What's Their Game? - All About Polish Games, Game Developers And Gamers
With about 13,4 million gamers according to the recent report by Newzoo, Poland is a major games market, second biggest in the Eastern Europe next to the Russian. The Polish enjoyed gaming for a long time, but only in recent years they also gained decent publicity as the creative side of the video games industry. To some extent it's the success of The Witcher series of games from CD PROJEKT RED, but more AAA kind of Polish games follow suit. Only a month ago The Vanishing of Ethan Carter by The Astronauts was released to PC worldwide and instantly met positive reception. Poland is now a country full of skilled and ambitious developers willing to translate their potential into best selling games. Sometimes the only thing they lack is enough money to make all their plans a reality. But as the articles proves, often even this is not an obstacle
The Witcher III: Wild Hunt
In this article presented is a concise overview of the Polish games market by sharing most important facts about Polish games, Polish game developers and, of course, Polish gamers. What is really their game?
It's not just about the Witcher – AAA GameDev Made in Poland
For clarification, AAA (pronounced “triple A”) is a term used to refer to games with the highest production budgets. Those are flagship projects of their respective studios, best sellers and attention-grabbers. When one thinks 'AAA game from Poland', a good bet is The Witcher will become the subject of subsequent discussions. The sales of the first and second installments in the action role-playing series, based on popular Polish fantasy books by Andrzej Sapkowski, exceeded 5 million units in early 2013. Even the American president Barack Obama was given the Collector's Edition of The Witcher 2, prompting him to call it “a great example of Poland's place in the new global economy”. The Witcher sure is the thing, and likely to remain one with the upcoming release of the third game in the series, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, early next year. But it's hardly the only reason for Polish GameDev to be proud. Even CD PROJET RED alone has lots more in store as the eye-catching action role-playing Cyberpunk 2077, currently in development, is among the most looked-forward games of 2015. Right next to CD PROJEKT RED there are at least two other major video game developers frequently releasing their works worldwide – Techland and CI Games (previously City Interactive).
The Dead Island: Riptide
Techland debuted in 1991 as a software distributor and only in 2000 released its first game, Crime Cities. It wasn't until 2003 and the first-person shooter Chrome, however, when the company received acclaim across borders. To develop this game, Techland produced its very own 3D game engine, the Chrome Engine, whose subsequent versions are used by Techland and third-party developers to these days. Techland's most popular worldwide releases include the Call of Juarez series (each installment with sales exceeding a million copies), Dead Island and Dead Island: Riptide. Currently the company is working on a highly anticipated survival horror Dying Light.
CI Games started in 2002 as City Interactive as a result of combining a publishing house and some minor game studios. The company published a lot of budget games, but in recent years it proved that the area of best selling expensive productions is not out of its reach. Their most notable games include the series Sniper: Ghost Warrior. The company is currently releasing an elaborate role-playing title called Lords of the Fallen.
Conquering foreign markets is not just a logical step in the digital world, but also a must for each ambitious Polish game developer.
- Unfortunately, it looks like the Polish market alone is not enough for game developers to make decent living as the sales, while growing, are still not on pair with other countries. Video games are a global market, so in order to succeed you have to think globally. This is what we do as well as any other developer in the country. Of course, we don't forget about Polish fans, so all of our games are made available here at the day of the premiere. We created the 11 bit launchpad program for smaller developers willing to distribute their games worldwide – said Grzegorz Miechowski, Managing Director of 11 bit studios and the co-creator of now defunct Metropolis Software, studio known for some of the first successful Polish video games such as Teenagent and Gorky 17, for web.gov.pl.
11 bit studios is another Polish developer with worldwide aspirations that strives to do the most out of the benefits of digital distribution.
- The character of our releases led as us to choose digital distribution as dominant model. This channel has proved the most profitable from the beginning. […] It let us avoid unnecessary expenses and provided means to always keep up with the sales results and be ready to react to changing circumstances – continues Miechowski.
11 bit studio releases games on virtually all popular platforms, including iOS, Android, PC/Mac and Linux. The studio is especially notable for its Anomaly series of reverse tower defense games. Their upcoming title, This War of Mine, is a dark survival game with a simple goal to stay alive in times of war and austerity.
