Special A reflection on Cyberpunk 2077, the world of video games and the role of the press

I don't know if you've noticed, but the world is in turmoil out there. CyberGate has officially broken out. They had warned us, they all said that Cyberpunk 2077 would change the world of video games, that its impact with this slice of world culture would open a chasm. That's what happened, even if things are going the other way than we all expected. Cyberpunk has ripped open Maya's veil, bringing to light a series of endemic criticalities of this environment that we were all aware of but that we have often ignored for convenience. Perhaps the time has come to become aware of it.

It would be silly and even a little superficial to focus only on the bugs and glitches that plague Cyberpunk in its console versions. Perhaps we should try to dig a little deeper and analyze why we have arrived at such a disastrous end result. The problems are many and of different natures, but what matters most is that they are linked together, and involve industry, the press and the public at the same time. In essence, Cyberpunk 2077 is proof that there are serious problems with how companies develop video games, how the press tells them to the public and how the public receives and relates to them..

An unsustainable industry and a bad work culture

To learn more:
CD Projekt Red and the culture of crunch

Before proceeding I would like to focus attention on one data: the development of Cyberpunk 2077 cost an estimated total of $ 314 million. How is it possible, then, that what if the data were confirmed would be the most expensive video game ever, presented itself in those conditions on consoles? Leaving aside bugs and glitches more or less solvable in the short term, the biggest problem is the sorry state of the title on the old gen consoles. On the smooth and slim PS4, Cyberpunk doesn't run, and even on the PS4 Pro and PS5 the performance is unacceptable, with continuous system crashes, textures not loading and a graphical presentation that looks washed out and absolutely not comparable to the PC version.

One wonders then how is it possible that Cyberpunk is in this embarrassing state, especially in light of that hell of reports inside the studio that denounced crazy hours and exhausting crunch "in order to offer the best video game ever". There was talk of 100-hour work weeks for some employees in the run-up to launch. E-mails have also leaked in which the company apologizes to employees for publicly declaring that the situation regarding the pace of work "wasn't that bad".

The crunch is the symptom of a failed direction of the project

Death March It is an infamous practice so dear to the industry, which provides for an overtime regime that is even more pressing than the "simple" crunch. It is typical of the months leading up to the launch, in which developers are asked to work even more towards the release.

The evidence is there for all to see: Cyberpunk 2077 is a failed project, escaped the control of management a long time ago. I don't know who to blame specifically, nor am I interested in doing it, but it is clear that something has jammed. After a solid promotional campaign, in which CDPR repeatedly reiterated that the game would be released when ready and that no crunch regime would be imposed on employees, it all fell apart. CDPR first announced then postponed the title several times. Likewise, the company has come to officially impose a death march on its employees.

Whose fault is it? Probably the absurd requests of marketing, often managed without taking into account the technical time required for development, and of management, unable to organize the work in such a way as to be truly sustainable. The deviated work culture is one of the biggest evils of the industry in the current state of affairs.

What are you doing, you deprive yourself of the 110 million PS4s sold in the world?

The Cyberpunk 2077 problem is (also) called cross-gen. It is clear even to inexperienced eyes that the game was developed with high-end PCs in mind. And let's be clear, this wouldn't be a problem at all in a different situation. The problem arises from the fact that Cyberpunk was postponed for a total of nine months, in the middle of which the ninth generation consoles were presented and sold.

PC users are used to waiting. Generally a cross platform title arrives on consoles and is later optimized, pumped up and also released on PC in what sometimes turns out to be a definitive edition. It is common practice, now accepted by even the most discontented PC players of having to wait months to get their hands on the same titles released on consoles. It wouldn't have been a problem if, for once, a title was released first on PC, only to be optimized more calmly on Next Gen consoles in March 2021.. It would have been perfectly acceptable and, indeed, healthy. The problem arises from having announced the first release date without having the game in hand.

Of the eight million pre-orders accumulated, in fact, 40% are related to console players. Players who (like myself) pre-ordered the game when Next Gen consoles didn't exist yet. The accumulated delay forced the team to necessarily include PS5, Xbox Series X and Series S versions, as well as Stadia, in the package. Four versions to add to the seven already announced. It was unthinkable that something was wrong.

Less is More

To learn more:
Cyberpunk RED Jumpstart Kit - the cyberpunk soul passes through pen and paper

CD Projekt Red found itself in the position of having to develop too many versions of the same gigantic game. And the months, if not years, of crunches are useless if you add extra platforms on which to develop from month to month. The only sensible choice from a production point of view was to cancel the PS4 and Xbox One versions, but the constant delays have put the company in an awkward position. It was already too late after the first postponement. There were already millions of pre-orders placed for months: canceling them would have sent the public (and the stock market) into a rage.

