Why Cyberpunk 2077 Proves That Crunch Is *Never* a Solution

Choosing shareholders over employees is always going to backfire

One of the most hyped games of the year is also, coincidentally, one of the most problematic and debated titles of the decade. The industry is in turmoil after the release of Cyberpunk 2077, which I myself have been yearning for quite some time, following the news that the game is essentially unplayable on old gen consoles.

This comes to the surprise of many, including reviewers, developers and other professionals in the gaming industry. In short, Cyberpunk is so bugged that it crashes every few hours, it has pop-up issues and frequent T-poses, poor textures and awful optimisation, especially on PS4 and Xbox One. PC gamers don’t seem to suffer the same issues, nor do gamers with next-gen consoles. And while CD Projekt RED has announced a series of patches to fix the issues in the upcoming months, the problem still stands for those who preordered the game or they bought it on Day One.

And as the days pass and gamers rally up against CDPR, many are left wondering the same question.

Why was Cyberpunk 2077 released with so many bugs?

Those who follow the industry daily should know by now that the reviewers did not receive console key codes until the day before the official release. All reviewers were only sent the PC version, which is said to be more stable overall and with far less bugs — in short, the best version of Cyberpunk currently available out there.

Many were quick to point their fingers towards CDPR for this matter, and with good rights to do so. With many gamers still transitioning between console gens (also due to worldwide stock issues), a vast majority of console players today is not able to experience Cyberpunk as they should have. But in all cases, I have noticed that those who were quick to accuse CDPR of fraud seemed to be only concerned with the final product, rather than what eventually led up to this point.

The truth is that CDPR is unjustifiable for what is happening. But so are the shareholders, investors and executives who were involved in this project until now.

Those complaining about the game having been released in a poor state (Early Access would be a compliment with all the weird glitches and bugs I’ve seen) only seem to be interested in accusing the developers without knowing (or caring to know) that the problem probably lies elsewhere.

CD Projekt RED had promised an employee bonus upon meeting certain results for Cyberpunk 2077, namely a review score above 9.0 on Metacritic or a number of publications. The employees were under huge pressure to deliver the game on time, partly due to the fact that it was delayed so many times (leading to anger from fans), partly due to the heavy allegations of crunch at the CDPR studio.

Back in September, Bloomberg reported that the developer had ordered mandatory 6-day working weeks with longer hours than usual, just to deliver the game on time. CDPR is the same company that, earlier in the year, had promised not to rely on crunch to complete Cyberpunk, condemning the practice as harmful for employees.

So what changed?

Allegedly, the pandemic happened. With deadlines looming, the team working with lockdown restrictions and potential complications arisen during development, it is likely that this unpleasant u-turn was envisioned as a way to counterbalance all the delays, in order to please shareholders and investors, or to make up for the costs of development before the ship started to sink deeper.

With a first delay, fans were wary, but still willing to play along. With a second delay, fans got a bit annoyed. With a third delay, fans got quite pissed off and so did the shareholders, with CDPR stocks dropping after the game was moved from November to December.

And so, we get to where we are now. The game is in poor state, and CDPR tried to save whatever it could before things went south even more. But their brilliant idea of embracing crunch ahead of release did not play out too well for them.

I’m going to go ahead and say it: the reason Cyberpunk turned out this way is only and exclusively because of crunch.

If there’s anything this 2020 has taught us, it’s that our mental health matters more than anything else in this world. As lockdown restrictions were tightened and eased in turns, people have started to realise how important their mental wellbeing was to perform well at work, and how important it was to have support from their bosses, teams and managers alike.

Now, I can’t know how supportive the management team was at CDPR — but I do know the effects that prolonged work hours can have on your brain, sleep, stress levels and overall mental health. It ain’t good. Trust this ol’ Italian guy on that.

If you expect your employees to meet an impossible deadline by giving them more hours to work, you’re wrong. If anything, you’re probably going to get the opposite effect. People will be more stressed out, they will be more desperate to get things finished in time, they will get less attentive, they will make more mistakes or forgive themselves more often. And if you get them to stop caring, you’ve already failed. They will work even worse than they used to do before you implemented long work hours. Hell, even that masterpiece that is Frostpunk teaches you that much, and it’s just a simulation game. Maybe the folks at CDPR should play more Frostpunk.

Now, I’m not saying that someone is going to die of frostbite while chopping off wood at the CDPR studios, but you get the idea.

The point is that crunch is not, and should never be, a solution to judgement errors. The executives at CDPR have clearly made some stupid planning mistakes, be it choosing to deliver a game this big in a year like this, or wanting to deliver it within deadlines that were just plain impossible for their team to meet.

Crunch is not, and should never be, a solution to fix bad planning.

Should we boycott CDPR?

You can’t blame CDPR for trying. But you can’t justify them for going ahead either, and for trying to con gamers by not sending console review codes until the day before release. That is dishonest, and not something I would personally expect from the same house that brought us a beautiful series like The Witcher.

In general, I’m strongly against boycotting companies, especially when I think of all the employees who are currently paying their bills thanks to CDPR. But this doesn’t mean CDPR should get away with this easily. The backlash is enormously justified and, if anything, one efficient way to make them understand that they’ve done a series of stupid mistakes. We should not defend CD Projekt over Cyberpunk 2077 and the mistakes they’ve made. If we do that today, what prevents another software house from trying to pull off a similar stunt tomorrow? Except next time, even more developers may be involved in the scandal.

What CDPR did is harmful to the whole creative industry, not just video games themselves. What they should have done instead was being open about it. Perhaps slating the release date for old gen consoles to earlier next year. Perhaps informing the players that some more work needed to be done on those versions. Some fans would have reacted quite badly — but isn’t that happening all the same? In the long run, CDPR’s name and credibility would have benefitted from such a careful move. Honesty always pays off. But someone high up chose instead to pocket all the cash from the preorders and deal with it later. And while that might have felt like a smart move, believe me mate, it certainly isn’t.

But I love seeing the good in people, and I want to believe that most of the choices were made in good faith — apart from an evident series of slips at the end. I want to see how CDPR makes up for it. Of course they’ve already started, announcing today that all those requesting a refund will be granted one if so they wish. All the others can wait until early next year for a series of patches which are expected to fix old gen issues.

Except someone is going to have to pay for those issues. And what guarantees it won’t be the developers themselves, forced to go through a few more months of heavy crunch to fix this mess?

One can only hope…

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Can babble endlessly about storytelling. Penniless sitar player, 2-bit fiction writer. | Writer at The Startup. Editor & Community Manager at Creativepool.

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