How did the Cyberpunk 2077 dumpster fire become one of 2021's most played games?

Cal Jeffrey

Posts: 3,491   +1,040
Staff member
In context: Cyberpunk 2077's launch was nothing short of disastrous, even by CD Projekt Red's own admission. It was plagued by long delays, totally overhyped, and then virtually unplayable on last-gen consoles. The PC version was playable, but buggy and the current-gen ports were a complete no-show. Fans anxious for the game were vocally disappointed. Yet somehow, Cyberpunk 2077 became one of 2021's biggest games.

According to Valve's year-end wrap-up, Cyberpunk 2077 peaked the year with a concurrent player count of well over 200,000 and sales that put it in the third highest-selling bracket (Silver) on Steam right in there with Resident Evil Village and Monster Hunter World. How did this happen? Let's take a look back.

Cyberpunk 2077 had a very long gestation period. Most AAA games have a development cycle of about three to five years. The title was initially announced in 2012 as a new RPG that CDPR Team 2 had been developing (video below). So at the time of release, Cyberpunk 2077 was at least eight years in the making. This fact left CDPR with very little excuse for the condition of the "finished" game and the many delays preceding its launch.

The Polish studio also fell into the same hype trap that Hello Games did with No Man's Sky. Developers took numerous opportunities to show off the game and play it up as more than what it was with a heavy focus on the PC version. For example, CDPR finally dropped its first official trailer at E3 2018. It was entirely cinematic, which is not unusual as trailers go. However, the video begins by declaring that it was "game engine footage" (below).

A report in early 2021 looking into the game alleged that the trailer was "almost entirely fake," an allegation that CDPR flatly denied. However, having played the game, several inconsistencies support this supposition. There are multiple references to flying cars in the trailer, yet no operable flying vehicles found their way into the final version. Furthermore, it appears in hindsight that very few of the trailer's cinematics made the final cut. Regardless of whether the trailer was "faked" game engine footage or not, the end product looked nowhere near as polished as the trailer, which let fans down.

However, Cyberpunk's lack of graphical polish was the least of CDPR's concerns. Long before the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X releases were imminent, the devs were supposedly hard at work on PS4 and XB1 versions of the game. Next-generation "upgrades" were practically a late-game afterthought as development literally spanned an entire console generation. On release, the PlayStation and Xbox versions were in abysmal shape, seemingly indicating that developers had too many irons in the fire with hastily planned next-gen ports that they wanted to simultaneously release.

In fact, the conditions of Cyberpunk 2077 at launch became something of a joke, with numerous YouTubers and even CDPR releasing hilarious "bug reels" for the game (below). But it really wasn't funny. Overall, PS4 and XB1 players were mad at finding the game unplayable. Many demanded refunds, which CDPR graciously agreed to, and Sony eventually pulled the game from the PlayStation Store entirely.

Lawyers also hit the studio with a class-action lawsuit, which it recently settled for a paltry $1.85 million. All totaled, CDPR paid out almost $53 million in refunds and settlements over the botched launch. Despite the monetary dent, Cyberpunk 2077 was the driving factor behind CDPR's record-breaking performance for its fiscal year 2020. The studio reported net profits of $303 million for the year, triple its FY 2019 returns. So how did CDPR turn its dumpster fire into a gold mine?

The game landed more than eight million pre-orders early on, which helped, even though many of those were likely refunded. However, CDPR also took a page out of the Hello Games handbook by vowing not to give up on the game. So far, it has kept that promise. Right out of the gate it said it would deliver two major updates in early 2021 to fix most of the problems, which it did.

A few months and numerous minor patches later, Sony reinstated Cyberpunk 2077 to the PlayStation Store on June 21, 2021. On June 29, CDPR assured players that the game's stability was "satisfactory," although it did warn console owners to avoid purchasing the game unless they had a PS4 Pro or Xbox One X. By mid-July, Cyberpunk 2077 was the PlayStation Store's best-selling game. In November, Steam declared Cyberpunk its "global top-seller" and that it had bumped its review rating to "Very Positive."

