Business Models

by Karl Bode


Filed Under:
dlc, drm, fan friendly, witcher 3

Companies:
cd projekt red



CD Projekt Red Does Everything Right With Witcher 3 DRM & DLC...And Breaks Sales Records

from the +1-broad-sword-of-awesomeness dept

If you need an example of a game developer doing something (well, a lot of things) right, look no further than CD Projekt Red and their latest multi-platform role-playing game, Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt. The developers are aggressively breaking all of the usual obnoxious video game industry norms: they're releasing most of the title's downloadable content (DLC) for free (two each week), they've avoided annoying pre-order exclusives, they're receptive to fan feedback, and perhaps most importantly to many gamers, they've taken a repeated, strong and vocal position against DRM.

They're effectively the anti-EA and Ubisoft, and fans are rewarding them for it. Witcher 3 is a gamer darling over at Reddit, reviews have been nothing short of incredible, and the company is breaking sales records with the title without using any of the above-listed annoying tricks of the industry trade:
"Sales of the third part will be many times higher than with our earlier games. Preorders indicate this," CD Projekt's chief executive Adam Kicinski said in an interview. "We broke into the mainstream. It is such a moment in our firm's history that after some years people will look differently at CD Projekt before and after this release." DM BO Brokerage analyst Tomasz Rodak said he saw the new Witcher's yearly sales at 7 million copies, which could bring a record net profit of 369 million zlotys ($97.5 million) in 2015.
And again, they've done it without resorting to the obnoxious, nickel and dime tactics so many game companies have an unholy addiction to.

It's also worth noting the game itself is really, really good. I was one of the few avid RPG fans that found the first two titles to enjoyable but relatively clunky affairs. I'm a sucker for open-world games however, and with the shift of the series to a truly open world, I've been absolutely blown away not only by the sheer size of the game world, but by how fleshed out the storytelling is for a lot of the side quests. It's a fully inhabitable fantasy-nerd paradise. While the writing still stumbles around the usual stale fantasy gender tropes (which scantily-clad sorceress shall I seduce next?), overall it's an incredible accomplishment.

The company's also showing it has a sense of humor. Long critical of DRM, CD Projekt Red's not only not using DRM for the title, it has found marginally-entertaining ways to mock DRM in game. From a grimoire on "Defensive Regulatory Magicon" found by one user while they were busy exploring:
The game does have an atrocious, headache-inducing font problem the company's planning to patch, so here's the text:
"The Defensive Regulatory Magicon (or DRM for short) belongs to the above-mentioned group of the longest-lasting, most effective and hardest to break defensive mechanisms. In order to recognize the individual administering it, it makes use of a portal mounted at the entrance of the area it is to defend. This portal passes streams of magical energy through the body of the person entering and can, in the blink of an eye, determine if this person has the corporeal signature (eyeball structure included) of the entitled administrator. As a result, the only unauthorized individuals that can possibly hope to enter are mimics.

DRM thus makes for an extremely effective and near-unbreakable security measure - but you are in luck, for you hold in your hands the key to bypassing it, namely the present tome, Gottfried’s Omni-opening Grimore, or GOG for short. In the pages to follow you will find innumerable methods for deactivating DRM, or, even better, bypassing it altogether (…)"
A Bill Hicks level joke it ain't (GOG is also short for DRM-free games outlet Good Old Games, run by CD Projekt), but the full quest is notably more amusing, with said "DRM" trapping the owner of the magic technology in a tower after failing to recognize him. Not only is CD Projekt Red doing everything right in regards to DLC and DRM, it's doing it with a little flair. Offer a great product, treat your customers well, don't obnoxiously nickel and dime people like it's going out of style, and customers respond positively. Who the hell knew?

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  • icon
    Ninja (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 9:30am

    What can I say, I have this bad habit of giving cash to people that are awesome simply because they are awesome (I bought Minecraft even though I don't particularly liked it because the dev is awesome, I throw cash at EFF, Mozilla and the likes etc etc). So this time it's good to see I'm gonna throw cash at them AND have a lot of fun in the process. And I've been accused of being a filthy pirate that just want stuff for free quite a few times. Go figure.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 12:58pm

      Re:

      I do exactly the same thing. In our overly capitalistic society, every dollar you spend is effectively a vote telling the company you're paying "Great job! Keep doing exactly what you're doing." I spend (or don't spend) my money with that in mind.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 11:37am

    The scantily clad sorcerous to bang is a trope of the character and the game series. Have you already forgotten the collectible cards you unlock for banging women in the first game?

