The 'Cyberpunk' Problem

  • by , Op-Ed Contributor, December 24, 2020

If you keep an eye on general news, you’re likely to have seen the name "Cyberpunk," a video game featuring Keanu Reeves set in a dystopian future with tons of cyborgs and body modification,popping up a lot lately.

Normally, you would see news about gaming on specialty gaming sites, but this news has even gotten attention from outlets like The New York Times and BBC News.

Why do so many people care?

Over the past few months, many gamers shed doubt on the much-anticipated release of game developer CD Projekt Red's "Cyberpunk 2077." Created by the same folks who made "The Witcher 3"(yes, the one that turned into the most viewed ever season one on Netflix, is ranked the 18th best PC game and 10th best console game of all time on Metacritic), "Cyberpunk" set incredibly high expectations after releasing its first trailer on YouTube back in 2013.

Well, after three delays this year alone, the game finally released on December 10th with a plethora of issues that no one could have anticipated. While players on Next-Gen consoles like the Xbox Series X and PCs didn't experience as many issues, players on Xbox Ones and PS4s encountered a plethora of game-breaking bugs.

For example, many of the AI characters in the game were stuck in mannequin-like states, or popping here and there around an area to such a degree that players could not interact with them. As a game built on the promise of its storytelling and world immersion, non-playable characters breaking the game is a bad, bad sign.

In response to the widespread criticism of the game, the developer team put out a statement apologizing for all the bugs, promising quick updates over the next two months that would address all these issues, and even going so far as to offer full refunds for anyone that puts in a request over the next week.

Sony, owners and creators of PlayStation consoles, went a step further and removed the game from the PlayStation store as well as offering refunds.

Even on the devices that do run the game properly without bugs, the game is not necessary all that it was hyped up to be.

As someone who played "The Witcher 3" as well, I thought back to why I enjoyed that game so damn much. The characters had incredible depth, they behaved like I imagine real people in the middle of a magical world would, and the main character in particular felt genuine.

Though my run of "Cyberpunk" on my Xbox Series X has not been glitch-free, I have found the world, the choices, and the gameplay lacking in many ways.

The dialogue is very surface-level, the combat becomes incredibly repetitive quickly, and Keanu Reeves (who voices and is used as the likeness for one of the main characters) is neat to have in the game, but was made into an overly toxic, angry guy emulating an 80s rock star that fans don't really associate with the internet's beloved Keanu Reeves or his hero characters from "The Matrix" or "John Wick." Just my two cents.

Other than the critical error of releasing a game before it's truly ready, "Cyberpunk" also gave too little a look into its gameplay -- or rather, no honest look at all. The marketed promise of "Cyberpunk" and what we got -- bugs and issues aside -- are two very different things.

Generally, games like "Cyberpunk" are given to journalists and reviewers shortly in advance of release so they can get their first looks and thoughts out to gamers looking to buy.

But in this case, journalists and others were forbidden from sharing video, and could only play the game on PC. Little known fact: while consoles are generally what we imagine when we think of gaming, consoles are only just catching up to the capabilities of PCs when it comes to running high-quality games.

So what people saw of "Cyberpunk" before release was entirely on the best graphics and processing power that money can buy (PCs) and not on the next-gen or last-gen consoles. Plus, all the reviewers signed a NDA, which made whatever was released about the game carefully selected by CD Projekt Red.

Amidst tons of refund requests, gamer Reddit rants, and a lot of game-breaking but hilarious glitches, CD Projekt Red's stock has dropped 41% and counting over the course of December.

This all goes to show that gamers are an audience you don't want to disappoint, and highlights the continued importance of authenticity and transparency with this audience -- and that goes for publishers, developers, and most importantly for marketers as they become more immersed in the gaming realm, whether through inclusion in games or advertising in games, gamers are quick to react, and marketers can ill afford to antagonize them.

The backlash could be more than they can handle. They are not your couch potato, passive, remote-controlled viewers whose expression of discontent is simply fast-forwarding through the commercial.

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