What does it take for you to lose your faith in a game studio?
For a time, Bethesda could do no wrong. Consumer support was strong after the landmark release of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, and their revival of the Fallout series in its third installment. Followed by publishing Dishonored, DOOM, and Wolfenstein reboots, it seemed the company was the prodigal child of the industry. Beloved by all, even in the face of its flaws.
It peaked when Bethesda revealed Fallout 4 for the very first time, with a release date just mere months away. But when the game did launch, the praise and hype were marred by complaints of bugs, a weak narrative, and endless vapid radiant side quests. The dissent was taken further when gamers began questioning Bethesda’s writing abilities, going back to Fallout 3 and claiming that it was never good in the first place, compared to what came before. The drama further unfurled when Bethesda released Fallout 76, a few years later, and the game suffered a downright terrible launch, which brings us to their reputation today: a studio that is still popular, but has lost a fair amount of the vocal and dedicated fan base it built in a decade in a matter of years, thanks to questionable practices and endlessly buggy releases.
In a very similar vein, it took a little over a week to sour gamers’ opinions of the once darling studio that could also do no wrong: CD Projekt.
Having developed one of the most renowned modern RPGs, The Witcher 3, and their creation of Good Old Games, a storefront dedicated to releasing DRM-free PC games, CD Projekt became an absolute titan of a company. Combined with their PR department valuing being transparent with fans, it was the perfect recipe for success. With Cyberpunk 2077’s hype through the roof and looking like the perfect send-off to the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, the stage was set for them to take the throne as the most-loved company in the industry, besides Nintendo, of course.
Then, the delays hit. Pushed back a few months here, delayed a few weeks there. But players had waited nearly a decade for the game, and a few more months didn’t matter much in the long run: after all, a delayed game is eventually good, but a rushed game is forever bad, right? Around the time of one of the few delays that Cyberpunk 2077 faced, questions began to arise regarding the working conditions of those at CD Projekt Red, hard at work on the game. While 2020 has featured many dramatic industry revelations, one of the biggest topics has been that of development “crunch” at major game studios.
So, when the higher-ups at CD Projekt Red ensured that its team wouldn’t force crunch on its workers, at least on a large, mandatory scale, it seemed like yet another win for everyone’s favorite developer...Until it wasn’t. As the new September release date loomed ever closer, an investor call revealed that there would be some degree of crunch happening in order to get the game out on time, followed by further reports of crunch becoming “mandatory”, to hit the shifted November release date, then things began to involve over-time and 6-day workweeks, all to reach a newly-established launch date of December 10th. A game eight years in the making had been unable to meet multiple deadlines, and the development team had been pushing themselves for over a year like this. Still, many defended the choice, as CD Projekt would be kind enough to compensate their workers, and even promised a large bonus to its team, based on the profits made following Cyberpunk 2077’s release. Not many other companies would do the same.
Still, it was enough to begin to shake some peoples’ faith in the game, or even the company itself. Even so, CD Projekt Red was still beloved by many, and fans fervently defended them across the internet when anyone dared question their developmental problems.
When review scores were published, it seemed like Cyberpunk had hit the mark, delivering well within instant-classic status, with Opencritic’s average sitting at 88/100, and its Metacritic score similarly around 90/100. It was curiously observed that review codes for the console versions of the game weren’t being provided prior to release, but the concern didn’t really gain traction until after Cyberpunk 2077 had hit retail shelves. By then, the public had realized that the game was not nearly what players had expected, to the point of refunds being demanded.
As aggregates began to publish reviews for the Xbox One and PlayStation 4 versions of the game, the Opencritic average score of 88 fell to an 81, while Metacritic’s decreased from 90 to 87 (as of the time of writing). It was then that CD Projekt began to walk back its initial claims of giving employees a bonus payment if Cyberpunk 2077 hit a 90 or above on Metacritic, to promising a bonus no matter what the score was, as it had fallen from its threshold, and continued to tick down with every passing day.
Now, the fanbase had become incensed, thanks to a launch that saw reportedly awful performance on last-gen consoles, low resolution textures that hit instant meme status, and so many bugs and glitches on PC that players had lost count. The rage furthered, as PS4 users continued to demand refunds for digital copies, which were no longer being offered, despite being guaranteed originally. CD Projekt publicly apologized for releasing the game in such a state, attempting to smooth things over by promising performance patches and constant quality updates, though the biggest bugfixes would require patiently waiting until February--more than two months after launch.
Irritation grew towards CD Projekt issuing yet another yellow-background apology note, and for the inconsistent quality of the game. As if they hadn’t hogged the entire news flow for a week, things got worse, as CD Projekt barred the sale of Devotion from their GOG storefront, mere hours after the developer announced its release on the platform, with minimal explanation other than a vague and confusing “many messages from gamers” had influenced their decision.
Earlier today, it was announced that the game Devotion is coming to GOG. After receiving many messages from gamers, we have decided not to list the game in our store.— GOG.COM (@GOGcom) December 16, 2020
With the ongoing drama regarding refunds and shady subterfuge over the console release of Cyberpunk 2077, Sony stepped in, removing the game from sale on the PlayStation Store entirely, and refunding any and all customers who bought the game and wished for their money back. A major AAA title had been pulled from sale overnight--a rather startling sight to behold. If things couldn't get worse, physical retailers like Best Buy were allowing refunds for the game, alongside Microsoft also letting digital buyers refund their copy, even if it was over the 2-hours played limitation.
The story isn’t even close to ending yet--it’s only a matter of time before the next headline regarding CD Projekt’s latest move or Cyberpunk 2077’s most recent pitfall hits the front page of every gaming website out there. But in this past week alone, it seems that the company has repeatedly shot itself in the foot, to the point where even the most devout of fans have been shaken. At the same time, CD Projekt appears willing to please unsatisfied customers by allowing these refunds on the basis of false promises and constant crashes, to the point of saying they'll pay for some players' refunds out of their own pocket. Even the game that helped boost CD Projekt to their critical acclaim--The Witcher 3--didn't release without its own set of issues, all the way back in 2015.
Have the negative events of this past week been dramatic enough to deter you from CD Projekt and their practices, despite years of quality content prior to this, much like how gamers found themselves done with Bethesda after Fallout 76's mess of a release? Was Cyberpunk 2077 doomed to never live up to its hype, even if it launched bug-free? And have you given up on the game, or are you holding out hope, waiting for that eventual bug-fixing patch or PS5/XSX|S release?