Loot boxes remain a contentious issue in videogames. Having impacted the industry significantly in 2017, politicians have called for tighter regulation, while some analysts have questioned the profitability of single-player games going forward. The enduring success of The Witcher 3 against last year's highest-selling games, however, suggests players remain invested in solo adventures.
In November, CD Projekt Red CEO Adam Kiciński proposed its long-awaited Cyberpunk 2077 will include online elements to ensure its long-term success. With this in mind, I ask the developer's co-founder Marcin Iwiński where he and his team stand with loot boxes—suggesting the controversial mechanic has dominated the conversation around single-versus-multiplayer games in the last 12 months.
"'Conversation' sounds way too nice to describe what was happening last year. I would rather call it community backlash," says Iwiński . "And this time around, it wasn’t just the hardcore community, there were a lot of really pissed off gamers out there and they decided to speak up. Where we stand is quite simple and you could see it with all of our past releases—most recently The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and GWENT. If you buy a full priced game, you should get a big, polished piece of content, which gives you many, many hours of fun gameplay.
"The definition of ‘many’ may vary on a title-by-title basis, but in our case it was always 50-60+ hours of the main story-line, with up to a couple of hundred of hours of side activities—if you really wanted to max out the title. To me, this is a fair deal. You get what you paid for, plus we are always trying our best to overdeliver. There is no better PR than a happy gamer recommending your title to their friends."
Iwiński continues: "Then there’s additional paid content. What we call Expansions (not DLC, mind you). Things like add-ons way back in the Baldur’s Gate era. We released two Expansions like that, and each of them was a meaningful piece of content delivering many hours of new story and gameplay. Finally, there are the DLCs. For us, they’re small pieces of content which should be available for free (and that was the case with TW3).
"The above covers full-price titles, but there’s also free-to-play territory. Here we have GWENT, where you can buy card kegs and some vanity items. Again, the deal is simple—you can play the game for free and craft your desired card collection this way, or decide to spend money and get card kegs. The choice is yours, and the only thing you pay for is time and convenience."
Iwiński emphasises the need for transparency from developers, and that information about their games should be readily available to players. Players can then make well-informed decisions with their money, and if they buy a full-priced game, says Iwiński, they should get "numerous hours of gameplay and a significant amount of content" for their cash.
"The moment they feel you are reaching out for their wallet in any unfair way, they will be vocal about it. And—frankly speaking—I think it's good for the industry," Iwiński adds. "Things often look great from a spreadsheet perspective, but decision makers often aren’t asking themselves the question of 'How would gamers feel, or is this offer a fair one?'. Gamers are striking back, and I really hope this will change our industry for the better."
*beep*January 10, 2018
Referring again to The Witcher 3's long-term success, I ask Iwiński if CD Projekt Red will or at least would be willing to return to The Witcher world, even if there are no plans for The Witcher 4 as yet.
"We’ve devoted a big part of our lives to The Witcher and it means a lot to us, so we’re definitely not abandoning this universe," Iwiński says. "If you miss your favourite characters—give GWENT a go. If you’re a fan of storytelling, there’s Thronebreaker coming out in the near future. However, in terms of big RPGs, it’s time for Cyberpunk 2077."
On that point, I ask how CD Projekt Red deals with the hype and excitement brough by a single-word, six character-long tweet.
"It’s a huge responsibility and a lot of pressure," says Iwiński. "We know we need to deliver. And we will."