Chronicling CD Projekt Red’s Fall From Grace

By Spaulding Bingaman

On December 3rd 2015, CD Projekt Red swept the Game Awards with their surprise hit The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, winning numerous awards including the highly coveted Game of the Year award. Taken within the context of 2015, CD Projekt Red’s approach towards free downloadable content and pro-consumerist policies was seen as a breath of fresh air in the midst of much public discontent surrounding microtransactions and corporate greed plaguing the gaming industry. Hailed as one of the greatest games of all time, The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt set an extremely high bar for CD Projekt Red’s next game. Fast forward December 2020, and the once-beloved CD Projekt Red is experiencing a profound drop in consumer faith and stock value following their release of Cyberpunk 2077. But what could have gone so horribly wrong for the pro-consumer image of CD Projekt Red to fall so sharply and so fast?

Debuting two years before the release of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt, the trailer for Cyberpunk 2077 immediately captured the eye of gamers and non-gamers alike. Glistening with beautiful graphics and a highly detailed world to boast, the trailer famously concluded with the phrase “coming when it’s ready” to signify the potential release date. As the years went on, the hype for the game followed suit, peaking with the now-famous E3 2019 announcement by Keanu Reeves. Originally set to release in April 2020, Cyberpunk 2077 was beset by numerous delays, each one drawing more public ire than the last. 

Ultimately caving to public pressure and the financial prospects of the holiday season, CD Projekt Red proclaimed a final release date for December 10th, 2020, nearly seven years after the game’s initial announcement. But things did not look right. Starting with the review process, CD Projekt Red management exclusively provided reviewers with PC copies of the game, neglecting the chance to view performance on last-generation consoles. Secondly, gaming outlets and reviewers were not allowed to show their own gameplay footage until the game’s release, disallowing the ability to view the buggy state of the release. Nevertheless, Cyberpunk 2077 accumulated a record number of over eight million pre-orders, and the anticipation for the release was like no other. And then the game launched.

 Although Cyberpunk 2077 was sure to fall short of many gamers’ expectations due to the exceedingly high bar that hovered over the release, the initial consumer feedback has been disastrous for CD Projekt Red. Riddled with countless graphical and technical issues, Cyberpunk 2077 has achieved a level of public blowback rivaling that of 2018’s Fallout 76. While playing Cyberpunk 2077 on a high-end PC and next-gen consoles does live up to many of the promises made by CD Projekt Red, the broken technical state of the base Xbox One and PlayStation 4 consoles has led to a large outcry for refunds. In comparison to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt’s 10/10 review from IGN, the base console versions of Cyberpunk 2077 have received a 4/10 from IGN as well as scoring disastrously low on Metacritic. 

Within four days following the launch, CD Projekt Red issued a public apology with promises of fixing the numerous technical issues, as well as guaranteeing refunds for console and PC players. Although the message was seen as a sign of good faith from the once-beloved developer, there is still a heavy feeling of discontent throughout the gaming community. To make matters worse, on December 18th 2020, Sony Interactive Entertainment announced that Cyberpunk 2077 would be removed from the PlayStation store “until further notice” and that everyone who had purchased the title would be receiving a full refund. Not only will the move by Sony undoubtedly hurt Cyberpunk 2077’s sales within the holiday season, but the optics of having their game removed from the PlayStation store casts a heavy shadow on the once adored CD Projekt Red. 

In an emergency meeting with investors, CD Projekt Red president, Adam Kiciński, detailed that the company’s sole focus will be on regaining the “trust and reputation” of the gaming community by fixing the poor last generation performance and apologizing for the shrouded review process. Although The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt released with numerous bugs and technical issues, the extreme hype and future disappointment surrounding Cyberpunk 2077, seems to have broken the camel’s back. While CD Projekt Red has not garnered the level of infamy of competitors such as EA, Activision, or Bethesda, the disastrous release of Cyberpunk 2077 will act as an albatross for future CD Projekt Red releases.