'Actually, the game is playable right now': Making sense of CD Projekt's investor call on Cyberpunk 2077

It's been six days since Cyberpunk 2077 launched and CD Projekt's head honchos tackled questions about bugs, refunds and more

"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," said Michał Nowakowski, CD Projekt's VP of business development and board member, at Monday's investor call. According to the call transcript, he added, "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."

Is Cyberpunk 2077 'playable'?

Technically, Nowakowski isn't wrong.

Cyberpunk 2077 does launch and actually has a very nice-looking launch screen.

And the experience was 'far from satisfactory' for a whole lot of people — as per CD Projekt, 41 percent of the eight million pre-orders came from console-owners. That's around 3.28 million games, of whom a majority are ostensibly last-generation console-owners.

We'll get into the rest of the investor call momentarily, but for now, let's stay on this remark by Nowakowski that raises a couple of questions:

First, when asked about how the game's performance on the base PlayStation 4 and Xbox One on the 30 November CD Projekt group audio webcast (relating to the financial results of Q3 2020), company joint CEO and president Adam Kiciński noted, "Of course a bit lower than on pro consoles, but surprisingly good, I would say, for such a huge world. That's the answer." This, in turn, raises two other questions: Was it that the fact that the game was able to run at all a surprise to Kiciński or did they not believe they needed to take more than a cursory look at the performance? After all, as Nowakowski admitted on Monday, "We definitely did not spend enough time looking at [last-gen performance]."

Second, it's understandable that he felt the need to make the remark at the top of this piece. After all, when the world — or a significant part of it anyway — is savaging his company's work, he'd be obliged to find the middle ground between issuing a mea culpa and defending the hard work that has undoubtedly gone into the game. But was it prudent, or indeed sensitive (to disgruntled consumers), to do so at this juncture? Surely, getting pedantic about what does and doesn't constitute 'unplayable' is best saved for a better place and time, and also won't really assuage the concerns of gamers unable to get a satisfactory experience out of Cyberpunk 2077.

'There's nothing wrong... there is optimisation to be handled'

It's been more than apparent for a while that the biggest reason for people being up in arms at Cyberpunk 2077's launch was the litany of bugs and glitches with which the game was (and remains) replete. On Monday, Joint CEO and co-founder of CD Projekt Marcin Iwiński said, "It's a gigantic world so at launch there'll always be some glitches and problems on various configurations, but with regard to the console experience — we already fixed a lot of crashes with the last hotfix, and this time again we will be mostly looking at crashes and game-breaking bugs."

That he acknowledged 'game-breaking' bugs is interesting, because just a couple of short weeks earlier, Kiciński had claimed, "[We] believe the level of bugs will be low enough that they will not stand out from the perspective of gamers. Unfortunately, some bugs which came up in extended previews were related to the game's general features, so to speak, and many of them are already fixed."

Whether this was just plain insincere or wishful thinking is unknown, but what is known is that gameplay footage from base last-gen consoles was never shown to the public. "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... we were just fixing the game until the very last moment," said Iwiński.

There seems to be some incongruence here, because in June last year, lead quest designer Paweł Sasko said, "Right now we're focussing on PC, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One... One of the things we learned with The Witcher 3 was, you should not delay working on the console versions, ever. So at all times we have a version running for everything." In terms of the performance on last-gen consoles, he added, "But the important thing to us is it will be fluid, it will play on your machine."

A month later, CD Projekt's Alvin Liu told one publication that "the graphics are quite amazing for what you’re going to get from Cyberpunk 2077 on consoles and low-end PCs" and told another, "[We're] focussing on delivering a really good experience on current-gen consoles. When the next generation happens, we'll assess and figure out the best way forward. I would say that we are not a greedy company, so fans should expect a very fair offering with whatever we decided to do."

Incidentally and as recently as the teleconference on 28 October after the announcement that Cyberpunk 2077 would be delayed until 10 December, Nowakowski had said, "I wouldn't say there is a 'problem' because there’s nothing wrong with Xbox or PS4 versions — there is optimisation to be handled." Seconds later, he repeated, "There is no problem with Xbox or PlayStation 4, to be honest."

Somewhere something went awry. But what? The jury's still out... we guess.

Should you get a refund?

A little ahead of the investor call, CD Projekt put out a statement via its social media channels apologising for the game's last-gen performance and offering pre-order customers the option to get a refund. "We are not encouraging gamers to return the game," said Iwiński on the call, adding, "[We] hope they'll give us a chance to improve it on old-gen consoles. One fix was released last weekend; another one is coming in seven days... we've just begun the process and we sincerely hope that gamers will prefer to wait for updates since they had waited so long for the game, but — again — this is our humble hope."

When asked if special provisions had to be made for Cyberpunk 2077 refunds, Nowakowski said, "Anyone who has purchased any title on the PlayStation Network or the Microsoft storefront can ask for a refund, and if it’s made within certain boundaries, usually related to time, usage and so on, can ask for that refund. Our procedure here with Microsoft and Sony is not different than with any other title released on any of those storefronts."

If contacting the store (should you have a physical copy) or Microsoft/PSN (if it's a digital copy) doesn't work, dissatisfied customers have until 21 December to get in touch with CD Projekt (helpmerefund@cdprojektred.com) to get their money back.

Should you hold off and stick with the game?

"We definitely want to fix the game; we made a promise to gamers and we'll be doing everything to stick with it," vowed Nowakowski on the Monday call, adding, "In terms of the shape of the game after optimisation..., 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."

Elaborating on this, Kiciński noted, "The first substantial set of fixes was released over the weekend (12 and 13 January). The next set of fixes will be released within the next seven days. Big updates are planned for January and February, together with smaller fixes."

So, what did we learn?

Essentially, the investor call revealed a mix of contrition, optimism, bullishness, the sort of consumer-first approach that has made CD Projekt a darling of gamers worldwide and a tiny bit of petulance. The most key takeaway was that the developers clearly neglected last-gen consoles — not that the game runs flawlessly on the PS5 or Xbox Series X either — in the development process and tried to rush for a photo-finish.

Considering Cyberpunk 2077 was originally slated for an April 2020 release, one shudders to imagine the sort of disrepair it must have been in back then. This raises the most important question of all: Just what was CD Projekt upto for the eight years since the game was announced?

Find latest and upcoming tech gadgets online on Tech2 Gadgets. Get technology news, gadgets reviews & ratings. Popular gadgets including laptop, tablet and mobile specifications, features, prices, comparison.