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Bile instead of gold. CD Projekt’s seven cardinal sins

A recipe for a disaster, this is what people associated with gamedev and CD Projekt say about what happened with “Cyberpunk 2077”. A recipe the company has perfectly known for years, because they would re-commit the sins on numerous occasions.

CD Projekt Red Witcher Cyberpunk 2077

It is 20 December 2020. Within ten days following the premiere of “Cyberpunk 2077”, thirteen million copies were sold. An outstanding result. And not particularly surprising. The great idea of creating a new game universe has been around for eight years.

However, each consecutive message on the debut’s effects is increasingly worse. The game is full of bugs, the fans are outraged by the shortcomings, Sony withdraws “Cyberpunk 2077” from its store, Microsoft and CD Projekt themselves agree to refunding dissatisfied customers, complaints are coming in to the Office of Competition and Consumer Protection, threats of class action lawsuits in the US, the stock market valuation is falling practically all the time. And it has continued so for almost five moths that have just passed from the premiere, almost without a break.

How come “Cyberpunk 2077” transformed from the greatest hope to a symbol of a missed opportunity for something big? In order to understand why a company loved by gamers had to settle for a defeat instead of savouring success, we need to step back in time to see the drive behind CD Projekt.

What the heck cyberpunked there?

December 2019. The premiere of a game the company has been so intensively working on for five years, is due in five months. The entire gaming world is looking forward to it. Gamers’ expectations are fuelled very aptly, and the marketing department outdo themselves in promoting the novelty. On the outside, everything is actually on the final stretch. Only some details remain to be refined and the developers may, at most, seek ideas for additional firework effect worthy of a futurist story of the Night City. At the same time, however, at the company in Jagiellońska Street, it is slowly getting through to the board it was easier to arrange for Keanu Reeves as the game's face than to complete the game itself.

Late 2019, as the game making rules prescribe, vertical slice is released, which is, an internal demo showing in a thumbnail the entire game’s structure and mechanics: the missions, fighting style, graphics, music. The result is just shocking bad. “Only one percent met the requirements. It was so bad that the result was not disclosed to the whole company It was the first time something like this happened”, tells us a person from Quality Assurance.

The department dealing in game quality and testing has an entire list of requirements for a game to meet. With “Cyberpunk 2077”, the standard software life cycle was followed which, broadly speaking, has consecutive stages: pre-alfa, alfa, beta and gold. “If a project has been performed for five years now and it is due to be premiered in a few months, it should already be in no less than the beta phase and have all the features. Alfa should have the core features, beta has it all finished, yet to be refined. It should be eighty, not one percent of positively completed tasks. Such a stage should only be about polishing, which is, removing any defects. Cyberpunk was not even nearing the phase then”, our informant throws his hands up.

Beginning 2020, the game’s poor condition was confirmed by outsourcing companies which got the so-called “build” of the game, which is, its compiled version. A hundred people from QLOC are supposed to prepare, among other things, “Cyberpunk 2077” for Stadia, a platform for Google games, and see to the gameplay’s good quality. It involves identifying any errors, malfunctions and inaccuracies. This is also the task of the experts from Quantic Lab, “We have aligned our testing processes to match this incredible title’s needs and deadlines. We utilised a large team of QA Technicians and support staff to give CD Projekt Red a focused period of feedback and input that, we believe, has helped this game to be the massive success it will be”, Stefan Seicarescu, the president of Quantic Lab, will boast later.

Such companies are of help when a game producer does not catch up with certain tasks or they lack specifically trained experts. Among other things, they are hired because of their laboratories which house a few hundred various smart phones and mobile devices to test the game and check the condition of its various components at the same time. “Outsourcing companies declared it was the worst build they had ever got”, report Red’s employees.

In January 2020 a decision was made: the premiere of “Cyberpunk 2077” will be shifted until September. Marcin Iwiński and Adam Badowski, the head of CDPR studio, assure that “the game is complete and it can be played from start to finish”. The additional time, they claim, is needed to complete the tests, remove malfunctions and ultimately polish the game.

