Given the public apology and subsequent response from platform holders and retailers, and how much CD Projekt Red’s stock price has soared this year, it’s natural that the state of Cyberpunk 2077 was going to trigger an emergency conference call. Unsurprisingly, investors lobbied plenty of spice at the board.
After a brief statement from co-founder and joint CEO Adam Kiciński, a representative of Morgan Stanley kicked off proceedings by trying to get some detail on the current sales for last-gen, and how exactly the game’s PS4/Xbox One version launched in the state it did.
The CD Projekt board declined to offer any sales figures, but they did shoot down the idea that adding more developers into the mix would have rectified problems. (It’s an extension of Brooks’s law, which says that adding people to a software project late in development will slow things down further.)
The next question then resulted in CD Projekt slowly walking back their own statement earlier in the week regarding refunds. “We are not encouraging gamers to return the game; we hope they’ll give us a chance to improve it on old-gen consoles,” joint CEO Marcin Iwinski added.
Of course, Sony, Microsoft and every other retailer has their own policy for refunds. But the point is more that those platforms are going beyond those stated policies. Some Steam users reported getting refunds after having 8 or more hours played, despite Steam’s policy capping out at 2 hours. Microsoft and Sony have been exceptionally generous too, although everyone’s mileage has varied. Kiciński then blamed COVID for affecting their outsourced QA partners — while CD Projekt Red has their own internal QA, their partner companies weren’t able to test Cyberpunk 2077 — although that also wasn’t “a major source of problems”.
The next question then came from an investor at Jefferies Group, who was also a base PS4 owner, and boy did they have questions.
Should we take it that you had found it was very important that the game shouldn’t be delayed into the next year, or simply that you had always wanted to deliver the game and not delay it – and you just underestimated the extent to which the last-gen version was not going to be the way it should be? Was it more about “the launch is important” or more about “we underestimated how bad the last-gen version was”? And secondly, and related to that, at the certification stage – presumably, Microsoft and Sony always get games that still have bugs, and decide they’re going to be ok – partly on the basis of discussions with you that there will be fixes. Have I understood that correctly? Or do you feel somehow that the certification process is kind of only one side or the other, and failed to identify just how underperforming the last-gen version was?
Perhaps I should add a final question to make it three; everyone has three – are you confident that last-gen machines will be able to produce an acceptable version of this game? And I say this as a PS4 owner, so I hope so. But – is it something that’s simply too demanding, and – in hindsight – no amount of fixing is going to generate an acceptable experience? Thank you.
Imagine copping that at a board meeting.
Michał Nowakowski started by saying the fault lay completely with CD Projekt Red for not “us looking … at the PC and next-gen performance rather than current-gen”. “We definitely did not spend enough time looking at that,” Nowakowski said.
“We have also stated that if your expectation is that the game is going to be equal to, say, next-gen [consoles] or PC in terms of performance, that definitely isn’t going to happen. Having said that, I’m not saying it’s going to be a bad game – but if you’re expectations regarding, say, visuals or other performance angle, are like this, then we’re openly stating that’s not going to be the case. It will be a good, playable, stable game, without glitches and crashes, though,” Nowakowski added.
The Jefferies investor was, well, not completely convinced:
Okay; that last sentence, I think, is the key one. I don’t expect next-gen performance on last-gen, but I would like to be able to play through the game. Thank you very much.
Ooft. It’s also worth remembering some of CD Projekt’s previous statements about the game’s PS4 performance. Here’s a comment from Kiciński during the third quarter financial briefing on November 30:
As for PS4 – yesterday we released gameplay trailers both on PS4 and PS5, so you can see the difference. Of course, PS5 is great, but PS4 is still very good. We had those extra 3 weeks and we achieved a lot within this final stretch, so we believe the game performs great on every platform.
That footage was for the PS4 Pro, not the base PS4. When someone followed up later on specifically about the base PS4 and base Xbox One, Kiciński said this:
Of course a bit lower than on pro consoles, but surprisingly good, I would say, for such a huge world. That’s the answer.
I wouldn’t say there is a “problem” because there’s nothing wrong with Xbox or PS4 versions – there is optimisation 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. Now, in terms of issues – I don’t think there’s much point in going there. Yes, there are some issues that are similar – I’m not going to go through a full bug report here; that’s probably pointless – but let’s put it like this: there are some issues which are common to both platforms and some issues which are slightly different; it’s a mixed bag, really. It’s something that can be handled, can be done and something that we’re currently working on.
CD Projekt advertised the console experience in interviews, too. Back in 2019, the studio’s Alvin Liu said the game’s graphics would be “quite amazing for what you’re going to get from Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles and low-end PCs”.
Now compare that with this latest remark overnight, when the board was asked about why Cyberpunk 2077 shipped only on new-gen consoles and PCs if the last-gen experience was so sub-par.
In terms of the shape of the game after optimisation: we pretty much said it earlier in the call, i.e. the game will have no crashes, the main bugs will be eliminated, and we’re looking to improve both performance and graphic fidelity – that’s going to be spread out across various patches and, of course, a pretty important update will happen this month. Actually, the game is playable right now; that may be an important thing to state because it’s not like the game does not launch or is unplayable; I fully understand that the experience is far from satisfactory for a lot of people – and we do acknowledge that – but “not playable” sounds like it doesn’t launch at all, which is not the case.
It’s worth remembering, too, that CD Projekt Red still has a season pass in the works for Cyberpunk 2077. The original plan was to start marketing that before the game’s release, but during the Q3 earnings call the company said “we decided to wait for [Cyberpunk’s] release” after the game was delayed to December.
During the emergency meeting overnight, Kiciński offered this insight into player feedback based from last-gen consoles and hours played. “We started with a score of 70, but now it’s 79. If you filter those who have played 10 hours or more, the score is 85 – so the more you play the more enjoyment you feel,” the CD Projekt joint CEO said.
The board also made an interesting remark about how the console version of Cyberpunk 2077 was being referenced in reviews of the PC version:
As far as players’ feedback is concerned, the feedback for the PC edition is by far better than what we’re getting on consoles – but when we read reviews of the PC version we see many comments referring to the console versions, so there’s a bit of a mix among platforms and it’s not always easy to distinguish them.
It’s almost as if the player base (and reviewers) aren’t prepared to overlook the fact that the base console footage was completely hidden from release. Or, as CD Projekt Red put it, deliberately not shown because they were updating the game “until the very last minute”:
For the second question – with regard to not showing the console version – we’ve actually shown console footage, but never on the last-gen consoles. The reason is that we were updating the game on last-gen consoles until the very last minute, and we thought we’d make it in time. Unfortunately this resulted in giving it to reviewers just one day before the release, which was definitely too late and the media didn’t get the chance to review it properly. That was not intended; we were just fixing the game until the very last moment.
It’s hard to tally up all the statements made by CD Projekt over the last couple of years, back when the game was scheduled to launch twice in an environment where the Xbox Series X and PS5 didn’t exist, that they didn’t spend enough time focusing on the last-gen consoles. The majority of console users own a base PS4 or Xbox One, not the mid-gen PS4 Pro or Xbox One X refreshes. And that aside, the game isn’t shipping with any next-gen performance optimisations. If they were focusing on PC and next-gen console performance all this time, why weren’t those patches ready for launch?
It’s a giant mess, and one that CD Projekt Red will be spending all of 2021 rectifying. The studio said they will have another patch before Christmas, and they’ll make an official announcement on the game’s sales figures, although a full breakdown won’t be released until early next year.