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All grown up: how CD Projekt RED treats gamers as people

Many companies claim to put gamers first, but CD Projekt's mature stories and DLC strategies put it ahead of the pack. Konrad Tomaszkiewicz tells Dave Cook why Poland is pointing the way.

VG247: It's been one hell of a year for CD Projekt, with the success of Witcher 2 on the Xbox 360, the continual success of GOG and the announcement of Cyberpunk. What factors do you attribute all of this success to, and how can other independent studios learn from what you've done? Can anyone do it?

Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, CD Projekt RED: There are many indie studios out there who manage to achieve success. I think the key elements are passion and staying true to your ideals. Our dev studio has a clear vision of what we want to achieve in our games i.e. creating mature and complex RPGs. We also want to treat gamers in a way we would like to be treated ourselves, which sometimes means being rebels in the industry. That’s why our games – both developed or sold on – have no DRM, we take much care about our customers long after the release. Those are our ideals and staying true to them is the best way to acquire great and faithful fans.

VG247: There are a lot of fantasy games out there on consoles, but none quite as dark as Witcher 2. Were you always confident of the game's success on the Xbox 360? What did the experience teach you about the console audience today?

Before the release we were often asked about console audiences being different from the PC community. We always believed that you can find a large group of people , who want ambitious entertainment on the Xbox 360. Even on PC The witcher 2 wasn’t for the average player – we always targeted a large, but specific group of people, who seek more ambitious ways of experiencing games. After the Xbox 360 release I can say that we were right. Console gamers and critics praise the game’s depth and immersive gameplay. The game found its fans on the new platform. We are really looking forward to bringing it to Mac Computers later this year – this way even more people will be able to become Geralt of Rivia.

VG247: Like Valve and Steam, CD Projekt Red enjoys great success in digital distribution through GOG. How can you see the role of digital storefronts changing as we go into the next generation of console hardware, and PC tech continues to grow rapidly?

Digital distribution is the future. That’s for sure. At the studio we can imagine that games will go completely digital and retail will consist only of collector’s editions for the greatest fans. I think this scenario is possible within a decade or even less.

We have to wait to see what next-gens have to offer in the terms of digital distribution, but PC retail games are almost sure to go completely to the web.

VG247: CD Projekt Red recently suggested that DLC should be free. What is your view of on-disc DLC that is there from day one and overpriced content? How would you see the method of DLC delivery handled – theoretically - if you had total power over it?

Watch on YouTube

CD Projekt RED is keen on consequential player
choice. This video demonstrates how choice
is reflected even in the game's environments in
the Enhanced Edition of The Witcher 2:
Assassins of Kings.

Not recently. We’ve always believed in free DLCs. The thing is that we consider DLCs as a normal post sale service, which shouldn’t be priced. Back when retail games were dominant, we had expansion packs. These were really large chunks of content, which were worth their price. If today’s DLCs offered the same amount of content, they would be worth paying for, but in most cases players think they are overcharged for what they receive. That’s why we offer expansions to our game for free. This is also a way of saying “thank you” to the people who decided to buy our game instead of copying it from an unauthorised source.

VG247: The free content market is growing rapidly however. What is your view on the free to play market and is this an area CD Projekt Red might explore further down the line. What positives and negatives do you currently see in this market?

You must remember that “there is no such thing as a free lunch”. Game devs have to earn a living and if a game is free to play, they have different options to get the money: micropayments, ads and so on. In general players are aware of this and I think as long as this doesn’t spoil their gameplay experience it’s OK. I can’t imagine pop out ads in a game where you have to immerse completely into the game world, but less serious titles can cope with that. That’s why I think that the “free” gaming model is not suited for all types of games. Every product should have its own way to earn money without tampering with the player’s experience.

VG247: Recently you announced the sci-fi RPG Cyberpunk. Without prying too much, how will your experience with the Witcher series fuel your direction with this game? Are you in contact with Mike Pondsmith in regards to development?

The choice of the game universe was easy. We still wanted to create games designed for the grown-up gamer, and Cyberpunk is the perfect setting which allows us to touch other important themes than those in The Witcher, because of its fantasy setting. What you can expect from Cyberpunk is that it will be as mature as The Witcher and set in a realistic and brutal world.
Mike Pondsmith likes our vision of the game and he cooperates with the Cyberpunk team a lot. Not so long ago, we answered some questions of our Witcher community about the new project. You can find the answers here.

"Don’t get too preachy and let gamers judge what’s going on the screen for themselves. Let’s treat gamers like grown-ups and let them use their own moral judgments."

VG247: You also posted a job listing for a multiplayer role – although I am respectful of the fact that this is purely a R&D role to explore new options – but how important is it for any studio to keep its options open in this way, and to seek out new potential? Is this process becoming harder as the industry gets more competitive?

Well we are always open to new options and experiment all the time. Sometimes it requires new R&D staff, but with the world moving forward so fast, we have to keep our minds open and try out new ideas. Some gameplay elements get old and players quickly get used to innovations. Sure, not all the new features get into the game, but research is very important and always has a positive impact on the final products quality.

VG247: Finally, we've seen a lot of games recently push the boundaries of taste in order to become more 'mature', but largely failing. Witcher 2 handled this perfectly. Why do you feel many studios keep on stumbling when trying to tackle mature themes? What are the secrets to getting this correct?

Don’t get too preachy and let gamers judge what’s going on the screen for themselves. Look at The Witcher 2 – we give the gamers unclear moral choices, but they have to decide which one they will take. Let’s treat gamers like grown-ups and let them use their own moral judgments.

Also mature themes can’t feel artificial. It’s easy to put a brutally wrecked corpse or a naked woman into the game, but it’s tricky to do it in a way that serves the narration you want to tell. This has to be done with taste and be a tool in achieving your goal, not the goal itself.

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