The work is not done, however. Despite game-breaking hiccups and an initial DLC that left fans unimpressed, CD Projekt Red President Adam Kiciński said Cyberpunk 2077 will eventually become a "very good game." Having a very good game is wonderful news for current Cyberpunk 2077 owners, but what about those waiting for the next-gen upgrades?

All this extra work on the launch debacle has pushed production for PS5 and XBSX ports back quite a bit. As of October 2021, CDPR does not expect to release the upgrades until 2022. As of this writing, that could be in as little as four days, but don't count on it. The last thing CDPR wants to do is rush out a much-delayed next-gen version of the game that has already tarnished its reputation.

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hahahanoobs

Posts: 4,424   +2,404
The good news is the game sounds fixed.
The bad news is this is more justification for the trend to continue.

My Gold version pre-ordering foolishness has me hoping the same happens with BF2042. I'm guilty only because there is no other multiplayer FPS franchise I have real interest in. I have more hours in Chivalry 2 than Warzone and BF2042 combined for now. I dropped Warzone and replaced it with more Halo ranked which I recommend at least trying. BF2042 movement and gunplay keep me coming back, but more fixes would take over everything else I'm playing to become my primary.
 
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yRaz

Posts: 4,398   +5,117
Maybe because it's a pretty good game?

Sometimes you should put "Opinion" in your article
It was the popular thing to do to hate on 2077 but I actually really enjoyed it. There were places where it was obviously rush with missing content and it was poorly optimized, but I enjoyed my time in the world. I have 219 hours in 2077 so I'd say I got my money's worth. I'm actually really excited to see what "DLC" they're going to release into the game. and by that I mean, what unfinished content are they going to release as DLC.

Frankly, I think we expect other developers like EA, Activision and others to be such scumbags that we ignore the horrible things they do at this point. We expect it of them and tolerate it. When CDPR comes out with something the quality of 2077 after releasing something like The Witcher I can't blame people for being shocked.
 

poohbear

Posts: 689   +620
The only reason people believed them was because this was the same studio that gave us the masterpiece Witcher 3. How the same studio that produced Witcher 3 produced this turd on release still remains a mystery.
 

kiwigraeme

Posts: 1,025   +768
Meant I got it cheap a few days ago.
As I claimed months ago CD P. R. are not going to destroy their name - that they will fix it and give the DLC as promised - they are probably being very cautious not to promise things about DLC - it's coming . The team probably is still a tight bunch - know each others kids etc - not some monstrosity- you buy & dump talent .
the 5 C's of lending - one of the most important when I employed was Character - I still think CD P. R. has character - none of the big studios do .

Some as JK Rowling said - number 1 was Characters - true for movies , friendships etc etc
Then again Star Wars succeeded with some very shallow characters - Luke who?, Princess who?- needed Hans Solo /Yoda and some robots to save it
 

yRaz

Posts: 4,398   +5,117
The only reason people believed them was because this was the same studio that gave us the masterpiece Witcher 3. How the same studio that produced Witcher 3 produced this turd on release still remains a mystery.
Because it was the fault of the publisher not the studio. As we've seen with the updates, 2077 was released at least a year too soon, that's not even to talk about the missing content. There are many things that you can tell they wanted to put into the game but will likely never be there now. They'll announce a successor to 2077 in 5 years or so and whatever that game is will hopefully be what 2077 was meant to be. While not as bad as 2077 for their time, The Witcher 1 and 2 weren't all that great. I'd argue that the Witcher 3 is one of those games that comes around once every several years.
 

envirovore

Posts: 465   +868
TechSpot Elite
Held off on buying it until I had a decent GPU, and it went on sale, which half price during the last Steam sale seemed reasonable.

Only put about 4 hours in so far (nearly two of which have been spent in one of it's many item/inventory/perks screens trying to figure all that sh*t out...) and will be holding off on it until I finish RDR2.

So far it seems alright. Gun play seems decent enough, the hacky thing seems like it'll become interesting later on. It's absurdly pretty, especially on high settings with all ray tracing options enabled.

I'm having the problem of "there's so much to do I don't know what to do" though, especially as one that prefers to do as many side missions as possible before progressing the main story arc.
 

