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Cyberpunk 2077 game director Gabe Amatangelo explained in his DICE 2024 talk that the game's calamitous launch didn't just hit the studio's morale—but the people around it too.

Bryant Francis, Senior Editor

February 23, 2024

4 Min Read
Cyberpunk 2077 protagonist V stands in front of a skyscraper.
Image via CD Projekt Red.

At a Glance

  • Cyberpunk 2077's original launch was so calamitous, Sony temporarily removed it from its digital storefronts.
  • CD Projket Red would successfully revitalize the game—but the sting of temporary failure went beyond the studio's walls.

It's no surprise that Cyberpunk 2077's rough launch tanked morale in developer CD Projekt Red. Game director Gabe Amatangelo began his 2024 DICE talk by acknowledging that fact. Ignoring it wouldn't make any sense. If you want to discuss how the studio turned the game from a buggy mess (the PlayStation 4 version had so many errors it and the PS5 version were removed from the PlayStation digital store) to a sales powerhouse that could propel a premium DLC release to multi-million dollar success, you have to stare failure in the face.

But there was more to Cyberpunk 2077's initial struggle than meets the eye. Amatangelo shared some key anecdotes from the first weeks of revitalizing Cyberpunk 2077 that tell us more about the impact of such failures beyond the studio—how it hit the personal pride and sense of identity among some people in the company's home country of Poland.

CD Projekt Red is a beloved company in Poland. Its adaptation of the Witcher series (which some Polish developers have described to us as "Poland's version of The Lord of the Rings" in terms of popularity) was a global success, and the country's many Witcher-worshipping fans adored that the studio and author Andrzej Sapkowski could be claimed as major cultural exports. Advertisements for Cyberpunk 2077 lit up the skyscrapers of Warsaw as anticipation ran high for what was expected to be a blockbuster launch—and then the mood soured when the launch went bad.

Inside the studio, Amatangelo recalled the despair among many employees who'd joined the company out of college and had spent years laboring on the game. But he realized trouble was brewing outside the company shortly after the showerhead broke in his apartment. The American expat (whose Polish still needed polishing) filed a ticket for its repair, but his landlord didn't sent a maintenance technician over for weeks. He swung by the landlord's office and asked if someone could come by.

"You work at CD Projekt Red?" his landlord asked. "Yes," Amatangelo replied.

"I bought Cyberpunk. I have a PlayStation 4." the man replied.

The exhausted Amatangelo descended into a ramble about how the company was working on the game, it was trying to improve memory management, improving in streaming in assets, and other technical fixes. "We're working on it, we're working on it," he pleaded.

Then he asked about the showerhead. He got a deadpan reply: "We're working on it."

This might have been snark from one disgruntled player, but things took a turn when Amatangelo visited his local coffee shop. It was where he practiced his Polish with the barista, who seemed not to speak a lick of English. "One day, after lunch, I came to get my coffee, I was having a good day, and she went—she never spoke English with me, this was the first time [she did.]"

"She was like 'CD Projekt. What happened?'"

If your barista is suddenly switching languages to interrogate you about your video game launch, something has gone very, very wrong.

Video games, for better for worse, are predominant pieces of pop culture

Amatangelo's talk shifted here into about how CD Projekt Red assembled a recovery plan for Cyberpunk 2077, with discussions about team morale and trying to go beyond bugfixes and into punching up the power fantasy of a cyberpunk world. But his discussion of what he experienced among Polish people stood out as a notable moment for how the art and science of game development has evolved.

"Cultural exports" may feel invisible to those in countries that produce so much media and entertainment that we forget how little of such products we consume from overseas. The United States may be the greatest example of this, with Hollywood films and television being blasted across the globe. It's why other countries subsidize media production and impose requirements on broadcasters and media outlets to add local productions to their lineup.

Video games have slowly been gaining versions of those subsidies but there's little ability to pressure Steam, Xbox, PlayStation, or Nintendo to prioritize local distribution. The decline of video game retail sales also weakens the ability to regulate local cultural development.

Luckily enthusiasm for locally-made games has emerged in regions like Germany and Poland. But that cultural power raises the stakes for studios like CD Projekt Red. When Washington-based 343 Industries struggled to capitalize on Halo Infinite's strong launch, the subsequent morale dip definitely hit employees, ex-employees, and friends and family the hardest.

But as Game Developer community editor Holly Green pointed out to me, the greater Seattle area is the home of oversized flannels, grunge rock, and a bevy of fine coffee brands. It could easily shrug off a mismanaged Halo debut.

Developers who want to grow global game development should look at Poland's reaction to the Cyberpunk 2077 launch with some solemnity. If our industry is seeking tax credits and subsidies across the globe to bolster game development as an economic and cultural booster, it needs to internalize the power of cultural pride.

It's a joyous thing to see games can be elevated to such widespread fanfare—but failure to meet the moment may let down more than developers and the people playing your game.

About the Author(s)

Bryant Francis

Senior Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Bryant Francis is a writer, journalist, and narrative designer based in Boston, MA. He currently writes for Game Developer, a leading B2B publication for the video game industry. His credits include Proxy Studios' upcoming 4X strategy game Zephon and Amplitude Studio's 2017 game Endless Space 2.

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