Was the Cyberpunk 2077 Crunch Worth It?

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CD Projekt Red’s highly anticipated game, Cyberpunk 2077, has finally been released. The game released to mostly positive reviews, praising both the world and story that CDPR has built.

However, the game isn’t free of controversy. The game is riddled with bugs and is borderline unplayable on last-gen consoles. It’s clear that the game was not ready to be released and CDPR have been forced to offer refunds to customers. Ideally, another delay until January or possibly February 2021 was needed.

This delay was still necessary, despite CDPR forcing staff to work a 6-day week to get Cyberpunk out on time. This brings up a good question. Was the crunch worth it just to release a slightly less broken game?

Cyberpunk Glitch

Crunch Culture

Many people will remember recently reading many articles about crunch in the games industry. How so many studios try and push their staff to the limits. Nobody explicitly says they need to work overtime, but it’s not discouraged.

The worst example is Halo 2. Microsoft pushed Bungie staff to their limits to hit the 2003 deadline, without care for anyone’s wellbeing. And this shows in the game. On Metacritic, Halo CE and Halo 3 are ranked in the 90s, but Halo 2 is only at a 71.

Former Halo composer Martin O’Donnell came up with a great metaphor at the 2014 Nordic Games Conference. He compares developers to a goose and their games to a golden egg. If you take care of the goose, it will lay more golden eggs, but if you kick the goose, it won’t want to lay any eggs. Bungie developers were being kicked by Microsoft and didn’t want to put their best effort into Halo 2 like they did with Halo CE. Which is why, while still a very good game, it is considered the worst of Bungie’s Halo trilogy.

After O’Donnell told his metaphor to an executive, they responded with “There’s nothing like a good foie gras (goose liver)”. O’Donnell still gets a chill up his spine when he thinks of that.

There’s an unspoken expectation that a certain level of crunch is required, and so far there hasn’t been a studio willing to disprove that.

CD Projekt Red’s Stance (Or Lack Thereof) on Crunch

Most people will remember that the game was originally set to release on April 16th 2020. However, this was eventually delayed to September 17th. In a statement, CDPR said they “need more time to finish playtesting, fixing, and polishing”. At the time, it seemed like they were trying to avoid crunch and give staff the time needed for a healthy work-life balance.

It looked like CDPR were actively fighting crunch and making a statement. One of the most anticipated games can be delayed and come out to critical and commercial success, despite the lack of crunch. This could have proved O’Donnell’s metaphor and potentially started a positive trend in the industry.

But the studio’s tune quickly changed. After another delay until November 19th, studio head Adam Badowski announced that staff at CDPR will have to work a 6-day week to meet their deadline. Yes, they were being paid overtime, and other studios do treat their staff worse, but that’s no excuse.

CDPR wanted Cyberpunk to be their “crowning achievement for this generation”, and it could have been. Not because it was a living breathing world, or because it offered an experience unlike anything else before it. They could have made a stance for the rights of developers and still produced a profitable game.

But instead, they released a broken game at the expense of their staff.

Should you play Cyberpunk? It’s hard to say. On one hand, you’re supporting CDPR and their practices. But on the other, these developers slaved away making this game so that it would be played, and we need to support them. It really depends on how you look at the situation.

But we can all agree that something needs to change.

Check out more articles on gaming here.

Dan Waterman

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