How did the Cyberpunk 2077 dumpster fire become one of 2021's most played games?
A look back at one of 2021's most anxiously anticipated gamesBy Cal Jeffrey 40 comments
In context: Cyberpunk 2077's launch was nothing short of disastrous, even by CD Projekt Red's own admission. It was plagued by long delays, totally overhyped, and then virtually unplayable on last-gen consoles. The PC version was playable, but buggy and the current-gen ports were a complete no-show. Fans anxious for the game were vocally disappointed. Yet somehow, Cyberpunk 2077 became one of 2021's biggest games.
According to Valve's year-end wrap-up, Cyberpunk 2077 peaked the year with a concurrent player count of well over 200,000 and sales that put it in the third highest-selling bracket (Silver) on Steam right in there with Resident Evil Village and Monster Hunter World. How did this happen? Let's take a look back.
Cyberpunk 2077 had a very long gestation period. Most AAA games have a development cycle of about three to five years. The title was initially announced in 2012 as a new RPG that CDPR Team 2 had been developing (video below). So at the time of release, Cyberpunk 2077 was at least eight years in the making. This fact left CDPR with very little excuse for the condition of the "finished" game and the many delays preceding its launch.
The Polish studio also fell into the same hype trap that Hello Games did with No Man's Sky. Developers took numerous opportunities to show off the game and play it up as more than what it was with a heavy focus on the PC version. For example, CDPR finally dropped its first official trailer at E3 2018. It was entirely cinematic, which is not unusual as trailers go. However, the video begins by declaring that it was "game engine footage" (below).
A report in early 2021 looking into the game alleged that the trailer was "almost entirely fake," an allegation that CDPR flatly denied. However, having played the game, several inconsistencies support this supposition. There are multiple references to flying cars in the trailer, yet no operable flying vehicles found their way into the final version. Furthermore, it appears in hindsight that very few of the trailer's cinematics made the final cut. Regardless of whether the trailer was "faked" game engine footage or not, the end product looked nowhere near as polished as the trailer, which let fans down.
However, Cyberpunk's lack of graphical polish was the least of CDPR's concerns. Long before the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X releases were imminent, the devs were supposedly hard at work on PS4 and XB1 versions of the game. Next-generation "upgrades" were practically a late-game afterthought as development literally spanned an entire console generation. On release, the PlayStation and Xbox versions were in abysmal shape, seemingly indicating that developers had too many irons in the fire with hastily planned next-gen ports that they wanted to simultaneously release.
In fact, the conditions of Cyberpunk 2077 at launch became something of a joke, with numerous YouTubers and even CDPR releasing hilarious "bug reels" for the game (below). But it really wasn't funny. Overall, PS4 and XB1 players were mad at finding the game unplayable. Many demanded refunds, which CDPR graciously agreed to, and Sony eventually pulled the game from the PlayStation Store entirely.
Lawyers also hit the studio with a class-action lawsuit, which it recently settled for a paltry $1.85 million. All totaled, CDPR paid out almost $53 million in refunds and settlements over the botched launch. Despite the monetary dent, Cyberpunk 2077 was the driving factor behind CDPR's record-breaking performance for its fiscal year 2020. The studio reported net profits of $303 million for the year, triple its FY 2019 returns. So how did CDPR turn its dumpster fire into a gold mine?
The game landed more than eight million pre-orders early on, which helped, even though many of those were likely refunded. However, CDPR also took a page out of the Hello Games handbook by vowing not to give up on the game. So far, it has kept that promise. Right out of the gate it said it would deliver two major updates in early 2021 to fix most of the problems, which it did.
A few months and numerous minor patches later, Sony reinstated Cyberpunk 2077 to the PlayStation Store on June 21, 2021. On June 29, CDPR assured players that the game's stability was "satisfactory," although it did warn console owners to avoid purchasing the game unless they had a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. By mid-July, Cyberpunk 2077 was the PlayStation Store's best-selling game. In November, Steam declared Cyberpunk its "global top-seller" and that it had bumped its review rating to "Very Positive."
The work is not done, however. Despite game-breaking hiccups and an initial DLC that left fans unimpressed, CD Projekt Red President Adam Kiciński said Cyberpunk 2077 will eventually become a "very good game." Having a very good game is wonderful news for current Cyberpunk 2077 owners, but what about those waiting for the next-gen upgrades?
All this extra work on the launch debacle has pushed production for PS5 and XBSX ports back quite a bit. As of October 2021, CDPR does not expect to release the upgrades until 2022. As of this writing, that could be in as little as four days, but don't count on it. The last thing CDPR wants to do is rush out a much-delayed next-gen version of the game that has already tarnished its reputation.