This Week in Games
That's Not Very Cyberpunk of You
by Heidi Kemps,
Ho ho ho, Merry TWIGmas everyone! A little late, I know, but we're still in the holiday spirit. Though I was hoping DHL Santa would drop off my Astro City Mini in time to discuss for this column... it is not to be. Alas! That will have to wait for a future column.
In the meantime… well, remember how last week I moved TWIG to Sunday? The Game Awards had just happened, and I figured "well, all of the gaming news of note will be condensed into that show, and then everything's going to be quiet until the end of the year!"
Oh, how wrong I was.
FINE, I GUESS WE HAVE TO TALK ABOUT CYBERPUNK 2077 NOW
Folks, I really wanted to never, ever, ever have to discuss Cyberpunk 2077 at length in this column. Besides the fact that I like to focus more on niche and Japanese games – stuff that doesn't get as much coverage on big gaming and entertainment sites – I was personally just sick and tired of everything having to do with it for months before it even released.
You see, the exhausting, unstoppable hype engine for this game had been running for years, convincing millions that Cyberpunk was going to be some sort of near-religious experience. The Cyberpunk adherents soon transformed into an aggressive, creepy defense force ready to pounce on anyone who expressed even the slightest negative opinion or premonition about the unreleased game. How could these people hate what was sure to be a masterpiece? Clearly, these unbelievers had a goal: they wanted to destroy fun, like the villains from Doozybots!
It really can't be understated how much Cyberpunk 2077 had a cultlike dedication to its eventual, absolutely assured awesomeness. We're talking people ordering lavish special editions years before the game's release, out of complete blind faith that this was gaming's magnum opus based mostly on two things: The Witcher III being really good and developer/publisher CD Projekt Red saying “it's gonna be mindblowing, guys, trust us!”
Come release week, the Online Cyberpunk 2077 Defense Force was mobilized and ready to destroy. Much shit was lost over a handful of more negative reviews. Liana at Game Informer pointed out that there were seizure-inducing light patterns in the game – one of those really important things that you would think would be caught during QA analysis. She was rewarded for her reporting by a bunch of asshats trying to send her flashing GIFs and telling her that people prone to seizures simply shouldn't play games at all. Totally cool and normal fan reaction, and not at all completely terrible behavior!
So then the game released.
Hey, turns out all those reviews complaining about bugs and performance issues were absolutely correct! Cyberpunk 2077, despite its numerous delays, is clearly a game that needed another year or so of fine-tuning before it was ready to be unleashed onto the world. While the next-gen and PC versions (with a quality rig) have fewer issues, the PS4 and Xbox One versions – the SKUs that will certainly sell the most outside of the PC, given that you have to camp in virtual lines or pay through the nose to even get next-gen systems right now – are in an absolutely abysmal state.
CD Projekt Red kinda sorta knew that these bugs were a thing and would take a while to fix, but pushed Cyberpunk out the door in time for Christmas 2020 anyway. The deadlines set by the top brass were unrealistic, and the developers knew this, but the guys up top wouldn't listen and instead forced the team into crunch mode anyway. Hmmm, where have I heard this story before? Oh, right, every other high-profile game that launches in a really bad state because the developers were given a really stupid deadline they were forced to meet!
In particular, CDPR knew the current-gen versions of the game had serious issues, and deliberately avoided showing the game's PS4 and Xbox One incarnations in previews and in footage. When review copies went out mere days before launch, it was almost exclusively the PC version – and reviewers had to sign an NDA saying that they weren't allowed to take their own footage of the game until after it had launched.
Now, I do a lot of game reviews, so agreeing to an NDA to get an early release version of a game isn't uncommon at all, but usually the requests are very reasonable, like “don't reveal any story details past a certain area in your review” or “don't spoil this secret surprise for fans.” CDPR's NDA, in contrast, was absurd… but they had everyone in a bind and they knew it. What are you going to do, not review the year's most anticipated game that everybody wants to read about? As a result, the reviews that went out reflected an experience that most fans weren't going to have.
So, upon playing the released game, those same fans who had eagerly swallowed every pill the Cyberpunk marketing machine had fed them suddenly realized that the product they had been sold wasn't what they were promised and shown. And thus, the call for refunds came.
