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Default The Witcher - 1M Sold - the Secret to PC Success

November 5th, 2008, 23:49
Edge Online talks to CD Projekt co-founder Michal Kicinski about their success with The Witcher with a relatively unknown IP and only on the PC. Not pandering to the mainstream is one of the answers:
In hindsight, the reason for the game's unlikely success is clear to Kicinski: Know your audience and make a game for it. Maybe even throw a little respect their way and make them feel special. Basically, wine them and dine them.
Game makers these days are adamant about making games for the masses. It must be cross-platform. "Accessibility." Proven storylines in proven genres based on proven IP released on proven platforms. That's the mantra, and what many publishers will say is the best way to get return on investment.
But CD Projekt, which spent $11 million to develop The Witcher and its "Enhanced Edition" follow-up, found success by narrowing its focus from a spotlight to a laser beam, and making a game for a certain kind of gamer instead of trying to be everything to everyone.
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November 5th, 2008, 23:50
Hopefully, other companies will learn from this.
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November 6th, 2008, 00:06
I don't know if anyone pointed this out (seems pretty likely), but they also bundled this game with like one out of every three video cards sold in the past year. I remember that from when I overpaid for my 4850. So if those count as sales, then that's one of their "secrets" right there.
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November 6th, 2008, 00:12
I quite strongly believe that one of the "secrets" is that it wanted to stand alone in the crowd, the game wanted to be kind of different.

And of course the novels, which I think can't be underestimated.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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November 6th, 2008, 03:11
Bravo! Hopefully they'll keep growing and be the Bioware of Europe.
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November 6th, 2008, 05:49
Somewhere recently someone posted that they thought the game lost money. Not according to this - $11 million invested, sold a million copies for around $45 average - I'd say that's a nice profit even with publisher and retail cuts.

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November 6th, 2008, 07:47
Stardock did mention this as to why they manage to make games without copyprotections - and don't loose money.

You shouldn't count the amounts of PCs out there, you should realize your market and then make a realistic budget to reach that market.

Good to see that CD project has some sound business minds, and do not consist with self bloated game designers wanting to design the perfect game!

Chris Robert already did that with Wing Commander III!
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November 6th, 2008, 08:29
Originally Posted by Jabberwocky View Post
Somewhere recently someone posted that they thought the game lost money. Not according to this - $11 million invested, sold a million copies for around $45 average - I'd say that's a nice profit even with publisher and retail cuts.
Well, there's also the cost of advertising, the cost of the Witcher license… but I believe they just about broke even.
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November 6th, 2008, 09:07
the secret is this - it's a great game!

There's a concept!
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November 6th, 2008, 11:52
Few things that Id say might make witcher a great seller:

(1) Polish fans
(2) Lots of content (google says 48 - 120 hours?)
(3) Cheap price (EE edition)
(4) Moddability & patches.
(5) Hype & adds & community (peer pressure)
(6) Quality of game / reviews / etc
(7) Sex
(8) Decent story (its not totally rubbish)

Been great alone does not sell i.e System Shock2 is a good example.

System Shock 2 received positive reviews when released,[5] but failed to meet commercial sales expectations.[4] The game has since become a cult classic,[6] and is widely regarded by critics as one of the greatest ever made.[6][7][8][9] In 2007, Irrational—now 2K Boston/2K Australia—released a self-proclaimed spiritual successor to the System Shock series, entitled BioShock, to critical acclaim[10] and strong sales.[11] Rumors have also circulated regarding the development of System Shock 3.[12]

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November 6th, 2008, 12:02
It's a good point, but it won't change anything.

Most companies are not out to break even or limit their profit by delivering the best product, instead of the most accessible - they're out to maximise profit.

That's why they want to appeal to everyone.

It's hardly a secret that profit in itself is the primary motivator for most people, especially in the US - where capitalism is the way of life.
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November 6th, 2008, 12:45
Oh, CDP does want to make profit—but they intended the first game to "pay for itself," introduce the IP, that kind of thing. They expect to make the real money on sequels or possibly expansion packs.

Nothing wrong with wanting to make money, in any case, as long as the product they push out justifies it.
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November 6th, 2008, 13:04
At least *some* profits are needed - just to pay the developers themselves so that they can have a meal every day and able to pay the rent of their appartments. For example.

Any intelligent fool can make things bigger, more complex, and more violent. It takes a touch of genius and a lot of courage to move in the opposite direction. (E.F.Schumacher, Economist, Source)
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November 6th, 2008, 13:15
Remember that the $11 million was spent when the $ was worth only two thirds of what it's worth now. If the figure was calculated now, the cost would be perhaps $7-8 million. So it's hard to speculate about any kind of profit - especially since I guess this is a part of a larger project which is to become profitable in the long run while it's being financed by CDP's distributive branch.
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November 6th, 2008, 14:11
Originally Posted by Essaliad View Post
Oh, CDP does want to make profit—but they intended the first game to "pay for itself," introduce the IP, that kind of thing. They expect to make the real money on sequels or possibly expansion packs.

Nothing wrong with wanting to make money, in any case, as long as the product they push out justifies it.
Yes, but they clearly didn't try to maximise their profit - which makes them a rarity.

