Report: Cyberpunk Development Didn't Really Start Until 2016

Illustration for article titled Report: Cyberpunk Development Didn't Really Start Until 2016
Image: CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077 was announced back in 2012 and shown off to the world with a cinematic trailer in 2013, but work on the game didn’t begin for real until 2016, according to a new report by Bloomberg. That’s when CD Projekt studio head Adam Badowski took over as director, several veteran developers from The Witcher 3 left, and core concepts like whether the game would be first-person or not were still being hashed out.

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Despite some praise for the PC version of Cyberpunk 2077, the long-awaited sci-fi RPG from the makers of The Witcher 3 has had a poor launch, especially on console, where performance was so bad CD Projekt Red guaranteed refunds and Sony pulled it from the PlayStation Store shortly after release last month. Based on Bloomberg’s investigation, much of this was the result of mismanagement by studio leadership and the decision to rush the game out before it was ready.

“At E3 in June 2019, CD Projekt announced that the game would come out on April 16, 2020,” writes Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier. “Fans were elated, but internally, some members of the team could only scratch their heads, wondering how they could possibly finish the game by then. One person said they thought the date was a joke. Based on the team’s progress, they expected the game to be ready in 2022. Developers created memes about the game getting delayed, making bets on when it would happen.”

In addition to its rushed timeline, Bloomberg reports that development suffered from the studio trying to staff up too quickly and also not hiring enough people to deliver on Cyberpunk 2077's ambitious open world. Language barriers, with some developers speaking Polish while others spoke English, also apparently caused trouble, as did the eventual move to working from home after the covid-19 pandemic began. On Twitter, Schreier shared one example of the chaos: when someone needed a new shader they would make it themselves, having no tools to tell them whether it was already existed in the production pipeline. Meanwhile, the studio’s success in delivering The Witcher 3 to critical acclaim was reportedly used to downplay concerns during development.

Shortly before E3 2019 release date announcement, CD Projekt Red boss Marcin Iwiński told Kotaku that it was committed to not making anyone crunch during Cyberpunk 2077's development. Bloomberg reports that many developers still felt pressured to work overtime to make sure the game could hit its unrealistic launch date.

“There were times when I would crunch up to 13 hours a day—a little bit over that was my record probably—and I would do five days a week working like that,” Adrian Jakubiak, a former audio programmer at CD Projekt Red, told Bloomberg. “I have some friends who lost their families because of these sort of shenanigans.”

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Cyberpunk 2077 ended up being delayed anyway, first until September, then until November, and finally to December 10. In addition to failing to make sure developers didn’t feel pressure to work overtime, studio leadership also officially went back on their word last September when they mandated developers work six day weeks until the game launched.

In an apology to players and fans earlier this week, Iwiński said he takes full responsibility for Cyberpunk 2077's performance issues and terrible launch. In a separate Q&A published online, the studio also once again promised it won’t make its employees crunch to fix the game. “The team is working to bring relevant fixes to the game without any obligatory overtime,” CD Projekt Red wrote. “Avoiding crunch on all of our future projects is one of our top priorities.” This time around, it’s hard to believe it.

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Update - 4:24 p.m. ET, 1/16/21: Studio head and Cyberpunk 2077 director, Adam Badowski, responded to some of what was reported by Bloomberg in a statement on Twitter. There, he rejected the characterization of the game’s hands-off E3 2018 demo as “fake,” and wrote that cutting previously shown features from the final version of the game was just “part of the creation process.”

Badowski did not respond to reports that some staff felt pressure to work extensive amounts of overtime.

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Kotaku staff writer. You can reach him at ethan.gach@kotaku.com

DISCUSSION

Frankly astonished by some of the responses here dismissing this as stuff they “already knew” or that it’s unnecessary. How brainwashed are you that your first response to a report about CDPR treating their people like shit is “eh, I already knew that”? How can it be anything but good that these assholes are getting exposed for being both cruel and crap at their jobs?

Critical reporting is good and necessary. There are lots of casual people who don’t usually follow this stuff and a whole array of CDPR fans who maybe now can understand how shitty and cynical the working conditions for this game were. Plus it’s in Bloomberg, where people interested in working with or investing in CDPR in the future can and will read it and ask them how they’re fixing this garbage.

Hold people accountable!