CD Projekt Red risked the reputation of others to isolate Cyberpunk 2077

Cyberpunk 2077 is out, and it’s the only thing people can talk about. But while many people play and enjoy it, many others come across a game that is broken and bugged – especially on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Over the past week, developer CD Projekt Red has tried to apologize to fans, but in the process it has often soured sentiment about the game and itself even more. And the company’s actions show that it was willing to risk its own reputation and the reputation of its partners and reviewers to isolate Cyberpunk’s launch from honest criticism or further delays.

As a reviewer in hindsight, I feel duped and used by CDPR. And perhaps the company did not consciously choose to use the media to deceive fans. But that’s how it feels, especially in light of the company’s continued behavior towards partners like Sony and Microsoft and towards gamers themselves. It also feels in line with the company’s recent history in transphobic and edgelord marketing.

Last week, CD Projekt Red apologized to fans for not revealing the PS4 and Xbox versions during the game’s promotional period. But the studio gave no reason why it made that decision – and yet it had clear motivation to run Cyberpunk 2077 on PC only. The game is heavy on PS4 and Xbox One due to bugs, but it also performs significantly worse. The apology feels weak. It’s something a company does when it knows it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than it is to be candid about the condition of the product.

My immediate reaction when something like this happens is to put the responsibility on the consumer. We should not spend money on things until we fully understand what we are buying. I still think so, but I think we should also acknowledge that CD Projekt Red took every possible step to ensure that people felt informed without fully understanding the reality of the PS4 and Xbox One versions.

It feels like CD Projekt Red used reviewers to fool consumers

CD Projekt Red designed the Cyberpunk 2077 review process with the goal of getting the best possible reviews while minimizing the media’s ability to educate their audiences about the shortcomings. The media is complicit in this and must take its share of the blame. But CDPR also minimized the ability for reviewers to understand what they wanted to participate in.

As someone who has reviewed Cyberpunk 2077, I should have been more skeptical. It is crucial to always research how the marketing machine is trying to use the media. But throughout the process, CD Projekt Red presented Cyberpunk 2077 like any other normal review, without ever revealing that the experience we got on the PC could feel materially different from the one on consoles.

Let me sum up the events in the review to illustrate what I mean.

Before Thanksgiving, CDPR’s third-party PR firm reached out to inform the media that it was getting codes. Media can go to a website to request a code for PS4, Xbox, Stadia or PC. It’s a simple process that has worked well in the past, so as we entered the long holiday weekend, most people were confident they would get review code for their platform of choice.

And I remember taking this as a good sign of the state of the game. CDPR seemed confident in offering codes to so many people for all platforms.

But a few days later, CD Projekt Red’s internal PR started to reach a much smaller pool of media. And this time, the deal is you get a code if you plan to review on PC.

This is not abnormal. Cyberpunk 2077 revision keys were in high demand, so it seemed like CDPR was trying to keep things quiet so it wouldn’t upset the hundreds of people who would still have to wait for a code. But with everything else taken into account, this now also feels like part of the manipulation – mainly because I understand that there are very few codes that have ever been sent to people asking for them through the PR website.

Feeling unconsciously complicit

But most other measures made the review embargo normal. By the time we got the code, we had six days to play before the written review embargo expired. That’s not a lot of time, but it’s also not uncommon. And there were no stipulations attached to the written assessments. We could talk about all the issues with the game including bugs and crashes.

But that unlimited embargo on written assessments now feels like a diversion tactic too. As part of written reviews, you could post a video, but you could only use CD Projekt Red’s B-roll. Now this is generally not too abnormal. Sony games often have embargoes that limit which video you can use in your content. However, it is rarer that the revision embargo prohibits the use of captured images and restricts use to official B-roll. Typically, other companies will say that you can only use footage from this initial area or something along those lines.

That should have raised red flags, but the video embargo also expired before the game was released. And as a site that works mainly in text, it wasn’t something I thought too much about.

When I wrote my review, I assumed I was generally playing the same game everyone would get. That’s a lack of imagination on my part, but in my opinion, CDPR cultivated that false sense of reassurance in the first place.

In retrospect, CDPR’s actions in the review process seem manipulative to me.

