Cyberpunk 2077 was released across the world on Thursday, December 10th. A game that was originally revealed to be in development by CD Projekt in 2012, the game rose to immeasurable levels of promise following a wildly ambitious demo that was shown behind closed doors to members of the press at E3 2018 and released to the public shortly thereafter. The 48-minute long demo gave viewers a glimpse into Night City and V’s story that lived within it. In the following years, the game has only deepened consumers’ enthusiasm for the end product. A few more gameplay demos and a shocking reveal that Keanu Reeves was involved in the project (and somehow played a major role), topped off by Reeves getting on stage at E3 2019 to present the game, enthusiasm for CD Projekt’s latest game only continued to grow. And who wouldn’t be excited by now?
The same studio that released the critical and consumer hit The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt was now working on a futuristic RPG set in a dystopian city. The marketing behind the game depicted a seemingly endless adventure that had you existing in the world of Night City that looked like it had the sort of endless playability of Skyrim or The Witcher, matched with the polish and cinematics of something like Grand Theft Auto. The message got passed along and hyperbolized and the most manic gaming consumers ended up with the expectation that this game would be a groundbreaking step forward in videogame storytelling. And with CD Projekt’s track record of support for their titles (giving away part of their DLC for free for The Witcher 3) and their history for being completely transparent about their games, it felt like there was no studio better suited to taking this leap forward in gaming.
Then, over the last year or so, the fairytale started to show its seams. Allegations of crunch culture and undervalued game developers were continuously spread (a vitally important subject that I won’t be detailing in this piece, but which deserves attention from the gaming cooperative in its totality). The game was delayed from its initial launch date of April 2020 to much later in the year, and it slipped again to its final release date in December. And, upon its release, it has become abundantly clear that it could have used several more delays. Prior to launch, CD Projekt released review copies only for the PC version of the game, just a week in advance of the review embargo and 11 days ahead of release. This is something that, of course, they’re well within their rights to do, but when critical commentary on the game primarily involved the abundance of technical problems that reviewers faced, it became clear that console versions would almost assuredly be worse.
Then the console versions of the game released and all of reviewers’ worst fears were realized. The game barely ran on PS4 and Xbox One, the consoles for which the game was officially released and the disparity is evident among reviews which see the PC version of the game attaining a 90 on metacritic while the PS4 and Xbox versions remain unaggregated, but with a clear consensus that the game is unplayable on these machines. A clear example of this is IGN’s 9/10 score for the PC version standing in striking contrast with the 4/10 that the Xbox One and PS4 versions of the game achieved. With bugs being anywhere from game-breaking to simply showing how poorly optimized the graphical fidelity of the title is for the older generation of hardware. Although the backwards compatibility mode available on the PS5 and Xbox Series X make this a more reasonable prospect on console, the game hasn’t even officially launched on either console and won’t do so until next year. Moreover, the install base of the previous generation and the notoriously difficult time consumers have had procuring the next generation of hardware makes this even more inexcusable. And somehow, throughout all of this, CD Projekt seemed to gloss over the overwhelming feedback that the game they had shipped was broken. It seemed that the days of the company being open and transparent with gamers were over. So players are left with a buggy version of the game on PC, and a nearly unplayable one to previous-gen consoles.
But, in retrospect, it has to be expected.
For a game that was delayed, not insignificantly, two times, with even more delays to next generation’s versions, it’s difficult to imagine where the game would have been when it was originally slated to release.
On the PC side, the game can run with more stability, but its clear there is some significant optimization work that needs to be done. Only the best hardware is able to run the game with high graphical fidelity and reasonably high framerates. Even mid-range systems have reportedly not been faring well with the title. Complaints have arisen that systems that can typically run much more advanced graphical settings on similarly ambitious games are crawling to a halt with Cyberpunk 2077, and that’s even with early, day 1 patches being applied.