And let's be clear, this doesn't mean that CD Projekt Red is excusable. The game was announced, marketed, and sold for consoles it doesn't work on. And it doesn't matter that it will definitely be fixed in the future: no one has been informed that they are buying an early access beta at full price. It makes no sense that he goes against the preorder culture or the fact that buying Cyberpunk 2077 in advance without inquiring about its condition was a gamble. Also because it was literally impossible to get proper information. This brings us to the second focal point of the speech: how do we find out about video games?

The role of the press

The advent of the internet has radically changed the relationship between the trade press, the public and companies. The Internet has made the room as a filter between companies and the public useless. We follow companies on social networks, we expose ourselves in person and we can access any type of news in a few moments. In fact, the trade press is no longer needed. Not when it is aseptic, never deployed and never ready to raise its voice. As long as our goal is to generate traffic by sharing news often available directly from the companies themselves, we will be less and less relevant.

We trusted, despite everything

We are advertising posters used by companies to promote their products. We delude ourselves into journalism when at most we reply to press releases and write reviews in a hurry to get them out on day one, often struggling to understand what we play. Investigations practically do not exist, and they should be the basis of an organ of a sector like ours. Too often, protecting relationships with PR and companies is more important than anything else. This is also what legitimized incorrect behavior such as that held by CDPR on this specific occasion. How can we take it out on the public that does not inquire, if the information we do in 99% of cases is limited to replying to statements by the various CEOs of the companies? Where are the insights, the doubts and the desire to see clearly?

We are critics, not journalists

If the press evaluates itself only on the basis of the number of reviews released in a year and the speed with which it produces them, it means that our value as journalists is nil.. If what matters is to get your hands on the game of the moment before the others in order to offer an opinion on the product, it means that we are critics, not journalists. Journalism should also take care of everything else, even going against companies that forage us with promotional copies by denouncing wrong or harmful behavior. And in this case it would have been needed. CD Projekt Red behaved dishonestly, and outside of the rush to put a vote under our hastily written reviews, there would be so much to say.

CDPR only sent PC copies to reviewers, openly refusing to provide codes for all other platforms. Not content, it even prevented the dissemination of audio and video materials relating to the game other than those packaged by CDPR itself and included in the presskit, the famous B-Rolls. Even Digital Foundry preview copies for console versions have been rejected. The company tried to hide the conditions of his work to the last. Instead of raising the issue before the release of the title review, the press ignored it. And do you know why? Because it is normal. It happens all the time and we accepted it instead of rebelling years ago because it's convenient and because everyone does it. And it is also the fault of this lack of desire to talk about it if the public has found in their hands a title that is heavily different from what has been told by CDPR for years..

Maybe we only serve as decorations for Metacritic

Future resarches The Cyberpunk 2077 case has highlighted all the limitations of the industry. Not only in terms of printing, but also in terms of users and manufacturing. And a podcast wasn't enough to cover the topic

We are taglines to be displayed on the covers, micro citations to be stuck on trailers. What we write does not interest anyone, to be relevant is the number that we slap at the bottom of very long reviews that goes to embellish the metascore of the game before day one. A number so important that there are companies that base bonuses for their employees on that and nothing else. We are megaphones for the majors, exploited for their profit and abandoned two days after the launch of the game. The press is expendable, often irrelevant, especially now that companies have begun to speak directly to the public that follows them on social networks.

Perhaps the problem is that we have stopped talking to the public to talk to companies. Between partnerships, presskits and themed gifts we have reached a degree of "corruptibility" that does not scare anyone. So much so that in the face of a more than doubtful behavior like that held by CDPR towards Cyberpunk 2077 no one has posed the slightest problem. And I underline it: I am not talking about Cyberpunk because it feels the need to destroy the company, but only because this uproar is the perfect storm, capable of bringing out all the problems of this environment at the same time.

And no, a credible trade press would never dream of taking the side of the company in a similar situation. There is no such thing as “don't worry that Cyberpunk will fix it anyway”. There is no legitimacy for incorrect behavior towards one's paying public. Once again, instead of being billboards for companies, we should be guides and advocates for users. Even at the cost of annoying some PR.

