The Polish Simulator Company Gamers Love to Hate

PlayWay S.A., one of the most bizarre companies in Poland's booming gaming industry, is also one of its most successful. It has a large catalog of games that are essentially first-person simulations. These allow players to live out their vocational dreams, such as renovating houses or running a gas station, and work in an auto shop. Although the games aren't immediately obvious hits, Steam's global bestsellers list often lists them as top-selling. In September, Gas Station Simulator was No. 2 spot.
PlayWay's ability to generate hits from so many curious subjects has made the company even more popular among investors. Its market capitalization now stands at $751 million (2.94 Billion PLN). PlayWay is now the 13th largest company on the Warsaw Stock Exchange and the 3rd-largest games firm. This puts it behind only CD Projekt Red (developers of The Witcher series and Cyberpunk2077) and Ten Square Games (the mobile giant behind Let's Fish and Fishing Clash). PlayWay's return on investment percentage is 50 percent higher than Alphabet and Facebook's, and about the same as Apple. It schedules large dividend payouts regularly, including a recent distribution of $3 per share.

PlayWay continues to expand its output, while other big games publishers have had to deal with increasing production costs and competition from the mobile marketplace by reducing their release schedules. The company has released 28 new titles over the past 12 months and is currently developing more than 100. A first-person president simulator is available, as well as a wedding planner simulator. There are also a drug dealer simulator and a truck building simulator. Krzyysztof Krzyysztof, PlayWay founder and CEO, is having trouble keeping track of all the games. "It's from you?" he inquired when I mentioned Dolphin Trainer VR while visiting one of the company offices in Warsaw.

PlayWay relies heavily on an extensive network of outside development studios to make its high-volume publishing approach work. Many of these studios are run by a small number of remote workers. Baked Games is currently working with PlayWay to develop three games from its headquarters located in Czeladz (an hour outside of Krakow). PlayWay currently has partnerships with 120 studios in Poland, more than 25% of the total 440 in Poland. PlayWay has managed to maintain a relatively small size, according to triple-A publisher standards. It employs 40 employees full-time. These include QA testers, finance and marketing executives. CD Projekt Red has more than 900 employees, while EA employs over 9,800 people.

PlayWay offers free demos and standalone prologues instead of spending a lot of money on marketing. They hope to increase awareness by giving away samples of larger games that will eventually become complete products. (12 of 28 company releases in the past year have featured free demos or prologues. To build on its previous successes, the company continues to swap new titles into the recommended slots of the Steam store page. This helps to attract more players to its latest releases. PlayWay relies on audience feedback, such as the number of Steam wishlist players adding titles, to determine which games need more funding to promote and publish content.

PlayWay has been criticized by some players as a pyramid scheme for the attention market, manipulating players with an endless number of titles that may never be developed beyond rough sketches, clunky collection of items and environments, and task lists. It's often referred to as a "trailer" company, rather than a game publisher. This is because it's more interested in marketing materials than final games. Kostowski disagrees with this description and insists that every game the company announces will be released. He also stated that while production delays may occur, the company is as transparent as possible regarding any changes to its schedule through announcements on Steam and updates to developer blogs.