    Funny thing too is going from Elder Scrolls to the Witcher. In ES four buildings and five people is a town. In the Witcher a town is twenty or thirty buildings and 200+ people.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 11:48am

      Re:

      To be fair, banging scantily clad anyone was pretty common in the books. And, again from the source material, sorceresses tended to dress scantily.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • This comment has been flagged by the community. Click here to show it
    identicon
    Gwiz, 29 May 2015 @ 12:40pm

    When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

    I'll try to forestall comments on the "free" release of Windows 10: a) Microsoft has much of the world locked into its products and can indeed give away the base OS. b) Condition is stops using all DRM on all products. c) Next stage of DRM is even more invasive biometric ID because ultimate goal is total surveillance / tracking.

    Anyhoo, trying to take the rest seriously -- as if adding a little "free" after the main purchase is anything other than PRE-internet marketing trick -- the key phrase is "broke into the mainstream". Shows this is typical of game company trying to get established. GAMES cost almost nothing to make, up-front "sunk (or fixed) costs" are small, potential profit high, so that's a viable strategy. Also, the audience for games is vast, and umm, easily amused by fantasies.

    And yet again: It's easy once you have product that everyone wants and it's advertised so everyone knows they want it. Problem is the prior stage, on which Techdirt is silent. -- Clearly from writer's statement that prior two versions were not great, the key is persistence, to keep flailing until you make a good product.

    This is just usual Techdirt trick of pointing to a cherry after it's big and bright. Writer should state some numbers to put this in context of how many products did NOT cross that threshhold. But of course NOT picking out one big bright cherry would demolish the assertion that key is no DRM.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      John Fenderson (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 1:02pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Hmmm... What you're saying here boils down to: one the of keys to success is to have a great product. This isn't a point that Techdirt has ignored at all. Not only is it self-evident, but they've stated it repeatedly.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 1:14pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      What.

      Apparently you're unaware of the history of CD Projekt to begin wit. They're already quite established and have a substantial following amongst gamers for their non-DRM stance as well as Witcher series and gog.com, and the upcoming cyberpunk title. They released enhanced editions, patches and DLC for their earlier games for free, and their rapidly rising sales and popularity point to exactly how effective this has been. While it did have issues, especially in the first game regarding women, they have slightly improved (not that there arent issues, but its sure better than the first game).

      The prior two versions WERE great, the Witcher was made by a small team and was smashingly successful, #2 was even moreso, and they even launched gog.com, which has provided a fairly popular service people wanted. If anything theyre doing very well over in Poland, and are localizing their games in more languages than many other companies would dare to.

      You really shouldn't talk if you have no idea of the company behind it and it's history, as almost everything you said is eye rollingly wrong.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 1:29pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      How does one company using obnoxious DRM on a product people cannot avoid prove that DRM "works"? There are ways to bypass Windows' DRM. Even if there were not, it would only prove that DRM can achieve its stated anti-copying goal, not that DRM is a product feature. DRM is an anti-feature: something people would prefer not to have in the product, but it is there because the author insists on putting it in anyway.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 1:39pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Techdirt regularly states that the key to success is having a good product and connecting with fans. Restricting products for paying fans in order to slow down how quickly a product can be pirated is not a way to connect with fans. The key isn't DRM-free. The key is building a happy and loyal fan base.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      tqk (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 1:42pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      But of course NOT picking out one big bright cherry would demolish the assertion that key is no DRM.

      Is it too much to ask that you at least read the article and attempt to understand what it's saying before puking your pointless BS into the comments? "No DRM" is only one of many consumer friendly features Karl notes GOG is offering here.

      I'm not a gamer (at all) but even I enjoyed this article. Considering all of the crap I've read about what the likes of EA do to their customers, I hope they'll spark a revolution in the gaming world just through pointing the way. It's great to read that GOG's likely to make a killing with their W3. Show the other publishers what they're missing, and what they're wasting vast sums of money and effort on for nothing more than annoying their most devoted fans!

      P.S. Who do you think you're fooling by continuing to pawn yourself off as Gwiz? Do your employers actually fall for BS like that? How do I get a job like that? I could spew much better BS (in my sleep) than you appear able to.

      P.P.S. "This is just usual Techdirt trick ..." Man, you've got a lot of nerve trying that one. You're so repetitively predictable, it isn't even funny. I could replace you with a couple of lines of perl code and nobody'd know the difference.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 1:45pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        That One Guy (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 2:19pm

        Re: Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

        A few gems from that one:

        “Most people in the gaming industry were convinced that the first version of the game to be pirated would be the GOG version (as it was DRM-free), while in the end it was the retail version, which shipped with DRM,” notes GOG.com’s Managing Director, Guillaume Rambourg.

