What Happened To Cyberpunk 2077? Why Did It Fail?

Executive Summary:

Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooter role-playing video game developed and maintained by Poland-based studio CD Projekt.

Cyberpunk 2077 failed because it was released prematurely, due to extremely high expectations, and incompatibility with current-gen consoles.

What Is Cyberpunk 2077?

Cyberpunk 2077 is a first-person shooter role-playing video game developed and maintained by Poland-based studio CD Projekt.

The game takes place in an open world called Night City, which displays a dystopian reality in the year 2077.

During the game, players assume the role of V, a mercenary who tries to obtain an implant that is key to immortality.

The character itself can be customized in a variety of ways, for example by changing his cyberware, playstyle, and skillset.

Players can choose multiple life paths, such as gang-wise street kid or freedom-loving nomad, which affects how the story of the game progresses and ends.

Due to its open-world nature, players can not only engage in main or side quests but simply grab a car and explore the vast scenery.

Cyberpunk 2077 can be played on both PCs as well as current-gen consoles like the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One.

What Happened To Cyberpunk 2077?

Cyberpunk 2077, developed and maintained by CD Projekt (also called CD Projekt Red), was released on December 10th, 2020. The game’s story, though, goes back over 30 years ago.

In 1984, William Gibson released his now-classic novel Neuromancer, which tells the story of a data thief using a body-machine interface to break into an AI system. Neuromancer, today, is considered to be the quintessential cyberpunk novel.

Two years later, in 1986, Walter Jon Williams released a novel dubbed Hardwired, which describes a Balkanized post-United States dominated by megacorporations.

Williams, for his part, had gotten to know a young typesetter named Mike Pondsmith who worked in a print shop at the University of California, Santa Cruz.

Pondsmith, who graduated in 1982 with a degree in graphic design, became enamored with the sci-fi genre from a very young age. His love for the genre eventually allowed him to become friends with Williams.

In the meantime, Pondsmith also tried his luck at game publishing. During the mid-1980s, at DunDraCon, a San Francisco-based role-playing convention, he unveiled his first game called Mekton, which quickly garnered the interest of the crowd.

Not long after, in 1985, he incorporated a business called R. Talsorian Games, which was inspired by the father’s name of one of Pondsmith’s friends who had invested in the startup to receive a tax writeoff.

Somewhere around that time, Pondsmith drove across San Francisco’s Bay Bridge. When he took a peek out of his window, he saw what looked like a mythical city. He figured that Night City, which also happens to be a demimonde in Gibson’s Neuromancer, is what the place should be called.

Together with author and friend Williams, he soon began formulating the details of a tabletop roleplaying game that would take place in Night City. Williams himself, from whose work Pondsmith drew a lot of inspiration, would also frequently test out the game.

In 1988, R. Talsorian Games released Cyberpunk 2020 tabletop role-playing game. The game became a fairly big success and led to various follow-up versions that were released in the subsequent years.

Not long after the game’s release, in 1994, two young Polish males named Marcin Iwiński and Michał Kiciński incorporated a gaming studio called CD Projekt. CD Projekt’s first commercial success was a Dungeons & Dragons video game released over the course of five CDs.  

However, the studio’s worldwide breakthrough came in 2007 with the release of The Witcher, which is based on Andrzej Sapkowski’s similarly named novels. The game became so successful that Poland’s Prime Minister Donald Tusk, when visited by Barack Obama in 2011, even handed out a copy of the sequel to the former U.S. President. These days, The Witcher even has its own Netflix show starring Henry Cavill.

The release of The Witcher game series propelled CD Projekt to worldwide fame. Critics even compared the studio to other powerhouses such as Rockstar Games, the maker of Grand Theft Auto and Red Dead Redemption amongst others.

By 2012, CD Projekt Red was on the hunt for its next success. It was, yet again, trying to find a genre in which it could build The Witcher-like open worlds that span dozens of quests and stories. In May 2012, it finally found what it was looking for.

That month, representatives from the company announced that CD Projekt would begin work on a Cyberpunk-inspired game. At that point, Pondsmith’s Cyberpunk series had over 44 published handbooks under its belt and amassed a following of around five million players.

People were excited, to say the least. Unfortunately, information remained hard to come by over the next few months. In October, the studio announced that the game would be called Cyberpunk 2077 and take place in Pondsmith’s Night City, taking place more than 50 years after the events of the last pen-and-paper game.

In January 2013, the excitement for the game reached new heights when CD Projekt dropped the first teaser trailer for the game. The video amassed millions of views just weeks after its release.

Unfortunately, that was the last players heard about Cyberpunk 2077 for a while. CD Projekt, which was still a comparatively small studio at the time, had most of its resources committed to the development and release of The Witcher 3.

