Cyberpunk 2077 Collapse Chronicles ‒ How the Main Game of the Year Has Failed
Cyberpunk 2077 was the most anticipated release of this year, but it was the biggest flop. How the hype madness began, and what it led to the Polish developers of the CD Projekt RED game ‒ in our material.
Where did the people’s love for CD Projekt RED come from?
Until December 2020, CD Projekt RED was called “the boyfriend” of the video game development world. It all started with The Witcher 2 in 2011: free DLCs were released for it (and this is in the heyday of paid add-ons!), and the developers even made a tool for creating mods (REDkit) for players. The game was very warmly received.
Even before the release of the second “Witcher”, the Poles announced the third part of Geralt’s adventures, and at the same time a new IP ‒ Cyberpunk 2077. We first saw the teaser of the game at E3 2012.
Under the track Bullets, Archive promised one important thing: “the game will be released when it’s ready.”
For many years we did not hear anything about “Cyberpunk” and did not even ask questions ‒ we were too busy with the third “Witcher”, for which CD Projekt RED was respected even more. Even before the release, “The Witcher 3” became the best role-playing game of the year at E3, and after that, it was recognized as “Game of the Year” by The Game Awards ‒ the game “Oscar”. The game has currently sold over 28 million copies.
Live characters, the plot with its many options for consequences and an indescribable atmosphere ‒ all this was appreciated by the players. The user’s Metacritic score is currently 94/100.
The release of Cyberpunk 2077 changed everything ‒ the negative towards CDPR from players was almost more than towards Bethesda on the release of Fallout 76 (enemies appeared out of thin air, the walking speed depended on frames per second, constant disconnections with the server, and even the game launcher on the day of release deleted the game itself instead of launching).
The hype around Cyberpunk 2077 has been growing since 2018. Then, for the first time in 6 years, we were shown new material on the game ‒ a trailer. The game is supposed to be legendary.
In addition to the cool track (this time they chose Hyper ‒ Spoiler), they demonstrated the world of the game and the characters, and later the gameplay premiered on Twitch. It seemed that the release was close ‒ it was scheduled for April 16, 2020.
At E3 2019, the expectations are raised to a new level, with Keanu Reeves in the game! Also, his performance, when the fan’s phrase “You are breathtaking!”, he replied with the famous phrase “No, you are breathtaking!”, once again fueled interest in the game.
CD Projekt RED has finally formed the status of the savior of the gaming industry, and Cyberpunk 2077 became the game of the year in absentia thanks to marketing. Cyberpunk was everywhere, including Times Square.
The release, meanwhile, moved from April to September 17. And then to November 19th. And then to December 10 … The last transfer was something new for the industry ‒ CDPR reported in October that Cyberpunk 2077 went gold (i.e. the discs went to print, the game is over ‒ it remains to release the patch of the first day), but after that, the release was postponed. Nobody has done this before, and this is not an achievement ‒ this is a sign of force majeure.
The consequences of the release ‒ a drop in the company’s shares and FPS among players. All transfers were justified by the fact that the developers want to make the game better. When Cyberpunk was moved from September to November, CDPR said, “Those who know us will confirm: we will not sell what is not yet ready. These are not just words ‒ this is the motto of our company.”
The final transfer was needed so that in the end we “got a video game that we were supposed to fall in love with.”
The game was released on December 10, and three days before that date, the first reviews from the media appeared and the studio’s shares fell. Then no one paid much attention to this, it seemed that the studio’s profits would skyrocket. Cyberpunk 2077 broke the online singles record on Steam and set the record for the most-watched singles on Twitch. Alas, it didn’t help.
The release version on consoles turned out to be just terrible ‒ the graphics of The Witcher 3 on PS4 look better than Cyberpunk on PS4 Pro. Although in 2019 CDPR promised to release a game that will look great on consoles.
The demonstrations showed the subway, detailed animations of breaking doors and picking things up; the choice of the background of the hero. But all this was cut out in the final version. Even implants in the body, the key feature of the game, have lost half of their functionality.
The day after the release, CDPR announced that players could return their copy through the PSN or Xbox refund system, but the Polish studio did not warn Microsoft and Sony. Both companies disowned this and stopped returning money to everyone dissatisfied, but on December 18, the game was still removed from the Playstation Store and began to approve refunds. In the evening of the same, Microsoft was informed that they were ready to return funds to all disgruntled players.
With retail stores, it is more difficult ‒ CD Projekt RED promises to return money for the game out of its pocket if retailers refuse to return the players. To do this, you need to send an email to the support service with a scanned receipt attached. But this can only be done until December 21.
CD Projekt shares plunge: studio founders lost hundreds of millions of dollars
Since March 2020, CDPR shares have been on the rise. The studio’s stock price peaked in August. After that, the price dropped slightly, but at the end of November it went up again ‒ the closer the release was, the more confident the position of CD Projekt RED seemed.
Most likely, the stocks were initially overvalued. The prices ignored both three carry-overs (there were slight falls, but the stocks immediately returned to their previous level), and the expected bugs after the release, which had to be fixed by a huge patch of the first day. For CD Projekt RED, this is also terrible because the company has been working on Cyberpunk for years, as on The Witcher 3 before. During this time, EA managed to release 5 new parts of FIFA, which, even with devastating criticism, collect the cashier for the company and guarantee the smooth production of the next project.
