Billions of Hours and Billions of Dollars
The Witcher Brand provides a channel strategy example that expands into the world of books, video games and TV.
For the past six months, I’ve enjoyed spending free time exploring the open world of the #1 ranked role playing video game for 2022, i.e., The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt Complete Edition. More than the big quests, I enjoy exploring new paths such as climbing unscalable mountain peaks, getting lost in fields of sunflowers, chasing deer, and the side quest of collecting all the Gwent cards. As a woman, I find it empowering to play Geralt, the leanly-powerful, silver-sword-wielding protagonist of The Witcher series.
I relished the game so much that on a recent trip to Salt Lake, I picked up one of The Witcher books that was available in store: The Sword of Destiny. Within a matter of 24 hours, I ordered a Witcher book series matching set from Amazon and have recently finished the fourth book. Reading the books is adding to my gaming experience, as I now have a much better sense of the back story, for instance that Yennefer and Crach on Craite had a brief fling, or that Ciri and Crach’s son, Hjalmar, had an informal engagement.
When my reading is complete, I intend to rewatch the Netflix series, which I first watched some time ago. My recollection of the TV series was that it was much darker, optically more like the swamps of Velen than the beauty of Toussaint that appears in The Witcher 3.
With its powerful franchise, The Witcher brand serves as a good channel strategy example. It likely has the ability to expand into additional channels such as:
- Virtual Reality retail experiences (like Dreamscape)
- Branded Escape Room experience (like Escape Entertainment)
- Tabletop role playing games (like Dungeons & Dragons)
- Real-world amusement parks (similar to Universal Studio’s Wizarding World of Harry Potter)
Several brand extensions already exist. For instance, CD Projekt Red announced a free-to-play augmented-reality, location-based RPG for mobile in the Witcher Universe called The Witcher Monster Slayer. Before the 2022 closure, it was also possible to LARP (i.e., live action role play) at The Witcher School in Poland.
Channel Strategy Example: The Witcher Brand Books
Our channel strategy example starts with stories. The world of The Witcher was created by Polish author Andrzej Sapkowski, first as a series of short stories in the magazine Nowa Fantastyka, then as a series of six novels. The titles were published in 1990, 1992, 1993, 1994, 1995, 1996, 1997, 1999 and 2013. In early 2020, Amazon reported Sapkowski as their best-selling author, ahead of Harry Potter author J.K. Rowling, after 2019 Netflix popularization.
One source claims that over 15 million Witcher books have been sold cumulatively over time as of 2020. Given the game’s popularity, most likely this is up several million as of this writing in early 2023. Still, this means The Witcher brand still has a way to go to rank among the best-selling fantasy books of all time:
|Rank||Brand/Title||Author||Copies Sold (million)|
|#1||Harry Potter Series||J.K. Rowling||500 M|
|#2||The Lord of the Rings||J.R.R. Tolkien||150 M|
|#3||The Hobbit||J.R.R. Tolkien||142 M|
|#4||The Little Prince||Antoine de Saint-Exupery||140 M|
|#5||The Chronicles of Narnia||C.S. Lewis||100 M|
|#6||Twilight||Stephenie Meyer||100 M|
|#7||The Vampire Chronicles||Ann Rice||80 M|
|#8||The Wheel of Time||Robert Jordan and Brandon Sanderson||80 M|
|#9||Discworld||Terry Pratchett||70 M|
|#10||A Song of Ice and Fire||George R.R. Martin||60 M|
|NA||The Witcher series||Andrzej Sapkowski||15-20M|
Estimating the revenues of the book brand starts with an estimate around pricing. Depending on the price per book/e-book, 15 million copies sold represents an estimated $75 million (at $5/book) to $150 million (at $10/book) in revenue (of course, the prices would not be the same throughout the world or over time or between e-books and regular books).
Channel Strategy Example: The Witcher Brand Video Game
A fantasy series is often a natural fit for being developed into a game. And that’s where our channel strategy example heads next. Polish video game publisher CD Projekt began working on The Witcher in September 2003 with a budget of nearly 20 million PLN, and a team of approximately 100 people.
The Witcher role-playing video game was first released in 2007 by CD Projekt Red. The Witcher 2: Assassins of King was released in 2011, and The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt in 2015.
Projekt Red CEO, Adam Kicinski, explains the firm’s strategic direction and continued focus on The Witcher franchise, saying,
“We are here to create revolutionary role playing games with memorable stories that inspire gamers…Bold vision: we aim to create a huge story driven RPG (role playing game) in a universe known from fantasy books…Today we have two amazing powerful franchises: The Witcher and Cyberpunk (Cyberpunk recently sold 20 million copies)”
Statista reports lifetime sales of 65 million copies of The Witcher video game from its 2007 release to April 2022.
