Earlier this month, Polish games outlet PolskiGamedev.pl ran a story claiming the 200-person team at Techland responsible for Dying Light 2 was stuck in a rut. Reports of in-fighting, mismanagement, and a lack of vision for the long-in-development project seemed to signal the ambitious zombie RPG was in danger.
We reached out to Techland to get their side of the story. Senior PR Manager Ola Sondej and Lead Game Designer Tymon Smektala shared their perspective in a wide-ranging interview that also touched upon rumors of a Microsoft buyout, game development during a pandemic, and more.
The Escapist: Were you aware of the PolskiGamedev.pl report before it was published?
Ola Sondej: Yes. And because we believe in transparency, we gave its author the opportunity to talk to some of our employees, so they could show a different perspective to the story presented by the anonymous sources, or even dismiss it altogether. We provided the author with a great deal of information — unfortunately, not all of it was used in the article.
Which details of the story do you specifically refute?
Sondej: The article includes many inaccuracies which we tried to rectify in the materials we provided the author with:
- Work on DL2 is chaotic and the game’s vision has changed multiple times. There is no vertical slice.
Development of Dying Light 2 is moving forward according to our internal schedule we revised at the beginning of the year.
We’ve had a Dying Light 2 vertical slice for over four years. The foundations remain the same since we have started work on production. However, the natural process for any creative work on the game is the evolution of individual components. This is dictated by factors such as optimization, improvement, or extension of some extremely promising elements.
- The Wrocław studio has fallen behind on the production and the project is currently being saved by the Warsaw office, which has stopped work on the new title.
This is not true. Techland’s main office is in Wrocław, and it is there that the team developing Dying Light 2 is working (about 200 people). The Warsaw studio is currently conducting work on our new, yet unannounced, production. Of course, we constitute one company and support each other. For example, despite the team in Warsaw being focused on their own project, a few people from the studio are partially supporting the production of Dying Light 2.
- Cooperation with Chris Avellone is not smooth. Techland redesigned and/or changed a lot of his ideas because of poor quality. There are a lot of issues between him and Adrian Ciszewski.
The game’s vision was created collectively with the cooperation of Adrian Ciszewski, Paweł Selinger, and later Chris Avellone even before we started any production work and has remained unchanged since then. Of course, iterations took place in individual aspects, which is absolutely natural in the production cycle of a video game.
Here’s Chris’ comment on the matter:
“I enjoy working on Dying Light 2, and I enjoy working with Techland. Design elements do get discussed and iterated on, and that’s a normal part of any game development process. In the end, you do the best work you can to support the gameplay and vision for the title; that’s a designer’s job.
“While Adrian Ciszewski and I discussed story, I never felt like there was any conflict. It’s normal for all design elements to be iterated on, not just narrative. Story is a key element for Dying Light 2, and it’s important to the team and I to get it right.”
- Inappropriate behavior of the leaders.
There is no permission for this type of behavior at Techland. Everyone, without exception, is obligated to comply with our standard work regulations; we also have an anti-mobbing policy, and the HR department is in constant contact with our employees.
Because work comfort is extremely important to us, we are currently reviewing the situation from a dozen or so years ago, which the journalist had described. If the person who gave him information wants to share their opinion with us, our HR department will be happy to meet with them.
- The employee turnover at Techland.
The turnover in our company is on par with the rest of the industry. We are constantly expanding our team. Today, the headcount is almost 400 people.
- Karol Bach was employed in the company to prepare it to enter the stock market.
Karol Bach is our CFO and takes charge of the company’s finances. Today, we have no plans to enter the stock exchange, although of course we do not exclude such a possibility in the future.
- The email we had sent to our employees (the one starting with “we recently received questions from some of you on how to handle any potential unexpected media contacts…”) was a response to the work on the article.
It was just a standard email about one of our policies. It is provided to employees already on the first day of work, but we also remind them about it every few months. It does happen that people employed with us receive questions from the media. If a journalist is interested in our games (or) the company, then at Techland, as with most large companies, we have an appropriate department that has the knowledge to address all media questions. This gives us confidence that the published data is current and consistent with facts.
