The Cyberpunk Fiasco Explained

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A year ago, the words Cyberpunk 2077 would’ve excited palpable anticipation, whereas today they excite anything from bitter disappointment to mouth-frothing rage. Just a cursory peek into the game’s mentions on social media reveals an endless deluge of rage and a ceaseless tapping of keyboards demanding that all those involved in its production never be allowed to work again, all in a mob of outrage not seen on this level since the Game of Thrones finale. So how could one of last year’s most highly anticipated releases fall so far, so fast?

Given the final product’s myriad of bugs and performance issues, you’d be forgiven for thinking the entire endeavour was a rushed attempt by developers CD Projekt Red to cash in on their breakout success with 2015’s The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, but development on Cyberpunk was actually ongoing since 2012 when Mike Pondsmith, creator of the tabletop role-playing game Cyberpunk 2077 is based on, was brought in to consult on CD Projekt Red’s video game adaptation.

CD Projekt Red actually released their very first game in 2007, with The Witcher for macOS and Windows, which performed well enough to garner a second instalment, and then a third, each more ambitious than the last. The Witcher 3’s runaway success was nothing short of a miraculous effort; a new developer with only two titles to their name succeeded in jumping from a small PC exclusive to an enormous open world triple-A title in only eight years, a success story that convinced some people that they could walk on water, and those people wanted their next game – quickly. But if the whole world were convinced you could walk on water, you’d start to believe it yourself before taking the plunge.

The unstoppable success and boundless ambition of The Witcher franchise took the developers from obscure upstarts to saints in less than a decade, their success with this franchise was built on consistently strong stories combined with growing technical ambition, so naturally, the next step was to attempt something even more monumental. The result was a product that ended up being the most expensive game ever made when development and marketing costs are added up, coming to $330,000,000, and despite its gargantuan costs, the released version proved to be virtually unplayable.

We next come to that now inescapable intruder – COVID-19. The pandemic and adjustment to the development team working from home slowed down production, which had already been beset with delays. Originally slated for an April 2020 release, Cyberpunk was delayed to September, then November, and finally December. Each delay provoked an online fury of people who wanted the game and wanted it without further delay. Be careful what you wish for.

In the final weeks before release, crunch time was implemented to ensure the game was ready to debut on PC, as well as both current and next-gen consoles. The overwhelming popularity of The Witcher 3, the 24th best selling game of all time, and the seemingly sterling reputation it afforded the developers meant that every teaser, every announcement, was enough to send the hype surrounding Cyberpunk off the charts.

CD Projekt Red doubled down by producing a mindboggling slew of tie-in merchandise including comic books, artwork books, Funko Pops, card games, pin sets, energy drinks and more, as well as placing advertisements just about everywhere and bringing in Keanu Reeves at the height of his resurgence in popularity to play a role in the game. Going all-in on the marketing for an already massively anticipated game ensured one thing: everyone would be watching intently, and any flaws whatsoever would be put under a microscope.

It’s well known that crunch time, rather than ensuring a game is ready to launch, can often only make existing problems worse since overworked employees can’t exactly do their best job. The first cracks began to show when the review embargo broke, and the revelation that reviewers were only allowed to feature footage previously released by the company and were only given the PC version of the game to review and not the console version, which naturally aroused suspicion that the developers didn’t want the console version to be seen ahead of release.

The eventual launch was consumed by the inescapable fact that all versions of the game suffered from countless bugs and performance issues, especially the last-gen versions, parts of which were virtually unplayable. Such was the state of the game that Sony removed it from the PlayStation store and CD Projekt Red’s stock price went tumbling. The immeasurable hype surrounding the game only served to pour gasoline onto this public relations fire.

With their once unimpeachable reputation in tatters, the developers issued apologies and refunds and promised patches scheduled for January and February which would make the console version actually, you know… playable. Naturally, the countless people who bought the PS4 and Xbox One versions were incredibly dissatisfied with having bought the game only to find it almost unplayable and likely to remain so until February.

The resultant storm of outrage, like the Game of Thrones finale before it, quickly spread out of control. The game’s designers, who worked tirelessly under impossible conditions to produce the best work they could, are now faced with masses of complete strangers insisting that they should never be allowed to work again all because the people at the top of the food chain rushed them into releasing the game prematurely.

So, we’re left with a bug-riddled game that is fast on its way to becoming a byword for the perils of crunch time and developer hubris. While some may be tempted to take some twisted revenge by sending threats and abuse to those involved, a better idea would be to play something else and get on with your life, and to remember Cyberpunk the next time you’re disappointed a game has been delayed. Meanwhile, those who desire refunds should get them, and the rest should simply wait for the day when Cyberpunk 2077 is finally playable, whenever that may be.

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