CD Projekt Red, in a damage-control move, acknowledged the issues and said, “hey, we'll give you a refund if you want it! Just… y'know, don't come to us, take it up with where you bought it.”
This backfired horribly. Microsoft and Sony's digital storefronts aren't set up to handle refunds, and soon, their support was overwhelmed with requests for money back. On the physical side of things, most stores won't accept an opened copy of a game as a return unless the media itself is defective, leading to a lot of store staff having to deal with angry customers demanding they circumvent store policy cause CDPR said so.
Eventually, Sony just threw their hands up in the air and said “screw it, if the game doesn't work as advertised, we're just not going to sell it.” And so, in a first for a current, massively marketed AAA game with no IP or legal issues, Cyberpunk 2077 found itself delisted from the PlayStation Network store. (As a side note, Cyberpunk is still on the Xbox's online store, but with a warning attached that users may experience “performance issues.”)
Jeez, I've written multiple paragraphs about this whole awful mess and yet I still feel like I'm grossly oversimplifying the scope and impact of this disaster. As of right now, CDPR stock is tanking , CDPR staff is pissed, and Cyberpunk has become synonymous with the worst practices of game development and marketing. It is worth noting that a good number of players on the PC and PS5/Xbox Series side of things feel okay with the game in its current state, as the game runs significantly better on those platforms (besides a save-corrupting bug on PC that just got fixed), but that still doesn't excuse all of the awful things CDPR did here: putting staff under unrealistic deadlines, misrepresenting the game, putting the onus on other people for refunds… and let's not forget the seizure thing, holy shit.
I'm sure we'll see plenty more deep-dive stories and exposes in the coming months about this hot mess. Mostly, though, I hope it'll be a learning experience for people about buying into marketing hype. Unfortunately, a process like this seems to repeat every few years for some other form of media, so who knows if the lessons learned from the Cyberpunk fiasco will truly stick…
FIGHTING GAME NEWS ROUNDUP
Man, writing about Cyberpunk is exhausting, but there's still a bit of other news this week. Specifically: fighting game character announcements!
- Super Baby 2 is coming to Dragonball FighterZ on January 15th! Here's a trailer… that also shows off a tasty little sampling of SS4 Gogeta!
- Granblue Fantasy Versus's second season pass is chugging right along. The extra-fiery, extra-floofy Yuel dropped last week, and Anre the Eternal is set to debut next month. Still no word on making the game's online any better, though!
Also, on the subject of Granblue stuff, we have some new footage of the long-in-development Granblue Fantasy Re: Link, which is now set for both PS4 and PS5 and launching in… 2022? Damn, they're really taking their sweet time with this one, but hopefully it'll be reflected in the final product! (We just saw what happens when you rush a game out the door, after all...)
- But, if we're talking about Arc System Works, we should bring up this weekend's surprise announcement: A fighting game based on... Dungeon Fighter Online?! Yes, really! Have a look at Dungeon Fighter Duel!
AND! It's being co-developed by Eighting, who you know and love from Tatsunoko vs. Capcom, Marvel vs. Capcom 3, Bloody Roar and... Fate//Unlimited Codes! Man, we've gone too long without a real Eighting fighter. The market needs their brand of very playable but incredibly broken nonsense again. Unfortunately, I know nothing about the source material, so I can't be like "oh man, I hope my favorite character gets in!" (It does give my partner an excuse to tell me all of his DFO war stories, though.)
- Finally, Dan Hibiki's launch in Street Fighter V has been set for February 2021. The video message from Capcom about his release has a rather apologetic tone, perhaps foreshadowing further delays to the last batch of SFV content.
Phew. Okay, we're done with this very very not-so-merry TWIG! Well, I guess it's merry if you enjoy the trainwreck qualities of the Cyberpunk fiasco, but as more and more info comes out I feel really bad for all of the hardworking staff caught up in this shitshow. (Remember: it's almost always the executives at the top who are to blame!) There are some recent leaks of note, too, but… I think I'll save that for next week, as I want to discuss that stuff and the ethics surrounding it at length.
Anyhow, I hope you all enjoy a safe, happy holiday season as we prepare to escape the 2020 hellscape. See you again for one last TWIG before the new year!
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