In 2021, over 90% of the sales of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt were digital, as contrasted to 68% physical distribution in 2015.
Financially, CD Projekt revenues in USD were:
According to one estimate, The Witcher makes up 61% of CD Projekt’s revenues, implying the video game brand cumulative revenues exceed $1 billion in USD.
If The Witcher is closer to 100% of CD Projekt revenue, then the video game brand likely exceeds $1.5 billion in cumulative revenues. The franchise is profitable, as the reported development cost for The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt is $81 million.
The Witcher ranks #7 in the top 10 RPG brand franchises by unit sales.
|RPG Rank||Brand Franchise||Publisher||Unit Sales (in millions)||Revenue (in billions USD)|
|#1||Pokemon||Nintendo||440 M||$90 B|
|#2||Final Fantasy||Square Enix||168 M||$11 B|
|#3||Dragon Quest||Square Enix||84 M||$6 B|
|#4||Monster Hunter||Capcom||84 M||$4 B|
|#5||Borderlands||2K Games||71 M||$1 B+|
|#6||The Elder Scrolls||Bethesda Softworks||59 M||$1 B+|
|#7||The Witcher||CD Projekt Red||50 M (now 65M)||$1 B+|
|#9||Fallout||Interplay Productions||38 M||NA|
|#10||Kingdom Hearts||Square Enix||35 M||NA|
And, while it doesn’t crack the Top 50 in overall highest grossing video games franchises by TitleMax, The Witcher’s $1B+ franchise revenue is impressive.
As we can see from the RPG list, there are a number of video game brand franchises in the $1+ billion brands that are not on the revenue list, such as Borderlands, The Elder Scrolls and The Witcher.
|TitleMax Rank||Game Title/ Brand||Year||Revenue|
|#3||Call of Duty||Activision||2003||$17 B|
|#5||Pac-Man||Bandai Namco||1980||$14 B|
|#6||Space Invaders||Taito Square Enix||1978||$14 B|
|#7||Dungeon Fighter Online||Neople Nexon||2005||$12 B|
|#8||Street Fighter||Capcon||1987||$11 B|
|#9||Final Fantasy||Square Enix||1987||$11 B|
|#10||Warcraft||Blizzard Entertainment||1994||$11 B|
|#11||CrossFire||Smilegate Tencent||2007||$11 B|
|#12||FIFI||Electronic Arts||1993||$10 B|
|#13||Grand Theft Auto||Rockstar Games||1997||$9 B|
|#15||League of Legends||RiotGames Tencent||2009||$8 B|
|#16||Monster Strike||Mixi||2013||$7 B|
|#17||Puzzles & Dragons||GungHo Online||2012||$7 B|
|#18||Fantasy Westward Journey||NetEase||2001||$6 B|
|#19||Digimon||Bandai Namco||2015||$6 B|
|#20||Honor of Kings/Arena of Valor||Tencent Games||2015||$6 B|
|#21||Sonic the Hedgehog||Sega||1991||$6 B|
|#22||Dragon Quest||Square Enix||1986||$6 B|
|#23||Clash of Clans||Supercell||2012||$6 B|
|#24||Pro Evolution Soccer/ Winning Eleven||Konami||1995||$6 B|
|#25||Dragon Ball||Bandai Namco||1986||$6 B|
|#27||Candy Crush Saga||King||2012||$5 B|
|#28||Star Wars||Walt Disney||1982||$5 B|
|#29||Assassin’s Creed||Ubisoft||2007||$4 B|
|#30||Madden NFL||Electronic Arts||1988||$4 B|
|#31||Need for Speed||Electronic Arts||1994||$4 B|
|#32||Grand Turismo||Sony Interactive||1997||$4 B|
|#33||Monster Hunter||Capcom||2004||$4 B|
|#34||Resident Evil||Capcom||1996||$4 B|
|#36||Fate||Type-Moon Sony Music||2004||$3 B|
|#37||The Legend of Zelda||Nintendo||1986||$3 B|
|#38||Tomb Raider||Square Enix||1996||$3 B|
|#39||Super Smash Bros.||Nintendo||1999||$3 B|
|#40||MapleStory||Wizet Nexon||2003||$3 B|
|#41||Battlefield||Electronic Arts||2002||$3 B|
|#43||PlayerUnknown’s Battleground||Bluehole Tencent||2017||$3 B|
|#44||Metal Gear||Konami||1987||$3 B|
|#45||The Sims||Electronic Arts||2000||$3 B|
|#46||Fortnite||Epic Games Tencent||2017||$2 B|
|#47||Clash Royale||Supercell||2016||$2 B|
|#48||Guitar Hero||Activision||2005||$2 B|
|#49||Lego||The Lego Group||1995||$2 B|
|#50||Mortal Kombat||Warner Bros. Interactive||1992||$2 B|
Channel Strategy Example: The Witcher Brand TV Series
The 2002 Polish fantasy television series for The Witcher did not achieve the recognition and commercial success of the Netflix TV series.