Dimitriid

Posts: 2,201   +4,234
It really is just about the "hype" (A.K.A. Social Capital) from Witcher 3: a game that critically acclaimed earns you a lot of good will from press, companies, etc. That will want to get on board with what the critics lauded as one of the best RPGs ever made.

It doesn't has to mean ulterior motives or any special secret sauce or conspiracy behind the scenes, it's just social capital: you take notoriety and fame and monetize it and transform it into actual money, investments and in this case absolutely pre-orders too.

We see this kind of interactions all of the time: The analogy I like is youtube: music is extremely popular in youtube most of the most viewed videos ever are music videos commanding billions of views (that's right: with a b) but there's a tremendously huge secondary market of "reaction" channels that just pick songs that are popular and sought after by the algorithm (But by smaller and/or smarter artists that don't immediately do copyright claims) and a whole lot of people want to do their "sincere" and "honest" "first time reaction" to those very popular songs gathering millions of views.

It is literally taking not just the product of another artists but the implicit social capital: the massive interest people have on these artists will prompt them to want to consume even more content so you just gotta brand yourself as "Rapper reacts to" or "Producer reacts to" or "Music teacher reacts to" or something vaguely related do music that creates a manufactured and calculated quirky point of view for people already looking for their favorite songs and you've got yourself a winner of a channel, based on nothing but social capital or what we more commonly (And reductively) refer to as ''Hype"
 

Nobina

Posts: 3,772   +4,194
It was literally the most hyped game since the beggining of time, that's why I knew it won't deliver cause that's impossible to do but it can't not sell well. After all, the game turned out to be good in terms of gameplay which matter most, not as good as people thought it would be but at least it wasn't NMS.
 

Kosmoz

Posts: 600   +1,110
I played it on PC so I never know those console pains at all. This game should have been delayed at least 6 months and not made for PS4 and XB1 at all and all these issues would not have existed... but we all know how greed looks and this is a picture of it.

The management and publisher are to blame not the devs which warned multiple times it was not ready.

My only big issue with this game is something subjective and that is, that I need a stupid RTX GPU and one of the higher tier ones to even consider 1080p Ultra + RT ON at over 60fps... that's just stupid and shows how badly unoptimized and limited by cross-gen still is... I don't even want to talk about the fact that is has bad optimizations for RDNA2 and lack of FSR, because it's an nvidia sponsored title.

Basically not even a 3070/Ti can't properly do 1080p Ultra + RT + DLSS and have over 60fps all the time... it drops under 60fps in all crowded and demanding zones, so you actually need a 3080 or better. Metro Exodus EE is a stellar implementation of RT and runs amazing (over 60fps) even on an RX 6700 XT with RT ON, native, without any FSR/DLSS help (not that it has).

So yes, it can be done and CP 77 could have been better optimized. I don't hope it will be though.
 

trgz

Posts: 392   +151
Recently bought it cheap and it ran pretty well on a 2 year old i5 9600K/RTX2060S 1080p setup, albeit with some things turned down a bit to keep the GPU from permanently sitting at 100%. I enjoyed it, and will definitely be replaying it but not until it's patched again, hopefully with some improvements to the hacking/stealth that I really didn't need to use at all.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,308   +7,247
I started playing Cyberpunk on release night. I even live streamed it from an 8-core i7 with a 2080Ti and 32GBDDR4 on 4TBSSD.

That game was NEVER going to work on PS4 and Xbox One X. It should have been limited to Xbox Series X and PS5.

I personally enjoyed the game. I suffered no major bugs on my first playthrough (Streetkid) and only started having minor bugs on my second playthrough (Corpo) as more bug fixes were added.

#1 music would play when it wasn't supposed to.
#2 issues with my body being locked into kneel position
#3 T-posing NPC.
#4 Some sequences failing to start

The game was full of atmosphere and was pretty fun to play. Of course, in every RPG, there is the point where you level up so much that the game is barely a challenge anymore, but I personally enjoyed it.

The week this game was released, I was able to upgrade to a 3090FTW3 (I got two for $1799 each). My second playthrough was in PSYCHO graphics mode and it was smooth - running without a hitch - even streaming in 1080p.

