What the next 10 years of The Witcher and Cyberpunk means for CD Projekt
In a long-term strategy update Tuesday, CD Projekt laid out an extremely ambitious development plan, stretching far into the future, and including confirmation of no less than six new games in addition to the new Witcher game it had already discussed: two further Witcher sequels, two Witcher spinoffs, and , plus the creation of an entirely original third series, currently in the early conceptual stages.
CD Projekt wisely put no firm timeline on any of this, but from what the studio said, it is possible to put the projects in a rough release order, and to explain where the resources to make them will come from.
In the near future, CD Projekt Red — the company’s main studio, comprising three development hubs in Poland — remains focused on finishing a PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X version of The Witcher 3, due this year, and the Phantom Liberty expansion to Cyberpunk 2077, due in 2023.
After that, the next three games in the development pipeline all belong to the Witcher franchise, and two are in pre-production. The first is “Sirius”, the codename for a single- and multiplayer game made by Boston studio The Molasses Flood, which CD Projekt acquired last year, and which made co-op survival game Drake Hollow. Also in pre-production is “Polaris”, the first game in the new Witcher saga, made by the core CD Projekt Red team. Next up is most likely “Canis Majoris”, a “full-fledged” Witcher game, but separate from the new saga and made by an external studio.
Beyond this trio, CD Projekt Red expects to follow “Polaris” with two sequels in the space of just six years. Meanwhile, “Orion,” the next game in the Cyberpunk universe, will be made by a new CD Projekt Red studio in Boston as well as CD Projekt Red Vancouver (formerly Digital Scapes, another recent acquisition). “Hadar”, the new IP, is the most distant prospect; CD Projekt Red is working on the setting but hasn’t begun any kind of actual game development.
There is at least a decade’s worth of new game releases here. It’s very rare for any publisher or developer to set out its plans so far in advance. It also represents a radical expansion for a company that, until this year, only worked on one major project at a time — and took its time about it, too. (The Witcher 3 and Cyberpunk 2077 were in production for four to five years apiece.) Now CD Projekt is talking about managing two to three projects at internal studios simultaneously, plus working with an external studio for the first time on anything bigger than a mobile game.
It is, in short, an extremely aggressive plan, and revealing it in full is a surprising, almost unprecedented PR move. What’s going on here?
One reason CD Projekt’s motivation is hard to parse is that there is so much going on in its messaging, in addition to announcing its huge production slate. Across a 15-minute strategy video, an investor call, a presentation document, and several further deep-dive videos (on marketing, culture, and technology), CD Projekt seemed anxious to talk about a range of topics, including: expanding into multiplayer gaming (while retaining a focus on single-player experiences); transitioning from its own technology to Epic’s Unreal Engine 5; expanding further into film, TV, and mobile gaming; promoting a healthy and sustainable working culture across its group of studios; improving both the quantity and quality of its product. All this, and it announced a change of leadership, too, with joint CEO Marcin Iwinski moving back to a non-executive position as chairman of the board.
There is no doubt the company and its investors were shaken by the response to Cyberpunk 2077, which launched in late 2020 in such a rough state that PlayStation took the extreme step of withdrawing its PlayStation 4 version from sale. Earlier this year, it was reported that CD Projekt’s stock price had slumped to a quarter of its value before the game’s release. With sales of Cyberpunk 2077 now hitting 20 million — helped along by the success of new Netflix anime Cyberpunk: Edgerunners — CD Projekt is not struggling financially, but it will certainly be keen to rebuild confidence in its ability to make games, and to drive up that stock price.
The repeated insistence on game quality, the extensive discussion of how Unreal Engine 5 will streamline the development process, and the stress placed on a growing network of internal and external studios, all seem designed to offer post-Cyberpunk reassurance. But the extent of the announced plan goes so far beyond that — and so far beyond CD Projekt’s capacity to deliver thus far, according to its track record — that it seems the company has a loftier goal here than just reassuring everybody that its next games won’t be buggy messes.
Overall, the presentations seem bent on changing the very conception of the kind of company that CD Projekt is. Since The Witcher 3, CD Projekt has projected an image similar to that of Rockstar Games: a top-flight developer moving at a deliberate pace from one mega-blockbuster to the next. This new vision of the company, working across three properties, and three or more projects simultaneously, is quite different.
The explosion of activity around The Witcher in particular suggests the way a publisher like Ubisoft seeks to exploit the likes of Assassin’s Creed with a continuous stream of new games (coincidentally, Ubisoft made its own raft of more or less nebulous Assassin’s Creed announcements recently). But perhaps Blizzard is a closer comparison: an entity halfway between a publisher and a mega-studio, with multiple internal teams working on a handful of cherished properties.
This seems to be the image CD Projekt now wants to project; the last question is to whom is it projecting that? One credible answer is prospective employees; some of the videos came across like extended recruitment ads, and the company certainly has a lot of staffing up to do. Another theory might be that CD Projekt is showing its wares to present itself as an attractive acquisition prospect, as a wave of big mergers continues to roll through the industry.
Or it could be the opposite. Given the company’s depressed share price, and remaining CEO Adam Kiciński’s past insistence that the company is not for sale — which he reinforced with talk of its complete independence in the strategy video — it seems most likely that CD Projekt is actually trying to bolster its value and rally its shareholders against the temptation of taking a quick buck from some prospective buyer. Stick with the company, its leaders are saying, and a bright, empire-building future awaits.
It’s a compelling vision. Now CD Projekt just needs to deliver it.