-year-old author is not a big friend of video games. He repeatedly said in interviews that he was not interested in this medium. He now considers it a mistake that he simply gave up the license at the time.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/04/thewitcher08-pc-games.jpg" alt = "The greatest strength of the action role-playing game is undoubtedly in storytelling. Whether main or side quests – CD Projekt Red provides every little task with its own storylines and interesting personalities.
Source: Moby Games
Sapkowski explained to Eurogamer that CD Projekt Red offered him a profit sharing scheme. But he didn't believe in the success of the games and instead insisted on a fixed amount. Over the years, a legal dispute between CD Projekt Red and Andrzej Sapkowski flared up, which was only settled in December 2019 after several payments from CD Projekt Red to the author.
Fail and get up again
But let's get back to the video game origins of The Witcher series. The first prototype of the action role-playing game flopped mercilessly: CD Projekt Red developed a demo version within a year and presented it to several European publishers. But there were hail of cancellations. As a result, the studio in Lodz closed its doors, Zielinski left the company and development started again.
As a basis, CD Projekt licensed the Aurora Engine from the Canadian studio Bioware, which was used for example at Neverwinter Nights (2002). The development took a total of five years and, at 20 million zlotys (around 4.6 million euros), cost far more than initially planned. No wonder, the core team, which actually consists of 15 employees, has now grown to 80 to 100 colleagues. For sales, ties were made with publisher Atari – and ultimately rewarded for the risks: The Witcher was a huge success when it was released in 2007. But the next setback was not long in coming. The revised console version failed in development, The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf was stamped out.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/04/thewitcher07-pc-games.jpg" alt = "In The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the game world is far more dynamic than in the You decide whether you want to break open such skirmishes or just let them happen.
Source: Moby Games
This development and the financial crisis of 2008/2009 caused the company to stumble. The team therefore focused on developing the second part and put other projects on hold. At the same time, the IT service provider Optimus S.A. went in 2009 as a result of a "reverse takeover". went public, which also released additional financial resources.
In this case, too, the right decision: The game based on the newly developed REDengine was convincing, and this time CD Project Red subsequently delivered not only the PC but also the console version for Xbox 360 and Playstation 3. The game topped the success of the predecessor – The Witcher increasingly grew into a role-playing genre. The final crowning came in 2015 with the release of the great The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt.
What makes The Witcher special?
As Andrzej Sapkowski later emphasized, the video games were only adaptations of his works. The authors of CD Projekt Red started the story based on what happened in the books. However, the motifs, ideas and tone of the template were still adhered to.
The situation is different with the Netflix series The Witcher: filming for the second season started in February 2020 in Great Britain, but was interrupted due to the corona crisis. How long the mandatory break will last is not yet known. It is also not yet clear whether these problems will affect the release of the new series that is actually planned for 2021. In any case, there will be a reunion with Henry Cavill, Anya Chalotra and Freya Allan in the roles of Geralt, Yennefer and Ciri. In addition, the creators promised new characters and a more focused narrative. Series fans can be excited!
The special feature: Although The Witcher plays in a fantasy scenario and is still often compared to John R. R. Tolkien's fantasy trilogy The Lord of the Rings, the series is grown up and modern. So it's not about the fight against good, but more about social problems such as racism, injustice, sexism and other powerful motives. The language of The Witcher games does not use medieval clichés either, it is rough and sometimes rugged. Women occupy a special position, both in the games and in the books. Because although sex is not neglected in the life of a witcher, women always play important roles and ultimately hold the strings in their hands.
Along with these modern ideas, of course, is the storytelling that is pronounced in The Witcher. The game combines a huge open game world with freedom of choice, a sleek fighting system and the mix of character development and potions crafting. Compared to the books, the games emphasize the battles, the use of magic characters and the monster hunt.
The sorcerer makes politics
With The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, CD Projekt Red was finally at the top of the international development scene. Gone are the days when you "only" designed good games. Thanks to The Witcher 3, the Polish company was suddenly on a par with large US studios such as Naughty Dog or Rockstar Games. CD Projekt Red also proved to be a real export hit, which the Polish government repeatedly presented as a model company.
In 2011, then Polish Prime Minister Donald Tusk presented US President Barack Obama with a hand-signed Collector's Edition of The Witcher 2 as a guest gift. Obama subsequently praised the game as "a good example of Poland's position in the global economy". For the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, Prime Minister Ewa Kopacz, who came into office in 2014, visited headquarters and emphasized that CD Projekt "makes the country proud". And even if we, as gamers, smile at the appearances of heads of state at video game developers, it shows the importance that CD Projekt Red enjoys within its own home country.
<img src = "https://www.pcgames.de/screenshots/1020x/2020/04/thewitcher11-pc-games.png" alt = "Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales was originally a bonus campaign for Gwent: The Witcher Card Game But later CD Projekt Red decided to develop an independent and equally complex role-playing game from an iso perspective.
Source: Moby Games
More of the sorcerer
CD Projekt Red recognized the value of the brand and expanded it more and more. By that we don't just mean story extensions like Blood and Wine or Hearts of Stone for The Wild 3: Wild Hunt, but offshoots like Thronebreaker: The Witcher Tales or Gwent: The Witcher Card Game, which has meanwhile appeared on almost all current game platforms. This portfolio is no longer aimed at core video gamers, but is increasingly reaching for the mainstream.
At the latest with the extremely successful Netflix series with "Superman" Henry Cavill in the leading role, The Witcher has reached the top of the entertainment industry and joins greats like World of Warcraft or Tomb Raider. CD Projekt Red and their products also benefit from this: Would the upcoming sci-fi role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 have received so much attention without Geralt von Riva's "backing"?
For the time being, The Witcher and CD Projekt Red have become an integral part of the entertainment business and prove how well the film and video game industries can be linked.
The first The Witcher (2007) was based on the Aurora Engine licensed by Bioware. This was mainly used in the Neverwinter Nights series and was later replaced by the Eclipse engine at Bioware.
(Source: Moby Games)
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