[Post originally posted on author's personal pages.]
As for Game-Dev heat map I can easily find three strong regions: US (and Canada), Europe (mainly represented by UK, France, Germany and Scandinavia) and Japan. Some talented studios and people also live and work in Australia but as for number of titles and teams, it has not that impact as those three I have already mentioned.
Trend in the industry is to cut costs and many managers look for countries that are lets say more cost effective to outsource there more and more work. Common to other industries, but as well for game development we have China where I see Ubisoft like good example of huge investment. India is also worth a notice. Many local companies there offer their creative services to western studios. I also perceive my region worth some comment.
CEE which stands for Central and Eastern Europe hides many AAA ready studios. Some countries like POLAND, Czech Republic, Hungary are now in European Union which makes us predictable and reasonable business partners that are still much better considering cost effectiveness than the core, old Union. Also countries from former Soviet Union (Ukraine and Russia) are more and more visible abroad. Just to mention title I'm expecting to play soon - Metro 2033 - is developed in Russia. Great, atmospheric first person perspective shooter called Stalker was made in Ukraine.
Summarizing game development in Russia and Ukraine I see that my eastern neighbors have found their specialty in shooters and strategy games. It's little bit different in Poland. As for the biggest studios I wanted to highlight in this post, I see that we do of course great job in FPS space, but we also dare to challenge one of the most difficult genres - role playing games (like The Witcher and Two Worlds).
Current strength in Polish Game Development comes from PC development and current state of these studios is to break in or sustain and grow in console markets. This is fantastic achievement considering the past where I had a feeling that we all the time chase global trends being still late for at least 5 years with skill and experience. Now observing current growth I'm amazed in genre, scale, platform and project's type diversity Polish companies address.
We do have great example of promoting own, new IPs (Two Worlds, Call of Juarez, Painkiller). We are good at customizing existing IPs to the gaming medium like in Witcher, which originally was a fantasy novel with a super hero story created by a local writer - Andrzej Sapkowski. We've got some recent experience with AAA title conversion and porting (Gears of War PC port for Epic Games). Leaders have already realized potential in on-line communities, Web 2.0 and digital distribution learning fast how to market it globally as well as locally.
New players are establishing their position on the scene but in this article I wanted, indeed, focus on fantastic four of biggest veterans in Polish Game Development that have already presented themselves as high quality developers attractive for a global player.
Company started in 1991 in small Polish town. It'd started as a publisher and software localization company. At the end of 90-ties they broke into gaming industry as well as developer opening a studio in Wroclaw. Crime Cities was first title I considered worth checking at the time. It was something like Quarantine meets Fifth Element as I remember. Not a bad start. Then they made Chrome - FPS with quite a decent engine which has become a base for their further developments. Techland still refers Chrome Engine as technology used in their games.
Most important achievement in their history is named Call of Juarez. Game obviously designed to focus on American gamers. At the end of last year they have released sequel called Bonds in Blood. With this title I'm pretty sure that they received proven track in console space and growth warranty. I'm not surprised then looking at their job openings that they have Dev teams not only in Wroclaw (original location) but also in Warsaw (capitol city). Looks like they have opened a second development studio. Good Job!
CD Projekt is also a veteran in Polish publishing and distribution market. They have started in early 90-ties pioneering CD-ROM based games in the world dominated by floppy discs. In 2002 they opened a branch office called Red Studio with one purpose - to investigate game development opportunities for the company. Brave and important investment in huge team that has learned effectively how to make complex role playing game based on IP that is very well known in Poland - The Witcher. Because of novels' popularity, expectations in Poland were very high. CD Projekt's aspiration, though, were even higher. They licensed Bioware's engine - Aurora - used in Neverwinter Nights and planned to sell that popular Polish IP to the world.
Development was long and many started disbelieving in CD Projekt's skill to produce complete product. Finally two years ago Witcher hit the stores and got critical acclaim in Poland and worldwide. At the end, team proved that they were worth consumers' trust and waiting.
