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What AAA publishers can learn from CD Projekt Red’s Witcher 3 Release

A breakdown analysis of CD Projekt Red's philosophy that has driven the success of the company's Witcher 3: Wild Hunt game release. Outlining a roadmap for AAA publishers to put the past behind them towards rebuilding trust with the games community.

Seyi Agboola, Blogger

September 21, 2015

14 Min Read

CD Projekt Red has had probably the best year – as a gaming studio – with the release of Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. They are front-runners for numerous awards and are expecting to  have a very profitable year. On top of that, they have pretty much won the hearts of gamers in an industry that has been tainted with controversies, one after another of recent.

For those who work on the commercial side of the gaming industry, there is so much you can learn from their valiant efforts. And thankfully they have actually made this easier for you. I recommend everyone who works in Marketing or Business for a gaming company watch this video from 3:53 to 13:05. So you can understand what it is to be in the gaming business selling to gamers because “they are not your everyday consumer”.

A Breakdown of CD Projekt Red Key Takeaways

I have gone a step further and have broken down the wise words of the Managing Director – Adam Badowski – to further emphasise what makes good business practice for gaming. The philosophy of the studio is brilliant and if they continue to follow this, they will not simply remain profitable but will be a brand gamers will grow to love in its entirety.

“Our point of view is that if a gamer spend 60 dollars for a game then that is what he/she has in the box. And he/she doesn’t care about the figures you’ve just heard about, doesn’t care about 3 and a half years work or the amount you invested and so forth. What the gamer wants is the game inside”.

Gamers do appreciate the effort that goes into creating amazing games but they also want what they paid for. As microtransactions and DLCs become the norm in this line of business, publishers seem to have developed a different perspective of what value for money is to their consumers.

There is no doubt that the production of high-end games will increase even more but no gamer wants a product they cannot afford. As the seller, you must be able to justify the price tag. Ready At Dawn learned this lesson when they packaged a 7 hour long cinematic experience at $60 in a market full of games that offered multiple times the length at the same value.

Witcher 3 on the other hand provided an expansive  and vibrant gaming world with 12 DLCs free of charge.

Understand who you are selling to and respect them

“Now our target audience are the gamers obviously – they are just like us, we respect them for their intelligence and we know they expect the best. A gamer analyses what he/she sees, draws conclusions and looks forward to what is in the next part of the game while also tying it to who delivered the game”

When you are promoting a new sequel, you will have your core fans and the new market you are targeting. Respect should be shown to both because both parties are capable of raising you up as well as bringing you down. It’s a difficult balancing act. The importance of truly understanding who you are selling to cannot be understated.

Something Bungie found out the hard way. Releasing an expansion pack that cost as much as the original game was always going to turn heads. Although what really stuck was that current gamers had to repurchase content they already had.

What happened here was that in a bid to attract new players, Bungie not only neglected those who were already loyal to them but outright disrespected them. Their overall approach was succinctly summed up in the controversial interview that sparked most of the criticism.

Neglect your core audience at your own peril because they are the ones with the power to drive your commercial success. Having your customers turn on you could be as costly as what you look to gain by chasing profit margins.

Be honest

“So the climate of the hype must coincide with the launch of the game. And this is crucial that this communication with the gamer is honest. So when the game is released they don’t feel let down”

I really don’t understand why high profile companies believe they can ever get away with being deceitful. The internet makes it easy for consumers to expose your bad intentions and amplify them. So it goes without saying that honesty is the best policy. And that goes beyond telling white lies. This is about using review embargos up till the release day. This is about rendering PC graphics in trailers for consoles. Particularly in the gaming industry, the sales cycle is longer than the release day. Reviews will be written and recommendations will be made. There is no profit in being greedy from day one, but there is good profit in having a reputation people trust.

Take control

“We are the publisher of the game, we are self publishing the game. This means we have got full control over everything that is being done.”

In an ideal world, the right people would have full control over their own projects but games tend to be joint ventures of financial backers, developers and third parties with vested interests. But if you have the means to, you must take control over as many elements of the production, marketing, business operations as you can. As it is your reputation on the line and you should take responsibility for that.

This is something that recently went wrong with Rocksteady when they outsourced the PC version of Arkham Knight to Iron Galaxy Studios. They knew there were issues and refused to take responsibility for them. They could have easily delayed the PC version to fix them. Publishers are already choosing to learn from their mistakes and delay their releases in order to provide a finished product.

For a studio as big as theirs, Rocksteady decided to deprioritise a key market and it backfired. Will PC Gamers ever trust their launch day releases in the future? That remains to be seen, but there has probably been some more permanent damage over the longer-term reputation of the company.

Many studios see true independence as a pipe dream but they should always strive for it. And if they are balancing the interests of different stakeholders, they should communicate this properly with their end customers.

The CD Projekt Red Philosophy

“This is our philosophy, we want to have a partnership based relationship with our customers – the gamers”.

Beside releasing an awesome game, it was refreshing to have a studio that truly cared for its customers. That focused firstly on the product then delivered it in such a gracious manner in which they were equally rewarded. Doing right by your customers is clearly good business as these guys have already proved true.

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