‘Cyberpunk 2077’ Is The Perfect Example Of What’s Broken In The Video Games Industry
10:51 AM EST on December 17, 2020
About 30 hours into my stay in Night City, I was just wandering around, simultaneously minding my own business and trying to figure out which of my many open side quests to complete, when I suddenly died. The cause of death wasn’t immediately clear, but I eventually figured out what happened: A whole-ass car fell from the sky and squashed me, then rolled off into the sunset.
That’s life in Cyberpunk 2077, the biggest video game of 2020, and the most broken. The game, which had been in development by CD Projekt Red for almost a decade, was released on Dec. 10 after multiple delays, an exhausting marketing cycle, and more than one controversy. If the game delivered, though, all would be forgiven and forgotten. Gamers are not a patient bunch, but if the hype pays off for a huge game, they will leap to defend it from all of the noise.
Unfortunately for Cyberpunk, the game itself has become part-joke and part-nightmare, thanks to a litany of glitches and an overwhelming sense that, even with all of the delays and horrible working conditions that made its release a reality, it just wasn’t ready. I’m here to tell you, as someone who has spent way too much time with the game in the week since its release, that it’s okay to not play it. You won’t miss out on a great experience. Hell, if you’re trying to play it on the last generation of consoles, the only thing you’re going to miss out on is a headache from the poor performance.
Cyberpunk was released simultaneously for Windows PC, Playstation 4, and Xbox One. With most games it is safe to assume that one platform will be prioritized over the others, but CD Projekt Red took that to the extreme. The Windows version, which is the one I played on, is mostly fine in terms of glitches. Sure, there are random car meteors, and a few quests have bugged for me until I reloaded from a previous save, but that’s par for the course for such a massive game.
It’s a different story for those on the last-gen of consoles. A game released in 2020, with this level of anticipation, simply can’t look like this on consoles that the majority of people own:
These are not isolated glitches, either. Reports of users struggling to run the game on a console that it was purportedly designed for came flooding in over the past week. Graphical pop-ins that looked like Playstation 2 visuals, characters doing weird things while riding around in cars, and slow frame-rates all plagued the console versions. The cause wasn’t fully clear until Tuesday, when CD Projekt Red president and co-CEO Adam Kiciński admitted that the developers simply focused on the Windows version and let god sort out the rest:
Cyberpunk isn't the first AAA game to be released with bugs. Basically any game that offers players an open world to explore of 50-plus hours of game to play is going to hit the market with a noticeable amount of bugs. It's almost excusable; games like Cyberpunk and Assassin's Creed: Valhalla are vast, complicated pieces of technology, and the publishing demands that the industry puts on game studios means that bugs are inevitable.
Of course, that's the problem: The studios have realized that as long as their marketing and pre-release hype is strong enough, they can get away with releasing unpolished games. If millions of people pre-order a game because the commercials for it looked awesome, and then it turns out that the game isn't all that functional, what options do those people have? They can either put the game on the shelf and wait for various post-release patches to fix the problems, or they can soldier through and essentially become a paying beta tester for the studio. Either way, they've spent $60.
Nobody complains about this too much so long as the games are mostly playable and a good time, but what we've seen with Cyberpunk is a studio pushing the hype-release-fix cycle beyond its acceptable limits. In that way, the game has done all of us a favor by revealing just how unsustainable this system has become. Disasters like this will just become more and more likely to happen until these broken games stop selling. That a game like Cyberpunk, which had nearly a year's worth of delays from its original release date, ended up being one of the buggiest games we've ever seen does not bode well for the future.
Again, this is a game that required its developers to work insane hours in order to hit the targeted release date, a crunch that only intensified after the initial delays. All of those horrific working conditions feel even more egregious when it's clear that a longer development cycle was needed not just for the sake of not driving the company's workforce into the ground, but for making sure that the game actually worked.
This should be a wake-up call, for both the studios and the consumers, that the current system does not work. It doesn't work for players, and it doesn't work for the people who work insane hours to make these games. The only people who are profiting from this are the executives, who can collect huge bonuses for selling millions of pre-orders, and then go out and just admit to everyone that their game was never even built to run on the most common consoles.
Will Cyberpunk be the game that forces the industry to come to terms with the brutal nature of its own practices? One can hope, at least, that it helps curb blind purchases based on months of marketing. If games release with glitches and the promise of patches to fix them at some point in the post-launch window, then it makes sense that people should just... not buy the games until those patches are released. Of course, I'm part of the problem. I eagerly snapped up Cyberpunk on release day because I was excited about it, and now I wish I hadn't. Will I learn my lesson before the next big AAA release?
CD Projekt Red promised a masterpiece when Cyberpunk was announced, and consumers reasonably expected an era-defining video game. The game may eventually be that, once a year's worth of post-release patches are applied, but the broken version of this game has a chance to create a more meaningful legacy. If this is the game that finally wakes the industry up to the fact that wholesale changes need to be made to the entire end-to-end process of making, marketing, and releasing games, then Cyberpunk will be as important a video game as its creators wanted, if not for the reasons they intended.