However, over the following months the finish line is not getting any closer, which is manifested in April’s so-called silent reviews. They are the game’s ‘as-is’ reviews by renown journalists as requested by the producer. CD Projekt hires three such persons from the western media. To this end they sign non-disclosure agreements, they get a PC version to check and they keep it all secret, obviously. As we managed to find out, the journalists had no good news after the tests. They anticipate that if “Cyberpunk 2077” is released in September, its average rating will slightly only exceed 60 percent. The partial rating they grant is not stunning, either: for graphics, six out of ten, RPG components, five to six, gameplay, seven, music, eight to nine.

However, the very same journalists see a light in the tunnel. In their opinion, if the release date is postponed by two to three months and the developers make it to come up with additional mechanics, and remove the most serious errors, the average rating should go up to 85 percent. Yet another scenario outlined by hired reviewers accounts for an average rating of over 90 percent. However, such an outcome would require the premiere being postponed till April 2021, removing not only the most severe errors, adding new mechanics and remaking parts of the existing ones which, the journalists find, are simply made badly. And yet, they only got the PC version to review anyway.

In June, CD Projekt decides to postpone the release by two months - until November. In October, by yet another month, until 10 December. Even though, the game will turn out to be so underdeveloped that Sony will withdraw it from its store and it will never be back again. The PC version already looks great, but on old generation consoles, PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, it does not look nor work well.

Was it as early as the beginning of 2020 that the management board of CD Projekt knew there was not a chance to deliver a fully finished product? And even though, did they allow the marketing dept. to raise the spirits and hopes around the game in the face of an immense growth of the over-optimistic stock market? Why did the board insist on releasing an incomplete game?

As you take a closer look at how the Reds have been working and delivering successful and not-so-successful projects for those years, it speaks a lot. Sadly, not many good things.

Uncoloured X-Wings

As the founders of CD Projekt and the board refused to talk to us, in spite of repeatedly being requested to do so, we decided not to quote their statements directly, even those made to other media. This time, however, we will make an exception for one important reason: one of the statements has taken on a new meaning today.

What was Marcin Iwiński’s opinion on releasing unfinished games just a few years back? He was asked the question in 2015, during a meeting at Przystanek Woodstock [the Polish Woodstock Station festival]. The founder of CD Projekt explained that such decisions were primarily motivated by market reality: “A given publisher is planning a publishing slot. Market launch promotion is aligned accordingly. They are quite complicated and expensive mechanisms. At some point, someone takes the decision that the title is released, but it’s not yet finished. Sometimes it's the end of a financial, calendar or a whatever quarter”, says Iwiński.

This alignment with the requirements of a publishing cycle was not, however, an excuse for Iwiński to release underdeveloped products: “These decisions are bad and I don't agree with them. I will always stand up for the game, because the game is the most important. There is a saying around the company: no one remembers unfinished games released on time. People want to buy a finished product. It’s as if I went to see “Star Wars” to a cinema and the spaceships were uncoloured, because they didn’t make the deadline. I would say: damn it, what kind of rubbish is this?! I find it is bad and a given game’s brand will suffer a lot”.

At Woodstock, Iwiński addressed (in the above footage it starts at 1 hour 19 min) a question about the incomplete “Batman: Arkham Knight” game published by Warner Bros and produced by Rocksteady: “What would have been MY decision? I would've probably released the title for console, and as for the PC version I would’ve said: we have to wait, we are putting finishing touches and adding a lot of content. Certainly, if you were in such a situation [at all] you should’ve stepped back in time by two years or so, and planned it differently. The games you release should be finished, because that’s what the gamer pays for”.

One of the meeting’s participants adds that “everyone's waiting for Cyberpunk”. As the game had already been talked about for three years. Or at least that is for how long CDP had theoretically been working on it. A few years later, with the upcoming release of “Cyberpunk 2077”, Iwiński will sort of forget his own words.