What the trailer did, though, was that it acted as a form of advertising for CD Projekt Red. As a result, the studio was able to attract dozens of overseas developers to join the company and work on the project.

The next sign of life, on the heels of The Witcher 3 release, came in May 2015 when CD Projekt CEO Adam Kicinski said publicly that he wasn’t planning to disclose anything about the game until 2017 at the earliest.

Rumors, however, began swirling around that the studio planned to release the game sometime in 2016, which obviously proved to be wrong. In the meantime, CD Projekt beefed up its staff count. In March 2016, Kicinski said he planned to double the studio’s headcount from 400 to 800 people in the coming months. Most of those resources would consequently be dedicated to the development of Cyberpunk 2077.

Throughout 2016, executives from the company continued to hype up the game – without showing any substantive material. In April 2017, news emerged that CD Projekt Red had applied to trademark the word ‘Cyberpunk’ in Europe while already having secured it in the United States.

Two months later, the company announced that internal files, such as “documents connected to early designs” of Cyberpunk 2077, were being held for ransom by a group of hackers. CD Projekt, however, decided to not comply with those demands, thereby setting a precedent for future incidents (more on that later).

In January 2018, Cyberpunk’s Twitter posted this tweet after four years of silence: 

Players and the press immediately began to speculate whether the game’s release was closing in – only to be disappointed yet again. In the meantime, CD Projekt opened a new studio in Poland, dubbed CD Projekt Red Wroclaw (located in the city of the same name), to speed up the development of the game.

On June 10th, 2018, more than five years after the initial trailer dropped, CD Projekt finally released some footage at Microsoft’s E3 press conference. Over the coming weeks and months, CD Projekt slowly but surely began to unveil more material. At Gamescom 2018, for example, it debuted 4K screenshots and artwork of the game.

In late August, the company released a whopping 48 minutes of alleged gameplay material, which was somewhat of a guided demo that was explained by a narrator in the background. Excitement and hype for the game were at an all-time high.

By early 2019, the Cyberpunk 2077 team had grown to more than 400 people. Unfortunately, this still wasn’t nearly enough to get the game to be released. For comparison: The Witcher 3 only had about 250 people on staff during its peak, highlighting the standard that CD Projekt set for itself with Cyberpunk 2077.

More exciting news dropped during Microsoft’s E3 in 2019. This time, however, CD Projekt brought out the big guns. The trailer commenced with a clip of actor Keanu Reeves who would star as “legendary rockerboy” Johnny Silverhand, one of the game’s main characters.

Alongside the trailer, Reeves, while on stage, also announced that the game would be released on April 16, 2020, for PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC. Naturally, excitement for the game was through the roof. Hype for the game grew so much that someone on Reddit even created a computer-generated unboxing video of the game’s collector’s edition, which allegedly took him 60 hours to make.

During the coming weeks and months, CD Projekt Red released more gameplay footage as well as information about the game. The studio, furthermore, announced that soundtracks for the game would come from artists like A$AP Rocky, Grimes, Run The Jewels, and more. 

Additionally, action figures of Keanu Reeves, branded headphones, and even a Cyberpunk-themed Xbox One would also be made available for sale. Unfortunately, the first sign of what was eventually about to unwind came in January 2020.

That month, CD Projekt announced that it would push back the game’s release date from April 16th to September 17th. It certainly didn’t help that by April the company was forced to reorganize and to work from home as a result of the coronavirus pandemic.

Later, in August, it moved its September deadline to November and then again to its ultimate date: December 10th, 2020. Not only that, but the company also told employees that it requires them to work six-day weeks from early October to the game’s release in December.

Finally, after over eight years of build-up, the game was finally released. CD Projekt had received more than eight million pre-orders. Demand was so high that it even brought down services like Steam. CD Projekt quickly announced that it had received enough pre-orders to turn breakeven on the game’s development cost.

Unfortunately, excitement for the game soon turned into anger and outrage. That’s because the game, and especially the console versions, was riddled with bugs that made it basically unplayable. Characters would randomly disappear, main quests could not be completed, it contained epileptic triggers, and the entrance into the city even had a massive typo reading ‘Nigth City’.

Influencers and gaming news outlets across the world were slamming CD Projekt Red for the subpar release. The game’s lackluster reception also sent the studio’s stock price crashing down.

CD Projekt was quick to apologize and even announced that it would offer refunds to every customer. However, even the refund process ended up with its own set of problems and left many waiting days or weeks to get their money back.