I never really cared about the police chases or the non-functioning train system. I really enjoyed the game.

The UNCENSORED PC videos were easy money makers because the console versions were toned down. Some of my videos went viral.
 

QuantumPhysics

Posts: 6,308   +7,247
Some of these new games try to implement features that are so obscure that they just simply aren't needed.

For example: Far Cry 6 has a system in it where you can buy off corrupt police.

It's easier to simply kill them all.

Cyberpunk wanted to have all these great features but fell short.

The difference between myself and the people who followed the development was that I DIDN'T follow the development so I had no idea the game was missing these features and I didn't really care.

I do think, however, the game should have had a karma system with in-game consequences and branching storylines.
 

Sausagemeat

Posts: 1,597   +1,421
I have an old rig, my RX480 is too old these days for games. But I was able to run Cyberpunk at 30-40fps with low settings. I picked the game up for very cheap a couple of months after release and have been honestly surprised. Its got depth, character and an incredibly intricate 3D open world. The voice acting is really good and the stories are brutal and gruesome. I ended up playing 40 hours without any bugs except for the odd floating car or repeating NPC. At low framerates its still alright, the shooting bits are just about tolerable. I think its just a really good game.

By comparison I have recently suffered Halo Infinite, which runs only a little bit better than Cyberpunk but looks far far worse. Its a shooter so it cant get away with sub 60fps. I finished the campaign in about 12 hours and thought id played an alpha early access for a much bigger game. I dont really understand why Cyberpunk is hated as much as it is, there are so many other games where at least I personally have had a worse experience. Anyone remember Skyrims launch ffs!


 

Sausagemeat

Posts: 1,597   +1,421
For example: Far Cry 6 has a system in it where you can buy off corrupt police.
In Far Cry 6 you can buy off the police to give you locations of secrets and things which does make some sense. But whats stupid about it is that if you immediately kill them afterwards they dont drop the cash! Ubisoft!
 

SethNW

Posts: 28   +32
Cyberpunk is pretty interesting game to judge, like they did a lot of things wrong. But on the other hand, if you walk in with right expectations, when stars align for it, it can work really well. It wasn't all bad, but also mix of good. Something I would mostly put at 7/10 game. While it has its flows, like systems that are like decade behind competition. Like police system, driving,... Also you got a lot of bugs, missing features,... It really shows game with very troubled development. But you do have areas where you can clearly see that people working on it did care and did try to do best they could and it shows. It is just that in between, it is bit of a mess.

Like what probably hurt game most was just one huge failure of management. Starting with setting wrong expectations with those early and at least partially, if not fully fake trailers. Where they made basically a demo to show off, but it was very much hacked together in way that couldn't really use that in actual game and through that they created technical debt and eventually got themselves in technical bankruptcy. Plus they also were sending mixed message on who this game was for. Like selling customization to roleplaying fans, then not having option to switch to 3rd person like Skyrim and pissing those same fans off. Just as example from top of my head. Plus not to mention rushing game at least 2 years too early. I got theory that they were between running low on money, plus investors demanding game to come out or getting their investment returned. And all last year delays were just them setting dates to make investors happy and then moving them back, so it bought them some more time. But eventually they had to go like consequences be damned, it has to come out or there will be even bigger hell to pay. Of course all of that was failure of management, which never had any remote form of realistic expectation. It is bit like fame got to them.

So post release, things happened as they did. My personal biggest disappointment was just how CDPR responded, all the lies, pointing fingers, confusion, trying to divert blame to QA, which was screaming at management that game wasn't ready, slimy excuses, like police being badly done because most other games don't have police in them, ignoring that they don't compare to all games. That made me hate CDPR, which by the way is both publisher and developer. But I don't hate developers themselves, they are good guys or girls who tried to make something cool and just couldn't do it due to management. Which is shame, developers did deserve better. Management was however garbage.