Unfortunately, then some troubles started. Company outsourced console port of the original Witcher focusing its core forces on new initiatives. It failed big time in this effort (porting), I presume from lack of experience in such a process. This is a part of bigger issue which I've noticed. CD Projekt looks like they've overestimated its new investment capacities (my subjective opinion, I hope to be wrong).
They first presented themselves as big investor and gaming innovator. They acquired another old game development studio - Metropolis, they started on-line store (gram.pl) and digital distribution service (Good Old Games). On Xbox360 launch they started distributing Xbox games (deal with MS), and many more. Then they started closing some of its businesses. They shut Metropolis, stopped Witcher's Xbox 360 development with French developer (as I already mentioned). Finally they have merged with former Polish stock market giant - company named Optimus, on unclear conditions looking for new funds, I presume.
Regardless of these issues (mainly generated by some troubled time we used to call the crisis) this company has great potential and foresight ability. They quite recently announced that they work on The Witcher's sequel, no details up to date on platform and game-play specifics.
With this studio I have personal memories. Somewhere between 1999 and 2001 I wanted to join their ranks. At that time I lacked experience they wanted, but the conversation was very interesting and I still recall it with big grin smile on my face. On their pages you can find that they started operations in 2001. Might be true, but the team existed even before and was known in Poland from strategy games like Polanie and Earth ****. These RTS games have continuations already branded by Reality Pump.
These games were offered worldwide but I'm not sure if they (and how) were recognized. For me, first title they have made and that should have not been ignored is role-playing game Two Worlds. Reality Pump took different approach than CDP-Red in their RPG efforts. They have created their own IP with open world trying to compete with such RPG giants like Elder Scrolls or Gothic series. They released the game on PC as well as on Xbox 360 which makes them another studio where developers can learn how to make games for current generation video games consoles. Now they also work on a sequel.
Last but not least - People Can Fly. Behind this company's scenes you can easily reveal true Polish game-dev legend - Adrian Chmielarz. This guy has very much a similar story to say as Peter Molyneux. he's just not used to be the same charismatic in old English way as Peter has during his speeches. Adrian started developing games as programmer and was pioneering high quality games development from the very beginning. At the beginning of 90-ties where Amiga, PC established their position as home computers and Nintendo fought its eternal war with Sega in consoles space, first Polish game dev companies were discovering true masterpiece ideas but for 8bit Atari and Commodore and starting to make some old-looking and rubbish titles for PC and Amiga. We were definitely behind the time (thanks to the bloody communism) but not Adrian Chmielarz himself.
With his first company Metropolis Software House (mentioned earlier in CD Projekt's story) in 1992/1993 he developed adventure game - "Secret of the Statue" - that was not worse than so called "Western" counter-parts. Adrian was experimenting with many genres and sub-genres. Secret of the Status was a first person perspective adventure game with digitized pictures (like Myth). His further adventure game, Prince and Coward, had traditional point and click interface.
In late 90-ties he started moving toward shooters. First was Catharsis, a scroller shooter with 3d pre-rendered environment. Then he resigned from Metropolis and in 2002 started new company, People Can Fly. This company quickly marked its existence in the gaming world with Painkiller, true masterpiece horror-like FPS for PC and first Xbox.
With such a proven track People Can Fly was later acquired by Epic Games as its internal development studio. Their first project under Epic's patronage was to port Gears of War to PC. They succeeded and now they work on new yet to be announced big title. Can't wait for news!
Polish game development studios as I already wrote have diverse experience and interests. These companies are leaders in my subjective opinion but not the ony ones in the country. New and not so new companies climb the ladder. Some other examples worth mentioning: company called Farm51 and their game - Necrovision. Tate - scene's long-timer and I think first Polish company that broke into console development with Kao the Kangaroo, ages ago. Poland is definitively growing in this area and is more visible worldwide. Being born here I'm personally proud of that.