Casual gaming the Polish way – the world of indie GameDev
It may be quite surprising to hear that in Poland there are as many as hundreds small and smaller independent game developers. Today's digital world makes it fairly easy to release causal games.
- We sell and publish PC games through Steam (major online gaming store and community), Humble Bundle and other shops in exchange for modest fees. Html5 games ensure ROI by selling licenses and ads displayed during the gameplay – said Robert Podgórski from BlackMoon Design, small and independent Polish game studio, the creators of the flying RTS The Few.
Just like many others, BlackMoon Design releases the bulk of their works to Android/iOS and offers casual web gaming thanks to the capabilities of Html5. Mobile-friendly games that don't require hundreds of thousands dollars to develop are one of the reasons for the proliferation of independent game developers. It's fairly easy to acquire the software and hardware necessary to make games. On the other hand, it also means that rivalry is unavoidable.
- Making life out of game developing is no easy task. The competition is tough. Luckily, the costs of living in Poland are relatively small when compared to London. It's much easier to make ends meet when you live in, say, Bydgoszcz – believes Podgórski.
In the world, in which it's easy to get the means, those are the soft skills that often make the difference – the ability to market games properly, come up with unique ideas and create buzz around them is what matters greatly and is likely to matter even more in the future. Crowdfunding is one of the ways to do all that at the same time and get money to further developer a game as well. Another independent studio, One More Level, has just proved it with Warlocks – an old school hack n' slash that just managed to reach its $25 thousand goal on Kickstarter. Crowdfunding may be a way for some smaller developers to get by without the need of investors' money. But at some point the latter's help is going to become a must. Polish developers are likely to earn their favor with what may be the key to win the “game” (pun intended) – good and unique ideas. Like the one below.
Games serve many purposes, not just entertainment, but education as well. It's another area that is being gradually taken over by independent studios. Ninja Cat And Zombie Dinosaurs is one of the recent examples from Poland. Made by Hubert Rutkowski, the owner of a one man studio Koshmaar, the game tasks you with defeating hordes of approaching “zombie” dinosaurs as a lone cat warrior. Where is the educational value? All the fighting is done by quick typing of letters, words and phrases assigned to each enemy. This way one beats the game and learns quick typing at the same time. Technology-wise it's not a hard feat to achieve, but it takes an idea. A really good idea. And that's what indie developers in Poland are going for.
Poland is already a strong player when it comes to indie mobile games. The Anomaly: Warzone Earth is a well-know and acclaimed strategy, with its iOS version being one of the highest rated games of all time on Metacticic. Poland's most popular mobile games include Vivid Games' Real Boxing, addictive logical game World Hex by Very Nice Studio, or surprisingly good looking and playable fighting proposal Rage of the Gladiator. The owners of Apple devices may be familiar with City of Secrets. This logical game, which scored over one million downloads on iTunes, features famous Polish cartoon character Reksio the dog.
GameDev education – what we can and what we do
To create lots of good games, you need lots of good game developers – fair enough. So – do we produce lots of good game developers? The opinions on that vary.
- There are hundreds of talented people of all fields essential to develop games. There are graphic designers, programmers, animators – the vast majority of those in Polish studios are Poles. However, as studios grow larger, they find themselves in need to search for talents abroad. It's simply a result of the fact that until recently there have been no places to learn about game development in Poland. Everyone active in the market today put up a great effort to learn everything individually. It took hundreds of hours of hard work. It's changing now, universities did realize the importance of game development, and that's why I believe it's all going to change within the next 5-10 years – says Miechowski for web.gov.pl.
- The standard of Polish game developers is incredibly high – there have been a multitude of great titles made in Poland only recently. In the AAA segment we are yet to take over the traditionally prolific markets, mostly for budget reasons. Such a standard is purely the result of the quality Polish technology universities provide as well as the quality and number of various IT conferences and events. It's also important that the Polish GameDev community is quite small and extremely open. I do feel it's quite easy to solicit support from peers – believes BlackMoon Design's Podgórski.