  • The company has never run Cyberpunk 2077 on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One before.
  • It was explicitly stated that the game works surprisingly well on those systems.
  • Through its external PR, it suggested that console codes were ready to be released before they were released.
  • It then quietly let reviewers experience the game on PC.
  • But even on PC, critics wouldn’t be able to post images of bugs and crashes until two days after the game received initial reviews.
  • During this process, CDPR never communicated to the public or the media that the PS4 or Xbox One versions would perform significantly worse.

Most people who bought or pre-ordered the game for PS4 and Xbox One didn’t see the game’s underperformance and bugs until Cyberpunk’s release day. Even if some fans saw footage before, they’ve likely seen the 90-plus Metacritic score as well.

And over the weekend, I assumed much of this was merely circumstantial evidence proving nothing but unfortunate coincidences. But that was before I noticed that CDPR was treating Sony, Microsoft and its fans the same way.

CD Projekt Red’s disappointing behavior is now a pattern

I can only get so mad at CD Projekt Red. Yes – I feel like the studio was trying to use me to deceive people. But it seems like a company acting desperately because of the pressure of running a publicly traded gaming studio. One of the real frustrations of capitalism is the futility of punishing other people. What’s the point if the system stays the same? It’s like when a character in a movie says scornfully, “It’s just business.”

But that doesn’t mean we should forget about CDPR’s behavior during Cyberpunk’s launch. I just want to be realistic about the power I have. And that’s limited, because I’m not interested in handing out pitchforks and torches.

It’s also limited because I’m not Sony or Microsoft. And I think those are the entities that CD Projekt Red might really need to answer.

CD Projekt Red threw those companies under the bus by revealing that Cyberpunk 2077 was able to bypass the final Xbox and PlayStation certification. This is for a game that started with a scene that triggered seizures. Developers know they can get waivers to launch on consoles without final certification, as long as they plan to fix launch issues. But that’s not something developers say out loud to game fans. Because what CD Projekt Red has just suggested is that Microsoft and Sony are complicit in not releasing a game that could have injured vulnerable people.

It’s a bad idea to potentially expose your business partners to liability (rightly so) in what appears to be an attempt to get some heat out of your studio.

In addition, as part of its apology, CD Projekt Red placed the burden of refunds on Sony and Microsoft. The studio told customers to ask those companies to return the game. But this is not something CDPR has discussed or agreed with Sony or Microsoft, the emergency call with investors said Tuesday. Many people report that Sony is refusing refunds. Again, in an effort to take the heat out of his game, it looks like CDPR is targeting one of its partners.

CDPR’s actions seem ready to carry the reputation of Sony and Microsoft. And if that is true, then it seems clear to me that it would also jeopardize the reputation of critics in the media.

Compared to CDPR burning its reputation on major platforms, burning critics barely score evenly.

Until now, Microsoft and Sony have not said much about CD Projekt Red or Cyberpunk. PlayStation customer support agents tell customers to wait for a patch.

GameStop is now also telling people to seek refunds directly from CD Projekt Red.

Gaslighting gamers

What finally convinced me to write this was that GOG got back to its plans today to release the survival horror game Devotion. This game was previously launched on Steam before the developer pulled it due to review bombing because it contained a mild punch against Chinese President Xi Jinping. Earlier today, GOG, which the CD Projekt Group owns, said the game would be coming to the store.

A few hours later, the company posted this on Twitter:

It is disappointing that yet another company is bowing to censorship pressure from China. But again, we live under capitalism, and “don’t talk about China” is the unspoken rule of almost every media company in the world. But what really strikes me is how GOG formulates its reasoning.

“After receiving a lot of messages from gamers,” the tweet reads. Once again a CD has strengthened Projekt Group slightly and once again it is shifting the blame elsewhere. This wasn’t the cowardice of GOG – they only do this for the gamers.

And burn reviewers are a minor thing. Burning Microsoft and Sony is another. But using gamers as your shield to give in to censorship is the most telling of all. If the back of this business is up against the wall, it will drag someone else for it.

But I am not angry. I feel like my anger wouldn’t add to what the lawyers at Sony and Microsoft can do. Instead, I am writing this, doing this as a reminder to myself and others to treat CD Projekt Red with complete skepticism in the future. By default, we have to assume that the company is hiding something.

That’s the best way to isolate yourself from companies that behave like CD Projekt Red.

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