And it is ignoring your mistakes that pushed his company into the cyberpunk crisis. Mistakes sometimes made repeatedly, with the seven cardinal sins behind.

The sin of envy. The board’s iron grip

The company employees say that the problems of “Cyberpunk 2077” are a replay of “The Witcher 3”. And that the payrolls in Hollywood productions are sometimes shorter than the list of errors removed after that game was released. In the opinion of many employees, there is one main problem CD Projekt (and, consequently, “Cyberpunk 2077”) has. The board is keeping in iron grip the vision of what the product is to look like. Sometimes, it has the advantage that not only the grass-root employees are gaming the game. “The managers and team leads are also working on it, be it in the phases of developing consecutive demos. It lifts up the spirits”, we hear the employees saying.

However, it is more often the case of “The Witcher 3”. “Some board member said one day: “What if the Witcher could dive?” It sounded great, except that it was about some totally new quests, an environment to be designed. A lot of work to do. Someone got carried away with imagination and you had to shift the premiere”, says one of the former employees. As he says, the same was true for “Cyberpunk 2077”: “The executives were extravagant with elaborate ideas which delayed the works”.

Another employee points out to a mistake in delegating tasks: “In big companies with mature HR management, the board only outlines the tasks and the teams are delegated to work out the details on their own”. It's not a company from the days of ‘The Witcher’ part one, which was initially worked on by thirty people and everyone was still gaining experience. Yet, the board still behave this way. Their ego is too big to allow the people to work on their own.

The employees remember that with “The Witcher” it was Marcin Kiciński who inspired the most, but was also making utmost confusion in how people were working. “He would pop in like a meteor with his ideas and turn everything upside down”, recalls Ryszard Chojnowski, the then project lead.

Except that it is one thing to have a less than a 30-year-old founder of a company making its first game, and quite another to have executives with over twenty-five years of experience in managing a large company (a company that has been listed for a decade, on top of that) creating a game on which the situation of almost 1200 employees and the money of thousands of small investors depend.

The sin of pride. Biting off more than you can chew

The original plan to make “The Witcher” in a year and to release their first game by a team of no more than four, may have been considered delusional fantasy. However, it may have also been a manifestation of a great pride. It ended up in five years, almost a hundred employees and a 28 million zloty [10 million dollar] investment.

The same fate befell “The Witcher: Enhanced Edition”. In early 2008, it was announced due in May, to be ultimately released in autumn. “The Witcher 2: Assassins of Kings” for console was supposed to be released end 2011, that is, half a year after the PC premiere. Obviously, the deadline can’t have been met and it was released almost half a year later. Whereas the premiere of “The Witcher: Wild Hunt” was postponed twice. Each time, once a success was achieved, they would forget the initial leap with “The Witcher”, which turned out to be a headlong leap.

It was forgotten so effectively that the ambitions with “Cyberpunk 2077” were already flying high. While the inspiration comes from Mike Pondsmith's now-classic Cyberpunk 2020 gamebook, that is not why 2020 was chosen for the release On the contrary: for long, it would be argued that the new title would premiere in 2019.

Quite contrary to the hearsay that had been leaking from Jagiellońska for a long time that the production of “Cyberpunk 2077” was not going very well. The game was being developed on CD Projekt’s own engine, so all the mechanics had to be made from scratch. And a game from first person perspective differs from third person that “The Witcher” was. It is an entirely different scale of objects, the mechanics of shooting, hand-to-hand combat and any activities. When CD Projekt went for “Cyberpunk 2077”, none of these mechanics were accessible for starters.