The most significant TV channel strategy brand recognition is for the Netflix The Witcher TV series, first released in December 2019. The second Netflix season released in December 2021.
Looking at Google Trends on searches for the search term “The Witcher” in the chart below, the largest worldwide spike was seen with the 2019 movement of The Witcher brand franchise into TV.
In December 2019, Google Trends reports 100 searches, compared with a previous high of 53 in May 2015 (the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt video game). In December 2021, another peak is seen at 50 with the second season of Netflix.
The Witcher Netflix TV series is well-rated, with Parrot Analytics summarizing:
“The Witcher ranks at the 99.4th percentile in the Action and Adventure genre. This means that The Witcher has higher demand than 99.4% of Action and Adventure titles.”
According to Business Insider, The Witcher competed with Disney Plus Star Wars series, The Mandalorian for top viewing spots in late 2019 and early 2020.
|Netflix Rank||TV Show||# Hours Viewed|
|#1||Squid Game (season 1)||1.7 B|
|#2||Stranger Things (season 4)||1.4 B|
|#5||Money Heist (part 5)||792 M|
|#6||Bridgerton (season 2)||656 M|
|#7||Bridgerton (season 1)||626 M|
|#8||Money Heist (part 4)||619 M|
|#9||Stranger Things (season 3)||582 M|
|#10||Lucifer (season 5)||570 M|
|#11||All of Us Dead||561 M|
|#12||The Witcher (season 1)||541 M|
|#13||Inventing Anna||512 M|
|#14||Ginny & Georgia (season 2)||505 M|
|#15||13 Reasons Why (season 2)||496 M|
|#16||Ozark (season 4)||491 M|
|#17||The Witcher (season 2)||484 M|
|#18||13 Reasons Why (season 1)||476 M|
|#20||You (season 3)||468M|
While the revenues and profit that Netflix makes from The Witcher are not directly reported, a few figures are available.
The costs for The Witcher season one production were $10 million per episode, with total season costs estimated at $70-$80 million.
In early 2020, Netflix attributed growth in subscribers and profit partially to the popularity of The Witcher and The Crown. The 8.8 million subscribers added in fourth quarter 2019 carried a value of $114 million, at a $12.99 price. Netflix pricing to advertisers for its ad-supported version was $65 per 1K ad impressions in 2022 (this pricing is not specific to the The Witcher.)
Netflix The Witcher TV shows also have a brand halo effect, boosting sales of the video game and books. As a channel strategy example, the benefit was substantial:
“physical book revenue for The Witcher soared 562 percent in the two weeks following the Netflix shows premiere, as compared to the same period last year.”
Channel Strategy Example: Billions of Hours and Billions of Dollars
The Witcher provides an excellent channel strategy example of a brand’s success across books, video games and TV. The available data suggests that most of the revenue comes from the video game at over $1 billion (likely over $1.5 billion). The books generate another $75 to $150 million. Attributable TV revenues likely exceed $200 million, given production costs and the show’s performance within Netflix.
Cumulatively, the brand’s lifetime revenues are nearly $2 billion.
Consumers are highly involved with The Witcher brand in the different channels. It takes over 51 hours to play The Witcher 3, or 171 hours to fully complete it. The Witcher 2 came in at 24 hours, or 55 hours for completion. And, The Witcher 1 clocked in at 35 hours, or 64 hours for completion. If you take a rough average across the three games and multiply by 65 million total units sold, that represents 2.4 billion hours of playtime for the main story alone.
By comparison, Netflix reports over 1 billion hours of viewing when season one and season two are added together.
It’s estimated to take 218 days to read The Witcher books, at an average of an hour per day. For me, it’s going faster. As the books are highly engaging, I am finishing about one a week, and reading them is adding to my enjoyment of the video game.
More Channel Strategy Examples
There are other channel strategy example approaches in different industries that we work with regularly.
For financial services, such as banking, mutual funds, insurance and credit cards, the relevant channel strategy options can include:
- online marketplaces
- direct mail (still huge for credit cards)
- online websites of individual firms
- branches with employees (e.g., for banks)
- captive agents
- direct sales agents
- brokers (who represent multiple firms)
We explored a matrixed channel strategy example for supplemental insurance in the article “Customer Segmentation Model for B2B Market.”
For consumer products, I also wrote this article, “What’s the Best Channel Strategy for Your Brand?” In it are examples of more distribution and sales venues, such as retail outlets (e.g., stores, kiosks, vending machines, store within a store), online, and sales structure (e.g., inside sales, broker, manufacturers rep).