- To become an expert, you just have to develop skills on your own. No university can ensure your success. The specialists I know are all passionate self-learners. GameDev is no bread baking (with all due respect to bakers). You need to be imaginative, creative and patient. There are always few of such people. The availability of knowledge and all kinds of events is high nowadays. It won't replace true passion, but it may complement it efficiently – argues on the other hand Paweł Zięcik from Corpix Games, independent Polish game studio mostly knows for the mobile game Furries World Match 3.
As for universities, it's worth noting that the last years saw the number of schools in Poland providing GameDev education surge. IT-related majors grew in popularity due to both fashion and need of more technical graduates. Among most attended are:
- The University of Silesia in Katowice, teaching video game programming
- The Jagiellonian University, offering GameDev as 2nd degree specialization for the Informatics major
- The School of Humanities and Journalism in Poznan, offering Game Design as a path in Informatics
- Lodz University of Technology, teaching graphic and game design
Education doesn't end with universities or even hours of individual hard work. If you do find game development interesting, you just have to attend Digital Dragons. This Krakow conference, organized by Krakow Technology Park, prides itself on being “Central and Eastern Europe's prime games industry conference”. It's a major B2B (Business to Business) platform in the digital entertainment area. Video game developers from Poland and abroad attend every year to promote their projects and in search of allies. The 2014 edition saw over 800 participants actively interact. Digital Dragons is the big one, but the offer of events for GameDev also includes the Pog(R)adajmy series, or SpreadIT. Naturally, there is no shortage of events for gamers. The last Poznan Game Arena attracted over 40 thousand people and provided 380 gaming stands and 59 exhibitions. E-sport practicians from all over the world came to show the skeptics that games are not only fun to play, but also fun to watch and cheer. The next edition takes place in just 10 days, between 24-26 October 2014. Poznan Game Arena competes with another great, popular and long-standing event for gamers – Intel Extreme Masters.
While the main focus of this article is on Polish GameDev, it would simply leave too much to be desired without mentioning Polish gamers themselves. Especially as early this year a comprehensive study on them was released by Newzoo, the provider of independent market data and analyses across all game segments. According to the study, there are as many as 13,4 million gamers in Poland. 98% of them play PC games, which makes Poland second in Europe when it comes to PC gaming popularity. 52% of Polish gamers spend money on or in games. Next to computers, smartphones make the most popular platform, followed by tablets and handheld consoles and then video game consoles.
What has the future in store for Polish GameDev and gaming?
For the few recent year Polish game developers were on the right track and they are very likely to stay on it for years to come. There is a lot to wait for. We are just a few weeks from the release of CI Games' Lord of the Fallen. CD PROJEKT RED set the release date of The Witcher 3 on February 24th 2015. Techland's Dying Light will come out three weeks earlier. The Astronauts, the most recent game studio of Adrian Chmielarz, one of the most popular video game developers from Poland, also known for his involvement in Teenagent and Gorky 17 as well as Painkiller or Bulletstorm, has just released the aformentioned game The Vanishing of Ethan Carter. It's an adventurous and beautifully-designed offering providing unique take on XX century-styled mystery solving. Big open world and riddles that have the player wander around and investigate to find connections and understand the very essence of what led to the disappearance of a boy named Ethan Carter – all that wrapped into a thrilling and arcane story. Does a game as ambitious and subtle as that stand a chance in the global market? We'll find out soon, for now we can enjoy strong reception from foreign media, including Hardcore Games and GamePlanet, which in a 9/10 review described it as “a compelling interactive novella that draws players in with its beautifully atmospheric setting”.
The Vanishing of Ethan Carter
Lots of Polish works will keep on coming out to iTunes and Google Play. They will follow suit of developers such as Infinite Dreams from Gliwice, the creators of the hit game Can Knockdown, or Digital Melody, the team behind the most recent Polish hit game Timberman. With low entry barriers, huge profit potential from markets all over the world thanks to digital distribution and, most importantly, skilled Polish developers, it's only a matter of time before the gap between Poland and most fruitful markets in the world will be completely closed.
But what can be done to ensure it? The varied quality of IT education, the awareness of how serious of a business games can be as well as promoting general interest in IT technologies through GameDev are only some of things that can and should be improved. The Witcher, the diamond in the crown of Polish GameDev, may then very well become one of many.
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