        The DRM not only wasn't effective, being cracked in short order, it apparently acted as incentive to get people to crack and post the game, despite a DRM free copy being available elsewhere. That goes beyond useless straight into counterproductive.

        "First of all let me dispel the myth about DRM protecting anything. The truth is it does not work. It’s as simple as that. The technology which is supposed to protect games against illegal copying is cracked within hours of the release of every single game. So, that’s wasted money and development just to implement it. But that’s not the worst part. DRM, in most cases, requires users to enter serial numbers, validate his or her machine, and be connected to the Internet while they authenticate – and possibly even when they play the game they bought. Quite often the DRM slows the game down, as the wrapper around the executable file is constantly checking if the game is being legally used or not. That is a lot the legal users have to put up with, while the illegal users who downloaded the pirated version have a clean–and way more functional!–game. It seems crazy, but that’s how it really works. So if you are asking me how do I see the future of DRM in games, well, I do not see any future for DRM at all."

        Probably the best summary and description of DRM and how it affects people I've yet seen. Useless, and punishes only paying customers pretty much nails it.

        (Lest we forget – and I never get tired of this fact – the RIAA, in its case against LimeWire, originally estimated the losses caused by file sharers using the service as up to $75 trillion – that is, more money than exists in the world).

        Showing yet again why the 'Piracy costs us billions of dollars each day!' claims should never be taken at face value.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

        • identicon
          Anonymous Coward, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:11am

          Re: Re: Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

          You don't seem to understand the SCENE. It's about epeening. There are no scene groups that will compete to crack a drm free game. They don't gain any clout that way. So, instead they cracked the drm version. 1337h4x0r

          reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Gwiz (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 2:12pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Damn Blue, if you are going to continue using my moniker, could you, at the very least, try to sound semi-intelligent and coherent?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 3:58pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Why do we care if you don't believe reality?

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Karl (profile), 29 May 2015 @ 10:37pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Yikes. You not only "stole" Gwiz's name, marking you as a complete hypocrite, you also show you have absolutely no idea what you're talking about. (Of course, you're so incoherent, that nobody else does either.)

      The few parts that are comprehensible are factually wrong. For example:

      GAMES cost almost nothing to make, up-front "sunk (or fixed) costs" are small, potential profit high, so that's a viable strategy.

      "Sunk" or "fixed" costs for video games are in the millions of dollars. AAA games can cost more to make than a Hollywood movie (and certainly cost more than a Top 40 album). CD Projekt put in these costs... and still made a huge amount of money. A lot of this money was earned because of goodwill stemming from their rejection of DRM.

      On that, you're just wrong. I can't comment on the rest because it makes no sense; it might as well have been written in hieroglyphics.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      G Thompson (profile), 30 May 2015 @ 2:00am

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      To paraphrase CD Projekt Red when talking about Bothlings:

      “Saying out of the blue’s stupid is like saying shit’s not particularly tasty: can’t say it’s a lie, but it doesn’t exactly convey the whole truth, either.”

      You not only know nothing about the company in question, the game itself, nor the history of DRM in the last 25 yrs, but every word you utter keeps making me want to write a script that whenever your comment appears it just says "I eat paste" over and over again.

      Oh and for acquiring Gwiz's moniker in the way you are doing means you are a hypocrite of the nth degree as well. In your own words, a Thief as well.

      (The original -- “Saying a botchling’s ugly is like saying shit’s not particularly tasty: can’t say it’s a lie, but it doesn’t exactly convey the whole truth, either. ”)

      PS: This game is wickedly awesome!

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Corbae, 31 May 2015 @ 3:49pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Obviously you are grouchy about something and NO NOTHING about cdpr or the games you are commenting on. I think you might be a little stupid as well.

      You can pirate just about any software. There are only a few things you can't. You can for example pirate ANYTHING microsoft makes. That is the point of a lot of people argument against drm, it only hurts the legitimate users making us jump through ridiculous hoops that were cracked on day zero.

      CDPR is a good company that makes great games and now has made maybe the best ARPG of all time. They have taken a stance on drm as being completely useless, as it doesn't help sales or stop people from pirating.

      You might be a troll but sound so genuine and arrogant but in a really dumb way.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • icon
      Sheogorath (profile), 31 May 2015 @ 6:28pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      GAMES cost almost nothing to distribute digitally.
      FTFY. YW. ;)

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2015 @ 12:50pm

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Um, this particular game company succeeded without DRM in all of its games. The original game had DRM for a while until it was simply patched out due to consumer complaints. The second and third game didn't have any at all. Their game service, GOG, sells DRM free games, and they created the service with funds from their first game's sales. It's now grown to be a legitimate competition with Steam. Incidentally, Steam does not require DRM; many games can be run straight from the executable without authentication with Steam service (e.g. Kerbal Space Program). It's up to publishers and developers whether or not they want to use Steam DRM or their own.