Janusz Tarczykowski, the head of Rock Square Thunder studio, adds: “Additionally, they shot themselves in the foot inserting a multiplayer, which is, a mode involving a gameplay for multiple players. The problem was, the physics for a multiplayer differ a lot from those for a single player. What you need in network gameplay for instance, is determinism. A game’s physical engine works so that the physical reactions slightly vary from one computer to another, it is not repeatable. And if you play multiplayer, it always has to perform the same way for every player, so what you need is deterministic physics”. So, their engine needed physics to be made from scratch. They immensely challenged themselves right from the start.

So, CD Projekt developed at the same time both the game and the engine itself, the tool that is used to develop the game. Even if the designers come up with something, there is no way to test it if the engine is not there yet. So, people are waiting for the team working on it, except that when the engine is finished, there are always some errors and problems you have to solve. The circle is complete.

“There is a rule in programming: you will never build a complicated system from scratch. You can tell it by Amazon which set up its own games studio and claimed from the very beginning that they would make super-size productions. They employed great experts, pumped in a lot of money and thought that was enough. Meanwhile, you have to move step by step”, says Tarczykowski.

The sin of avarice. The more projects, the worse

Hardly anybody remembers today that after the premiere of the first part of Geralt’s adventures in 2007, the Reds set about not only fixing the game full of loopholes, but started working on part two almost right away. And as it wasn’t enough, a year after, they took over Metropolis studio which was working on “They”, a game they had already messed up a bit.

“Compared with the company’s previous games, “They” was supposed to be a huge title. Metropolis was looking for a partner to enable them to make something bigger. While CDP had an idea to expand the developer department by simultaneously making more big titles. It's quite a sad story, because 'They' was made for a long time, many years of alterations, but someone from the decision-makers, of whom there were already many at that point, didn't like something all the time. All in all, nothing came out of it and the project was cancelled”, recalls Jacek Brzeziński, the project head of “The Witcher”.

The main reason behind was the creative visions diverging between Michał Kiciński, who would at that time decide on production at CD Projekt, and the Metropolis team. Kiciński wanted to make a largely narrative-based game. The Metropolis people opted for an action game, not necessarily such an elaborate one. They were afraid to expand and increase costs when you do not know what will come out of it. “A committee was formed, and there’s nothing worse than a game being designed by a committee”, recalls Maciej Miąsik, the then production lead of “The Witcher”.

“The idea was to sell the game to a publisher, so they started looking for one. Still, whoever turned up, the answer was ‘no’. After a while there wasn’t much you could do about it anymore. The situation was not good enough to fuel the project with extra funds. The board found that there was no need for Metropolis as a separate studio, because they only project isn’t popular, so they were shifted to work on “The Witcher”, and the project was done away with”, recounts Miąsik.

All of that was happening against the background of serious problems related to the preparation of the console version of the first “The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf”. This console work CD Projekt decided to outsource to Windscreen Games, a French company. The idea sounded reasonable: the Reds were not competent enough, so the French were supposed to be the professional assistance. But it turned out that the company had not been adequately screened. “The French would be sending some materials for approval, but it would all somehow drag on. Finally, CDP people on the spot in Lyon checked the works’ progress. And it turned out to be a big eyewash, impudence. A number of months having passed, it was clear it would not work out”, recalls Miąsik.

In this way, a conflict with the French came right on top of game production, box-based distribution, plans for the company’s own digital distribution service, “The Witcher 2” and a couple of other projects. Not only is a vision of a console version of “The Wicher” moving away, but, as if that was not enough, Widescreen Games … are not returning the money invested in them.

It was all the more difficult that the contract with Atari, the global distributor of “The Witcher”, provided for a console version, too. Atari agreed to quit the claims on condition that the distribution agreement be prolonged.

In this way, the conflict was defused indeed, but “The Witcher” for console ultimately never came into being. What is more, with the entire project, CD Projekt were out of pocket a million dollars or so.

And they would nevertheless continue the mistake of a multitude of projects under way. Instead of completing “The Witcher 2”, they got around to part three and the remake of part one.

