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Saturday, December 9, 2023

Life + Arts

Cyberpunk 2077’s redemption and what to learn from it

A minimalist take on Cyberpunk 2077's box art. A medium sized male figure in a brown jacket and black shirt looks to the right while holding a pistol towards the sky

Jose Gonzalez-Campelo/The Cougar

At this point, even the most casual gamers are likely to recognize the name Cyberpunk 2077. From having arguably the most disastrous launch in recent memory to destroying the reputation of a beloved studio, the game has made its mark as one of the most infamous titles in modern gaming.

Since the game’s release, CD Projekt Red has been desperately trying to salvage whatever goodwill they can. Despite being caught in the crossfire of various industry issues, their efforts seem to be paying off in more ways than one.

For starters, efforts were made to continue expanding the universe outside of the main game. “Cyberpunk Edgerunners,” an anime series based on the game’s world, released to massive critical and commercial success.

And remarkably, the main game has not been left to rot despite its initial failure. Cyberpunk 2077 has been consistently receiving significant updates from the developers in order to improve its playability and enjoyment. 

But all of this pales in comparison to their most recent development: The version 2.0 update.

It’s an update that basically fixes close to everything that the game had wrong. Bugged questlines? Gone. Game-breaking glitches? No more. And on top of all of that, CD Projekt Red also released a whole new DLC – the Phantom Liberty expansion. 

All this positive buzz around the game has helped CD Projekt Red repair their damaged reputation. The past few months have created a classic redemption arc where learning is achieved through mistakes and forgiveness is achieved through actions.

So with all that in mind, it would seem like CD Projekt Red has nothing but sunshine and rainbows on the horizon for them. But should gamers perhaps be a little bit worried about this scenario?

CD Projekt Red definitely deserves the fruits of their labor, and the job of fixing a game at the scale of Cyberpunk 2077 is not easy by any means. But gamers should be concerned about the precedent that this engoodening,” if you will, sets for the rest of the industry.  

Think about it for a second; it took CD Projekt Red three years to fix a game that they promised us six years ago. Even before release, the game had already sold over 8 million units in pre-sales; despite being largely unfinished, it was profitable before it even hit the shelves.

While CD Projekt Red hadn’t intended to deliver an unfinished product, this kind of outcome is likely to encourage development studios to try to create this outcome intentionally in the future.

At the end of the day, game studios are still companies. And the only way companies survive is by making a profit and increasing their profit margins so their shareholders are pleased.

Unethical as it might be, the strategy of putting out unfinished products and then taking several years to fix them might well seem like an ingenious cost-cutting strategy to executives trying to balance a budget.

In Cyberpunk’s case, the game made a little over $550 million in sales during its launch year, $125 million of which was spent on fixing the game. CD Projekt Red’s initial development cost was around $396 million, including marketing for the game.

Even with the significant cost of developing, marketing and updating the game, Cyberpunk still made around $42 million in total profits. Even more, it managed to simultaneously fix Projekt Red’s broken reputation. 

So why does this matter? Well, imagine a future where hype for certain video games is exploited in order to gain sales and profit and gamers are then delivered unfinished products. It’s pretty dystopian to think about, yes, but it isn’t far off from where we already are.

Companies like EA and Activision Blizzard are no newcomers to such techniques. But what happens if a majority of the industry decides to stoop to their level? Other companies are likely to see these success stories and wonder if they could benefit from doing the same.

At the same time, this could just be paranoia speaking. Many of these companies have a long history of ethics that they may be hesitant to break. Well-loved ompanies like CD Projekt Red, Hello Games, Larian Studios and many others are unlikely to completely abandon their morals.

But if there’s one thing playing Cyberpunk 2077 should teach gamers, it’s how to really consider the reality of dystopias. Just like in Night City, no matter how bad we think we might have it right now,  things can always get worse. And the gaming industry is no exception to that sentiment.

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