The rapidly evolving Cyberpunk 2077 situation took another two twists this week. First, Sony — aka “The Company That Gives No Refunds” — has announced it will be handing out refunds where Cyberpunk 2077 is concerned. Furthermore, the game is being stripped from the PlayStation store:
— Rami Ismail (رامي) (@tha_rami) December 18, 2020
This is a huge shift from Sony’s typical policies, but evidence has surfaced showing just how far off the reservation CD Projekt Red went, possibly shedding some light on why Sony is willing to take this step. The company didn’t just pull the game for PlayStation 4 owners — it pulled the game, period, for everyone.
Earlier this week, the president and co-founder of CD Projekt Red, Adam Kiciński, admitted that his company “ignored the signals” that more time was needed for Xbox / PS4 development. Michal Nowakowski also stated that the company “didn’t spend enough time looking” at PS4 and Xbox One performance. This sounds bad enough, but when you start digging into the specifics of the claims the company made over the past year, the situation gets much worse. First, we’ll discuss some remarks from two different developers in two different interviews in 2019.
2019 Developer Statements
In 2019, Eurogamer spoke to lead quest designer Pawel Sasko, who said:
One of the things we learned with The Witcher 3 was, you should not delay working on the console versions, ever. So at all times we have a version running for everything. And of course, the high-end version we’re showing running it is completely different to the consoles, the current-gen is starting to get old. So there’s some things which won’t look as crisp. But the important thing to us is it will be fluid, it will play on your machine. There are limitations for any given hardware, that’s a natural thing. But we’ll do everything we can to squeeze as much as we can.
He clearly wasn’t just speaking about quest design here, but about the entire game. In 2019, UI coordinator Alvin Liu also told WCCFTech:
We’re targeting consoles as first-class platforms and it looks amazing there. So obviously, if you spent, you know, $2,000 building your PC rig, it’s going to look better on that. But the graphics are quite amazing for what you’re going to get from Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles and low-end PCs.
Let’s compare these statements to what was said at the October 2020 meeting where CD Projekt Red announced it would launch the game three weeks later than anticipated, on December 10, 2020. We’ll also check whether the claims CDPR executives made in October proved true based on what we know in December.
The October 2020 Meeting
Here’s a member of CD Projekt Red’s board, Michal Nowakowski, speaking to investors in October 2020. This was a scheduled call to explain why CDPR was going to going to delay the game three weeks. According to him, CDPR is “finalizing the process” on Xbox One and PS4. He specifically states that the only things left to be fixed on the consoles are “technical things at the very final stage.”
When pushed to explain what constituted a technical issue, CDPR’s co-CEO Adam Kiciński elaborated:
I think we should have had the game playable at earlier stages. With such a big game, too many things may have been put together at a late stage. We should have had more playable builds earlier…we can organize the technical side by putting together playable versions earlier than before.
Kiciński’s comment about how they should have had the game playable much earlier indicates CD Projekt Red left this until far too late, despite the statements of multiple development team members in 2019. This would also explain why the base console versions of the game are so stuffed with bugs — the developers were literally working on the game up until the very last second. It takes further testing after each round of changes to make certain the developer didn’t introduce more problems than they fixed.
The reason games have to be play-tested as a cohesive whole is that there’s no way to predict how various game systems will interact and function until you test them. Cutscenes can typically sustain higher detail levels than in-game play because the developer has complete control of what the CPU and GPU are doing in any given moment. Walking around in the regular game, the engine has to handle AI, physics, storage I/O, and rendering calculations simultaneously, while also keeping the game responsive no matter what the player does.
The large quality gap between the PC and console versions is exactly what you’d expect if the developers of a game found out at the last minute that they had a critical problem and no time to actually fix it. There are reports that the last-gen consoles can dip as low as 540p in Cyberpunk 2077, and that kind of resolution drop is a last-ditch, brute-force attempt to keep frame rates up by slashing the amount of information drawn on-screen.
Lies My Witcher Told Me
The executives on that October call did everything they could to tamp down on the idea that anything other than normal optimization was happening. Asked if the game would be unduly buggy for any platform upon release, Michal said: “[I]t’s basically optimization and all the challenges related to that. There’s no other ‘hidden story’ here.”
Later, he reiterated: “I wouldn’t say there is a ‘problem’ because there’s nothing wrong with Xbox or PS4 versions – there is optimization to be handled, also because of how we were approaching things from the get-go in terms of development; so – there is no problem with Xbox or PlayStation 4, to be honest.” (Emphases added).
