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Cyberpunk 2077's development still bad mainly due to crunch, not "fake" E3 demos

Resist the urge to feel like the wronged party

A Bloomberg report into the development of Cyberpunk 2077 has shared further details of the game's troubled creation and launch. Journalist Jason Schreier spoke to twenty current and former CD Projekt Red employees, who shared stories of crunch, poor planning, the challenges of the studio's rapid growth, and more. Among this was the detail that Cyberpunk 2077's E3 2018 demo was "almost entirely fake".

It's tempting to dwell on this one fact, because it makes us, as players, the wronged party of Cyberpunk 2077's development. Probably that should still be the developers who worked months of 13 hour days, though.

The report is interesting if somewhat par for the course. Employees of CD Projekt Red told Bloomberg in the report of "a development process marred by unchecked ambition, poor planning and technical shortcomings." They also discuss how the consequences of these issues led to some being pressured into working "extensive overtime," as has been reported previously.

A lot of the issues mentioned are familiar from other recent development-gone-wrong tales. For example, one of the major issues during production was CD Projekt Red's decision to develop the engine technology for Cyberpunk 2077 at the same time as the game itself. "One member of the team compared the process to trying to drive a train while the tracks are being laid in front of you at the same time."

CDPR declined to comment for the story or to make its developers available for interview, but studio head Adam Badowski responded to the article at length via Twitter, albeit focused on only a handful of points.

In particular Badowski addresses the claim from the Bloomberg article that Cyberpunk 2077's E3 2018 demo was "almost entirely fake."

"It's hard for a trade show game demo not to be a test of vision or vertical slice two years before the game ships, but that doesn't mean it's fake," writes Badowski. "Compare the demo with the game. Look at the Dumdum scene or the car chase, or the many other things. What the people reading your article may not know is that games are not made in a linear fashion and start looking like the final product only a few months before launch. If you look at that demo now, it's different yes, but that's what the "work in progress" watermark is for. Our final game looks and plays way better than what that demo ever was."

I fear that "fake" is too sexy a word to resist. It suggests a great and unusual deception has been committed against us, the audience, when the reality is that lots of games bodge their trailers and presentations together to cover for features that are not yet fully implemented. It's possible for these smoke-and-mirrors to cross a line, but most developers act in good faith - and most people in the audience, I believe, understand what "work in progress" means.

The reasons why Cyberpunk 2077 has problems are wholly unsexy - poor planning, technical shortcomings, etc. - and are the same unsexy reasons why most bad or broken games are bad or broken. These issues are, to its credit, the focus of Schreier's article. Disappointingly, they have not been the focus of the discussion and secondary reporting that's followed, the vast majority of which has been about that "fake" E3 demo.

Least sexy of all are yet more stories of developers being pressured into working crunch hours in the production of the game. It's much easier to feel delicious outrage at words like "fake" (see also: "downgrade", "cut content") than at stories that centre others as the wronged party. Particularly stories that we have heard too many times before.

The article quotes Adrian Jakubiak, a former audio programmer at CDPR. "There were times when I would crunch up to 13 hours a day — a little bit over that was my record probably — and I would do five days a week working like that," he said. He quit the company after getting married. "I have some friends who lost their families because of these sort of shenanigans."

It is possible to be angry at two things at once, but far too many people will care too much about the "fake", and not at all about the crunch.

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Graham Smith avatar

Graham Smith

Deputy Editorial Director

Rock Paper Shotgun's former editor-in-chief and current corporate dad. Also, he continues to write evening news posts for some reason.