The Witcher series of video games has arguably been one of the bigger hits in the world of gaming. CD Projekt’s creation of the series of games garnered a fairly staunch following, and turned its world of sword and sorcery – not to mention protagonist, Geralt of Rivia – into a worldwide phenomenon. With the smashing success of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt (Game of the Year award-winner for 2015), developer CD Projekt Red has been enjoying the ride. That is, until now, it seems.
The series of games is, as most of us know, based on a series of novels by author Andrzej Sapkowski. The author sold the rights to that property to video game developer CD Projekt Red in 1997. Well, now it seems that the author has just made a demand at a Polish stock exchange for more than $16 million in royalties from CD Projekt Red. The demand was made in a letter (check out the English version here), and makes some pretty serious allegations against the game publisher. The first of these, is that the contract for royalties that the two parties negotiated contravenes a specific Polish royalty law. The letter itself (written by Sapkowski’s representatives), states, “It may be invoked when the compensation remitted to the author is too low given the benefits obtained in association with the use of the author’s work. Notably, the latter condition is considered fulfilled if the compensation remitted to the author is too low by a factor of at least two”.
Sapkowski gave an interview to Eurogamer last year, in which he revealed that he had sold the rights to the entire Witcher catalog to CD Projekt Red for a fixed sum of money. He also stated that he came to regret this decision later. In the interview, the author laments, “I was stupid enough to sell them rights to the whole bunch. They offered me a percentage of their profits. I said, ‘No, there will be no profit at all – give me all my money right now! The whole amount.’ It was stupid. I was stupid enough to leave everything in their hands because I didn’t believe in their success. But who could foresee their success? I couldn’t.”
So now, rather than the previously-negotiated lump sum payment, Sapkowski’s demand letter requests six percent of the profits obtained for the lifetime of The Witcher’s franchise. To put that into more perspective, that would equate to an entitlement for Sapkowski of around $16,110,000 (60 million Polish Zlotys).
Then, there’s the second allegation in the letter. The demand also claims that the initial agreement between book author and game developer only ever pertained to the first video game in the series – The Witcher – released back in 2007. As the letter states, “Therefore distribution of all other games, including their expansions, add-ons, etc., is, simply speaking, unlawful”.
CD Projekt Red isn’t sitting back on its laurels, though. The developer published a response to the author’s claims, calling them groundless. Roughly translated from Polish, the developer’s comments conclude, “All liabilities payable by the Company in association therewith have been properly discharged”. The company has stated that they hope to reach an amicable resolution to this issue with Sapkowski, but that they won’t be shelling out any more money.
Collectively, The Witcher video game series has sold over 25 million copies, and CD Projekt Red is currently worth over $2 billion. One could potentially wonder if this is a case of Sapkowski’s hindsight being 20/20, and legitimately trying to rectify a decision he regrets, or if he’s simply seeing what the company did with The Witcher, and is trying to dig into their pockets. The aforementioned representatives of Mr. Sapkowski have given a deadline of October 19 for negotiations to begin, but CD Projekt Red has been unavailable for comment on the topic (save for their response linked above). So, we’ll just have to see where this goes from here.
Now, it’s not really clear as to how much of this is posturing, and how much is actual legal threat on which the parties intend to follow through. Still, with The Witcher set to get its own series on Netflix, the IP only seems set to grow in value.
What say you all, dear readers? Do you feel that Andrzej Sapkowski is right in demanding the royalties, or does CD Projekt Red have the upper hand here? Let us know in the comments below!