Technical glitches aside, critical reception for Cyberpunk has largely been positive. The most common thread I’ve come across in reviews is that this game is more a swan song for a generation of groundbreaking games than it is a glimpse into gaming’s future; but I think that review is nothing but expected. To me, this speaks more to the impossible expectations set for the game rather than the reality of the game itself. All companies try to market their games as the best thing ever released: a revolutionary jump in gaming. But, in reality, consumers didn’t have much time to see what the game was like. Aside from a few, admittedly long, but controlled demos and some promotions that included Keanu Reeves, there was nothing that CD Projekt Red did when they marketed the game that other studios aren’t able to do, they just did it really well. The pedigree of CD Projekt was equally as enticing, but those with a good gaming memory will remember that The Witcher 3 released with its fair share of launch day bugs, needing several months for the title to get up to speed. That’s par for the course for open world games, and even if Cyberpunk were to be an incredible leap forward in gaming, its difficult to imagine they could have leaped over the technical glitches that plague massive open world RPGs.
Reviewers tried to prepare consumers that this game was not anything incredibly new and groundbreaking, but rather a really well put-together story in a dystopian setting with interesting character interactions in a beautiful city (if your system can render it that way). And to that end, as usual, major and minor reviewing outlets alike did an excellent job in setting expectations for what this hotly anticipated title would be like to experience. So clearly, this overexhuberence isn’t the fault of the media, they were just telling you what they though. It’s not the fault of the developers, they were trying to make the best game that they could. And it’s not the fault of consumers, they just were excited about what each of the previous had told them. And it’s difficult to put blame on the management of the company for wanting people to buy their game in the first place, afterall, that’s what the marketing is for. The fault of CD Projekt’s management is more appropriately given for failing to understand the magnitude of the expectations that their audience had for the game, and being unable to manage the production of the game to ship a complete product, rather than a broken one. Continuing to insist the excellence of their game did not help the attention they’ve received since the game’s launch.
Since the release of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt released a lengthy and consequential apology for the buggy release of their game. They detailed their patch plan for PS4 and Xbox One versions of the game that they promised “won’t make the game on last-gen look like it’s running on a high-spec PC or next-gen console, but it will be closer to that experience than it is now.” Going further, the team also announced that they’re accepting refunds for gamers’ purchase of the game on PS4 and Xbox One, where it should be assumed a large percentage of games have been sold. These refunds can be redeemed at the online store on each console or at the retailer that sold the copy. If all else fails, CD Projekt Red even included an email address (firstname.lastname@example.org) that would help gamers get the refund that they deserve for the game that was shipped to the previous generation of consoles. So CD Projekt Red, after seeming like a different company during the launch of Cyberpunk 2077, looks on the surface to be on the road to returning to the consumer-first company they were in the Witcher 3 era. But it’s hard to imagine that this wasn’t etched out as a part of the release plan months ago when the management at CD Projekt foresaw the inevitable backlash for the game’s release on PS4 and Xbox One. For all of the consumer good will that they had built up before this point, I wonder if this apology will do anything but further anger a base of consumers who trusted that the release of this game would be at the very least acceptable on the previous generation of consoles.
For consumers, I think Cyberpunk 2077 is an excellent lesson in understanding the difference between expectations and the reality of a videogame title. To assume that a single game will be save-the-world groundbreaking, without any room for deviation is naive. To condemn criticism because it conflicts with idyllic internal depictions of a product that has not yet been played is irresponsible. This remains as another example of the hype that the videogame industry is full of.
There’s nothing really in other media that quite compares to the hype machine in videogames. Movies, aside from trailers, don’t have a massive runup of intense scrutiny. Books aren’t, for the most part, incredibly scrutinized prior to released. TV shows are the same. Videogames have this extra layer of hype that exists as a strong bridge between hardcore consumers, developers, and games media. It’s important to note that while games themselves are quite different to these other types of media, their development and stakeholders are remarkably similar. But in games, conventions like E3, PSX, and Gamescom all further fuel the videogame hype machine. And don’t get me wrong, there’s nothing wrong with getting excited about games. Where discretion is needed is when consumers assume the product they’re getting is different to the opinions reviewers give of the game and, in turn, harass the reviewers for giving their honest opinions. And when they inevitably play the game, these same consumers harass the developers for failing to create an unimaginable masterpiece.
By all means, enjoy Cyberpunk 2077. But know that this buggy result wasn’t out of the blue and just because some critics may not agree with what you think, that doesn’t mean they’re wrong and it doesn’t mean you’re wrong. Buy the game and find out for yourself.