A new report has shed light on the troublesome circumstances behind Cyberpunk 2077′s disastrous launch.
The report, written by Jason Schreier at Bloomberg, contains many similarities to other stories you’ve heard about the development of some high-profile AAA games released in the last few years. There’s the unchecked ambition, driven by over-confidence born out of studio legacies. There’s the poor planning, focus on marketing over development, and technical shortcomings. There’s the crunch that has happened since long before the game’s launch, and that will persist after as the team works toward creating a redemption story. It’s worth your time reading. Schreier has shared more that he wasn’t able to fit into his news feature, which is restricted to approximately 2,000 words at Bloomberg.
He took to Twitter to share those tidbits, one of which was an anecdote of CD Projekt Red’s management threatening employees into crunching.
What went wrong with Cyberpunk 2077? Interviews with more than 20 current and former CD Projekt staff paint a complex picture. Unchecked ambition, technical woes, unrealistic deadlines, and above all, one belief: “We made The Witcher 3 — it’ll work out.” https://t.co/T56huHkQW8
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) January 16, 2021
“One CDPR developer told their manager that they didn’t want to work overtime, as their CEO had said would be OK,” shared Schreier in the thread. “Fine, their manager said, but one of their other coworkers would just have to work extra hours to make up for them. Several other developers shared similar stories.”
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The more than 20 developers on Cyberpunk 2077 that spoke with Schreier had many other stories. For one, full development on the game didn’t start until late 2016 when, “CD Projekt Red essentially hit the reset button, according to people familiar with the project.” For the next year, everything was about making overhauls and changes.
There’s also the reveal that the first demo for Cyberpunk 2077 was almost entirely fake. Back in 2018, CD Projekt Red hadn’t yet “finalized and coded the underlying gameplay systems,” which is why some features present in the demo were missing from the final product. The developers “felt like the demo was a waste of months that should have gone toward making the game.” Though Short For A Knight founder and ex-Bioshock Infinite and Mafia III developer Seth Rosen states that, especially for big-budget games, this is “almost always the case. Yes, even when it’s ‘gameplay footage.'”
CD Projekt Red mandates English is spoken in any work meetings that include non-Polish speakers — a rule which employees say was sometimes broken. Although the non-Polish developers who spoke of this attributed no malicious intent, the experience naturally made them feel ostracized and uncomfortable.
Developers also spoke of an unchecked arrogance akin to the “BioWare magic” Anthem’s developers spoke of when talking about that game’s disastrous development cycle. “Anthem’s developers talked about ‘BioWare magic’ — an unwavering belief that with enough hard work and crunch, their games would come together,” tweeted Schreier. “CD Projekt was similar. When asked about unrealistic deadlines, directors would say they’d be fine. They made The Witcher 3, after all.”
– One CDPR developer told their manager that they didn’t want to work overtime, as their CEO had said would be OK. Fine, their manager said, but one of their other coworkers would just have to work extra hours to make up for them. Several other developers shared similar stories
— Jason Schreier (@jasonschreier) January 16, 2021
There are many more things the Cyberpunk 2077 developers reveal in the report, and surely more that they will come out in due time. But I can’t stop thinking about the insidiousness behind CD Projekt Red management pressuring employees to crunch, lest their coworkers have to take on even more work and hours.
This is why there is no reassurance to be found in the “Our Commitment to Quality” blog CD Projekt Red posted earlier this week. In response to the question of whether the team is crunching on the many patches the game needs to be in a properly playable state for all players, the company said the team will “bring relevant fixes to the game without any obligatory overtime,” and that “voiding crunch on all of our future projects” is one of the company’s priorities. Language like this employed by CD Projekt Red has already been proven to be false in the past.
At the core of the concept of crunch is that it isn’t always obligatory. It’s an extremely complicated issue with an infinite number of complexities. But the fact that development studios, especially ones like CD Projekt Red, should aim to reduce (and perhaps one day eliminate) crunch by implementing humane working conditions for their employees, isn’t nuanced; it’s only just. Development cycles like Cyberpunk 2077′s, which isn’t atypical in the AAA development space, are unsustainable.
“There were times when I would crunch up to 13 hours a day — a little bit over that was my record probably — and I would do five days a week working like that,” said Adrian Jakubiak, a former audio programmer for CD Projekt Red, in the report. He quit the company after getting married. “I have some friends who lost their families because of these sort of shenanigans.”
Update 1/16/2021, 2:56 P.M. ET: Adam Badowski, head of CD Projekt Red, has responded to parts of the report on Twitter.
— Adam Badowski⚡️ (@AdamBadowski) January 16, 2021