A report on the Bloomberg website shows in detail the disaster that was the development of one of the most anticipated games of 2020 and that ended as the fiasco of the year. According to the story, the real development of Cyberpunk 2077 – announced in 2012 – started only in late 2016. In addition, many of those involved knew that the game was not ready to be released publicly in November last year.
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Reporter Jason Schreier interviewed more than 20 current and former employees of CD Projekt Red. They said the game’s development was affected by deadlines that were totally unrealistic, in addition to technical problems. Game production started just four years ago and titles of this complexity, from an open world, demand longer deadlines.
Then, check out the 8 main points that turned Cyberpunk 2077 into a disaster of gigantic proportions:
1 – Omission: the company already knew about the bugs
In a video released on January 14, CD Projekt Red CEO Marcin Iwiński made a public mea culpa on the disastrous release of Cyberpunk 2077. He took personal responsibility and asked fans not to blame the team responsible for the game production.
In one of the excerpts from the video, Iwiński claims that the company tested the game extensively and that it did not have most of the flaws that users faced. However, the CEO is denied by the sources heard in the report. According to the developers who worked on the game, many bugs were discovered during the test, but the team simply did not have time to fix them.
Below, you’ll find CD PROJEKT’s co-founder’s personal explanation of what the days leading up to the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 looked like, sharing the studio’s perspective on what happened with the game on old-generation consoles. pic.twitter.com/XjdCKizewq
— Cyberpunk 2077 (@CyberpunkGame) January 13, 2021
As the release date approached, everyone in the studio knew that the game had glaring flaws and needed more time to be refined, according to several people familiar with the development. Pieces of dialogue were missing. Some actions did not work correctly. And when the leaders of CD Projekt Red announced, in October 2020, that the game was in the “Gold Standard” – that is, that it was ready to be compressed on discs – there were still major bugs being discovered. Cyberpunk 2077 was still postponed for another three weeks, as programmers, exhausted, still needed to fix as much as they could.
2 – Step bigger than the leg
Another factor that compromised the performance of Cyberpunk 2077 was the ambition of the project, something far greater than the capacity of CD Projekt Red to develop it. The company cannot use any base of its most successful game, The Witcher 3, so it had to start from scratch.
Thus, making Cyberpunk 2077 would require CD Projekt Red to invest in new technologies, new employees and new techniques that it had not explored before – and, always remembering, starting in 2016, a deadline considered extremely tight for a title of this complexity. And starting from that zero point, the company got even more complicated when trying to develop the engine technology behind the game. As everything there was new and was done simultaneously with the production of the game, the problems to touch these two fronts ended up delaying the development of both.
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A team member heard by the report compared this process to trying to drive a train while the tracks are being placed in front of him at the same time. That is, the whole development could have happened more smoothly if some layers of the game were already ready with some advance.
An example of how the project’s megalomania overcame reality was given by Adrian Jakubiak, a former audio programmer at CD Projekt Red. During a meeting, he said one of his colleagues asked how the company thought it would be able to accomplish a more technically challenging project, at the same time that they touched on the development of The Witcher. The answer was:
“We will find out along the way”
3 – The Witcher 3 crash
Although Cyberpunk 2077 was announced in 2012, CD Projekt Red was still focused on The Witcher 3. As a result, the full development of the title only began in late 2016, officials said in the report said. That was when the publisher, as mentioned earlier, needed to start work from scratch.
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Studio boss Adam Badowski took over as director, demanding revisions to Cyberpunk’s gameplay and history. For 2017, everything was changing, including key elements like the game perspective. The main employees who worked on The Witcher 3 had strong opinions on how Cyberpunk should be made, which came into conflict with Badowski and led to the eventual departure of several important developers.
4 – Marketing overlaps with development
Much of the focus of the CD Projekt Red leaders, according to several people who worked on Cyberpunk 2077, was to impress the rest of the world. And the expectation surrounding the game has increased exponentially since the demo presented at E3 in 2018 and which created a gigantic buzz – boosted with the participation of Keanu Reeves in the game.
The problem was: the piece shown was almost entirely fake. The publisher had not yet finalized and coded the underlying game systems, which is why so many features, such as car ambushes, were missing from the final product. The developers said they felt that the demo was a waste of months that should have been used to make the game.
5 – Work overload
And, of course, as with any ambitious project with unrealistic deadlines, the whole thing ends up being left for those on the front lines. And that translates to work overload, with long overtime hours – what in the gaming industry is called a crunch.
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According to officials surveyed by Bloomberg, they worked far above the recommended, although the CEO of CD Projekt Red told the team that this would not be mandatory in Cyberpunk 2077. More than a dozen workers said they felt pressured to work overtime for part of their managers or coworkers.
6 – Deadlines detached from reality
And even with the postponements at launch, the extension did not make the game development faster. At E3 June 2019, CD Projekt Red announced that the game would be released on April 16, 2020, which increased tension among developers as they had no idea how to get the game finished by then.
To get an idea of how the executives were detached from reality, based on the team’s progress, the producers expected the game to be ready only in 2022. Even memes about the title delay were created.
7 – The aid that hindered the most
While canceling some features of the game and reducing the size of the Cyberpunk metropolis has helped to deliver the game more quickly, another factor, however paradoxical it may have been, has hindered: the growth of the team has hampered some departments, the developers said.
Although The Witcher 3 was created by around 240 internal employees, according to the company, Cyberpunk credits show that the game had well over 500 internal developers. But since CD Projekt was not used to that size, the people who worked on the game said that their teams often felt isolated and disorganized.
And yet doubling the size of the team was not enough: CD Projekt Red remained understaffed. Games like Grand Theft Auto V and Red Dead Redemption II, both from Rockstar, often presented as examples of the quality that CD Projekt Red used as inspiration, were made by dozens of offices and thousands of people.
There were also cultural barriers caused by hiring expatriates from the US and Western Europe. The studio ordered everyone to speak English during meetings with people who did not speak Polish, but not everyone followed the rules.
8 – A pandemic
The Bloomberg article also states that another point that impacted the development of Cyberpunk 2077 was the Covid-19 pandemic. That’s because the developers of the PC version – considered the “least bad” game – and the testers of the video game edition worked separately.
With the CD Projekt Red team having to finish the game at home, the professionals did not have access to the console development kits that were in the office. With that, most developers would play versions of Cyberpunk on their home computers. So it was not clear to everyone how the game could run on PS4 and Xbox One. External tests, however, showed clear performance problems.
Thus, they were unable to exchange information in more detail, which severely impacted the game’s edition for consoles, especially the Playstation 4 and Xbox One.