In less than one week, everybody in cyberpunk future year 2020 will be playing Cyberpunk 2077. Or at least, that’s the impression I get, based on the fact that it’s all anybody is talking about. Such is the nature of the hype surrounding the robo-armed role-playing sensation: Hardly anybody has played it yet, but they’re certain that it’s going to be a life-changing experience. On this week’s episode of Splitscreen, we discuss the uglier sides of the gaming community that the Cyberpunk 2077 reality distortion field has brought out, as well as the (often disastrous) history of hype in the gaming industry.
To kick off the episode, Ash, Fahey, and I do our best Defector impression and Remember Some Games that were hyped to heck and back, only to land with dull thuds and immediately fade into obscurity. Remember EA’s Dante’s Inferno? How about that weird Ubisoft shooter, Haze? And of course, who could forget Homefront, aside from everyone? Not us! After that, we move into a discussion of Cyberpunk 2077 and why it, in particular, has hitched its cart to what might be the most out of control hype train in video game history, as well as the broader ramifications of that.
Lastly, we ride that energy right off a cliff, into the land where dimly remembered marketing disasters dwell. Who thought that promoting Homefront by releasing hundreds of red balloons over San Francisco, essentially showering an eco-conscious city in garbage, was a good idea? And how about that one Sony PSP ad that, back in 2006, people thought was pretty racist and is, in hindsight, incredibly “How did literally even a single person greenlight that” racist? We talk about all of that and, of course, more.
Get the MP3 here, and check out an excerpt below.
Ash: At first I kind of succumbed to the Cyberpunk hype a little bit because they got the Keanu Reeves and the “You’re breathtaking” thing with him. He’s just a nice guy, and he’s really pretty to look at. And if there’s an idea that I can play this game and hang around with him for most of the 120 hours it purports to be, then you know what? That’s a pretty damn good game. I could get into that.
But as time went on, everything came out about CD Projekt Red saying, “We’re not going to crunch, but oh actually, we’ve been crunching this entire time,” and they kind of fumbled that message around “Are they crunching, or are they not crunching” and then “Actually, crunch is good because we’re paying everybody; sorry to your spouses and kids you’ll never see again.” It’s just, like, I don’t care anymore, guys. And then there’s the whole issue of attendant fanboys around it, where if you say one negative thing about it, they’ll come with pitchforks and try to burn your house down. It just turns me off the entire thing. I’m so sick of it. I’m really sick of it!
Fahey: As you were describing that whole process, I felt this strong sense of weariness just fall over me. It was, like, slowly crushing me.
Ash: Because this is gonna be our lives now, for at least the next month. I mean, even though we’re not the people who are working on it, we’ll be working on it. It’s still gonna be something that’s just gonna absorb all of our working lives because it’s the thing everybody’s gonna click on and want to talk about.
Nathan: I think it’s important to dig into how we got here, how Cyberpunk arrived at this point. Because on paper, it doesn’t seem like the kind of game, necessarily, that has previously garnered this kind of hype. While it shares some qualities with those sorts of games, just look at, like, the Deus Ex reboots. Even they didn’t command this level of unbridled, feral fervor. I’ve been trying to pin down exactly what turned this game into a full-blown sensation, and it’s hard. One big thing that we were actually talking about among Kotaku staff in general the other day was that the game was announced almost a decade ago. It’s weird to think about, but the first time we saw it in any form was a cinematic trailer in 2013, but even before that, CD Projekt announced it in 2012. The trailer was pretty controversial at the time, because it featured a scantily clad woman cyborg fighting cops—perhaps even more charged imagery in this day and age than it was back then. But even at the time, the discussion around sexism in games was at a fever pitch, and the trailer wound up getting a lot of attention, in part, because of that zeitgeist.
But that wasn’t the moment Cyberpunk 2077 took off. Back then, The Witcher 3 wasn’t even out yet. There was a small contingent of people who really loved CD Projekt, but it wasn’t like it is now. So I think the main factors that kind of coalesced into this perfect storm were The Witcher 3 coming out and CD Projekt becoming this, like, “gamer’s developer” that doesn’t do microtransactions and releases 30-hour-long DLC episodes and is attached to a DRM-free store in GOG—all of which resulted in this “can do no wrong” reputation. Then, on top of that, we got the Keanu Reeves moment, which was just perfect timing. I don’t think CD Projekt knew it was going to happen. I think they just had Keanu Reeves attached, and right as his star was rising again, he had that super viral, zeitgeist-y “You’re breathtaking” moment at E3. And that was it. That was the spark that just blew up the whole powder keg.
Fahey: From there on out, everything has been yellow, with that Cyberpunk logo, and it’s making me vomit. I’m so tired of seeing the yellow Cyberpunk thing. I got swept up in the Keanu craze. I was excited about him. He is, as Ash said, nice to look at.
Ash: He’s just a cool, chill guy. He’s one of those people where it would seriously damage your idea of humanity if something came out about how he was actually an asshole.
Nathan: That unto itself is really interesting too, right? He’s not who you’d commonly associate with a big action video game. So on one hand, you have this big action game that, I think, based on what’s been shown so far, feels a little typical. But you also have this very atypical person attached—this guy who has become an action movie star despite his persona seemingly not lending itself to that at all. But I mean, he’s kind of the man of the hour. He’s the guy for our current age of wanting our celebrities to be both larger than life and very down to earth.
Fahey: He’s the perfect fit for a Cyberpunk game. He starred in Johnny Mnemonic, one of the biggest cyberpunk movies ever. He was in The Matrix. He was in Bill and Ted’s Excellent Cyberpunk Adventure. And he was in...what was the one?
Ash: A Scanner Darkly.
Fahey: A Walk To Remember, yes.
Nathan: Oh yeah, he played Jesus in that movie. It’s a good joke if you know what A Walk To Remember was about.
But anyway, I do think there are a lot of little subtle things that CD Projekt has done to court hype in ways that have been both good for them and damaging for everybody’s sanity. I think they knew pretty quickly that they had a game that could be massive on their hands, so they started doing all these events and things. They have their ongoing Night City Wire series, which is basically a long infomercial on Twitch, and they have cosplay competitions and stuff like that for this game that is, again, not out yet, which is wild to me. They’ve reached this point where people are on one hand hyped, but on the other, there’s already built-in brand loyalty. They’ve turned being a fan of Cyberpunk into an identity. And that’s where you get, like, people just going insane if anybody says anything potentially negative about the game, or an army of people who want to defend crunch or transphobic tweets, which is, again, just bonkers.
Fahey: I’m someone who played Cyberpunk back in the day—the pen-and-paper role-playing game. And now I’m completely sick of it. I’ve been put off by a thing I love because it’s so in my face at every given time. It used to be a nice little niche thing.
For all that and more, check out the episode. New episodes drop every Friday, and don’t forget to like and subscribe on Apple Podcasts, Spotify, or Stitcher. Also if you feel so inclined, leave a review, and you can always drop us a line at firstname.lastname@example.org if you have questions or suggest a topic. If you want to yell at us directly, you can reach us on Twitter: Ash is @adashtra, Fahey is @UncleFahey, and Nathan is @Vahn16. See you next week!