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  • There was some degree of runaway expectations.

  • I think there was also some degree

  • that they weren't extremely forthcoming

  • with the state of the game.

  • The Cyberpunk 2077 story is very much kind

  • of a story of everything they can

  • and will go wrong in game development.

  • What is this bug?

  • Jack, his AI flipped out.

  • It wasn't there before.

  • Where's my gun?

  • I can't shoot.

  • The release of Cyberpunk 2077 in December

  • of 2020 will go down as one of the most

  • disastrous game launches in history,

  • and it instantly rewrote the narrative

  • of it's celebrated developer, CD Projekt Red.

  • Larger studios with bigger budgets weren't able

  • to create the same quality of open world game.

  • The inside story of the making

  • of Cyberpunk depicts a process marred

  • by unchecked ambition, unrealistic timelines,

  • and a focus on marketing at the expense of development.

  • When CD Projekt stock was at its high

  • it was the largest stock in the Polish stock market.

  • Cyberpunk was supposed to be the biggest game of 2020.

  • This was a game that was starring Keanu Reeves.

  • This is a game that was

  • from the makers of The Witcher Three.

  • This was supposed to be the big temple release of last year,

  • and for it to become such a disaster for so many people,

  • I think will have pretty far reaching consequences.

  • CD Projekt's origins are somewhat unique

  • in the games industry.

  • In the West and Japan, the late eighties and nineties

  • were dominated by games for the home console market,

  • and characters like Mario and Sonic the Hedgehog

  • were becoming household names.

  • The same was not true in a post Soviet

  • and economically depressed Poland.

  • Most gaming was done on PC's and most games were copied

  • and sold in small markets around the country.

  • You could go to the market down the street

  • and buy and sell CD's,

  • and these two guys of and Marcin Iwiński

  • and Michal Kiciński decided they were going

  • to start selling CD's and they wound up striking a deal

  • with the people who made a game called Baldur's Gate,

  • which was kind of like the Seminole role-playing game

  • in the late nineties.

  • It was never a business.

  • It was kind of lifestyle.

  • So we're actually pretty bad with counting money.

  • So you can kind of think of it almost like Nike,

  • you know, where Phil Knight was selling shoes

  • out of the trunk of his car, you know.

  • You can kind of think about it the same way.

  • It was, you know, just selling physical goods

  • and then evolving that into a much broader enterprise.

  • CD Projekt, named for selling CD's, would move

  • on from just reselling games to localizing Western

  • and Japanese made games into the Polish language,

  • but it wasn't until 2002 that the company would make

  • its own game, The Witcher.

  • The Witcher is a huge, huge series,

  • huge fantasy series in Poland,

  • and so it was a pretty big deal that these guys

  • got the raise to make the video games.

  • The Witcher book series as a source of national pride

  • in Poland and as CD Projekt released The Witcher Two,

  • the video game series would become an important

  • economic symbol for Poland, as well.

  • CD Projekt Red had become this behemoth

  • of an institution in Poland and they were really big

  • in the Polish technology scene because

  • they were getting more worldwide attention

  • than most Polish companies do, and making a lot of money,

  • and in 2011, when Barack Obama came

  • to visit Poland, the prime minister actually gave

  • him a copy of The Witcher Two.

  • I confess I'm not very good at video games,

  • but I've been told that it is a great example

  • of Poland's place in the new global economy.

  • But it would be the launch of The Witcher Three in 2015

  • that would elevate CD Projekt Red from representing the best

  • of Poland to representing the best of the games industry.

  • I mean really, the thing people look

  • for first and foremost, I think, is

  • that the game is just good, and Witcher Three

  • was just a phenomenal game.

  • There's a level of just storytelling, an emphasis

  • on making every side quest count, on top of the atmosphere,

  • the dialogue, the character interactions,

  • the different ways stories can end.

  • They nail that.

  • Other open-world games felt empty and forced,

  • and the developers of them gave excuses

  • as to why there couldn't be more rich story or interactions.

  • And The Witcher Three blew them out of the water.

  • CD Projekt Red was beloved.

  • They were seen as a studio that was willing

  • to make what the player wanted and to truly put in the love

  • and effort required to make a high quality game

  • that really connects with the people playing with it.

  • And the winner for Game of the Year 2015

  • is The Witcher Three.

  • The Witcher Three would go on to win

  • over 250 Game of the Year awards,

  • but along with being a critical success

  • for CD Projekt, it was also a financial success.

  • Estimates put the sales of Witcher Three

  • at around 28,000,000 copies in 2019,

  • a huge step-up considering by 2014

  • The Witcher and The Witcher Two had only combined

  • to sell 8,000,000 copies.

  • And with two large expansions for The Witcher Three,

  • CD Projekt also helps separate themselves

  • from other AAA publishers at the time.

  • And the Game Award goes to, oh man,

  • I have to pay a microtransaction to unlock?

  • That's so stupid that this has to,

  • hold on, I got this guys, here we go.

  • Other games, and the most notorious, you know, one

  • to do this was EA's Star Wars Battlefront Two.

  • They got really aggressive on microtransactions

  • in a game that already costs at least $60.

