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Green Man Gaming and CD Projekt Red in a public spat over sale of The Witcher 3 codes (update)

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Charlie Hall is Polygon’s tabletop editor. In 10-plus years as a journalist & photographer, he has covered simulation, strategy, and spacefaring games, as well as public policy.

Online games retailer Green Man Gaming recently launched a sale on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt. At 35 percent off, it was a significant discount over the list price of $59.99. But yesterday, CD Projekt Red's business development manager went to the game's official forums telling consumers not to buy codes from GMG, GameSpot reports. While the game has returned to full price, exactly what transpired between the two companies remains murky.

Rafal Jaki is a business development manager for CD Projekt Red, the studio behind The Witcher 3. When a thread on the Witcher forums posted about the GMG sale on May 5, he quickly joined the conversation asking fans "kindly... not to buy via GMG at this time. We had not sold them keys and don't know the origin of them."

Further down the thread, Jaki explained that whatever codes GMG was selling, they didn't come from CD Projekt Red.

"We control all digital and the codes," Jaki wrote "Because we decided not to sell keys to GMG, it came as a surprise that they are doing a special promo without buying keys from us. We have reached out to ask for the source of they keys, but up until now there has been no response."

So if the codes didn't come from CD Projekt, where did they come from?

GMG's CEO Paul Sulyok told GameSpot he got them from other authorized retailers that bought them directly from CD Projekt. The codes sold at the discounted price were legitimate Sulyok insists.

"Following a six-month dialogue with [CD Projekt Red]," Sulyok said, "about the launch of The Witcher 3, we were disappointed that despite the offer of significant cash advances, and other opportunities to officially work together, (we even offered to fly to Poland to discuss in detail how we could and wanted to support this launch), CDPR chose not to engage with a number of significant, reputable, and successful retailers, including ourselves, as they instead focused on supporting their own platform, GOG."

If the codes didn't come from CD Projekt, where did they come from?, also owned by CD Projekt's parent company and operating out of the same building in Warsaw as the Witcher studio, just this week unveiled its newest iteration, a storefront client with community features called GOG Galaxy. Clearly, by keeping the sales in the family, so to speak, CD Projekt can be assured of earning higher profits off each individual sale.

So was GMG just sticking a thumb in the eye of CD Projekt, selling The Witcher 3 at a loss out of spite? That's unlikely. Polygon's conversations with game code resellers, including authorized and so-called "gray market" resellers, tell us that the margins on these kinds of transactions are very small to begin with.

What's more likely is that GMG is purchasing game codes in other regions of the world, where they're sold for less than they are here in the West, and marking them up for Western buyers. On their website the publisher of the game is listed as Namco Bandai Games, which is a publishing partner of CD Projekt in some countries.

Where things get weird is in CD Projekt's statement to GameSpot yesterday, where they are reported to have said "none of the revenue from Green Man Gaming's current Witcher 3 promotion will go to or CD Projekt Red."

It's not as if The Witcher 3 codes can just appear out of the ether. More likely, these out of region codes were denying CD Projekt Red the revenue it had hoped to gain from more affluent Western buyers.

It's a sordid situation, to be sure, and serves to shine a bright light on online software sales and the business realities that surround them. Polygon has reached out to both CD Projekt Red and Green Man Gaming for more clarification.

Update: We've received comment from Green Man Gaming about the ongoing issues with CD Projekt Red. Paul Sulyok, CEO of Green Man Gaming, said that his company remains in good standing with the publisher, which naturally calls into question the statements made on the official forums.

"Green Man Gaming (GMG) has an official contract with, and has been an approved retailer of, CD Projekt S.A. (CDPR) products since Aug. 11, 2011," Sulyok wrote to Polygon in an official statement. He went on to reiterate the efforts GMG went to, including negotiated cash advances and the offer to travel to Poland to discuss the matter in person, an offer which he said CD Projekt declined.

Sulyok stood by his rights as a retailer to serve his customers, and took issue with CD Projekt's statement on their official forums that they were not receiving revenue from GMG's sales.

"We at GMG sincerely believe in getting games to gamers, and offering them a range of buying options to suit their preferences is critically important to this industry," Sulyok said. "We often go above corporate profits and commercial gain to make this happen. We, like millions of customers, are huge fans of The Witcher series, and have been eager for the launch of this amazing title. We believe that CDPR’s desire to support their own platform by working with retail outlets that would not conflict with their own is greater than that of meeting the demands of their audience, therefore we made the decision to indirectly secure the product and deliver it to our customers. To do this, we reached out to third parties and retailers that were approved by CDPR, to legitimately pass these keys onto our customers. This means that at some point, revenue has been passed directly onto CDPR, and any additional discount on the title is absorbed by us, as we want as many people enjoying The Witcher 3 as possible."

Solyuk went on to say he looks forward to a "renewed dialogue" with CD Projekt, and apologized to consumers who missed out on their discount of The Witcher 3 last week while it ran.

"This was a spot promotion," Solyuk said, "similar to the many other spot promotions that we regularly run on AAA titles. We know that this promotion was particularly important to gamers as it gave them a greater choice as to where and how they bought this title. As this spot promotion came to an end. ... We were happy to see that other retailers have been matching our offer. This means gamers have even more choice, and we have succeeded in meeting their demands and preferences."

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