It’s been a hell of a month for CD Projekt Red. The Polish game studio behind The Witcher released its latest smash hit Cyberpunk 2077 on Dec. 10, riding a wave of positive advance reviews that gave it an initial Metacritic score of 91 out of 100. After eight years of development, three delays, and countless hours of work from an overextended staff that had crunched for months on end, the biggest game of 2020 was finally out, and the designers who made it could rest on their laurels.
At least that’s what the makers of Cyberpunk 2077 might’ve assumed on Dec. 8, the day after those early reviews hit, but before the game itself was released. Because absolutely nothing else has gone CD Projekt Red’s way since.
The truth is that Cyberpunk 2077 has seen the most disastrous launch for a game of its size since… well, perhaps in the history of the games business. That Metascore? It’s now 86 for the PC version, with the console editions hovering in the 50s—an unthinkably low score for a game of this stature. This game is a complete debacle from almost every angle, and impressively sums up everything that needs to be changed about videogames—from how they’re made, to how they’re marketed, to who they’re made for. Cyberpunk 2077 is truly the game of the year because it represents all the problems holding this industry back, and because the size and scope of its failure is so massive. Cyberpunk 2077 is the game of the year in the same way Hitler was Time’s Man of the Year in 1938—not as an award or accolade, but as a warning and admonishment to the rest of the world. (And no, we are in no way comparing a bad game to history’s greatest monster, but if you’re looking for an example of when an “award” isn’t really an award, Time kind of set the standard back in ‘38.)
Here’s how Cyberpunk 2077 single-handedly represents everything wrong with games today.
1. CD Projekt Red’s staff endured an extensive period of extreme crunch to ship the game, sacrificing work-life balance to push out a product that was effectively unfinished.
2. Riddled with glitches and bugs on higher-end PCs and next-gen consoles, it’s downright unplayable on older consoles, especially the base model PlayStation 4 and Xbox One released at the start of the last generation in 2013.
3. There was no indication before the release date that the game would be significantly impaired on those older systems, with CD Projekt Red’s CEO talking as recently as late November about how “surprisingly” impressive those versions of the game were.
4. All marketing material came from high-performance machines, which is normal in the business, but CDPR tried to exert additional control over what footage made it out to the public before release by exclusively distributing PC code to reviewers and mandating an NDA that prevented reviewers from sharing their own video footage of the game until after release.
5. With its lengthy hype cycle and years of carefully managed press touting its “groundbreaking” and “innovative” nature, Cyberpunk 2077 sold eight million copies before release—meaning it was already a smash hit before it was ever released.
6. It was clear years ago that it would have a low-brow sense of humor that routinely punched down, with rampant misogyny and transphobia, and the kind of vulgar and juvenile jokes that only seem “mature” to those weird middle school kids who like to carve naked women onto their school desks.
7. Despite spending years in development, and despite accessibility becoming a major focus for other publishers and hardware manufacturers, the developers were so careless that they included a gameplay feature that recreates a technique used by doctors to trigger seizures in those who suffer from photosensitivity—which, yes, then caused seizures in photosensitive players of the game.
8. When one games journalist who personally suffered a seizure wrote about the irresponsibility of including something like that in a videogame, a few days before the game was released, she was viciously attacked by fans of the game who had never even played it yet, in a flashback to the kind of hostility and sexism seen during the heights of GamerGate.
9. That unbridled “gamer” hatred was then turned on CDPR itself, after the extent of the game’s broken nature became evident after release.
10. A few days after release, as the scope of the disaster was becoming clear, CDPR announced that players unhappy with the game could request refunds, but apparently did not confirm that its retail partners would honor those refund requests before making that announcement.
11. Sony and Microsoft eventually announced they would process refunds for anybody who bought the game through their digital stores, with Sony going to the extreme step of completely removing Cyberpunk 2077 from the PlayStation Store.
12. Meanwhile, CD Projekt Red’s stock price has lost a third of its value since the day those reviews went live.
13. Finally, despite this all, CD Projekt Red revealed today that Cyberpunk 2077 has now sold 13 million copies, in less than two weeks of release.
So yeah: this story has it all. A broken game that caters to the lowest common denominator and is suffused with toxic masculinity, whose development was so severely mismanaged that it took years of inhumane working conditions to put out an unfinished game by a release date that had already been delayed three times, and whose most toxic fans were provoked to first attack journalists who pointed out legitimate problems with it and eventually, after the magnitude of its brokenness was evident, the designers who made it? This is the ultimate example of what the videogame business has become, a noxious cesspool built on anger and exploitation by a management class that doesn’t respect its employees, the press, or its customers, and that has spent decades pandering to the most hostile instincts of its fans.
Cyberpunk 2077 is such a comprehensive failure that you’d think it would incite great change within this industry. That it would make companies look at the current systems in place—the crunch, the cycles of hiring and firing that make game design such an unstable field, the deceitful and manipulative ways in which games are promoted, the us vs. them mentality inherent in the “gamer lifestyle” that was cynically created for marketing purposes—and realize the whole structure needs to be torn down and rebuilt from the foundations. Unfortunately, despite the refunds, the delisting from the PlayStation store, and the massively negative word of mouth, the only way Cyberpunk 2077 hasn’t failed is the one that matters most: it’s still sold 13 million copies, even after the refund offers. Preorders guaranteed it would turn a profit before it was even released. Yes, the drop in stock price has reduced the company’s value by over a billion dollars, but stock prices routinely fluctuate, and CD Projekt Red’s price has been several points lower than it is now earlier this year. And yes, it remains to be seen how many of those 13 million copies will be refunded. But whatever lessons need to be learned by this are already being buried by all the units CD Projekt Red has shifted. If CDPR doesn’t suffer a significant financial hit from this whole mess, the games world will just continue on as before, with the so-called “AAA” part of the industry routinely failing its employees and consumers in ways that aren’t nearly as spectacular as what we’ve seen with Cyberpunk 2077. It’s the game of the year, perhaps the century, because it sums up not just everything wrong with this entire business, but proves that, despite it all, these deplorable methods can still sell millions and millions of games.
Senior editor Garrett Martin writes about videogames, comedy, music, travel, theme parks, wrestling, and anything else that gets in his way. He’s on Twitter @grmartin.