Eight days after the release, on December 18th, Sony decided to pull the game from its PlayStation Store. Two days later, reports emerged that the firm’s investors were contemplating suing CD Projekt Red, which they did weeks later. Even Poland’s Office of Competition and Consumer Protection (UOKiK) began investigating the company.

Subsequent reporting by Bloomberg also cited former and current employees who stated that the game’s E3 2018 demo was “almost entirely fake” and thus severely misled investors as well as the public as a whole.

CD Projekt responded by issuing multiple public apologies, discounting the game by over 50 percent, and, most importantly, fixing the game. In mid-January 2021, the studio introduced the first of many patches. Throughout 2021, the studio released dozens of fixes, which ultimately led to vast improvements in the game’s playability.

In the meantime, CD Projekt was hacked once again in February 2021. But just like the previous incident, the company didn’t budge. However, this ultimately led to many of its sensitive files being distributed across the dark web.

A month later, in March, the studio also said that it put its plans for an online version of the game, much like GTA Online, on hold for the time being. Instead, it changed the way the company is organized. To fulfill that new vision, it also acquired Digital Scapes, a Canadian studio that specializes in multiplayer game development.

Finally, after months of bad press, fortunes began to turn for the company. In mid-June, Sony announced that it would reinstate the game and sell it through its PlayStation Store. CD Projekt Red later came out and said that it had sold over 13 million copies of the game during the first half of 2021. Out of those sales, only 30,000 people actually decided to return the game.

After an additional set of patches, the studio, in November, also announced that it would release the next-gen console versions of Cyberpunk 2077 sometime in 2022. Two weeks later, on December 16th, 2021, a little over a year after the launch, CD Projekt settled its investor lawsuit by agreeing to pay $1.85 million.

Meanwhile, the reception of the game got better and better as new patches were introduced. IGN Japan, for example, crowned the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077 as the best game of 2021.

Why Did Cyberpunk 2077 Fail?

Cyberpunk 2077 failed because it was released prematurely, due to extremely high expectations, and incompatibility with current-gen consoles.

Because Cyberpunk 2077 ended up being released way too early, it suffered from dozens and dozens of bugs right from the start.

In particular, last-gen consoles such as the PlayStation 4 and Xbox One simply couldn’t handle the graphic load. While the PC version was mostly welcomed with positive reviews, the old-gen version of the game would consistently crash and could only be played with low resolution and framerate.

Coupled with the hype that CD Projekt managed to build up, this ultimately led to millions of disappointed players.

Dozens of influencers and news outlets began piling onto the company and made sure to share every single bug they found. YouTube compilations would attract millions of views, further adding to the negative sentiment against the game.

CD Projekt’s previous success with The Witcher series became somewhat of a detriment to Cyberpunk 2077. It painted CD Projekt Red as the next Rockstar Games-like studio, which was unable to fail.

What many ended up forgetting was that even its highly successful Witcher games contained a fairly large number of bugs when they first launched. On top of that, studios like Rockstar Games are not under as much pressure because game modes like GTA Online continue to serve as consistent revenue streams.

The Witcher, on the other hand, did not come with an online multiplayer mode. Naturally, as the game got older, sales would decline and therefore require CD Projekt Red to come up with its next big hit.

Another factor that contributed to Cyberpunk’s initial failure was that the studio had to build up everything from scratch. With the Witcher series, it could reuse certain graphics and other files, which vastly sped up development.

On top of that, executives a CD Projekt would also frequently butcher work. Sometimes, developers would work on a certain campaign for months at a time only for it to be removed later.

This is supported by the fact that Keanu Reeves, one of the game’s main characters, was only added to the storyline a year before his big E3 unveiling.

Despite the fact that the launch of Cyberpunk 2077 was a complete failure, the game has actually fared quite well. Not only was CD Projekt able to recoup its development cost but managed to sell over 13 million copies within six months of its release.

If the studio manages to keep the game exciting, for example by releasing add-ons or introducing a multiplayer mode, Cyberpunk 2077 could actually turn out to become the success it was intended to be.   

Is Cyberpunk 2077 Discontinued?

No, Cyberpunk 2077 is not discontinued. The game can still be purchased and played on consoles (Xbox One and PlayStation 4) as well as PCs.

In fact, CD Projekt Red, the studio behind the game, has repeatedly stated that it intends to introduce multiple add-ons (called downloadable content, or DLC) as time goes on.

Not only that but Cyberpunk 2077, in all likeliness, will also receive its own online multiplayer version somewhere down the line.

CD Projekt Red intends to follow the same approach it utilized with its The Witcher series where it introduced multiple DLCs throughout the years.

Hi folks, Viktor checking in! Years of experience in various tech-related roles have led me to start this blog, which I hope provides you with as much enjoyment to read as I have writing the content.