As for why it came so high in Steam sales, I think it corresponds to uplift with positive reviews on Steam during sale where CP was discounted. I think moving price down convinced a lot of people to buy it. Since even if it doesn't make good 60USD game, at lower price, expectations are lower and people are more willing to put up with issues. Plus a lot of those people did come in with low expectations to begin with, due to what they heard and that made it easier for game to exceed that. Not to mention it is now more clear what game is and isn't, which allowed more realistic expectations as well. And while I personally can't just turn blind eye and ignore all the things that could have been way better and should have been way better for game to be great. I also have to acknowledge that CDPR did at least band aid some of those issues to where people are more willing to forgive.

Still I find this very worrying trend, because if game is selling so well, it will be trivial for management to just ignore all the issues and never learn. Meaning that they might not do everything again with next game, but history will repeat itself. Because that is always the way how things went in gaming industry. Just look at all the other companies that "could do no wrong", like Blizzard. And it took years and years for people to actually catch up and have to admit their "heroes" are long dead. And don't get me wrong, if you do enjoy CP, I am happy for you. But you also got to understand that I worry about the future of the industry I love and I am bit worried about modern "tribal" way of thinking with gamers, who are willing to fight and die for their favorite corporations, defending them regardless of how bad they do, ignoring all issues they possibly can, because their thing can't be bad, it has to be the best. It is bit worrying trend, no offense meant.
 

Rdmetz

Posts: 373   +181
I have an old rig, my RX480 is too old these days for games. But I was able to run Cyberpunk at 30-40fps with low settings. I picked the game up for very cheap a couple of months after release and have been honestly surprised. Its got depth, character and an incredibly intricate 3D open world. The voice acting is really good and the stories are brutal and gruesome. I ended up playing 40 hours without any bugs except for the odd floating car or repeating NPC. At low framerates its still alright, the shooting bits are just about tolerable. I think its just a really good game.

By comparison I have recently suffered Halo Infinite, which runs only a little bit better than Cyberpunk but looks far far worse. Its a shooter so it cant get away with sub 60fps. I finished the campaign in about 12 hours and thought id played an alpha early access for a much bigger game. I dont really understand why Cyberpunk is hated as much as it is, there are so many other games where at least I personally have had a worse experience. Anyone remember Skyrims launch ffs!

I played both games on launch using a very good system (3090/10900k) and I would say my reaction / experience is almost the exact opposite of yours.

While I do agree cyberpunk is a bit more "show-off" in terms of its graphics the experience I had with it was plagued with many many annoying bugs (like clothes not rendering characters t posing or myself t posing through the roof of my car while not wearing pants and many many others) which while annoying weren't game breaking but then on top of that I did have multiple issues that did either stop progress til I figured my around the problem or it just kept crashing me to desktop randomly.

All that is to say is that when playing it the game kept reminding me how unfinished it was and that I'm not actually taking part in this world but playing some broken game version of it.

While in halo infinite everything was smooth as butter for the most part and from minute one I was absorbed into the world and the game never got in the way of me feeling like I'm master chief zipping around with my grapple hook punching grunts in the face!

Sure the graphics while not the super impressive rtx type were still impressive in their own right and the way the game would pull up the epic awe inspiring music as you reach the top of some massive cliff or hill top to stare out into the massive distance had me feeling much more impressed than the puddle reflections and neon of cyberpunk while my characters *** is in my face while they t pose out the roof of my car.

Halo felt like a game that knew what it wanted to do and did it well.

Cyberpunk felt like a game that hadn't quite figured out what it was because it wanted to be too many things.

I finished halo and did all side missions plus found most collectibles (all because I was enjoying the way the game made me feel while playing) and will go back to complete everything and 100% it when co-op drops.

But with cyberpunk after about 30 hours of dealing with its launch week crap I grew bored and put it down waiting for a patch to make it better to go back yet in over a year nothing announced has sounded like enough to make me really truly want to go and finish it.

That to me speaks volumes.
 

Sausagemeat

Posts: 1,597   +1,421
I played both games on launch using a very good system (3090/10900k) and I would say my reaction / experience is almost the exact opposite of yours.

While I do agree cyberpunk is a bit more "show-off" in terms of its graphics the experience I had with it was plagued with many many annoying bugs (like clothes not rendering characters t posing or myself t posing through the roof of my car while not wearing pants and many many others) which while annoying weren't game breaking but then on top of that I did have multiple issues that did either stop progress til I figured my around the problem or it just kept crashing me to desktop randomly.