The sin of gluttony. Growing enthusiastic about ideas

If you take a look at the history of the Reds, the number of ultimately successful games almost equals that of failures. They never finished nor did they release, in spite of having spent more or less money on “The Witcher: Outcast” (add-on to part one), “The Witcher: Rise of the White Wolf” and “They”. Plus, hardly anybody today remembers such games as “The Witcher: Battle Arena” (for mobile devices), “The Witcher: Versus” (a browser game) or “The Witcher: Adventure” (tablets).

But they insisted on “Gwent”, a witcher card game. A game with quite a good rating, yet a bottomless pit. “More than a hundred artists were working on ‘Gwent’, that's a huge number! And huge costs. They would take it to all the world’s fairs where they rented large areas. And as if that wasn’t enough, they organised some special marketing events at castles they also rented. These are horrendous costs, tens of millions of zloties”, we are told by CD Projekt’s former employee who worked at “Gwent”.

Many people are telling us that “Gwent” was the essence of problems with project management at CDP Red. “The board insisted that it be a card game for console, although it didn’t add up, because it’s not a game type for such devices. A huge amount of money, work and effort was put into it, and finally, not much came out of it. What is more, at the same time works began on ‘Cyberpunk 2077’ which cannibalised ‘Gwent’, particularly marketing-wise”, says another employee of CDP Red who worked on “Gwent” for some time.

Following the premiere, the board as if forgot about “Gwent” and let go off steam. “At that time agile management was introduced, people started working on normal basis, crunch in the teams was only voluntary, the team heads were given more freedom and… the product finally started earning somehow”, adds a former employee of “Gwent”.

In March 2020 “Gwent” was released for Android, and on the Steam platform two months later. And the effects became apparent almost right away: console revenue for 'Gwent' in 2020 was barely… 0.2 per cent, while Android revenue was already 26 percent.

The sin of incontinence. No working culture

Cyberpunk conclusively demonstrated a philosophy that had been around at CD Projekt for years: “you will fit, go ahead!” Particularly with respect to HR management.

And it is not even crunching itself that we described at length in part three of our reporting series. But it is also about the fact that even when working after hours, the company does not manage to distribute the load evenly. “The point wasn’t to work much, but to work much within specified time limits. If you turned up at 5 AM to work in silence, when the office was still empty, nobody saw it and no one appreciated. On the other hand, if you were sitting past 8 PM, your hard work was already recognised” - we heard from testers who worked back then on the second and third part of "The Witcher”.

Although the company had serious financial problems then and it had to lay off people, it would still place more work on their shoulders, be it the fuss around the “They” game we mentioned. The Metropolis team headed by Grzegorz Miechowski soon figured out the working rules at the Reds, and they went off on their own to establish 11 bit studios.

At the same time, even the company’s board would not pay themselves salaries and focused on a desperate search for an investor. One of the attempts was to invite Zbigniew Jakubas, a millionaire, to the company. The businessman went back to the visit in our interview. “I walked through the entire floor where they worked and they didn't even lift their heads from the screens. Typically, when there is a person from outside around the company, it draws people’s attention. And I felt a grenade could go off there and nothing would happen”, he said. In fact, it was the board that ordered the employees not to hang around or enter the kitchen, just work diligently, as the then employees report, launching bitterly.

But stories about people so trained to work hard that they worked 40 days in a row without a single day off are less funny. What is more, as we hear yet other employees say, it was never so that the workload was evenly spread around the teams. Just to name crunching over “Gwent” in 2017 and 2018. “The pressure was such that people fled to “Cyberpunk 2077” in large numbers. The game was both more prestigious and not that crunch-based yet. The scale of the escape was so high that at some point the “Cyberpunk 2077” team was banned from taking on people from inside the company. After some time, a rule was even introduced that if you quit the “Gwent” job, you can only apply for the “Cyberpunk 2077” job half a year later”, recalls one of the then “fugitives”.

