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‘Cyberpunk 2077′s’ launch, explained: CD Projekt Red releases apology video

(The Washington Post illustration; CD Projekt Red)

For a long time, “Cyberpunk 2077” was a hope, a promise for the future of video games and the next generation. For several years it remained an abstract concept, with fans anticipating the role-playing game would revolutionize open-world design just like “The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt” before it.

But as launch approached, that promise became less likely, overshadowed by several controversies. Delays became so common that they transformed into a meme, and concerns were voiced over developer CD Projekt Red’s mandated crunch schedule. Technical problems riddled the console versions on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, a pale imitation of the revolutionary gameplay fans expected from the game’s marketing. These issues were so disruptive that PlayStation pulled the game from its online store, with CD Projekt Red apologizing and saying applicable players could “opt to refund their copy — though players ran into issues on that front, too.

In an earlier investor call, CD Projekt Red stated that it had taken “the wrong approach” with the development of its Xbox One and PS4 versions. And on Wednesday, co-founder Marcin Iwiński released a video statement reflecting on the run up to the game’s launch.

“I, and the entire leadership team, are deeply sorry for this and this video is me publicly owning up to that,” said Iwiński.

Here’s a full breakdown of the many controversies surrounding the bungled launch of “Cyberpunk 2077.”

CD Projekt Red releases video statement and FAQ

On Wednesday afternoon, just over a month since launch, CD Projekt Red shared a video statement through its social channels and a written FAQ about the launch on its official website. In the clip, co-founder Marcin Iwiński detailed some technical issues the development team faced internally during the lead up to release, where the focus was making the PC version look “epic” and later adjusting that experience for consoles. He also disclosed some information about the review process, namely, when console codes were sent to journalists.

The mandatory crunch implemented by CD Projekt Red to release “Cyberpunk 2077” was not mentioned in the video, but the company wrote in its FAQ that the team no longer works under a regime of mandated crunch for the fixes ahead and for the company’s future projects. The promise comes with some baggage. Iwiński has made similar promises in the past: In 2019, he vowed that the studio would be more “humane” to its workers through a “non-obligatory crunch policy" that didn’t seem to last as development intensified.

“Despite good reviews on PC, the console version of ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ did not meet the quality standard we wanted it to meet,” said Iwiński on Wednesday. He asked viewers to not “fault any of our teams for what happened,” explaining that it was fully his decision, along with the company’s board of directors, to release the game in December.

“Although, believe me, we never intended for anything like this to happen,” he said.

Since release, “Cyberpunk 2077” has had three hot fixes, including a patch removing dangerous content for epileptic and photosensitive users. Looking ahead, Iwiński said the game will release on PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X in the second half of 2021. For bug fixes and general patches, players can expect the first major patch to hit in 10 days, with a second, more “significant” update coming a few weeks later.

After console controversy, Sony and Microsoft release statements

In an announcement on the PlayStation website Thursday, Sony Interactive Entertainment explained it would honor refund requests for copies of the game purchased through the PlayStation store. In an unprecedented move, the company also noted it would be removing the game from the store “until further notice.

On Friday, Microsoft released a statement of its own, saying that the company had already been issuing refunds to the “the vast majority of customers who have requested one.”

“We know the developers at CD Projekt Red have worked hard to ship Cyberpunk in extremely challenging circumstances. However, we also realize that some players have been unhappy with the current experience on older consoles,” said a Microsoft spokesperson. “To ensure that every player is able to get the experience they expect on Xbox, we will be expanding our existing refund policy to offer full refunds to anyone who purchased ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ digitally from the Microsoft Store, until further notice.”

Microsoft declined to comment on whether it would delist the game from its store.

Upon launch, the millions of players who bought the game were disappointed to find a subpar version of the game on Xbox One and PS4, filled not just with bugs (an issue no matter the platform), but low visual fidelity and consistent frame drops. The game looked nothing like its promotional images and trailers prior to launch. Some outlets, like IGN, have completely re-reviewed the game on console for transparency. Complaints from console players — particularly those on last-gen devices — prompted CD Projekt Red to apologize and suggest eligible players seek refunds.

“We would like to start by apologizing to you for not showing the game on base last-gen consoles before it premiered and, in consequence, not allowing you to make a more informed decision of your purchase,” reads a statement from CD Projekt Red.

But before Sony’s announcement, players faced trouble getting their money back: The refund process relies on Microsoft and Sony’s standard policies. In Sony’s case, prior to their announcement that they would honor refunds, that meant excluding refunds to games that you already started playing, unless the content is faulty.