The public and the problem of the reputation of companies

CD Projekt Red has built the reputation of the people's software house. As consumers, we have decided to reward her for her apparently less predatory policies than her competitors. This is because in a period in which the public has badly digested the tendency of companies to cut content from their video games to resell it later, CDPR has ridden the discontent of users by applying a policy that provided for the release of numerous free DLCs. But be careful: that was cut content identical to that of the other companies. The only difference is that it is free. CD Projekt Red on that occasion behaved exactly like the companies in the eye of the storm, but it was told in a different way, as if it were the savior of the sector why not, it did not sell complete video games, but the patches gave them to the users.

Postmodernity has seen the explosion of storytelling marketing. Companies describe themselves to the public as if they were people who embody values ​​in which to reflect themselves, with the specific intention of being loved by those who seriously believe in those values. Gillette told us that her products make us unstoppable supermen, Apple makes us feel special members of an elite, if you buy Nike clothing you support campaigns for inclusion. Likewise, if you buy CDPR games you are supporting a software house that cares about you, not like everyone else.

The fake humanity of billionaire companies

The technique is always the same: give something as a gift so you don't seem greedy. Because the buyer is always at attention when you ask him for money, and if you talk to his belly and his wallet you reassure him, you put yourself at his level almost as if you want to tell him that you understand him, that you are in the same boat. This is never the case. The public remains public, the companies are companies, and in the case of CDPR we are still talking about a company that has a market capitalization of 8 billion euros. They are not our friends, we serve them. And if there is really something to learn from this situation linked to Cyberpunk 2077, it is that we must be careful with what companies tell us.

And if it is true and indisputable that making mistakes is human, it is also true that companies are companies and not human beings. The reputation of CDPR, despite having suffered a considerable blow, is what is still holding the shack up after the disastrous launch of Cyberpunk 2077. But what has scared me a little is the blind anger of some of those who are defending Cyberpunk against what, as sorry as it may be, is evidence. Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the most wrong launches ever. I find intolerable those who throw themselves into rants that blame those who bought the game to play it on a console base and then find themselves facing an unplayable disastere. It is not the fault of the user. It cannot be in any case, precisely in light of the fact that CDPR has blatantly hidden the non-working versions of the game from everyone's eyes.

"In a year it will be perfect"

And I am convinced too. But that makes Cyberpunk 2077 an early access game that is sold at full price, as was The Witcher 3. If as the press we agree to vote on trust in such a title and if as an audience we defend our costly expense with our teeth, well, we are legitimizing this kind of behavior. Do you know why we accept it? Because we trust those who made fun of us only because they convinced us that they would never do it. It is evident that if under the name of Cyberpunk 2077 there had been written Bethesda or Ubisoft, the reaction of many would have been diametrically opposite. Today, however, we prefer to defend those who sold us a game full of cut content and clearly incomplete because "then it will improve".

We called it the future of gaming, when in reality it is just a prime example of what the gaming industry is today

To learn more:
User Score, that is: why the specialized press is needed today more than ever

I was there when we hurled ourselves like mad dogs against Fallout 76 or when we were shouting at the class action for Watchdogs, I have not forgotten the anger of the users. Today, however, I see a militarized public that took it out first against those iconoclastic editors who dared to give less than 9 to Cyberpunk, then with those who dared to complain, leading Sony to cancel the title from the PS Store and damaging CDPR. I'll tell you a secret: no one has ever intended to destroy Cyberpunk 2077 or CD Projekt Red. Quite the contrary. We should rediscover the meaning of the reviews themselves, which are not and should not be a pat on the back of those who pre-ordered the game, but the story of a personal experience with the pad in hand.

I am not writing myself because I am moved by who knows what feeling of hatred towards CD Projekt Red. Of course, I'm absolutely against crunch and can't stand being fooled when I buy something, but my disappointment comes from having wished until the very last that Cyberpunk 2077 would turn out to be a masterpiece. I love video games, I really love them, and you'll never see me shoot zero on a title just for the sake of being able to. Cyberpunk's failure is a failure for the whole industry, but at the same time it is an opportunity to learn something, both as a production chain and as a press and as a public. I hope it teaches us to manage the hype, finally making it an ineffective weapon for the marketing campaigns of the future and I hope it teaches us not to hang on the lips of CEOs and Managers who pretend to be friends of the people.

Our satisfaction is their profit, of course, and no one was aiming to sell something so disastrously broken, but we must know how to reward those who deserve praise and beat those who behave in a blatantly incorrect way. This regardless of our position and our role.

May Cyberpunk 2077 truly be the future of the industry. Let it be proof that we cannot go on like this.

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