However, the switch from “Gwent” to “Cyberpunk 2077” was like out of the rain into the gutter. “It’s obvious crunch had been around there for long. But the worst thing is, at the same time the company’s board in 2019 made a public pledge that there would be no such practices, and that crunch would only be for those who consented”, one of the employees sighs. Still, the closer to the “Cyberpunk 2077” premiere being postponed, the more the voluntary character of crunch became a delusion.

The sin of sloth. A failure to draw conclusions

In order to stabilise the situation a bit and to add more of a professional touch to the company, in 2015 CD Projekt employed Bob Watson, an experienced manager from Ubisoft Singapur, as the QA director. Watson's task was to improve the Reds’ operations. When he joined the company, all the testers got together and they performed, as they put it, a post-mortem, namely a recap of “The Witcher 3” job. “The guy had a breakdown, started banging his head against a table in the room and he said it was impossible the game had ever been released”, recalls a QA employee.

The American survived a year at CD Projekt. The story repeated itself, because when a new art director was employed at CD Projekt in 2014, also a guy from Ubisoft, he only survived slightly longer than three months.

Buy you can’t say there are no changes under way in the company. “It's really much better than five years ago. An attitude towards crunch and the pay is different, there was an external auditor. The audit showed a sense of pay inequality and lack of trust to senior management. Still as early as in 2013, many QA or localisation people would earn salaries like those at Biedronka or Lidl [grocery shops]. It is only in 2016, after the success of “The Witcher 3”, did salaries started to rise, and instead of 80 percent, a decent 150-200 percent of base remuneration was paid for overtime, which is, in line with the Polish Employment Law”, says a QA person.

Anyway, the employee themselves back in 2019 prepared reports for the management board on market salaries, to trigger pay rise. The rise was accepted in 2020, however, assuming that the pay rise will only accompany an employee’s nearest promotion.

Still, the changes turned out to be insufficient. Based on his Linkedin bio, Piotr Krzywonosiuk, today’s executive producer at Techland, was CD Projekt's head of production until May 2020. “Which is, they replaced one of the whole product’s producer on the last stretch”, we are told by one of the employees.

Apart from him, a few key managers left CD Projekt after “Cyberpunk 2077” was already released. December 2020: Paweł Świerczyński, cinematic director, quits. March 2021: John Mamais heading the studio in Kraków and Andrzej Zawadzki, lead game designer, leave the job. All three of them had worked for the company for a long time. Yet shorter than Konrad Tomaszkiewicz, whose sudden leaving was but the most talked-about resignations.

1.02.2016 Warsaw. CD Projekt Red HQ, Konrad Tomaszkiewicz. Fot. Jacek Marczewski / Agencja Gazeta

Tomaszkiewicz joined CD Projekt seventeen years ago, going from a regular tester, through all the echelons, to become a director of “The Witcher 3”, creative director of “Cyberpunk 2077” and a vice-president for game development. And, suddenly, he quit. The company leaks show that a special board examined if his behaviour was workplace bullying. The board found no evidence for that, but our many interlocutors share the opinion of Tomaszkiewicz being a difficult, often very emotional boss.

The person concerned apologised and explained that, in spite of being cleared of the charges, he quits, because “many people feel fear, are stressed out or uncomfortable working with him”. He did not respond to our interview request.

The employees’ love for the Reds is increasingly wearing off. “People are waiting until June. It's then they’ll get the “Cyberpunk” benefits. They have to wait, because the bonus is only for those who are not even during the notice period then. These are allowances ranging from three to a dozen or so salaries, so after the grind, people simply want to make a little money. But once the benefits have been paid, a series of lay-offs will follow, because the people really have enough”, says a former QA employee.

The sin of wrath. Everybody hates CD Projekt

All of this ended up for CD Projekt with perhaps the worst blow of all: a failed game meant that the beloved, pampered gamers, for whom the company had, after all, crunched staff, turned their back on them.

