CD Projekt are mostly known for two things: adapting the Witcher into a now-wildly popular game series, and distributing DRM-free games through its GOG storefront. But long before either of those things had happened, they got their start through software piracy.
Noclip, a crowd-funded series of video game documentaries, is running a week-long set of episodes on the Witcher and CD Projekt. The first episode, released yesterday, focuses on the origins of the Polish company in the early 90s. Co-founder Marcin Iwiński already had deep connections with the gaming scene in the country because he cracked, copied, and sold Western games at a market in Warsaw.
Though it was definitely piracy, it wasn’t actually illegal. Poland was still a communist country at the time, and copyright law simply didn’t exist there. When the country turned to a market-based economy a few years later, Iwiński and Michał Kiciński used their knowledge of the games scene in Poland to found CD Projekt and provide a legitimate source for games there.
Their biggest challenge was convincing Western developers that there was a games market in Poland beyond piracy. CD Projekt proved there was by working against conventional wisdom and localizing games into Polish, which proved to be quite successful. Their final proof came with the localized version of Baldur’s Gate, which featured Polish actors and a lavish collectors box and went on to become a massive seller.
The relationship CD Projekt cultivated with BioWare opened the door for them to license the Neverwinter Nights engine for a project they were working on which featured Poland’s most famous fantasy hero. The rest, as they say, is history.
There’s a lot more to come in Noclip’s Witcher series, and it’s well worth watching for yourself.