Gamer Poland—Poland, the video game superpower

Gamer Poland—Poland, the video game superpower

In 2022, in the era of the metaverse, any kind of digital development ensures considerable competitive advantage and an inexhaustible treasure chest for those who invest in it, and video games are no different. These games have become a part of our lives without us noticing—sitting on the underground crushing candies in Candy Crush or playing PlayStation with our cousins before the Sunday family lunch have become an everyday occurrence.

This article was published in print in Hype&Hyper 2022/1.

Illustration by László Bárdos

As video games are taking such an important place in our everyday lives, it also means we are willing to spend a lot on them. Just last year, the global market of video games realised 175.8 billion dollars in total revenue out of which 98 billion was owed to free-to-play (F2P) games—games that include in-game purchases and complementary services, but are otherwise free to download. Steam, one of the largest video game platforms, offers close to 30.000 games, while you can browse 4.100 different titles on German Netflix. With its 85 billion dollar net worth, Nintendo is the biggest contender on the video game market. As for the world record holder of who plays the most, Asia leads the way with 94% of the adult population choosing this form of entertainment in Vietnam, for example. These numbers are not only incredible, but perfectly highlight our current reality—out of the 8 billion people living on the planet, 3.1 billion play video games, meaning that every third person counts as a potential consumer.

When one thinks about the video game industry, in most cases, Asian and American developers come to mind. However, there is a country in Europe playing a very important role in the global market of video games—Poland, the video game superpower. Poland is Europe’s leading video game developer and exporter—a fact that some of its Central European neighbours are unaware of. Polish game developer companies realised 970 million euros in revenue in 2020, and with 96% of its production being exported, the country plays a crucial role in the global value chain. Internationally, the sector is enormous and very predictable—its market is stable with a yearly growth of 12%, and it’s estimated that by 2023, its global value could reach 200 billion dollars. Demand is a given, so the only question is supply, and Polish numbers in that regard perfectly align with the expectations of gamers. Poland boasts 440 studios employing 12.000 developers, a quarter of whom are women securing the second place for the country in terms of female employment in the video game industry.

Interestingly enough, while the global video game market is fuelled by F2P games, Poland rather plays a key role in the premium segment. F2P games account only for 20% of the total Polish market, the rest is dedicated to premium consumers making the country one of the most important PC game developers in the world with Xbox, PlayStation and Nintendo Switch games following close behind in importance. Polish companies also rule the Steam platform by focusing on the premium segment and PC game development. In August 2021, Poland was in the lead with 38 games on the Steam Top200 Wishlist, overtaking the USA, Sweden and the Far East.

Naturally, impeccable achievements in digital development and video games not only sell on an international scale, but define Polish society as well. The Polish consumer market is worth close to one billion dollars with 20 million gamers, placing the country 19th on the global ranks and promising hefty amounts of money for the companies working in the sector. It is also interesting to note that close to half of the Polish gamers are women and video games are not only targeted for youngsters as four fifths of the total gamers are adults.

The success of the industry is also supported by the Polish school system. Polish high schools are essentially leaning towards natural sciences, providing a strong base for students to succeed in the digital revolution to which Universities—with special emphasis on the video game sector—are connecting successfully. During the last 10 years, besides general digital courses, higher education started specialising in video game development and students can now choose from 71 different courses from general coding to learning how to use specific computer programs.

Apart from development in higher education, those who plan to work in the sector won’t have to move to Silicon Valley after finishing their studies. Poland—and the entire CEE region—is a paradise for digital employees. On OVO Network’s list ranking 130 cities on how compatible they are for people working remotely, the top10 is filled with cities from the region. Poland is a true paradise for digital nomads: Kraków landed first place on the list followed by three other Polish cities in the best ten—Łódź, Poznań and Warsaw. The cities were ranked according to their housing prices, standard of living, average wages and Internet speed, and the research found the region’s cities greatly exceeding their Western counterparts with Polish cities leading the way, placing the Polish digital revolution and all its opportunities and qualities in the forefront of Europe. And where there is an abundance of digital nomads, not only innovation, but the video game industry flourishes as well.

The company fuelling the Polish video game industry is the most famous development company with the highest net worth, CD Projekt Red whose portfolio includes the infamous Cyberpunk series and The Witcher, now a super popular series on Netflix. The company’s net worth places it among the biggest video game developers on the continent with offices around the world from Los Angeles to Tokyo. CD Projekt Red peaked in December 2019, becoming the biggest game developer in Europe with an 8.12 million dollar net worth replacing the French company Ubisoft. However, due to the scandals surrounding Cyberpunk 2077, the company’s stock and net worth plunged. The unrealistically high expectations towards the latest instalment in the Cyberpunk universe by both the gamer community and the industry were impossible to live up to, creating a situation similar to that of the Game of Thrones finale in which overshadowed by the surrounding hype, it didn’t matter what was put on the screen in the end, fans were bound to end up disappointed. CD Projekt Red, however, found a way to rise from its ashes and continues to lead the way for the Polish and international video game market.

The story of CD Projekt Red started in barely-post-communist Poland with a shared dream of two 17-year-old boys. In the 1990’s, the Polish video game scene was still very rudimentary, and Marcin Iwiński and Michał Kiciński were trading video games on the Warsaw computer bazaar located on Grzybowska street. Driven by their love for video games, they decided that the Polish economic prosperity of the ‘90s was the perfect opportunity to create something extraordinary. In 1994, they entered the business as distributors and sellers with their company called, however, business was scarce until they were hired for game development tasks as their international clients’ official Polish distributors. Further growth and the real turning point came when the company started localising games to Polish, opening up a whole new world of video games for the Polish audience. In 1999, the translated version of Baldur’s Gate was an incredible success, selling 18.000 copies on the first day and ensuring long-term success for the company.

Recognising the enormous potential, Marcin Iwiński and Michał Kiciński decided to start developing their own game. Both being avid readers and fans of the book series The Witcher (Wiedźmin) written by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, they seized the opportunity and bought the rights to develop a video game from the books, forever writing their names in the history book of RPG games. In 2002, CD Projekt Red was founded and The Witcher came out in 2007. The game sold 35.000 copies on its opening day, and over the course of five years received more than 100 awards. The sequel was published in 2012, followed by the 3rd instalment in 2015, both taking the world by storm, bringing entertainment and adventure to many gamers’ living rooms. The Witcher series sold over 50 million games, and since then, whatever CD Projekt is working on, the world is watching closely. Cyberpunk might sound familiar to many, being one of the popular games of CD Projekt Red, no wonder its sequel, Cyberpunk 2077, became the most highly anticipated game of the decade with the loudest critical reaction. Cyberpunk 2077’s ambiguous welcome doesn’t cast a negative shadow on the company’s history and achievements, being a global contender with a noble legacy utilising the great opportunities Poland has to offer. CD Projekt Red’s headquarter is still in Warsaw, and The Witcher—a game based on a Polish book series, developed by a Polish company—forever changed the history and concept of video games.

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