What was it that caused CD Projekt Red to drop from being one of the most-respected game studios around to… well, what they are now? Was it the constant reports of crunch and toxic working environment that led to huge turnover and worker burnout? Was it the bizarrely transphobic marketing for Cyberpunk 2077, which often led to screaming matches on Twitter?
Maybe it was their position as a mega-huge publisher and owner of GOG, known by some as the “Polish Steam”?
No, it was glitches. The glitches were the straw that broke the camel’s back.
Many fans were likely willing to forgive the company of its worst excesses in the lead-up to Cyberpunk 2077’s launch had the game been the truly mind-blowing leap forward that they had hoped for. Instead, they got a buggy, rushed, imperfect game (that is arguably still pretty fun, in my opinion). Now, the company finds itself scrambling to salvage some goodwill from this train wreck.
Largely a victim of its own industrial hype complex, Cyberpunk 2077 was promised by CDPR to be the biggest, craziest, best RPG ever made. The ambitious trailers, the massive hype machine built up around it, whipped fans up into a boiling frenzy. However, behind the scenes, the game was struggling for years: it blew past major deadlines due to project mismanagement and found itself hilariously behind schedule.
Famously, CDPR is positioned in video game narratives as a Polish underdog, an Eastern European studio that does all of its programming in-house and puts a premium on storytelling. However, with Cyberpunk, that narrative spoils: by eschewing outside help, the now-massive company looks arrogant.
They’re no underdog anymore, either. The company has been raking in the cash from The Witcher III, a massive success, and their GOG platform, which continually refills their coffers.
The blame-game is in full swing behind closed doors at CDPR according to insiders. Developers are pressing management on their unrealistic deadlines and on the toxic work culture that cropped up around the game. While CDPR recouped development costs from pre-orders alone, their stock prices have taken a hit from the game’s disastrous launch.
The company is now offering refunds for the game for players who are disappointed by the performance. In a stinging sign of how buggy the game is on last-generation hardware, Sony has pulled the game from the PlayStation store, which has stung CDPR’s once-sterling reputation.
The Microsoft store, which services Xbox users, is offering blanket refunds to anyone who feels lied to. Best Buy is offering to return any copy of the game they sold you, even if it’s open.
All of this is swirling even as the company has been facing criticism for pulling a controversial horror game, “Devotion,” from the GOG storefront.
“Devotion” included an Easter Egg at one point that likened Chinese leader Xi Jinping to Winnie the Pooh, a humorous comparison that invariably draws the authoritarian leader’s ire. As such, the game was swiftly banned in China, and removed from Steam last year over the controversy.
After announcing the game would come to GOG, CDPR quickly backpedaled, stating that they would actually not be listing the game due to “feedback from gamers”.
To comments to their tweet are… not great.
This has led to further fan outrage for what they see as the Polish company bending the knee to an authoritarian government. Now, a company that was once seen as a beacon of all that was right in the world of gaming is being seen for what it actually is: a company trying to make money however they can.
They’re no underdog, no special case. They’re just like every other game development studio out there.