I remember back in 2006 when our most pressing concern as gamers was the introduction of the now-infamous Horse Armor Pack for The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion, a seemingly innocuous $2 cosmetic bundle for your mount that is known to many as the genesis of microtransactions. From in-game currencies and season passes, to multiple editions of games and their exorbitant expansion packs, the culture of “games as a live service” has dominated the last decade of gaming news.
Laying out the timeline of developer and studio pitfalls in specific detail would take longer than I have time to discuss it, but understanding the industry’s trends and practices as of late could help inform us on the ways to hold companies accountable when their products fail to meet their own standards. Bethesda’s Fallout 76, Bioware’s Anthem, Ubisoft’s Ghost Recon Breakpoint, and Square Enix’s Marvel’s Avengers are just a few of gaming’s biggest titles that saw horrid releases. More recently though, Cyberpunk 2077 dropped this month, mired by considerable controversy, poor performance, and subsequent false promises.
For those unfamiliar, Cyberpunk 2077 is based on the table-top RPG game from the ’80s that saw major success with gamers and RPG enthusiasts alike and was first officially announced as a video game title back in May 2012 with very few details to spare. Fast forward several years, delays, and console iterations later to one of gaming’s most significant launches and what you’ll find is a bevy of concerning practices that lead to a public apology from the developers just days after launch. Amid growing concerns over work conditions at prominent video game studios, reports revealed back in September that CD Projekt Red was issuing mandatory crunch ahead of Cyberpunk 2077′s release despite promising otherwise .
Cyberpunk 2077‘s timeline is full of delays but there were moments of promise, with teaser trailer reveals that showcased some stellar cinematics that tried to build up a narrative of a tech-heavy, dystopian future. However, many outlets rightly pointed out the problematic marketing tactics CD Projekt Red adopted leading up to the game’s release. One of those efforts included a poster of a feminine looking character who also had a penis. Superimposed on the character were the words “Mix It Up” and after receiving backlash for the transphobic language used in the advertisement, CDPR doubled-down, defending the character design and language that accompanied the ad.
Most notably, CD Projekt Red released a public apology Monday that promised to bring major overhauls to the game’s performance, as players across the globe learned at launch that previous generation consoles, like PS4 and Xbox One, were barely able to run Cyberpunk 2077 at substandard levels. What made this discovery even more concerning was the fact that CDPR went out of their way to limit review copies, as well as restrict gameplay footage to clips they themselves authorized, which included zero coverage of previous generation consoles until after the game was released.
Despite the problematic marketing, years of unwarranted hype and numerous delays, the game launched and in its first week made back its development costs. It’s troubling to see that level of success come from legitimately nefarious business practices. CDPR recently suggested that unsatisfied players seek a refund, but that same statement only stoked the flames of its disastrous damage control.
Many retailers like Sony and Microsoft are refusing to refund players because they each operate under their own return policy, and CDPR neglected to operate within those limitations when making their statement. They later clarified that they had no “special refund” arrangement with Sony or Xbox, further exacerbating concerns over the lack of accountability coming from one of the industry’s most significant titles. Reports have indicated that these sweeping updates and fixes aren’t expected until 2021 but concerns continue to grow over the actions CDPR took prior to their game’s release.