“Microsoft and Sony have refund policies for every product that is released digitally on their storefronts,” CD Projekt Red senior vice president of business development Michał Nowakowski said during an investor call. “Despite several articles I’ve seen that things are being set up just for us, it’s actually not true — these policies are in place and have always been in place; they’re not offered specifically for us.”

Journalists who received code to review “Cyberpunk 2077″ were given no opportunity to play the game on console until release. Furthermore, they were restricted from publishing original footage of the game alongside their reviews (i.e. to demonstrate bugs, or to show disparities between console and PC versions). As mentioned in The Post’s coverage, “Cyberpunk 2077” looks great on a PC, aside from a plethora of bugs.

According to the official transcript from an investor call today, CD Projekt Red admitted it “definitely did not spend enough time looking” at the problems ripe in last-gen versions of the game during development.

Numerous delays

“Cyberpunk 2077” had a long development cycle. First announced in 2012, the game would only be released eight years later, after nearly a decade of hype. The game was expected to release on April 16, 2020, though it would subsequently experience three delays in a single year until its eventual release this winter.

CD Projekt Red explained the need for polish with each delay, saying the game wasn’t ready to be put in consumers’ hands just yet. With the final delay, the company tweeted that the biggest challenge was “shipping the game on current-gen, next-gen and PC at the same time,” which required nine separate versions of the game to be prepared and tested while working remotely during the pandemic.

CD Projekt Red mandates crunch in its studio

Back in 2019, CD Projekt Red co-founder Marcin Iwiński told Kotaku in an interview that the company would treat its developers with “respect,” taking a “more humane” approach toward work schedules in an industry notorious for burning out employees with weeks and even months of overtime labor (referred to as “crunch” in the industry). Other studios like Rockstar (which, according to a report by Kotaku, imposed 100-hour workweeks to complete “Red Dead Redemption II”), have been heavily criticized for the practice.

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Despite its promises, CD Projekt Red instituted obligatory crunch on its employees with six-day workweeks in its lead up to launch, as reported by Bloomberg, to fix the remaining bugs and performance issues. It’s worth noting that not all crunch is mandated from on-high. Often, it happens without any acknowledgment or explicit say-so, and is a byproduct of mismanagement, poor planning or unforeseen obstacles coming up during development.

Bloomberg’s report cited an employee account, as well as a studio-wide email sent by company head Adam Badowski. “I take it upon myself to receive the full backlash for the decision,” he wrote in the email. “I know this is in direct opposition to what we’ve said about crunch. It’s also in direct opposition to what I personally grew to believe a while back — that crunch should never be the answer. But we’ve extended all other possible means of navigating the situation.”

Poster of transgender character draws criticism

During E3 2019, CD Projekt Red unveiled a new trailer for “Cyberpunk 2077.” Alongside this reveal, Nvidia released a batch of screenshots from the game to promote ray tracing technology, which adds sophisticated lighting and reflections. One of these screenshots featured an in-game poster in the background, which fetishized a transgender character. It drew criticism from transgender advocates, particularly after CD Projekt Red had already been under fire for its disrespectful tone on social media regarding gender identity.

The artist behind the in-game advert, Kasia Redesiuk, clarified that she viewed the poster and what it portrayed as an example of the ills of “Cyberpunk’s” seedy metropolis. “Personally, for me, this person is sexy,” Redesiuk said in an interview with Polygon. “I like how this person looks. However, this model is used — their beautiful body is used — for corporate reasons. They are displayed there just as a thing, and that’s the terrible part of it.”

Still, the company later celebrated a cisgendered cosplayer who dressed up as the character on social media.

CD Projekt Red kept the poster in its game (it also appears as a television ad), along with several other billboards, advertisements and background decoration that can be read as exploitative, without enough meaningful commentary to warrant them, a topic discussed in The Washington Post’s review of “Cyberpunk 2077.”

‘Cyberpunk 2077’ lacked epilepsy warning, despite seizure-triggering animations

A few days prior to the game’s launch, Game Informer associate editor Liana Ruppert published a detailed warning to epileptic users about “Cyberpunk 2077,” explaining that she had experienced a grand mal seizure while playing the prerelease version of the video game.

CD Projekt Red tweeted that meaningful fixes were in development to make the game safe. The company contacted Ruppert and both parties helped develop a modified animation, which can now be found in the game. A seizure warning is now shown at the start of the game as well.

Review: ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ is a thrill ride through an ugly, unexamined world

Ruppert compared the previous animation, which displayed during segments where the player character puts on a headset with rapidly flashing lights, to an actual device neurologists use for inducing and diagnosing seizures in patients.

“This is a pattern of lights designed to trigger an epileptic episode and it very much did that in my own personal playthrough,” she wrote.

This story has been updated from a previous version.

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