Cyberpunk 2077 has been marred with controversy ever since its launch in December 2020, with its developer CD Projekt receiving a significant amount of blowback.
Though the game opened to mostly positive reviews prior to its release, players were met with constant bugs and crashing, particularly on last-gen hardware. The Witcher developers issued an apology and pushed players to refund the copies through Sony and Microsoft, though the console manufactures were supposedly not informed about this decision.
In an unprecedented move, Sony removed the game from its digital storefront, offering full refunds to purchasers of Cyberpunk. Microsoft decided to follow suit with updating their refund policy, though the game still remains in their store.
With an impending class-action lawsuit from the company's investors, CD Projekt has a lot of work to do to rebuild their reputation among its internal and external stakeholders. The company has started to make strides toward this by releasing an apology video that details some of the problems that were encountered during development.
However, a new report suggests a different narrative behind the development of Cyberpunk 2077...
In a report from Bloomberg, new stories have emerged from interviews with over 20 developers that previously or currently work for CD Projekt, recounting aspects of Cyberpunk 2077's troubled development cycle.
CD Projekt Red attempted to develop its new game engine, REDengine 4, whilst working on Cyberpunk 2077 itself. This slowed down the game's development, with one of the developers remarking that it would have helped if the engine had commenced work a few months before game development began.
Former audio programmer Adrian Jakubiak recounted a team meeting where a colleague questioned how the development team would achieve such a technically demanding game like Cyberpunk 2077 in the same development cycle as The Witcher 3. Another team member responded by saying "We'll figure it out along the way," a statement which supposedly reflected the corporate and development culture at CD Projekt.
Jakubiak said that he knew the writing was on the wall, but could never have predicted how "disastrous" the outcome would be:
“I knew it wasn't going to go well...I just didn't know how disastrous it would be.”
Cyberpunk 2077 was announced at E3 2012, but production on The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt prevented the team from making substantial progress until late 2016. However, the company reportedly started over around this time, deciding to begin with a clean slate for Cyberpunk's development. Adam Badowski became director of the project, completely altering the gameplay and narrative of the game and disputing with top developers who had previously worked on The Witcher 3.
A demo revealed at E3 2018 was also revealed to be almost completely superficial, with developers believing this to be a "waste of months" that should have been spent on development. Cyberpunk's gameplay systems had not been finalized by this time, explaining why many advertised features were absent from the release.
CD Projekt's primary goal with this was to impress potential players and games journalists worldwide, which certainly worked in the company's favor at the time.
CRUNCH AND OVERTIME
Jakubiak left CD Projekt after his marriage, but recalled the long hours that he, and many of the other employees, had to endure during development:
“There were times when I would crunch up to 13 hours a day — a little bit over that was my record probably — and I would do five days a week working like that...I have some friends who lost their families because of these sort of shenanigans.”]
Despite working long hours due to top-down pressure, this did not translate to a quicker development cycle. When the April 16, 2020 release date was announced by CD Projekt during E3 2019, developers were unsure how they would complete Cyberpunk 2077 in time. Some members believed that the game as intended could have been ready for 2022, but were forced to cut content and reduce the scale of Night City to course correct.
The size of the team also stunted Cyberpunk's development, having around 500 members of the team internally. While being substantially bigger than the 240-developer team of The Witcher 3, it nowhere near rivaled the team of thousands behind GTA V and Red Dead Redemption II, games which CD Projekt wanted to match.
Upper management at CD Projekt did not want to delay the game, hoping to hit last-gen consoles and PC well before the announcement of the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S. The company would then put out a next-gen version of the game, allowing them to reap the benefits of releasing a game on two generations of hardware. Despite technical staff at CD Projekt believing the scope of Cyberpunk to be too much for old hardware, management pushed forward anyway.
Though, the higher-ups at CD Projekt eventually relented by delaying the game, the effects of the pandemic further hampered development. Due to developers working on their computers from home, it was difficult to determine how the game would perform on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One
In CD Projekt Red's recent apology video, co-founder Marcin Iwiński stated that many of the bugs seen on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One did not arise in internal testing. Developers countered this claim, saying that they were aware of these issues but had no time to address them before release. Bugs were still being found around the time that Cyberpunk 2077 had been announced to be ready for manufacturing, resulting in the game having to be delayed one more time to allow for a final run of polish and fixes.
WHAT THIS MEANS
This new slew of information does not do much to help CD Projekt's reputation, vastly contradicting their recent apology video.
This report truly gives an insight into the culture and inner workings at CD Projekt, particularly their insistence on crunch and overworking. It also reveals that riding high off the success of The Witcher 3 led to them focusing on their image, rather than the games themselves. Many game developers create demos for shows like E3, but still manage to capture the spirit of the game being presented in addition to expected gameplay features. CD Projekt seemed to have taken this a step too far, focusing on the marketing of Cyberpunk 2077 as opposed to its actual contents.
If this report is accurate, it appears that CD Projekt were indeed aware of Cyberpunk's technical problems on console. CD Projekt's apology video seemed to deny this, but an impending lawsuit may have caused the company to take this stance publicly.
Many of these anecdotes seem to prove what many fans feared about the game: Cyberpunk 2077 was supposed to be much bigger in scope and scale. Many players suspected that corners had been cut, with some segments and aspects of the game feeling truncated.
With 2022 seeming to be the more realistic release window from some developers, it is a shame that CD Projekt's ambition got the better of them in forcing the project to be scaled down. Had the development cycle been extended to account for the original plan's vision, gamers may have been treated to a Night City that was truly groundbreaking. It seems that CD Projekt was dead set on releasing on past and next-gen consoles, so was unwilling to budge even if it came at the cost of the final product.
Cyberpunk 2077 is available now on PlayStation 4, Xbox One and PC, as well as Xbox Series X/S and PlayStation 5 through backwards compatibility.