Daily Reaction: Cyberpunk 2077 and the Growing Distrust in CD Projekt RED

Look, I couldn’t not talk Cyberpunk 2077 and CD Projekt RED’s clumsy attempts at damage control following a botched and disappointing launch. As one of the most anticipated games of nearly the last decade, Cyberpunk 2077’s rocky launch—particularly on last-gen consoles—will be a moment in gaming history felt for a long time. Even as players had the utmost trust in CD Projekt RED following The Witcher 3, its impressive DLC expansions that rivaled entire games, and the ongoing free support it got, that trust was just as quickly revoked with how poorly it has handled Cyberpunk’s launch.

So where did things go wrong? Obviously we could go back a long way, to the project planning that should have better outlined the scope of the game, or to CDPR listing itself publicly and becoming beholden to investors more than the players. We could look at the litany of delays or sources saying that the game simply wasn’t ready even as crunch caused more issues than it solved. But I want to look a little more recently at the timeframe immediately preceding launch and the past few days as the developer has tried to clean up the mess it made.

Prior to launch, a limited number of outlets got access to PC review codes for Cyberpunk 2077. Late console review codes—which didn’t actually come in until the worldwide public rollout of the game had started—didn’t fill me with a lot of confidence. Those PC reviews were also paired with some of the best computer hardware money can buy, and while some bugs and other areas of disappointment were noted in those early reviews, the PC version still sits at a rather impressive 89 (though it has been falling as more reviews are added), but these reviews didn’t reflect the console experience at all.

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As players would come to find, the PS4 and Xbox One versions, particularly when played on those base consoles, were almost an entirely different game that was not reflected by the literal years of marketing CDPR put into Cyberpunk 2077. Even with improved performance and visuals on the next-gen consoles (playing the last-gen versions via backwards compatibility), there are loads of bugs and stability issues that certainly don’t agree with the lauding early PC reviews.

Now, this is purely conjecture, but it sure seems like CD Projekt RED intentionally misled players on the performance of the console version of the game. With consoles making up 41% of their preorders, the statement that they “ignored the signals about the need for additional time to refine the game on the base last-gen consoles” and “underestimated the scale and complexity of the issues” don’t exactly mesh with the pile of delays the game. CDPR also claims it focused on performance on “PC and next-gen consoles,” when the native next-gen versions of the game aren’t even out yet. So were they focused on next-gen performance of last-gen versions, disappointing both last-gen players and next-gen players who are still waiting for a full and proper next-gen version of the game?

And then comes the damage control. In a single breath, the company apologized for the issues (while counting the money made on 8 million pre-orders) and offered refunds for disappointed players. It quickly came to light that they had no agreements or system in place to actually provide those refunds, making the apology and refund offer feel like lip service to try to earn back some of the goodwill that had been lost.

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Image credit: @RonnySchmatzler (Twitter)

But even more than CDPR misleading players around launch and fumbling over reparations in the subsequent days, this really calls into question the future of the studio and the promises it continues to make. While promising to have all issues fixed by February (why wasn’t the game just delayed until then?), it now means that those same developers who were forced to crunch for an unsatisfactory release will be pushed to the limit once again to continue to fix issues with the game that were arguably caused by poor project management and issues inherent to crunch in the first place.

And what about that promised free DLC, those massive paid expansions that are still coming, and the multiplayer game/mode being added later? If CDPR has proven untrustworthy in the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, that lost goodwill surrounding the game now extends to future updates and promises, including the delayed proper next-gen versions of the game which for some reason weren’t launched alongside everything else, so clearly they’ve been deemed not ready for primetime.

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Image credit: Twitter user PolaczekAdam

And looking even further down the line, does this kill the trust for the as-yet unannounced Witcher 4 and whatever other projects CD Projekt RED might be working on? The developer will have to be more transparent than it ever has before with future releases in order to gain back the trust of those who feel intentionally misled by a company that showed only the prettiest sides of its game while hiding the ugly truths. One might also hope this shines a big light on just how much crunch doesn’t work and force the studio to reassess its workplace policies and practices, but again, we probably won’t completely know the impacts and results of this past week’s botched launch for years.

I’m still working my way through Cyberpunk 2077 for our review. I’m playing the PS4 version on a PS5 and sorting through the complicated process of exactly how to review a game that is so extraordinarily different depending on what hardware you play it on. My other option is to play it on my launch PS4, which I’m sure many of you have seen is just basically unplayable, and I’d like to at the very least make it through the game.

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I will say there are legitimately a lot of great things to love about Cyberpunk 2077, as well as a lot of problems with it. It feels, understandably so, like the overly ambitious follow-up to The Witcher 3, with too many bars set to0 high, many of which it fails to reach. CD Projekt RED’s handling of the launch seems keenly aware that they bit off more than they could chew, but instead of taking full responsibility, there seems to be a lot of hand-waving, subtle blame shifting, and additional promises for the future that are as yet unmet. I suppose only time and potential exploitation of employee labor will tell if CDPR can turn Cyberpunk 2077 from one of gaming’s biggest disappointments to the title that everyone wanted it to be.

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