- Author: Daniel Downey
- Date: November 13, 2020
Note: This article was written with assistance from NightCity writer, Mila Grish.
Creative endeavors are opaque, as a general rule. After all, a magician never reveals their secrets. When creative projects have a multitude of investors and millions of dollars at stake and any news or insights about the project have the potential to affect share prices, opacity becomes even more important to most publishers and developers.
CD Projekt Red, on the other hand, has gone to great lengths to be transparent regarding the development of Cyberpunk 2077. The Polish game studio has spent the last few years giving a multitude of interviews, showcasing all sorts of aspects of the game on Night City Wire, and revealing many of the details of their creative process.
CDPR has always been something of an industry outsider. They occupy a unique position, being essentially the only large, independent international developer. Being able to operate outside of the realm of the big name publishers like EA or Activision has given CD Projekt Red (which is the game development division of CD Projekt) the ability to make decisions that other developers — who tend to be beholden to uncaring suits — could never make. It’s pretty hard to imagine EA publishing a game with customizable genitals, for example.
CDPR’s parent company CD Projekt also bucked trends when they began selling reoptimized old games, DRM-Free, through their Good Old Games digital distribution service, now known as GOG. The Polish publisher/developer has always been focused on providing a gamer-focused (rather than investor- or profit-focused) experience, in both its game sales and in their development process.
The question then becomes whether or not doing things differently is ultimately beneficial to CDPR and their customers. The answer seems to be nuanced; their openness and their willingness to do things their own way, at their own pace, has benefited the development of Cyberpunk 2077 — but it has also hurt their public image when things didn’t go quite as planned.
Publicity and advertising have been dramatically reshaped in the last decades, mostly by the internet. A viral tweet from a brand’s community manager can generate more buzz than millions of dollars of TV advertising, for the price of one intern’s salary (read: nothing). CDPR has fully embraced this new era of publicity, and the official Cyberpunk 2077 Twitter account regularly engages with members of the community, answering questions while meming with the best of them.
By actively engaging with fans, CDPR can get a read on what potential players want to see in the game, in addition to creating a positive relationship with the community. At least until recently, most of the gaming world held CDPR in good regard, especially when compared to the oft-demonized big-name publishers.
Thanks to CDPR’s openness, we know a lot more about Cyberpunk 2077 than one might have expected to pre-release. Most games have trailers, interviews with the devs, and brief “inside look” features to generate hype pre-release, but it’s hard to recall another game that has had even close to the amount of pre-release information that Cyberpunk 2077 had. Way back in 2018, there was an almost 50-minute gameplay reveal at E3, and since then CDPR has continued to show off huge swaths of the game, showcasing everything from the game’s gangs to the various styles of Night City. Much of this info has come from Night City Wire episodes, as well as the many interviews CDPR devs have participated in.
Throughout this process people working on Cyberpunk 2077 have revealed themselves to be passionate about games and have demonstrated willingness to have fun with the process. The Night City Wire episodes showcase a team that appears to be happy to be working on what they believe will be a fantastic, one-of-a-kind gaming experience.
It’s not all wine and roses for CDPR’s interactions with the public, however. Promises lead to expectations, and expectations lead to disappointment and frustration when those expectations fail to be met. In revealing so much of their game so early, CDPR set themselves up to disappoint their fans when features were inevitably altered — or in some cases, dropped entirely.
One such feature was the Techie class, which would have allowed the player to utilize a Spiderbot to take out enemies and complete objectives. Despite there being good design justifications for the removal of the Techie class, many were disappointed or upset by its removal. Wall-running was also scrapped after being featured in a number of gameplay trailers, once again for design reasons, and once again upsetting a number of fans.
The most obvious example of changes causing frustration is with the release date of Cyberpunk 2077. First slated for release April of this year, the release date was pushed first to September, then November, and finally (we hope) to December 10th. Cyberpunk 2077‘s community manager made some promises to fans who took time off for the release date, and said fans were understandably unhappy when their unmodifiable time off turned out to be for naught.
There’s also a real risk of oversaturation when it comes to hype, especially after multiple delays. Even the most rabid of fans can only sustain excitement for so long, and many may start ignoring the third or fourth commercial spot, even if it does feature Keanu.
By communicating so often and so openly with fans and the media, CDPR have created lines of communication that cut both ways. If devs were appearing less in the public eye, or being less active on Twitter, would they still be receiving death threats after the recent release date delay? It stands to reason that no matter how angry someone is, if they didn’t feel that their angry cries would be heard, they wouldn’t bother with them.
One also has to wonder if the fallout from the numerous delays would have been so dramatic if CDPR hadn’t done so much to remind people about the (purportedly) upcoming release date at every opportunity. From tweets, to trailers, to TV ads, that November date was extremely hyped before it was pushed back. Even now an enormous ad in Times Square promises a December 10th release date, setting the Polish developer up for even greater disaster if they fail to make their new deadline.
CDPR may also have incidentally made the bad publicity surrounding reports of studio crunch worse by cultivating a reputation as a transparent company. Having insiders leak information about employees secretly working long hours is the opposite of transparency, and was almost certainly exacerbated by the contrasting perspectives that now existed on what kind of company CD Projekt truly was.
What Comes Next
Despite all the pre-release drama surrounding Cyberpunk 2077, it seems likely that much of CDPR’s legacy will be determined not by the leadup to release, but by the finished project. If CP2077 outdoes Witcher 3 and meets or surpasses everyone’s expectations, much or all of CDPR’s missteps will almost certainly be forgiven as people gush over the game. If, however, the game releases in an unimpressive state, there will be ample ammunition for anyone who wants to take shots at the Polish publisher. Only time will tell.
What do you think? Is CDPR’s communicative style ultimately helpful or harmful? Let us know in the comments!