Before launch, I would have wagered that The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt would be a moderate success.
There was no doubt it was a graphically impressive and highly ambitious title – reflected in the seemingly endless parade of ‘Best of Show and ‘Most Anticipated Game' prizes it has picked up.
But it was the third entry in a notoriously dense franchise, based on a series of books that are hugely popular in Poland. That's on top of it being, primarily, a PC IP.
Yetit has truly smashed expectations. Wild Hunt has comfortably had the biggest launch of the year to date. Not only that – it's now the joint highest-ranked new game for the PS4 and Xbox One on Metacritic (alongside Bloodborne) with a score a 92.
We've just launched the game and the reviews are really good. Seems we've made it. We did, right? It's still hard to believe,” CD Projekt RED's head of global communications MichalPlatkow-Gilewski tells MCV.
We wanted to redefine the action RPG genre in terms of connecting an open world with a plot that you actually care about.”
But it isn't the critical acclaim that has impressed the team the most.
What's blowing us away are all these personal stories that have come flooding in on forums, social media or email,” says Platkow-Gilewski.
For us it's not about the hype, it's about real people telling us how they appreciate what we do and express that in various ways. People with Witcher tattoos, fans who know the universe inside out, couples playing together and people gifting each other Witcher items, because they care. It's all incredibly humbling. Games should connect people and I think that's what we're doing.”
He continues: We're surprised everything worked so damn well. We're like a well-oiled machine - we've been preparing for this for half a year and we pulled it off. D-day was a blast - almost 19 hours spent in the office, hundreds of emails sent and answered, a lot of stress and a lot of euphoria.”
The Witcher's fan base has never been bigger. Wild Hunt's week one sales were some 608 per cent higher than those of The Witcher 2. Part of this success is down to platform expansion. The series started as a PC-exclusive, moved to PC and Xbox 360 with its second entry and is now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC.
But there was more to its success than simply more platforms.
The audience has definitely increased this time because we have three platforms at launch, but I think the major factor here was the massive communication effort on our part over the course of three years,” says Platkow-Gilewski.
We've managed to convey how awesome The Witcher universe really is. We visited [American talk show
host] Conan O'Brien, we've been to dozens of conventions, we've given hundreds of interviews... and it worked.”
"We wanted to redefine the
genre, connecting an open-world
with a plot that players will care about."
MichalPlatkow-Gilewski, CD Projekt RED
So what is next for the Polish studio? Well it is continuing work on its sci-fi RPG Cyberpunk 2077 – last seen as an impressive CGI trailer in 2012 – and is supporting The Witcher 3 long after its launch.
We'll continue to work on Wild Hunt. We've announced the expansions - Hearts of Stone, and Blood and Wine - and we need to create them. There's minor bugfixing and continuous work on optimising the game. We're known for supporting our games well after launch and nothing has changed here.
As for Cyberpunk 2077, let's talk about it in some time.”
And as well as Wild Hunt, CD Projekt has taken The Witcher into other areas. It has released a MOBA – The Witcher Battle Arena – based in the same world, as well as a board game, appropriately called The Witcher Board Game.
We've seen a lot of positive feedback on both,” Platkow-Gilewski says.
The Witcher Battle Arena, was downloaded well over 1m times in a month and we've seen some pretty good sales of the board game, too. The Witcher universe is really rich and there are a lot of stories to tell we normally can't in the main game.”
He concludes: There's a myriad of characters there and we want to tell gamers their story.”
Though Wild Hunt is the third entry in The Witcher series, prior to launch CD Projekt RED decided to play down this fact to bring new players on board.
And the studio's head of global communications Micha? Platkow-Gilewski says that this was a key part of the developer's marketing strategy.
We modified the logo, but the ‘3' is still there in the form of the Hunt's mark,” he says.
This is the first time we've launched a game across all platforms, it's our debut on a Sony system and our first game on Xbox One. We had to somehow address the potential issue of gamers being afraid of not knowing the previous games.
Wild Hunt is created in such a way that players can hop in without knowing the previous games and the universe, so the title and logo of the game had to somehow reflect that. Look at the first scene of the game. We see a woman and long-time fans will know who the woman is well before we explain.
We can't, however, assume everybody will know that, so we explain who she is in a very seamless way. It's the same with the logo - those who know this is the third part will see the ‘3', those who start fresh will see a claw mark or a mask. Communication-wise, I think it's a really good decision.