The only “bastion of hope” among all publishers. The “chosen one” that would destroy corporate greed. The only company that showed that being good with its customers would allow for reciprocity and truly become successful. CD Projekt.
The polish company was considered one of the best around for their talent, commitment, pro-consumer policies. Anyone remembers the “free DLC” mantra for The Witcher 3, and the no-DRM approach on GOG. No lying, no nickel-and-dime gamers, just good and honest products.
They were considered the good guys for almost a decade and half, but now reality hits: they’re just another greedy company like any other. And companies aren’t your friends.
CD Projekt started as a publisher localizing games for the polish market. They’re known as developers and publishers of The Witcher series of games, and owners of GOG store.
The Witcher games started with enough praise, and subsequent games became cultural hit. GOG started as a store for old games, which mostly meant stripping out any DRM and adding compatibility layers. Both projects become a success on their own way.
CD Projekt is listed in the Warsaw Stock Exchange since 2002, and both founders, along with their CFO, control 25% of the company.
Burning up a bridge
On december 10th, they released Cyberpunk 2077, a hyped game 8 years in the making. From all the big AAA games that we’re a letdown in 2020 or simply postponed, Cyberpunk 2077 became the only game to truly wait for. It was from CD Projekt RED, the development arm of the company. They were The Witcher 3 creators.
Its hype wasn’t a lucky strike, but calculated marketing campaign that just got amped every time material came out:
- Keanu Reeves staring in the game.
- Night City Wire series before launching.
- A game “completely playable” a months ahead of launch.
- NVIDIA adding RTX to the game.
The recent Q&A session with CD Projekt RED higher ups just confirmed what everyone received in their consoles on launch date: not an enjoyable game, but an incomplete technical mess. Worse, “older” generations of console gamers received a bug fest. Just before a week of launch Sony and Microsoft decided to open their platforms for refunds for that same reason.
The list of bugs is varied, like simple crashes to the desktop or the console dashboard, to loading problems, physics shenanigans, and even a progression corruption if the save file exceeds 8MB. This was beyond Skyrim levels.
Every gamer expects a game with some technical glitches, but being as hyped as it was, it’s clear that gamers and fans alike didn’t receive the perfect game the media, and the publisher itself, showed months ago.
Why, rather than what
It’s not surprise that video game development, and most software development overall, suffer from “crunching”. As finished features pile up, bugs and unwanted behaviour start to appear and additional time is needed to keep the game clean to add the remaining features— this is unavoidable, specially on teams of dozens and hundreds of developers.
Time to complete the bucket list gets thin the last weeks or months. That is when the crunch happens. Work hours stretch to insane levels to meet the deadlines or the product will never be completed in time.
There is a very informative video about the “crunching” concept by Noodle, in which explains not only why it happens, buy also how it has become the norm like when everyone knew hippies drug themselves in the ’60s but wasn’t talked openly.
Software development and video game development is not a seashore walk, but crossing through woods. You know where is the exit, but not what you’re gonna find yourself into. People who have never developed something don’t understand this, so it’s normal to impose unrealistic deadlines, or ask to the developers before writing a single line of code.
It’s a fact that contracts for Cyberpunk 2077 release were already signed, from marketing campaigns to collector editions. The best a publisher can do is push the release date, but it’s like domino: the game doesn’t comes out, limited editions have to be stored for longer periods, marketing has to be postponed, reviewers have to reschedule their playtime, and ultimately, all contracts have to be renegotiated.
For Cyberpunk 2077, the game had to come out in whichever state it was. The last three weeks of postponement was clearly a desperate attempt to keep contracts in check and investors happy while trying to fix whatever they could in so much little time.
When projects take too long to be make, is a sign of misdirection. Add on top of that some key people leaving a company when the project is will ongoing, and that’s another bad sign, and it’s worse then key leadership like directors decide to step out. It’s normal to poach another company when you see the ship going straight to an iceberg and you can’t change course, happens all the time.
When things like this happens, the best solution is to scrap everything and start all over again. This was the similar case for Doom 4, which cought in development hell. The restart allowed Doom (2016) and Doom Eternal to become cultural hits.
What makes this unapologetically worse, is that CDPR didn’t come clean, it wasn’t honest and transparent with the state of a highly hyped the game. Knowing their fan base, it’s not out of the question the community wouldn’t accept another big delay, as they did already three times, but you can try if you say what’s happening and make people understand the road has been rocky.
But they didn’t. CDPR knew the state of Cyberpunk 2077, specially on PS4 and Xbox One. They didn’t show the real state of the game on these consoles. They played dirty and got caught.
Publicly-traded companies tend to please investors more than customers, and more often than not they lose sight of consumers. It becomes a bigger problem when it means hiding or lying, as investors gain ammo to sue the company. This is starting to gain track right now in both Polonia and in US.
At the end of the day, “CD Projekt has blown years’ worth of goodwill in a week”, as Polygon writes. Not because everyone likes to point bad guys, but rather, because they obtained benefits by doing bad things. These things are expected by EA, Ubisoft, Activision, Take-Two, but not CD Projekt.
Why you shouldn’t pre order
They reported 8 million digital-only pre-orders, leaving physical retail copies aside, something that investors take with smiles. They recouped their development costs days before launch date, instead of waiting months as any non-hyped game would do.
Now, more than 8 million players now have a buggy, sometimes unplayable, mess of a game. They got away with their product, and from day 1 there was only profits to be made. Seems like refunds will become only pocket change for them, if any.
There are some who like to defend companies saying “The Witcher 3 also had a rocky launch”, but that just excusing in behalf of. No game, no software, no product, should have rocky launches. Software itself is expected to have errors and bugs, same as a car is expected to have a malfunctioning blinking light when you take it out from the car dealer, but not blowing up its engine every time you turn left.
Pre-ordering software is stupid.
But why pre-order? It’s not like a digital product will disappear from stockschelves. It’s not that your copy has to be reserved or it will be taken by someone else. It’s not that production has to ramp up to meet demand. It’s not that the copy will rot. It’s not that the company will disappear if you don’t put money immediately.
Pre-ordering is a tactic used to leverage demand of physical products and production costs with cash. Manufacturers have a schedule for production ahead, and having money to pay a larger initial batch means more customers, while the manufacturer puts both people and resources to make the products.
On the digital era, pre-orders are a way to cash-in the hype. The more hype the game gets, the most perfect the game is considered, and bet your *ss the more incentives for pre-ordering you will get: artwork, figurines, music, digital goods, clothing, you name it.
Pre-orders opened June 9th, 2019, for Cyberpunk 2077. Not gonna lie, if I had the money I would have pre-ordered like many others because a game from CD Projekt felt like a safe bet at that time. How could this go wrong?
It indeed went wrong.
They will have to make big amends for the community of players to get back their status, but more important, confidence. That confidence that has been broken repeatedly by other games and nobody wanted to realize until now: pre-ordering software is just stupid.
In financial terms, pre-ordering a videogame with no clear indication of its quality is an investment: you win or you lose. If you lose, refunds transforms to practically lending money to a company at 0% interest rate… if you can get a refund at all.
Alien Colonial Marines. Dead Island. Assassin’s Creed Unity. No Man’s Sky. Fallout 76. Cyberpunk 2077. Publishers are not afraid anymore for big financial loss when titles can be so heavily pre-ordered. They can get away with being legally incomplete or buggy and think about fixing it later.
This will keep happening with the next titles until people stop believing on pre-orders, and hopefully, the failed launch of Cyberpunk 2077 gets big enough to show the true reality of blindly putting your money somewhere and getting f*cked over:
You should never pre-order. Period.