      The article isn't saying that the games were successful because they didn't use DRM, the article is saying they were successful despite not using DRM. In other words, if the games can succeed just fine without DRM, what is the point of DRM? It's arguing against the common assumption that DRM is necessary for a game to succeed by giving an example of a game series that succeeded without it.

      Also, "GAMES cost almost nothing to make, up-front "sunk (or fixed) costs" are small, potential profit high, so that's a viable strategy" is absolute bullshit and completely highlights your ignorance on the topic. Games are almost entirely made with fixed costs. You clearly don't understand economics in the slightest. The game costs the same to make whether it sells zero copies or a billion copies, and the price of the distribution ranges from minor (physical copies) to practically nothing (digital).

      As a matter of fact, you can just ignore everything else. It's impossible to discuss the nature of game sales with someone who clearly has no clue what they're talking about.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

      • icon
        Sheogorath (profile), 5 Jun 2015 @ 2:00pm

        Re: Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

        Actually, the games were successful because they don't have DRM. So many people (justifiably) want games to be plug and play, and DRM-ridden games are very often the opposite. So when The Witcher had DRM patched out and its sequels didn't have any, customers were naturally happy to them because they were guaranteed to install correctly, amongst other things that DRM prevents.

        reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Sean, 2 Jun 2015 @ 10:07am

      Re: When Microsoft stops using mega-DRM, I'll believe that it doesn't work.

      Windows 10 isn't free, it's a free upgrade on a pc that already has win os 7-8.1. If you want to build a new windows 10 pc, it costs about 110 bucks for the home edition and 150 for pro.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 1:20pm

    Ubisoft to buy them out in 3...2...1

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

    • identicon
      Shmerl, 29 May 2015 @ 3:01pm

      Re:

      Not going to happen. They are profitable and sustainable, GOG is growing by leaps and bounds so there is no point for them to sell their company. In the very long term (like next generation of owners) - who knows what can happen. But now? No.

      reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 1:55pm

    CDPR also delayed release of the game until it was more or less finished.

    Remember to buy the game via GOG - not Steam.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Shmerl, 29 May 2015 @ 3:07pm

    CDPR are great

    Big kudos to CD Projekt Red (and GOG) for moving DRM-free gaming forward.

    They tried to do that with films as well (through GOG), but so far without success. May be CD Projekt Red should try making Witcher series (or full blown film) to give their effort more traction :)

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 29 May 2015 @ 3:52pm

    Do not forget an important fact:

    They made the game to be easily modifiable, which is why there is already more than 80 mods available.
    All these things combined goes to show that they have something that a lot of big game companies lack: actual respect for their fanbase, instead of just their wallets.
    The goal for any company must of course be profit in order to succeed, but there is a sad lack of obtaining this through hearts and minds. CDPR really seems to actually enjoy making the product for the fans. Let us hope that it will start a trend.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Hirohito Tanaka, 30 May 2015 @ 4:14am

    I buy games exclusively from GOG. I urge everyone else to as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Anonymous Coward, 1 Jun 2015 @ 5:35am

    bbbbbbbbbbbbbbut terrorism and children

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • icon
    jsf (profile), 1 Jun 2015 @ 7:41am

    Not everything right

    CDPR got most things right and they should be lauded for what they did get right. Unfortunately they still got a couple things wrong.

    First, the video they have been showing at trades shows and online for going on a year now is higher resolution/fidelity than you can actually get in the game. Even on the most high powered kit. They purposely downgraded video for everyone because of the low power of consoles.

    Second, they optimized some higher end features for only Nvidia video cards, and if you try to use them on AMD video cards you get very poor results. CDPR basically blames AMD for this.

    Finally, there are a bunch of higher end graphical features in the released game that break things completely. CDPR knew about these bugs for a long time. They still left these features in the game even though they knew they were broken. Their answer is to just turn things down. If they knew these settings would not work correctly why did they even include them?

    So they should get kudos for what they did right, but should also be called out for what they didn't get right as well.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]

  • identicon
    Leo Sigh, 20 Jul 2015 @ 7:37am

    Awesome company I've supported for years

    I've been supporting CD Projekt Red via purchasing games on GOG since just after the service started. So much so, I now only buy games there as they treat their customers like they are valued, so they are simply the best game store online today.

    And yes, they did everything right with Witcher 3, and it is a beautiful game. Proving, if they can make so much money on the game without the use of DRM, so can any other company.

    reply to this | link to this | view in chronology ]


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