“The bar was set so high, it was difficult to meet the expectations. It’s hard to be on top all the time”, says Grzegorz Zajączkowski, the Digitisation Leader of the European Commission. And he goes on to add, the gamers like underdogs. As long as you start from this position, you are the beloved developer. “And once you become a leader, people are not that understanding any more. And every mistake is taken out of proportion”, he recounts.

As if there weren’t enough problems, home office and no control over the company processes resulted in cyber criminals sensing security loopholes. “Frankly speaking, when COVID-19 outbroke, I thought it would be bad. Why? All the company's resources were taken outside, so it was far easier to find a vulnerability. The likelihood of someone out of the tens of employees missing something is significant, and when we connect through an external system, be it VPN, the protection is lesser than under traditional conditions. But the fact that an attack on quite a substantial scale was allowed to happen, does not reflect well on them nor the company. After all, it is a big listed company. It should have more risk analysis experts on board, even for the most improbable scenarios”, says Ryszard Chojnowski.

The company having lost some of their HR data, salary grid in particular, is much more serious a problem than game codes leaking (nobody will set up a pirate “The Witcher” using these solutions)”, emphasises Michał Bobrowski, in gaming for twenty years, including ten years on the board of GRY-Online SA. And he goes on to explain that poaching employees in gamedev is daily bread, because the resources of specialists are limited. In addition, China have recently been playing hard to attract people with such specialisations. “A fight for the industry’s key resources is on, so such data leaking may be quite a trouble, indeed”, says Bobrowski.

Following the leak, a lot of people associated with CD Projekt began restricting their credit cards and IDs. This is how, for example, Marcin Kosman, a journalist and a former CDP employee years ago, protected his data. “Unfortunately, it was not the case that someone from the Reds got in touch first, warned us and told us what to do”, he throws his hands up.

The stock market’s reaction to the release of “Cyberpunk 2077” was almost as hysterical: first, fuelling the expectations, and then quickly overvaluing the shares. “You have to admit that CD Projekt is very careful and downright frugal dispensing purely business information which might impact the stock market price”, explains Daniel Paćkowski, a stock market commentator, expert on gaming companies at StockWatch.pl. “Except that the company in turn has been very sensitive to any information on what’s going on in games development at the Reds’, “Cyberpunk” in particular. The clearest example is the famous "beep" tweet, after which not only the players had confirmation that the Reds had started working faster, but also the stock market price immediately went up by several points", emphasises Paćkowski.

“Eveything CD Projekt did before the premiere of “Cyberpunk” seemed perfect. Marketing, Keanu Reeves, presentations… The investors believed till the end that the game would be a tremendous success. There is only one official statement from before the premiere that I do not understand. In terms of its possible stock market impact, obviously. In autumn 2020, when Adam Kiciński insisted the game worked surprisingly well on the old generation consoles. It is hard to believe that a few days into the premiere he did not know the condition of ‘Cyberpunk’”, emphasises the expert. Indeed, right after the statement made on 27 November, the price went up by 25 zloties [6 dollars] per share overnight, to reach the record 443 zloties [117 dollars] within a few days. Today, it is around 187 zloties [48 dollars].

As you watch such investor reactions, also those following a failed premiere of “Cyberpunk 2077”, you can tell that the stock market players behaved as bit as if they were … playing CD Projekt’s games. As long as they believe in the games and the company, the price is on the increase. When they got disappointed, it began plummeting. “The Reds’ shareholding is very diluted. Apart from the company’s founders who hold less than one-fourth of the shares, there is a whole array of Polish and foreign investment funds. CD Projekt is a trendy and a liquid company. The daily shares turnover often reach hundreds of millions of zloties. No wonder then that after a hugely disappointing premiere, the company was targeted by foreign funds selling short. So far, their strategy has been paying off, as from the release of “Cyberpunk” the stock market price of the Warsaw studio has fallen by over 60 percent, which is, some 30 billion zloties [8 billion dollars], and in May, it reached the levels last seen in January 2019”, adds Paćkowski.