While CDPR boasted 8 million pre-order copies on the release day of Cyberpunk 2077, it is not known how many were returned. After the news that Sony removed the game from PSN, their value collapsed by 20%. On December 17, they cost 6216.65 rubles each, and on the 18th, the minimum price was 4966.08 rubles. In total, in December, the studio’s securities lost 46%.
The founders of the studio, who also own shares, have lost millions. Michal Kicinski has ceased to be a billionaire ‒ now his fortune is estimated at $900 million. And the fortune of Marcin Ivinsky, who owns ~13% of the company’s shares, fell from $1.5 billion to $1.1.
The reputation of the “messiah developer” has also been ruined. The rating of console versions on Metacritic is 55/100, and users write that they did not expect hundreds of bugs and 15 FPS from the new AAA game CD Projekt Red.
CD Projekt promises to fix the game with major patches in January and February. Perhaps the game will get better, but as before, the studio will no longer be loved.
Let’s talk more about the game itself:
Cyberpunk 2077 ‒ too fun and colorful game; the hero’s dialogues with corporation fighters and bandits, underground doctors, and mafia bosses are a bit caricatured and artificial. Despite some gloomy scenes (for example, with dismembered naked female bodies), it seems that the authors do not take their world too seriously. During the presentation, the authors joked: they say, a complete mess is going on in their world in the United States ‒ “almost the same as now,” but that’s the point: the Cyberpunk 2077 dystopia seems not so much a variant of the distant future of the United States as a feuilleton about the nearest future itself. And more bright shades of yellow, purple, and green in the frame. This is not necessarily bad, but somewhat alarming.
Of course, it is still difficult to judge the plot of Cyberpunk 2077, but for other games on the same topic, the main conflict was outlined in advance. In recent Deus Ex ‒ the opposition of augmented people and ordinary people, in Watch Dogs ‒ citizens and the computer network that controls the whole city. All we know about the Cyberpunk 2077 character is that he is a mercenary, who performs dirty tasks in a city controlled by corporations. Can you imagine a more primitive setting? Plus, good cyberpunk stories have fictional assumptions that make them unique. In the TV series Altered Carbon, this is a chip into which you can rewrite consciousness and throw it from one body to another. In the Shadowrun universe ‒ the awakening of magic and its coexistence with high technology. Of the interesting entities in Cyberpunk 2077, I still remember only premium insurance: even if you are dying in a den of bandits surrounded by a crowd of enemies, a combat helicopter with medical special forces will fly after you, take you to the hospital and pump you out.
In The Witcher 3, in general, there was no conflict either (perhaps that’s why they didn’t consider it necessary here too); that Sapkowski is in stories, that the writers of the CD Project are masters of short stories that make up the universe of The Witcher. But there is no such powerful and at the same time original primary source from which one could draw inspiration, but there is a fear that the same GTA, for example, will become this primary source. Seriously, I’ve seen organ dealers and bandits like this a hundred times already. And peasants from Slavic fantasy, swamp witches, and Ivasik ‒ only in The Witcher. It needs stories about characters that cannot be imagined in GTA ‒ like the AI hotel with a shotgun from Altered Carbon.
It is even more frustrating that the character in Cyberpunk 2077 is not predefined ‒ you have to generate it yourself and even come up with biography details for it. This approach is appropriate in a variety of RPGs where the player can be whoever you want, for example, be able to solve all issues without firing a single shot. In Fallout, I want to choose who I play with no question. But Geralt, for example, and his appearance, and his background, and his character ‒ one of the main reasons for the popularity of The Witcher 3.
The game would have lost a lot, if funny homemade characters ran around it, squealing in a thin voice “move, Roach.” Let’s imagine Devil May Cry without Dante, Detroit: Become Human without Connor. Difficult, isn’t it? Meanwhile, the backstory of Cyberpunk 2077 clearly says that we will play as a mercenary who takes on dirty work (a bit like the profession of a witcher, right?) ‒ this is not such a variable game that an appearance editor was needed. A stylish fixed main character (or two to choose from ‒ like a brother and sister from the same Altered Carbon, or like Assassin’s Creed Odyssey characters) would be much better.
So far, nothing new has been seen in how game tasks are solved in Cyberpunk 2077. At the presentation, they showed how the hero inserts a new eye for himself and then makes it zoom. Or he does not climb ahead of a man with a machine gun but finds a way to go to his rear. Or uses a stimulant to go into the slo-mo mode. What should I have learned from this?
The developers are not trying to show that their quests are varied, instead, they focus on the variability of the dialogues. Say, with these bandits, you can solve the issue peacefully, or you can ‒ with the shooting. Hmm, I’ve already seen this somewhere. As a result, everything is done as you would expect, just by looking at the game logo and the name of the development studio. Maybe this is by design ‒ to leave all the surprises before the release ‒ but so far such a decision looks extremely strange. Usually, at exhibitions, they show the most interesting, brightest pieces of the game, and not an ordinary, even a somewhat everyday episode from the middle.
Don’t get me wrong: Cyberpunk 2077 looks cool. In principle, there are not many big, beautiful, expensive RPGs on the market, and after the failure of Mass Effect Andromeda in the RPG genre with shooter mechanics, there is a gaping void. The credibility of the CD Project is enormous. In the checklist “everything that should be in a cyberpunk RPG,” the authors of Cyberpunk 2077 honestly worked all the checkboxes, and each frame of the demo version screams about the quality and volume of the work done. Another thing is that the game has not yet gone beyond this checklist.
Despite the huge number of errors, I am sure that when the game is ready, it will be just amazing!