Billion-dollar clouds, the continent’s biggest video game developer and a cyber defense buffer zone—how did Poland become the digital superpower of our region?
Warsaw is not a typical Central European city. Poland, however, is a typical Central European country, with all its possibilities and potential. In the small villages of the Carpathians, cheese is made and cows milked, while in the metropolis of Warsaw, among the continent’s biggest skyscrapers, programs and algorithms are developed. Microsoft, PlayStation, Google—just a few of the international Big Tech giants whose Central and Eastern European headquarters are based in the Polish capital.
Poland’s digital economy has already enjoyed huge success, but the big boom could come in this decade. The Polish Silicon Valley concept is not only in the vision of national policymakers and suppliers, but big tech companies are also fully on board. These could make Poland a digital powerhouse in the region to the extent that it will have an impact on the global market. The stakes are high, as Polish successes could boost regional economic cooperation and put the so-called Intermarium (Three Seas) region on the digital chessboard for the first time in its history.
Billions in the clouds
Microsoft announced in 2020 that it has developed a comprehensive $1 billion investment plan to accelerate digital transformation and foster innovation in Poland. One of the plan’s gamechanger ideas is to build a new data center that would connect to the global cloud while providing secure data storage for Polish partners and users. In parallel with the development of cloud services, Polish operators will also be supported in exploiting modern opportunities. Microsoft alone has 6,000 Polish partners, and ongoing training is provided to help the portfolio to take advantage of the opportunities offered by the digital economy and innovation.
The project is backed by national support, as Microsoft is implementing the program in partnership with Chmura Krajowa, Poland’s largest digital cloud provider and cyber defense company. Chmura Krajowa could also be a model for other countries in the region, as the company, founded in 2018, has become a market leader in its home market in just a few years. This is thanks to the fact that it is a joint project of one of the largest Polish banks, PKO Bank Polski, and the Polish Development Fund, with a team of renowned experts and business decision-makers.
The success of the project is also demonstrated by the fact that Microsoft did not overtake one of its main competitors, Google, which announced in 2019 that it would open a seventh data center in Poland, after six in the European region. Amazon, the largest US employer in the country with 18,000 employees, could not be left out of the holy trinity of Big Tech companies. The company launched its local Polish site this year, and in the autumn, its streaming service, Amazon Prime, also kicked off.
The presence of digital companies is a constant stimulus, as large development hubs harness local knowledge and build know-how that few countries have in the region. All four Visegrad countries competed for the Google Campus, with Warsaw successfully winning the Silicon Valley tech company’s development center. However, education must also keep pace with rapid growth and innovation: for example, the Katowice University of Economics has launched a bachelor’s degree in “digital economy”, reflecting the changing environment and new market opportunities.
Developing the digital economy may seem intangible at first glance, but according to a 2021 survey, four Polish cities are in the European TOP10 for quality of teleworking—Krakow was the easiest to work from home during the pandemic. And this is in line with a survey that says Krakow is one of the best cities in the world for digital nomads. This market sector is not negligible, as digital nomads bring innovation, knowledge, and money to the country where they settle. It is no coincidence that Estonia, which has already experienced the digital revolution, is trying to lure 21st-century adventurers with a special visa and resettlement program.
Poland is a video game superpower. Not just in Europe but worldwide. And this is a fact that even its Visegrad neighbors are unaware of. Poland is Europe’s leading video game developer and exporter, with Polish video game development companies worth €470 million and 96% of production for export. In recent years, the sector has experienced massive growth, with roughly one in three of the world’s population playing on some platform and an estimated global value of 200 billion dollars by 2023.
Tailored to such demand, the Polish figures are impressive: 440 studios in the country employ nearly 10,000 developers. And supply also shapes demand, with 16 million users playing in a country of 40 million, sustaining a consumer market worth almost €600 million. Names such as Cyberpunk, GWENT, The Witcher, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings, The Witcher 3: Wild and the notoriously divisive Cyberpunk 2077 may sound familiar even to the layman.
The developer of the Cyberpunk series, the workhorse of the Polish video game industry, CD Projekt Red was founded in 2002 in a garage in Warsaw. Today, the company is the continent’s largest video game developer by value, with offices across the globe from Los Angeles to Tokyo. In addition to CD Projekt Red, Ten Square Games and PlayWay are the leading players in the market, with an extensive network of developers nationwide.
Need for skills
In the digital economy revolution, we can talk about the games industry or significant digital investments, about educating domestic companies on how to take advantage of the opportunities of the online world, but in neither case can we ignore the most sensitive area: security.
In terms of cybersecurity, the Intermarium region is not only a region to be addressed, but also a region to be feared, as it lies on the border between East and West, and its geopolitical location makes it a potential collision zone not only on the map but also in cyberspace, on the playing field of the major powers. The Polish government is well prepared in this respect, as it sets specific cyber security goals and policies in three-year cycles.
A great help in this, for example, is the Kosciuszko Institute in Krakow, an independent, non-profit think-tank founded in 2000. The Institute’s current profile includes cyber defense and digital competence development, and in an interview with Andrzej Kozłowski, an expert on the region’s cyber defense threat, he said that “the Kosciuszko Institute was the first to publish a comprehensive study on the relationship between geopolitics and new technologies,” and concluded that there are basically two approaches. “One is that the digital threat should not be narrowed down to Western, Central or even Eastern Europe, because we live in a cyberspace where there are no borders, the attack can come from anywhere; at the same time, if we look at the situation in Central and Eastern Europe, it is worth paying attention to the political dynamics, because Russia has been waging digital warfare against Estonia and there is a cyberwar in Ukraine.”
There are still gaps in regional cooperation, and Poland is not perfect, but it is certainly a regional leader in the digital revolution. And Poland’s success will open the way for the region to move to the next level in the digital space.