All that is to say is that when playing it the game kept reminding me how unfinished it was and that I'm not actually taking part in this world but playing some broken game version of it.

While in halo infinite everything was smooth as butter for the most part and from minute one I was absorbed into the world and the game never got in the way of me feeling like I'm master chief zipping around with my grapple hook punching grunts in the face!

Sure the graphics while not the super impressive rtx type were still impressive in their own right and the way the game would pull up the epic awe inspiring music as you reach the top of some massive cliff or hill top to stare out into the massive distance had me feeling much more impressed than the puddle reflections and neon of cyberpunk while my characters *** is in my face while they t pose out the roof of my car.

Halo felt like a game that knew what it wanted to do and did it well.

Cyberpunk felt like a game that hadn't quite figured out what it was because it wanted to be too many things.

I finished halo and did all side missions plus found most collectibles (all because I was enjoying the way the game made me feel while playing) and will go back to complete everything and 100% it when co-op drops.

But with cyberpunk after about 30 hours of dealing with its launch week crap I grew bored and put it down waiting for a patch to make it better to go back yet in over a year nothing announced has sounded like enough to make me really truly want to go and finish it.

That to me speaks volumes.
Each to their own, I am an enormous Halo fanboy and I thought Infinite was the second worst Halo ever made. 343 being responsible for all the bad Halos now. I know bungie wanted to stop making them and it seems they saw that the franchise was dead before MS did. Critically however, Infinite has killed the Halo formula. The games balance has been broken because of the open world. You always have a power weapon in Halo infinite and very little reason to use the weaker guns like the disruptor or that stupid mini shotgun. The tank has been gimped and there is no tank level, no banshee level. The whole thing feels like they spent 6 years ensuring that nobody is unfairly advantaged when in the open world and by doing so they killed the focus of the level design, you blast you way through every level with the guns you want. Also you get enemies hiding behind those glowing boxes that blow up or just ignoring if you attack from a distance and just standing there (The AI is poor). The multi maps are tiny compared to Halos of old and rely on boring old twitch mechanics rather than the strategy you had to employ on previous Halos. Blood Gulch - one of the smallest maps of the older games is bigger than any multi map in infinite so far. Also its f2p and full of cheaters.

It was fun to play but I cant see this game being very popular in 12 months. It has no depth. Not like Cyberpunk which I believe will be finally finished next year.
 

Watzupken

Posts: 597   +500
The reason why it is popular a year after is simply because it has been given time to be refined. The game may be good, but too buggy at the start. On top of that, you are paying the full price for being a early adopter. That's why it makes sense that people don't rush in to buy a game, because you are paying more and giving yourself headaches and frustrations.
 

gamerk2

Posts: 697   +668
I mean, the PC version had some issues, but was relatively stable. At worst, the PC version was "meh".
 
Because it was the fault of the publisher not the studio. As we've seen with the updates, 2077 was released at least a year too soon, that's not even to talk about the missing content. There are many things that you can tell they wanted to put into the game but will likely never be there now. They'll announce a successor to 2077 in 5 years or so and whatever that game is will hopefully be what 2077 was meant to be. While not as bad as 2077 for their time, The Witcher 1 and 2 weren't all that great. I'd argue that the Witcher 3 is one of those games that comes around once every several years.

You realise it is self published though right? There was no 3rd party publisher for them? The problem is CP2077 is only as good as maybe W2 in terms of what it does and not anywhere near to what was accomplished with W3.

It was and still in my opinion a disappointing game which lacks real depth. Deus Ex does a lot better than what CP2077 has done. Moddershall have fixed a lot but these should be things the company have been working to fix over the last 6 months and haven't.

Lack of completed and fixed content with so much left on the cutting floor it feels completely incomplete. There are still bugs with it since it had at release with floating cars and weapons in walls and such.

It has moments if greatness and there is an awesome world cause of its IP but its not what it could or should have been. Shame really.

I would say if you pick it up for £20 now then fair enough, it worth that but not the £60 even to this day.