CD Projekt Insiders: Over-ambition and haste plagued Cyberpunk development

CD Projekt Red knew about the many bugs and performance issues in Cyberpunk 2077 at the time of release, but the company simply didn’t give itself the time to fix them. A pattern of over-ambition and too much haste stems from a series of employee interviews conducted by Bloomberg.

Bloomberg game journalist Jason Schreier spoke with more than twenty current and former CD Projekt employees, many on condition of anonymity. One of the first points he makes is that CD Projekt CEO Marcin Iwiński states in a recent apology video that the game “didn’t show a lot of its technical problems in the testing phase.” The interviewees contradict this and state that many problems were known, but that there was simply not the time to fix them. There was also a lot of pride in the higher echelons of the studio in general because it has The Witcher 3, a widely loved and very large-scale game to its name.

Want to achieve ambitious goals quickly

The piece also paints a picture of a development process that was very rushed for several reasons. One of those reasons was the release of the new generation Xbox and PlayStation: CD Projekt would have liked to make a double impact by releasing the game first on the older generation consoles and then back in the spotlight with its Xbox-specific versions. Series S/X and PlayStation 5.

Furthermore, the studio would have struggled with developing the new engine for the game and the content of the game itself simultaneously. An employee describes it as ‘running a train while you are still laying the track just in front of it’. He or she says that would have been much easier if the tracklayers had a few months’ head start, but they didn’t.

The studio’s ambition also led to a lot of crunch, working often and a lot of overtime. Officially, this was not required from the studio, but employees did not feel free to leave the premises at healthy times. At such moments it was stated, for example, that ‘other colleagues should work more hours’ so that one could go home on time. Bloomberg also published an article about this in December.

New director in 2016, development process ‘reset’

Also the switch to first-person perspective would have been a challenge for the studio. That would have required new personnel, technology and techniques. This move was part of a major change of direction that development had to make in 2016, under the new direction of Adam Badowski, who was previously studio head. At that point, “reset was essentially pressed.” The story and gameplay also had to be overhauled. Due to differences of opinion about this change of course, several studio veterans who worked on The Witcher 3 have also left.

Another pain point would be the 48 minute demo from 2018. It would have been “largely fake” because the underlying gameplay systems were simply unfinished. Those images would therefore not really be described as gameplay, but more as a cutscene. The employees state that “months” could have been saved if they didn’t have to make that demo.

In order to realize both the ambitions and the desired speed, CD Projekt took on many new staff. However, the interviewees speak of language barriers between Polish and international workers and of a general sense of disorganization due to the rapid growth. Ultimately, 500 names are in the credits of the game, but that is still little compared to the thousands who worked on Grand Theft Auto V, for example, says Schreier. Finally, due to the corona pandemic, working from home did not contribute to effective mutual communication. As a result, the console devkits that were with the studio were less used, while they accurately reflected the technical state of the game, as opposed to builds that run on a PC at home developers.

CD Projekt asks for patience, works on bug fixes, still responds to publication

CDPR currently plans to release another patch for the game this month. There will be another update in the weeks that follow. New content for the RPG will also be delayed to give priority to improving the game’s technical state, which is experiencing issues across all platforms. CD Projekt of the week announced this in its second excuse video. As an indication of the current state of the game, it has not yet returned from its absence from the PS Store.

Although CD Projekt did not officially collaborate on Schreier’s play, Adam Badowski, director since 2016, has still commented. He defends the 48-minute demo from 2018 by saying that’s what the work in progress watermark is for. He doesn’t talk about the relationship between scripted scenes and functioning gameplay. He also thinks it is exaggerated to make statements about what 500 employees thought and felt during the development process when he has spoken to 20 of them.

Schreier, in turn, thanks Badowski for the response, reminding him that the studio didn’t want to collaborate on the piece, but said they are always welcome to come back and give more of their perspective.