“Cyberpunk 2077” has been delayed — again.
Those forlorn dreams of playing one of 2020’s potential game of the year candidates throughout Thanksgiving Day week while hiding from the family have since been dashed. Instead of releasing Nov. 19, the game is now tentatively set for launch on Dec. 10. I use the word, “tentatively,” because the release of this title has been anything but certain.
“Cyberpunk 2077” was originally scheduled for release in April, before being pushed back to November. Even its April release — the first confirmed date of development — was an internal delay, as the game was originally supposed to launch last fall. As has been the case with each delay up to this point, performance on the legacy consoles — the Xbox One S and PlayStation 4 — has been an issue.
Work began on “Cyberpunk 2077” in 2013 — seven years ago. While an extended development period for games as large and ambitious as this project are not unheard of, it’s somewhat surprising to see such difficulties in getting the game to run on systems that had just launched when development began. But it’s common knowledge that developer CD Projekt Red has battled development issues throughout that seven-year period, and the game has been rebooted at least once, and possibly twice. It’s not much of a leap of logic to see that the game’s scope and ambition — and the technological requirements to realize such ambitions — expanded during the seven-year period. That combined with how the CPUs of both the Xbox One and PS4 were antiquated in 2013 created a recipe for trouble.
It seems the idea of mid-generation refreshes — the Xbox One X and the PlayStation 4 Pro — were smart decisions by both manufacturers. CD Projekt Red has confirmed that performance on those consoles, along with backward compatibility performance on the Xbox Series S/X and PlayStation 5, is adequate. Obviously, performance will be best on a powerful PC, but even then, it’s not guaranteed. Preview builds earlier in the year running on an RTX 2080ti — the most powerful graphics card on the market at the time — was still sub-60 FPS at 1080p resolution. The RTX 3080 and RTX 3090 are now out, and promise to run the game at better framerates and higher resolution, but good luck getting your hands on one of those right now.
Initial common sense would dictate the cancellation of the legacy console versions, so that CD Projekt Red could focus on its next-generation console upgrades, and smoothing out PC performance. But this is a massive game with a massive budget that will require massive sales. Those sales are all but guaranteed at the moment, as “Cyberpunk 2077” is one of the most anticipated games of the year. It’s coming off the heels of “The Witcher 3: The Wild Hunt,” which still continues to sell millions of copies. Cancelling a a version of a game that’s already been announced and marketed for a console base of more than 150 million consoles is a very bad idea.
A three-week delay is not a big issue in a vacuum. It might give the development team just enough time to get the performance issues ironed out on the older console versions. But development was not done in a vacuum. Development, at least for the last year, has been in crunch mode. Developers have continued to speak out about work weeks that regularly top 80-100 hours a week. Employees have been forced to work seven days a week, for as much as 14 hours each day. This has been happening for at least a year, and after CD Projekt Red made a public vow that it would not force its employees to crunch after widespread outcry during the development of “The Witcher 3.”
The issue of crunch has been a prominent cause throughout the video game industry. Naughty Dog was accused of massive crunch during the final months of “The Last of Us Part II,” as well as in other games throughout the developer’s history. That crunch culture has led to widespread turnover throughout Naughty Dog, with more than half of the development of “Uncharted 2: Among Thieves” team departing since its development concluded in 2009.
An interesting conversation has started in recent weeks about what constitutes a developer. So many look at development studios as monoliths that put these games together. The next Naughty Dog game will sell millions and receive strong accolades. CD Projekt Red’s next title after “Cyberpunk 2077” will sell millions and receive strong accolades. But how many individual employees will remain in either studio after their most recent projects? It’s time that we stop looking at development studios as single entities, rather than as groups with employees that come and go over the years.
By that same regard, we also need to hold these studios to a higher standard when it comes to crunch. As much as I am looking forward to “Cyberpunk 2077,” I admittedly feel reprehension in purchasing the game, due to the amount of abuse employees have endured. The idea that CD Projekt Red employees have received literal death threats over this latest delay shows that many are capable of discerning the difference between development monolith and its individual employees. They just choose to only make that delineation when they want to seek out someone to abuse. We must do better.
—Josh Rouse lives in Lawton.