New games from CD Projekt RED
We are used to calling big, high-rated productions AAA games. In its investor's report CDR (that's the new abbreviation for CD Projekt RED) introduces a new category: AAA+. It relates to the newest productions released simultaneously on at least two platforms at a time with an average score (i.e. Metacritic) above 90%. The studio is aiming to sell more than 2 million copies of it's "AAA+” games within the first year, while distributing them through both retail and digital. These are the games that we are going to see in respectively 2014 and 2015. What games are these going to be? We don't know, but we can speculate.
Looking at other leading RPG developers like BioWare or Bethesda it's easy to notice a pattern: one of the franchises is set in the past (Dragon Age, Elder Scrolls) and the other one in the future (Mass Effect, Fallout). Is it going to be the case for CDR? It seems like it is, judging by backstage conversations heard during the conference day. Assuming that it's going to be true, the most interesting thing seems to be the universe that the new game will take place. Cyberpunk? Space opera? Or maybe something post-apocalyptic? Who knows? Every one of those themes has a strong title behind it from Deus Ex, to the aforementioned Mass Effect and Fallout.
Another question that remains unanswered is the genre of the game. Is it survival horror? Maybe it's a new cyber-punk RPG? These are still only speculations, of course. We don't have any proof, and we will never be sure until the game is actually announced. In a prospectus for investors, CDR talks about the desire to make games they would would like to play: non-linear RPG's with complex and immersive plots. Realistic games aimed towards mature audience that are all about immersive and real experience, as opposed to shallow fake commerce and political correctness. Taken in that light, it seems likely that they're working on an RPG. Based upon their past experience, they may even decide to license a famous novel or movie as the basis for their IP. After all, we have a few good sci-fi writers in Poland, and The Witcher franchise has shown that it can be done well.
At one point Jacek Dukaj was involved in the production of "They”. Although the game never saw the light of day, and there's a bunch of strange stories about the production process floating around. Maybe "They” holds the key to the meaning of this mysterious "AAA+” title that CDR is going to be working on.
The release date has been set for 2014, or 2015 for what CDR has revealed are supposed to be two AAA+ titles. If one of these titles is going to be an RPG set in (potentially) the future, what is the other AAA+ title?
The Witcher 3
Obvously, The Witcher 3 will be the second one of those AAA+ titles. All we can say about it (if we understood CDR's secret communication correctly), is that it's going to be multi-platform. If you ask me, I'll say that it's going to come out in 2014, since the studio has most likely already started working on it. In that case, the first title of the new series will be released in 2015.
What about The Witcher 2 for PS3?
The Witcher 2 for Xbox 360 has been classified as a AAA title with release date set for Q1 of 2012 (probably end of February). According to the company's definition these are the big releases with average rating above 90% and significant commercial potential, but schedules only for one platform at a time. World-famous hits with predicted sales on the level of 800K-1.3M during the first year of distribution (retail and digital). Those games will have huge production budgets and will take two to four years to complete. Suggested retail price for those game in their first phase of distribution will be 49-59 USD in the US and 49-59 EUR in Europe.
There's also a AA game scheduled for Q1 of 2013. "AA”--in CDR's lingo--means a target average score above 85%, one platform and 500K units sold with development time taking around two years. Does it mean that The Witcher 2 is coming to PS3? It may be reaching, because by that time everyone will already be familiar with the game after having played it on PC and Xbox 360. That's why sales predictions might be lower for this title. Theoretically speaking, with The Witcher 3 coming to all three platforms at the same time in 2014, releasing two previous parts for PS3 would make sense, but it would require a lot of work. After all, the first part of Geralt's adventures was done on a completely different engine. CDR would have to re-do it from scratch. Let's not forget however that HD remakes are nothing new. On top of that, there are human resources. Two big RPG series are a lot of work and I doubt that any studio would try to develop more than that at once. That's why I think that CDR will focus on those two productions.
Let's not forget that technology is changing constantly. There's a new Xbox right around the corner and it's probably going to be announced during CES next year with the release set for the end of 2012. Maybe in 2013, we will learn about PS3's successor. Those two events alone can change a lot in CDR plans. Are they ready for it? Is anyone? We don't know, but I would bet on CDR releasing multiplatform games with a large number of potential customers.
Wait, there's more
CD Projekt RED is also planning smaller productions, regarding games geared towards digital distribution with the likes of Xbox LIVE Arcade, PSN, Steam or even GOG.com. There are two game scheduled for this type of release next year during Q1 and Q4.
Let's play psychic again, shall we? Q1 of 2012 means release of The Witcher 2 for Xbox 360. Can we expect a game that will help promote this title? Near Fable's premiere there was a XBLA title where we could earn money and use it later on in the retail game. Will the studio do something similar with The Witcher?
There are add-ons coming. More than one, even. How many? At least three! Two of them will ship in 2012 (in Q1 and Q3) and one more in 2013. We can expect that there will be something like The Witcher 2 Enhanced Edition, like CDR did for for their first title, or additional modes or adventures of Geralt similar to The Witcher 2, version 2.0.
CD Projekt RED has worked on too many projects at once at before, much to their eventual dismay. At one point, they were working on: The Witcher 3 (at least engine development), The Witcher: Rise of The White Wolf, The Witcher 2--and so on. We all remember how it all ended: poorly. CDR has had time to draw conclusions and will most likely change its approach towards certain projects. What seems logical, is creating a back-up plan, a different project, preferably from a different genre to diversify the risk.
At the moment, CD Projekt RED employs around 100 people. Their plans for AAA+ titles are very ambitious, and they will need to hire more people to make their plans come to fruition. After all, it would seem unwise to split The Witcher team and assign them to different projects. When will the recruitment process begin? Currently, all efforts go into The Witcher 2 for Xbox 360, so we will probably find out more after its release. As of now, CDR representatives are swearing that they won't be using outsourcing in any shape or form (we all remember how cooperation with WideScreen Studios ended) nor buying out other dev studios.
CDR is also promising that "information included in the document describes present conditions at the company (November 2011) and its actual state (November 2011), that can change. All assumptions and statements regarding the future reflect present opinions, subjective judgements but are vulnerable to risks and uncertainties. There's a possibility of unexpected events occurring. Therefore there's no guarantee that the situation will evolve according to made assumptions.”
You have to admit though, that their plans seem ambitious. I wonder how many are they going to accomplish.