  • You could have paid more

  • if you bought the premium editions,

  • but not only was it that they were being very aggressive

  • and trying to get you to spend money,

  • but you could actually get items that helped you win.

  • Well, gamers kind of draw the line

  • in the sand there and they don't like that.

  • CD Projekt had done this phenomenal job

  • of marketing themselves as a gamer friendly company.

  • We've said this a million times and I'll say it again.

  • We're gamers, first of all,

  • and we all like to be treated fairly,

  • so it only makes sense that as developers

  • we apply the same principle to everything

  • we do here at CD Projekt Red, so giving everyone a bunch

  • of free DLC was an absolutely no brainer.

  • They said, "We're not gonna sell you DLC,

  • that's like horse armor packs than other nonsense.

  • We're gonna just give you free stuff

  • and then we're gonna sell big expansions

  • as part of The Witcher Three."

  • And not only were they really good,

  • they were offered at a fair price.

  • And this is a company that was seen as just

  • like a company that really cared about quality

  • and cared about its customers, and would not do anything

  • to kind of screw fans over the way

  • that fans see that EA and Activision

  • and all the other big publishers do.

  • With a critically and financially successful game,

  • as well as the Goodwill from the gaming audience,

  • all the focus would shift

  • to CD Projekt's next release, Cyberpunk 2077.

  • It's actually funny.

  • They first announced it through like a press release,

  • and then they showed off a trailer at the beginning

  • of 2013 that was like the CGI trailer of like a woman

  • and it was all sorts of cool cyberpunk stuff,

  • flying cars lots of stuff, but it wasn't really

  • until after The Witcher Three that Cyberpunk began really

  • like building up this feverish level of hype.

  • CD Projekt Red, though, wouldn't put

  • out another trailer for Cyberpunk

  • until 2018 at the E3 Trade Show.

  • And they showed off a, it was

  • like a two minute trailer of Cyberpunk, looked pretty rad.

  • And then they showed behind the scenes

  • for E3 attendees, for press, and anyone else

  • who could score an appointment in there.

  • They showed this forty-five minute demo

  • and it blew people away.

  • Welcome to the gameplay demo walkthrough

  • of CD Projekt Red's upcoming title, Cyberpunk 2077.

  • The gameplay you're about to see is

  • from a work in progress version of the game.

  • Everything you see is potentially subject to change.

  • Holy .

  • This, if they can live up to what

  • they showed me, it's game over.

  • It all looked incredibly impressive.

  • They had enough action, enough narrative beats

  • with just the right amount of tension.

  • They touted how each of these NPC's,

  • there are thousands of them, each one

  • with their own daily routines and everything.

  • We've greatly enhanced our crowd and community system

  • to create the most believable city

  • in any open world game to date.

  • So, yeah, so people were certainly blown away

  • by this demo.

  • It won E3 Awards and just people left

  • the theater just in awe.

  • What they didn't know, of course, is

  • that the demo was completely fake.

  • Fake demos are common at E3.

  • Studios put together builds of games

  • that show off what they intend the game

  • to be like, rather than the actual state of the game.

  • What was unique about this demo was

  • that it was impressively long.

  • It kind of plays into this idea that CD Projekt

  • is very much a marketing driven company,

  • and so demos were really, really important to them.

  • So it was really important that they make this demo

  • blow people away, which it did,

  • but that might've come at the cost of like some time

  • they could have been spending on the game.

  • A year later at E3 2019,

  • fans would get another big surprise.

  • Whoa, no way!

  • Oh, what!

  • Please welcome Keanu Reeves.

  • Of being there, of walking the streets

  • of the future is really going to be breathtaking.

  • You're breathtaking!

  • You're breathtaking.

  • The Cyberpunk trailers showed gorgeous cities,

  • beautiful lighting, really cutting edge technology

  • when it comes to the rendering of the game itself.

  • People were very excited to be immersed

  • in this gorgeous cyberpunk world.

  • They saw over 8,000,000 pre-orders, which is a ridiculously

  • large amount for any title to sell, let alone pre-sell.

  • And you saw the stock price start

  • to go up and up and up and the right,

  • you know, pretty much in a straight line.

  • If you just look at like the Polish stock market,

  • like the WIG Index, when CD Projekt stock was at its high,

  • it was the largest stock in the index.

  • And that was around the time that they announced

  • that the game would be coming in April of 2020.

  • Behind the scenes people were pretty shocked

  • that they were saying April.

  • I don't think a single a person who worked

  • on that game actually thought they had a chance

  • of coming out in April of 2020.

  • So in April of 2019, I published an article for Kotaku

  • about the making of a game called Anthem, which is a game

  • from BioWare that was disastrous in many ways

  • and the article kind of ran through why that was.

  • And then afterwards, I started hearing

  • from other developers who had stories to share

  • that they said sounded a whole lot like Anthem's,

  • "The deadline is unrealistic, the direction keeps changing,

  • things are floundering, we're going through

  • a lot of problems, this sounds exactly

  • like what you wrote about Anthem."

  • Around that same time, perhaps coincidentally,

  • I heard from the CEO of CD Projekt Red who wanted

  • to reach out to me specifically to talk about Crunch.