July 20, 2024


Feel everything

How CD Projekt Red climbed to the top of the RPG mountain, then slipped

DNA Tracing

This article first appeared in PC Gamer magazine issue 366 in February 2022, as part of our ‘DNA Tracing’ series, where every month we delve into the lineages behind iconic games and studios. 

CD Projekt Red is a phenomenon that could only have occurred in Poland—and only, really, in the ’90s. It’s a time that explains more than the studio’s ludicrously anachronistic title. This was not just the golden age of the CD-ROM, but the golden age of piracy too—at least in the former Eastern Bloc. Under communist rule, without legitimate access to Western retailers or any copyright law to speak of, Polish PC gaming culture grew in the street markets, where games were sold for £3 a pop—according to the excellent reporting of Eurogamer’s resident Witcher scholar, Robert Purchese. 

As the iron curtain lifted, local companies—including a pair of skinny young hopefuls named Marcin Iwi ski and Michał Kicinski—could finally, legally import and sell the biggest games from around the world. But in doing so they would have to compete with the Captain Kidds and Calico Jacks who had thrived in their stead.