Which details of the story do you believe were lost in translation or reported incorrectly?
Sondej: It was a translation of bits and pieces of the article containing only comments from anonymous sources. It completely omitted responses from our employees on the various subjects mentioned in the article, including further explanations of our creative director’s (Adrian Ciszewski) role at Techland, which shed light on his achievements for the studio and the games we make. As mentioned before, the initial translation also unfairly put Chris Avellone in a bad light and suggested our relationship with him is strained, which isn’t true at all.
Which details of the story do you consider legitimate areas of concern?
Sondej: At Techland we work as a team and we grow as a team. We are proud that many of our employees have chosen to be with us for years. We believe that a great working atmosphere is the reason behind that. The mentioned article contains various opinions – from both our employees and anonymous sources. Each opinion matters to us, so we are now carefully analyzing all the topics raised.
Have any employees voiced similar concerns as to those in the story? How have those concerns been dealt with?
Sondej: We do not share with the public private opinions of our employees — those are confidential. But I can assure you that the work atmosphere is very important to us and we have multiple tools that allow us to react on the spot. Our HR department is also available to all of our employees at all times.
Where do you think the Microsoft acquisition rumors came from?
Sondej: I think some wrong dots were connected in late 2019, and it snowballed into something larger. We work with Microsoft on a regular basis since Dying Light 2 is also being developed for Xbox One, as well as PC and PlayStation 4. Perhaps someone misinterpreted our relationship.
Has Microsoft or another publisher come to you with an offer to acquire the studio? If so, why did you decline?
Sondej: We do see some interest from potential investors every now and then, but we always make it clear we are independent and will remain independent for the foreseeable future. We have no plans to enter the stock market, nor (are we) currently open to investors or potential buyers. To clarify, we were not in such talks with Microsoft.
What has been the most challenging aspect of making Dying Light 2?
Tymon Smektala: Game making is generally a far more difficult job than many people think. Until your game reaches a wide group of players and gets received well, everything is complex to be honest. For me the most challenging part was understanding that we still need some extra time to fully deliver on our ambitious vision — that we have built a very complex game that requires a lot of work in terms of polish, balancing, etc. This is a non-linear game where your decisions impact not only the story itself, but also the state of the world — and … the sandbox around you has numerous variants, and you need to test and find quality in all of them.
What’s the work-life balance like for Dying Light 2 right now? Is it better or worse than it was six months ago?
Smektala: I think it’s very good. Every half a year the company asks us how we rate different areas of our organization, and work-life balance is consistently rated with very high notes. We occasionally put in additional hours, but it’s an exception here, not a standard and it’s not obligatory. Personally I’m very focused on the topic of work-life balance, I believe good balance is extremely important in creating high-quality work, and I never myself felt that there’s something off about how we approach this topic here.
How has the virus affected the team’s workflow? Do some employees at Techland feel they work better in a work-from-home environment? Are there plans to keep people in a work-from-home environment even after the pandemic is dealt with?
Smektala: I think this is a very personal and subjective matter, and it’s hard to answer a question like that using general terms. We have work to do, we’re excited about it, so we managed to organize ourselves in those new circumstances, but it’s just something that works for some people and doesn’t for others. For me, people are Techland’s biggest wealth, and I genuinely love the people here — which is a big statement from someone who’s basically an introvert in disguise. I’ll be honest about it; I admit I miss our morning stand-ups, coffee machine chit-chat, all of those things that made me feel we’re having a great time working on a cool game.
Do you still plan to launch Dying Light 2 in 2020? Will it utilize Xbox Smart Delivery?
Smektala: There’s a whole team at Techland that works on the announcement of the release date for the game and every piece of info that accompanies it, and I know they want to surprise players, so I don’t want to spoil it for them or our community. The only thing I can say is please trust us — it’s the last stretch for this project, and we need your support.
This interview has been edited for brevity and clarity.