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Seeing Red: The Story of CD Projekt (and how they almost went bankrupt)

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Seeing Red: The Story of CD Projekt (and how they almost went bankrupt)

Editorial - posted by Infinitron on Thu 7 November 2013, 18:10:02

Tags: CD Projekt; Marcin Iwinski; The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings; The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt; Witcher, The

Eurogamer has an excellent article about the history of CD Projekt, as told by co-founder and joint CEO Marcin Iwinski. The most interesting part of the article, in my opinion, is the story of how the company nearly went bankrupt after the release of the first Witcher game - an event that surprisingly few people know about, although it's not quite a secret. I'll quote that part:

White Wolf was to be a console conversion of The Witcher 1, and it was Atari's idea. Iwiński saw the logic in getting the brand established on console ahead of future games, so after initial reluctance he agreed - a mistake, but how could he know that then?

CD Projekt Red didn't have the internal capacity to handle White Wolf development as well, so an impressive pitch won French studio Widescreen Games the job. CD Projekt Red wanted control, so Atari paid CD Projekt Red to get the game made.

After five months there were problems, and CD Projekt donated a dozen developers to the French studio to help out. Then more problems, and Iwiński began to suspect Widescreen's heart wasn't in it beyond being paid for reaching milestones. Adam Badowski had to fly down to help the studio crunch to produce an important vertical slice of the game for an Atari conference in Lyon, and it went down a storm, to cheers of "bravo!". But two weeks later there was another problem, and Widescreen wanted to push White Wolf back four to five months.


"I'm not mentioning all the tensions, all the hours of stupid discussions on the phone, 'you are guilty', etc. The thing is, what we realised was they had no idea how to make it." More money was being spent on Widescreen Games each month than on CD Projekt Red in Poland. It was time for crisis talks, and to assess how bad the situation was.

"After five days of digging we sat down in a café in Lyon in the evening, we were probably five or six people, and said, 'What do you think?'" The answers grew increasingly worrying, one suggesting Widescreen would need another 30 people and an extra year of development to finish White Wolf. Then someone said. "Hey, let's cancel it and make another game! It will be easier than working with them." Eyes lit up. "The day after we told Atari we have to pull the plug."

Atari wasn't happy, and it was none other than big Phil Harrison (once of Sony, now of Microsoft, with an Atari interlude) who flew to France to hear both sides of the story. Iwiński remembers the meeting. "We were sitting on one side of the table, Widescreen Games on the other, and Phil," he says with emphasis, "in the middle. And we started fighting - they started blaming us and we started blaming them."

A stern Harrison took Marcin Iwiński and Michal Kiciński aside, into a separate room. "And he said a very British thing like," and he imitates the accent, "'We are in real shit here.' We were like, 'Yes Phil, we're sorry, we screwed up.'

"I was ashamed at the time. We burned a lot of money - our money - and then the next time I was in touch with Phil he told me that he is very very sorry but they have to send us a Bridge notice and we'll have to repay them the money that they gave us."

Iwiński flew to New York to negotiate and ended up signing over North American rights to The Witcher 2 years before the game had been made. "This would be repaying the debts for White Wolf," Atari had declared.

In May 2009, CD Projekt Red confirmed that work on The Witcher: White Wolf had been suspended. In reality, everything had been thrown in the bin - nothing was reused. "We wasted so much time," laments Iwiński today.​

While The Witcher 2 was on the whole a well-received game, mainly due to the quality of its writing, its branching storyline and its overall "polish", the game definitely had some issues. But knowing what CD Projekt was going through at the time, it's surprising that it came out as well as it did. Apparently, an entire location - Dol Blathanna, the Valley of Flowers - had to be cut from the game, in addition to much of the game's notoriously short third act. Hopefully, CD Projekt will finally be able to achieve their true potential in the upcoming Witcher 3.

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