First things first. This is a Cyberpunk 2077 related post, I’ve also not played the game, I’m not going to go into a blow-by-blow of exactly whats happened, many many other writers and content creators have done a far better job than I have of that. This post, however, does build upon a fairly relevant one I made last month that brought up similar situations at other studios and how a game being broken upon release was both received, reported on and then taken on-board by the game’s creators.
My previous article looked at the community and media that surrounds the games industry and how opinions can and do stick but tried to look at positives to how some publications try to address this, and it’s a bit too soon since Cyberpunk 2077’s release for those to be applied.
To be clear, lots and lots of games have been released before that have been in incredibly poor shape. The most oft-mentioned is obviously ET back on the Atari which caused the “Big Crash” (which only really happened in the US, but don’t let the internet know that), personally speaking, the most broken game I’ve played was Risen on the Xbox 360 where I had a bug that wouldn’t let me off the beach that you start the game on and I had to start a new game just to progress things beyond that but then found twitchy corpses, weapons that floated and a few other, some of which are cropping up in Cyberpunk 2077.
That game was created by a studio with a similar background to CD Projekt: a developer specialising in fantasy RPG’s and notably both have a history of releasing buggy product. However, unlike Piranha Bytes, CDPR has gone on to be one of Europes biggest developer/publishers (different sources will tell you they’re either worth more financially than Ubisoft, others will place them second to the French publisher) and renowned for their work on their adaptations of Andrzej Sapkowski’s The Witcher novels. They have the pedigree for creating some of the most popular and critically acclaimed RPGs of modern times. They have both the clout and the experience for them to have released a product that is in far better shape than what I’ve seen of Cyberpunk 2077.
And that’s before you get into the shady details of things. Reports have surfaced all over the internet on decisions being made and fingers being pointed in all directions. One source will tell you that crunch was always on the cards, other sources will tell you that development staff were told they wouldn’t need to enter crunch and that the game was “ready to go” and “just needed polish” back in January (of 2020 for those of you who have stumbled across this at a later date). There are two excellent Tweet chains from IndieGamerChick:
"Does CDPR recover from this?"— Indie Gamer Chick (@IndieGamerChick) December 18, 2020
The fact that Sony is offering refunds is.. well, it's as bad as it sounds.
This will end up being a case study in the future and the fallout from this will influence decisions other companies make for generations to come. This was a disaster.
and Anonymous game dev tweet
I suspect what the devs aren't saying is leadership and management couldn't either decide what was fun or make calls on the direction of the game, leading into an extremely protracted development cycle.— Anonymous Game Dev (@theanongamedev) December 18, 2020
Postmortems for years. https://t.co/l7hAPtjhwf
And I’ve seen reports that investors are looking to sue CD Projekt for misinforming them of the progress of the game to receive funding. On top of all the refunds, this obviously puts the studio in a pretty bad place. However, what sets this out from something like No Man’s Sky like I mentioned in my older post is that CD Projekt had full control over this situation, there was no pressure from a big publisher to get the game released, its been developed, published and distributed by CD Projekt (whilst The Witcher was also joint published by NAMCO Bandai). Maybe some excuses could be made for this being their first solely published title, but that still puts the pressure to release firmly on the companies internal structures, policies and recruitment and their behaviours post-release, namely blocking base-console footage from “getting out”, shows that they knew the game wasn’t ready and that, just maybe, they’d bitten off more than they can chew. The furore surrounding its release has led there to be mention of a delay to the next-gen console patch whilst they fix the current build, which is a sensible approach to take now, but hindsight suggests that cancelling the release for the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One would have been the sensible approach, it’s not like we haven’t seen games come to other platforms later in the cycle, and if anything that release model ensures a longer flow of cash into the studio.
This, for me, isn’t the biggest problem the studio faces, though with how the games industry moves it’s not something that will be talked about for long. We’ll still be talking about the games failed release, but we won’t be talking about the internal structures of CD Projekt or their working culture, the same way as the vast majority of “reputable games media” have seemingly moved on from looking at the working culture at the likes of Rockstar and Ubisoft or how our national media has sewn the rhetoric that we’re all bored of COVID-19 and trying to rush things back to “normal” or we’re bored of football players taking the knee in support of Black Lives Matter etc. Websites, newspapers and magazines exist for one purpose, to make money for the companies that own them, they don’t want to report on the same thing for too long as it may see a decline in their readership and thus business practices like Crunch Time (which will pretty much always happen due to the medium, but there are ways of managing it that studio’s and publishers don’t appear willing to apply) or toxic work cultures that don’t encourage a diverse workforce or don’t support those who need the most help will continue to exist. I’m less interested in CD Projekt making Cyberpunk 2077 good, that isn’t to say I don’t want them to fix it, they owe that to their customers, I’m more interested in them taking a look at the environment that led to this shambles of a release and working towards fixing that. But, I won’t hold my breath that anything will change in the games industry despite 2020’s biggest software release being such a let down for so many.