Written by Craig Beddis

3 min read

A quiet achiever: is Eastern Europe producing the best video games in the world?

  • Gaming

After China, Japan, USA, UK, France and the numerous other countries that immediately spring to mind when you think of video gaming ... when is it that you finally start to think about Poland, Russia and the rest of Eastern Europe?

Although a traditionally overlooked region in the collective consciousness, a number of studios and developers in the region have been quietly transforming the gaming industry over the past decade and a half. The gaming industry has actually become such an integrated part of regional culture that when Barack Obama visited Poland in 2011, he received a video game as a gift from then prime minister, Donald Tusk - naturally, it was the international hit, The Witcher 2, from local darlings CD Projekt Red.

There’s no shortage of games coming out from Eastern Europe, from critically acclaimed titles such as Poland’s The Witcher 3; continuations of established franchises like Russia’s IL-2 Sturmovik and the S.T.A.L.K.E.R. series; and fresh IPs like the Ukraine’s Crystoasis and Hungary’s Nexus: The Jupiter Incident. According to Statista (Oct ’17): “Russia was the most valuable video game market in Eastern Europe at US$1.5 billion, followed by Poland and Ukraine with game revenues of US$504 million and US$195 million, respectively”. In 2017, Eastern Europe’s game revenues grew by 9.5% from the previous year with an estimated worth of US$3.5 billion.

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How did this come to be? The rampant dismissal of copyright concerns and prevalent piracy of PC games in the 1990s created a grassroots gaming culture in Eastern Europe that inspired thousands of teenagers and young adults to explore programming - a boom that we’re currently experiencing the fruits of. CD Projekt Red spearheaded the movement in the early 2000s with the release of The Witcher, an adaptation of a Polish fantasy series that was created by a skeleton crew but which rippled outwards, garnered international acclaim, and just as importantly, threw a spotlight on Poland and Eastern Europe’s burgeoning developer community. As Michał Platkow-Gilewski, a current employee of CD Projekt Red who joined after the release of the first title, reflects, “I didn’t really care which game was made where, until I saw the first Witcher. I thought, ‘Wow. We are making this game.’” As of 2017, The Witcher series had sold over 25 million copies, with the latest installment, The Witcher 3, earning US$250 million in its first year and a half in market.

So what are they doing right then? The relative isolation from the pressures of the North American and Asian markets has allowed studios and developers in the region to focus on quality above all else without caving to outside influences. It’s a staple characteristic of CD Projekt Red, but just as equally a representative trait of studios like 4A Games, GSC Game World and Bohemia Interactive. While the commercial appeal of these studios’ products has not gone unnoticed and the majority of these studios have lucrative publishing deals, they retain a strong independent streak and work to maintain their own high standards.

The future is certainly bright considering the huge amount of hype surrounding CD Projekt Red and their upcoming release, Cyberpunk 2077, arguably the biggest darling of E3 2018. The Witcher 3 already sported a huge open world environment, and with the ambition to go bigger, bolder, and more immersive in Cyberpunk 2077, the studio looks to remain firmly on the cutting edge of the industry thanks to both their technical expertise and stylistic game design.