Thursday, March 3, 2016

How Poland became a major player in the Gaming Industry

Paul Chen


These past few years were good year for Polish Gaming. The Witcher 3 won over 200 awards. It was picked up by Netflix starring Henry Cavill of Superman fame as a replacement for Game of Thrones. The Witcher became Poland's most successful export since Robert Lewandowski and Sobieski Vodka. A complaint of many Poles is when will something Polish become a global household name. Well, fellow Poles, it has finally happened. This title became something that can be mentioned among global gaming successes like Pokemon Go, Fortnite and Grand Theft Auto. In addition, in the 2019 Holiday Season, a Polish creation is able to compete on the same level with the likes of Star Wars and Cats.
It should be mentioned that Techland’s zombie killing game Dying Light was also one of 2015’s biggest hits, with millions of players. Currently there are over 200 studios in Poland. Poland is now among the top 5 video games manufacturers in the world. You might wonder, since when did Poland become a major player in the gaming industry?


Gaming in Poland started under the most trying of circumstances. Back during the Cold War, there was a technology embargo to this side of the Iron Curtain so most of the equipment that game developers had to work with would be considered obsolete in the West.


Polish gaming started in 1983 with the creation of Web Master with could be player on the Atari 400 and 800. It was Created in Wrocław by Jerzy Dybski, Piotr Bednawski and Jarosław Wyżgowski. It was a game in which you control a spider and feed it insects, maintain its web and stay away from other spiders. It was surprisingly advanced for its time because of  its different difficulty levels, soundtrack and original graphics. You have to remember that it is still in the early days of the video game industry where game characters were often just a moving polygon on your screen.

Unfortunately, it did not see the light of day. The man who commissioned the game, Stanley M. Hayduke decided not to release it. Being a religious man, he was not too crazy with the violent nature of the game, and believed that it could corrupt people. As a result, it remained a bootleg game underground cult following.  


Web Master was followed by the 1985 shooting game Magic Keys by Stefan Życzkowski, as well as Marcin Borkowski’s 1986 text adventure Pandora’s Box, both for the ZX Spectrum. Because of political and economic policies, no major studios came out of it so video games remained the projects of hobbyists.
After the fall of the Iron Curtain in 1989, the situation changed dramatically. Major studios like LK Avalon, Mirage and ASF were formed. These gaming studios were able to succeed on a national level due to the lack of available titles that could be played on the still antiquated equipment in Poland.


After 1991, the technology embargo was lifted. As a result, development of gaming went into hyperdrive. The availability of top of the line tech meant that they could do things that had been technologically impossible earlier. Janusz Pelz of LK Avalon, created xLand and in 1992 they developed Electro Man, a game for DOS, which became a hit in Poland and were released in the US. In 1994, Mirage released the game, Franco: The Crazy Revenge, for Amiga, where you have to confront vicious thugs in the streets. Adrian Chmielarz and Grzegorz Miechowski, who founded the Metropolis studio in 1992, are still active and highly influential in Polish gaming. One of their hits was Gorky 17, a RPG involving a former Soviet military base and genetic experiments. It achieved international success due to its unique styles.


In 1996 saw the global launch of the spaceship game, Fire Flight by Chaos Works. A result of a $300K investment of Electronic Arts, it was praised for its amazing graphics.  With hits like PainKiller (2004) and Call of Juarez (2006), Poland started to gain a global gaming fanbase. All of this culminated in 2007 with the release of the Witcher from CD Project Red, a studio based here in Krakow. The sequel, The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings was used as a diplomatic present from the former Polish Prime Minister, Donald Tusk to President Obama in 2011. Among the current lot of popular Polish games are Vanishing of Ethan Carter (2014), received a BAFTA for Best Game Innovation and of course the aforementioned Witcher 3.

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