The wrath that poured out on the Reds for all the other sins of theirs may be the company's most serious problem today.

CDP Red dead redemption

“CDPR are the most silver-tongued sonofabitches in gaming”, says Marcin, a former tester. “The image they built around themselves … ‘We, the Reds, we are such ‘from gamers for gamers’ guys, we love you, here, help yourselves to the freebies, we’re best of all, we care about you’. And there, on the inside, it’s the worst sweatshop you can possibly imagine. Their damage control is such that, over the years to come, they will start releasing free add-ons, fix ‘Cyberpunk’. In the end, they will rebuild it and the players will be happy again”, he recounts.

These are sharp words, yet, he is not the only one. Even Reds’ supporters (and yet, they are supported by pretty much everyone, because it is a “company from Poland”, “because ‘The Witcher’”, “because they made the Polish gamedev famous”) are quite bitter anyway about what has recently cyberpunked there in the studio.

“Until the day "Cyberpunk” was released, it was with a great respect and appreciation that I followed the communication strategy of this company with the market and the players themselves. Ever since December, I’ve been at a loss to understand what they’ve exactly been up to. Anyway, it was with the first, and the second “The Witcher” that they screwed something up or had an epic fail (be it the figurines for the special edition that didn’t arrive or something was maldesigned), and yet, they would always handle such crises perfectly. They made it and continuously cared about their image. I really don’t understand why they haven’t made it this time”, sighs Michał Bobrowski, a board member of GRY-Online SA.

Jacek Brzeziński, a former project head of “The Witcher”, has no doubt that the immaculate image of CDPR was a bit on the high side. “On the other hand, though, nothing changed: CDPR is Poland’s biggest gamedev company making the most successful games (when it comes to some big Polish titles). These are indisputable facts, so it is not that CD Projekt is a shell”, says Brzeziński. And he hopes that they will learn a lesson: living on the edge of feasibility for such a big production will not always lead to a happy ending. “The question is, if this business blow following “Cyberpunk” was strong enough for the ultimate decision makers to learn the lesson”, he recaps.

“It's not a company dependent on processes and structure. It’s people-dependent. And maybe it’s ok, because it has to be agile”, recounts one of the Polish gamedev veterans, who for years been cooperating with CD Projekt. “They knew how to fall and pick themselves up. If necessary, they knew how to escape. After all, they have faced bankruptcy on several occasions and they always dodged an axe somehow. And, last but not least, they always grew stronger, The point is, you can’t tell it now. First of all, you can’t tell it by their brand new strategy. I expected a bomb would go off, something that will blow you away and people will fall in love with them again. And this time, everything is so flabby, expressionless and conservative. Sadly, you can tell they have no idea how to regain what they’ve lost, and what drove the entire company: the love of the gamers”, he adds.

Jakub Wątor

Jakub Wątor,
Sylwia Czubkowska,
Marek Szymaniak,
Matylda Grodecka

Patrycja Lewandowska
użyte fotografie:
Adam Tuchliński/Tuchlinski Studio

Photos (in order):
graphic Sandro Katalina;
Cyberpunk 2077 ad, Banhkok, fot. Wachiwit/Schutterstock;
CD Projekt Red logo, fot. Robson90 /Shutterstock.com;
Geralt-actor, fot. Stasia04 /Shutterstock.com;
Gamesday, Kiev 2011, fot. Sergey Galyonkin/Flicker;
Grafika Cheng Feng;
CD Projekt HQ in Warsaw, fot. Jakub Wątor;
Cyberpunk2077 promotion, fot. Stuttestock.com/Daniel Krason;
Konrad Tomaszkiewicz,
Fot. Jacek Marczewski / Agencja Gazeta;
Cyberpunk girl, fot. Roman3dArt/Schutterstock;
Cyberpunk 2077, fot. ALensAndSomeLuck/Schutterstock