When the questioner pointed out that they were specifically asking for information about a rumor that there had been problems optimizing the game for Xbox One, Nowakowski again stepped in to squish it, saying: “This was a total hoax; a fake rumor… there’s just regular work to be done on both platforms.”
Three times, the man was asked to elaborate or explain rumors of a poor product. Each time, he denied there was any truth to them. We now know better, and his October comments about how they have to optimize the consoles now because they failed to do it properly from the get-go contradicts what the developers of Cyberpunk 2077 were telling the press in 2019.
For the record, Michal Nowakowski is the same person who published an apology with instructions on how to get a refund for Cyberpunk 2077 on Monday, only to turn around and say that there were ‘certain misconceptions‘ about CD Projekt Red’s willingness to assist with the refund process hours later.
He has also admitted that CD Projekt Red is responsible for the condition of the game at launch, and that Microsoft and Sony were told various issues would be fixed before release:
In terms of the certification process and the third parties — this is definitely on our side. I can only assume that they trusted that we’re going to fix things up on release, and that obviously did not come together exactly as we had planned.
Why Did CDPR Withhold Information About CP2077 on Consoles?
The October 2020 call also appears to hold clues as to why CDPR didn’t want anyone to know about the last-gen console versions. When asked about preorder numbers, Kiciński noted: “We’re happy with preorders and we’re looking forward to the final stage. The majority of preorders always occurs at the very final stage.” (Emphasis added).
Piractwo ? Jakie piractwo 😀 gratulacje #CDProjekt
— Leniwiec (@WVasaio) December 10, 2020
Forty-one percent of the company’s preorders were on console. That breaks down to 3.2M players, and while some gamers have the Xbox One X and PlayStation 4 Pro, the XBO and PS4 both decisively outsold their higher-powered cousins. Most of the console gamers playing this title are going to be playing it on 2013-era hardware.
Had footage of the console version leaked during that critical final stage, preorder numbers might not have hit CDPR’s targets, and the coverage would have badly tarnished the launch. And if CD Projekt Red had sampled the PS4 / Xbox version, you can bet that footage would have leaked. The game was too abysmal for it not to.
Welcome to Knight City*
We can’t say for certain that the devs who gave 2019 interviews were lying, but three things are clear: First, the company’s leadership lied about the state of the game to investors, repeatedly claiming that there were no unusual bugs, no particular problems, and that only a final coat of finish was needed on the base console version of the title before it debuted. None of this was true, and CDPR knew it in October. There was no chance a game that looks and runs as poorly as Cyberpunk 2077 does on PS4/Xbox could ever have been finished in the six weeks from October to early December.
Second, by CD Projekt Red’s own admission, it did not begin testing or optimizing the console versions until far too late in the cycle to fix them. Nowakowski claims the company didn’t properly handle their development “from the get-go.” This cuts directly against the statements of developers in 2019 and throws the veracity of their comments into question. Maybe the company chose to emphasize high-end PC ray tracing instead of console support, late in development. There’d be nothing wrong with that, provided the company had canceled the game for PS4 and Xbox One. It didn’t.
Third, the idea that PS4 and Xbox players shouldn’t have expected a viable game experience is repeatedly undercut by Kiciński and Nowakowski, especially Nowakowski. When investors repeatedly ask if the last-gen version of the game is viable, CDPR says yes. When they ask if the last-gen versions are particularly buggy, Nowakowski both denies it and states there is no “hidden story.” When further pressed on whether or not the Xbox One version has been difficult to optimize, Nowakowski calls the idea fake news.
It obviously wasn’t.
If you would like a refund from Sony, you should request one. Any Xbox customer who was denied a refund may wish to recontact the company and request one again, using this announcement as additional leverage, assuming Microsoft hasn’t announced their own refund program by the time you read this.
ExtremeTech recommends that all Xbox One, One X, PlayStation 4, and PS4 Pro customers request refunds and revisit the question of whether to buy Cyberpunk 2077 several months from now, when it goes on sale and after various bugs have been fixed. There have never been more amazing games to choose from than there are today, and many of them are made by companies who won’t lie about the state of their game to trick you into buying it.
* Warner Bros published — and then was forced to recall — Arkham Knight over the abysmal quality of the game’s PC release. Amusingly, Warner Bros is also handling distribution for Cyberpunk 2077.