Oh, and as to whether there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money, I think you pointed out the defining factor in that last bit of your sentence.
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November 6th, 2008, 14:11
Assuming an average price of 30$ (the original version sells for ca. 20$ now) I would assume both Paradox and CD Project made a tidy profit, even assuming the publishers cost for manufacturing distribution and advertising were not included in the $11M figure. More importantly it will likely give them some leverage with the publishers for their upcoming project - of course the downside is that with more money invested the pressure to become more mainstream may also increase. We will see.
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November 6th, 2008, 14:19
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
Yes, but they clearly didn't try to maximise their profit - which makes them a rarity.

Oh, and as to whether there's nothing wrong with wanting to make money, I think you pointed out the defining factor in that last bit of your sentence.
Not sure about that, it is easier to make a relatively good product if you narrow your focus, as the competition is less fierce. The optimization problem is not quite as straightforward as "broader appeal" == "higher profit". Going for a wider audience also increase the risk of bad reviews as you might give people something they didnt expect. In some ways it is harder to make something broad and accessible.
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November 6th, 2008, 14:37
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
Not sure about that, it is easier to make a relatively good product if you narrow your focus, as the competition is less fierce. The optimization problem is not quite as straightforward as "broader appeal" == "higher profit". Going for a wider audience also increase the risk of bad reviews as you might give people something they didnt expect. In some ways it is harder to make something broad and accessible.
There's not much about making a game that's easy.

I don't look at it in terms of broad appeal = bad, limited appeal = good.

Also, I'm not talking about games of poor quality here. A game like, say, Doom 3 isn't bad at all. It's a top-notch quality product.

But if you want to appeal to the mass market, you'll face a different kind of challenge. To succeed, you'll first have to ensure that production values are very high, and then you have to market your game aggressively.

To appeal to a limited audience, you'll have the kind of challenge that's more about actual game design and what I would personally relate to purer art. The more subjective the angle of approach is, the closer you get to actual art. But that's not necessarily "better". A game that's tailored to my tastes is better for me, but it's not objectively better - especially not to a business looking to maximise profit.

That said, I DO think it's a lot easier to appeal wide than to stand-out with a narrow audience. You're not looking to simply sell, you're looking to have a lasting respect based on the word-of-mouth of enthusiasts.
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November 6th, 2008, 16:15
Originally Posted by DArtagnan View Post
….
But if you want to appeal to the mass market, you'll face a different kind of challenge. To succeed, you'll first have to ensure that production values are very high, and then you have to market your game aggressively.

To appeal to a limited audience, you'll have the kind of challenge that's more about actual game design and what I would personally relate to purer art. The more subjective the angle of approach is, the closer you get to actual art. But that's not necessarily "better". A game that's tailored to my tastes is better for me, but it's not objectively better - especially not to a business looking to maximise profit.
Agree that the challenge is different rather than easier per se. What I think you ignore in your posts is the lower amount of competition in niche markets that I was trying to get to with "making a relatively good product". That is of course provided one picks a niche that isnt too crowded…

And of course I was looking at it from a profit angle, I've long argued that game development mainly should be compared to the movie industry and other mature entertainment industries, not to art. The devs need to put food on the table like everybody else But I am not sure that going for a broad appeal is always the way to max out profit if everybody else already is doing that. Returns can very well be better if you corner an underexploited niche market, even if the ceiling for potential sales is lower.
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November 6th, 2008, 16:40
Originally Posted by Zaleukos View Post
Agree that the challenge is different rather than easier per se. What I think you ignore in your posts is the lower amount of competition in niche markets that I was trying to get to with "making a relatively good product". That is of course provided one picks a niche that isnt too crowded…

And of course I was looking at it from a profit angle, I've long argued that game development mainly should be compared to the movie industry and other mature entertainment industries, not to art. The devs need to put food on the table like everybody else But I am not sure that going for a broad appeal is always the way to max out profit if everybody else already is doing that. Returns can very well be better if you corner an underexploited niche market, even if the ceiling for potential sales is lower.
I'm not sure how I'm ignoring the competition aspect. I'm simply not seeing its relevance to this discussion. I'm not awarding points for doing hard things, I'm simply observing the differences between the various approaches to game creation.

However, if you target a niche market and you price your game as a non-budget title, you damn well better deliver if you want a big return. That's the whole point of this The Witcher success story, because they DID deliver and there was nothing easy about that.

You don't get a big return by turning out mediocre titles to niche markets - you simply stay afloat. That's why it's easier to get rich by appealing wide, than getting rich by standing out in the niche markets.

But I'd agree that staying afloat with a limited audience is about as hard as appealing wide. The difference is in the size of the investment. You pay more to get more, so to speak. The investment also includes the marketing budget, of course, and titles that appeal wide typically sell because of how they were marketed and the hype they generate with the money they put into it. Niche games sell because people actually want to play them - not because they think they want to play them. Black and white articulation, granted, but that's the gist of my point.

I have no problem with comparing the gaming industry to the movie industry, and indeed I've made direct comparisons between the two very often. I also think that art is a factor in all these industries - and there's no sense in excluding it because we're talking about a business.

But putting food on the table is a very weak reason for maximising profit, just as I see endless acquisition of material goods that you don't need to be rather senseless. It's an obsession with this idea that "more is always better" that I personally can't relate to. To me, there's only so much you need as a human being - and only so much luxury that will make a notable difference. When you look at the profit generated by a blockbuster movie, we're moving into a land of madness. We live in a world where resources are so unevenly divided and so many people are suffering because they don't have access to them, that I can't celebrate the acquisition of wealth as a worthwhile goal in itself.
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