How A New Word Created A Polish Media Phenomenon

One of the biggest and most successful media franchises of the moment is Andrzej Sapkowski’s series Wiedźmin.

However, the complexities of polish translation in interpreting both this word and the series as a whole helped to create a media phenomenon, with a successful series on Netflix and three hugely successful video games alongside translations of eight of the nine books in the series under the name “The Witcher”.

The complexities of translating Mr Sapkowski’s books into English start with the very title and Witcher was not the first choice. Wiedźmin is the male version of wiedźma, or witch, and came from comparing the German words for witch (die Hexe) and sorcerer/warlock (der Hexer).

As a result, many translation efforts for the books in English outside of Poland and Eastern Europe used a range of different titles to try and capture the same intent, and the first to see regular was The Hexer, used in the first English translation of the short story and the 2001 film adaptation.

However, around 1997, Adrian Chmielarz, then of Metropolitan Games but more famous as the head of People Can Fly studios, best known for Painkiller, Outriders and working with Epic Games on the first version of Fortnite, coined the term “witcher”.

At the time, Metropolitan Games were planning to develop an adaptation of Mr Sapkowski’s story and bought the rights for what at the time in Poland was seen as “good money” but given the value of the property now is laughable.

However, despite the success of games like Teenagent and Gorky 17, Metropolis were not capable of realising the ambitious vision they had and believed (ultimately incorrectly) that the heavy focus on Slavic mythology would limit its appeal outside of Poland and Eastern Europe.

According to the developer, only one playable level and some initial screenshots were ever made.

Eventually, the rights to the Witcher made their way to another Polish developer, CD Projekt RED, who similarly managed to get the rights for 35,000 zlotych (£6,500) upfront, as Mr Sapkowski famously wanted to be paid upfront for adaptations and localisations and did not care about anything beyond that.

Initially published by Atari Europe, the game ended up becoming a sleeper hit in 2007, receiving a more comprehensive and faithful translation the following year and helping to create a media phenomenon within a decade.