How to thrive as an indie in the shadow of a giant like CD Projekt Red | Gaming News
The Polish gaming scene has, undeniably, been operating in the shadows of the behemoth that is CD Projekt Red and The Witcher franchise. With their success, other big companies in Poland have flourished as well such as Techland (Dying Light, Dead Island), CIGames (Sniper: Ghost Warrior), and 11bitstudios (This War of Mine/Frostpunk). As we know, a rising tide raises all boats, and CD Projekt’s tide has been more of a tidal wave.
In this already densely populated development scene, you would imagine that there is very little oxygen for anybody else. However, we here at Tate Multimedia in Poland decided to take this challenge head on with our own strategies and initiatives designed to help us thrive. These ideas boil down to three different approaches; be different, do what you do best and expand your horizons.
We believe that these strategies can be applied to any development studio that feels like it might be impossible to succeed when a much bigger player is round the corner, seemingly taking most of the attention. Functioning in this way has enabled our company to grow, evolve, and succeed all whilse working hard alongside bigger studios that you might assume would create a vacuum.
Do something different
If you’re not one of the giants in your field, don’t worry — their strengths would be your weaknesses. Big companies by necessity are split in so many directions, designed to appeal to the widest possible audience. They are less able to focus on a specific group of players with their titles. Tate’s philosophy is to be different, because there’s no point trying to do what the person next to you, since they have a team 10 times your size, with budgets that might make your eyes water.
Taking CD Projekt: Yes, it is the gold standard for game developers in Poland and the world over, but they make massive, single-player focused RPGs. In a very pragmatic way, there is no way we could make these games, so why try? We can veer in a different direction and create something unlike what has been done before. One of the things that makes the Polish development so strong is a willingness to mix genres and gameplay mechanics, again creating something new and different. For example, Steel Rats has the core of a simple stunt bike racer, but on top of that there is story, vehicle combat, racing and much more and this almost overwhelming amount of variety in one game allows us to stand out from the crowd.
Play to your strengths
To survive and thrive in the shadow of giants you have to be unique and find your own niche. For us, we found great success in creating physics-based stunt bike games, and our Urban Trial series has sold over 1 million copies. The work we did to further evolve our bike physics technology for our newest game Steel Rats actually resulted in us receiving a state grant from the GameINN program worth almost half a million Euros.
This enabled us to continue doing what we do best and evolve the ideas that we know work for us. By focusing all of that into our new game and taking everything we’ve done before, we have been able to go bigger while staying focused and doing things our way, without having to worry what the bigger guys are doing out there.
On a more practical level, as a studio who self publishes all our games, there are some very specific things that we have learnt to help distinguish us from the competition. For example focusing the release of your game on the right platforms and digital stores and developing strong relationships with the first-party platform holders is necessary to get the right exposure. On a more internal level, breaking down the divide between development teams and marketing/PR has been essential and we have seen our greatest successes when these two sides are aligned.
Seek new markets
Our greatest successes have come from looking further afield. If the space around you is too crowded, look elsewhere to find room to be agile and to grow. For us this has been in Asian markets such as Japan and China. What started off as a deep love and respect for the gaming communities in these territories grew into an understanding of how they operated and how we as a company could utilize their strengths to find a new audience for our games.
As a product of necessity, we needed to find new places to expand our reach and one of the most unique aspects of Asian markets is the almost complete separation they have from the U.S./EU in terms of release schedules and even the information communicated. So you can have an almost totally different release strategy, giving you more flexibility with which games you release and when.
Of course there needs to be understanding of these territories, for example how China are more focused on mobile and free to play PC games, or how Japan are very much all in on Nintendo and PlayStation products. You need to line up publishers in these new territories to help sell and promote your games so they stand the greatest chance of gaining an audience away from your main competitors. Gamers in these parts of the world like to have a lot of contact with the developers and publishers of the games they play, so investing in local events and conferences such as TGS or China Joy are well worth the effort to further build that strong fan base in a new region
Widening our appeal has been essential to our success, with one-third of the sales of Urban Trial Freestyle coming from Japan. This elevated success allowed us to continue developing new games, now with a built in audience one step removed from our direct competition. Steel Rats for example is getting a physical release in Japan and nowhere else in the world, simply because our relationship with this territory is so strong that we know it will be a success so the risk factor is very low.
All of this said, it can be a real challenge working in Europe with one of the biggest developers in the world round the corner and seemingly the only face of the diverse and extremely creative Polish gaming scene. However, unlike the story of David and Goliath, we prefer the idea that these giants are our friends and we can still succeed beside them. We meet at conferences and other big events, there is competition but in the end we are a close community. Strong and productive competition can increase the quality of everyone involved and there is no reason why success can not be had by even the smallest of companies, no matter how big the giant next to them might be.
Michal Azarewicz is a pop culture enthusiast, life long gamer, and Gunpla builder who loves to analyze the business and marketing sides of the games industry.