In a predictable turn of events every time a highly anticipated game comes along, we inevitably see the majority of consumers ravenously excited about said game. Rarely do you see those with the power to influence consumers’ purchasing decisions try to temper such hype. You primarily see a hive mind mentality, hyping up the game, pushing their collective excitement higher and higher to unrealistic levels.
It’s no surprise, then, that you almost never see a call for cooler heads to prevail, for more reasoned thought, for a more pragmatic approach. Note, this more pragmatic approach doesn’t mean one must strip away all emotion. But it’s crucial to accept the fact that one can be excited for a game while still viewing it armed with critical thinking.
The latest example of such hype is, of course, CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077. Last week, CDPR released a 48 minute narrated gameplay walkthrough of the the demo they showed to press behind closed doors at E3 earlier this year. No doubt, a lot — if not all — gamers wanted to see this footage. And while I am looking forward to the game and want to learn more, I don’t believe CDPR should have published this E3 footage to the public this soon.
Throughout the demo, a persistent “Work In Progress” watermark was prevalent at the top, indicating that this footage is not final. Indeed, the narrator himself brought up this fact multiple times at various points throughout the demo.
CDPR’s intent here was clear: This is unfinished code. Do not view this footage as representative of the final game. Gameplay may change. Graphics may change. Mechanics may change. They wanted to temper gamers’ expectations on this highly anticipated game.
I work with a team of developers for my day job, so I know firsthand that things can and do change drastically throughout the course of development. CDPR’s disclaimers are entirely reasonable and make perfect sense. My issue here is not with CDPR’s disclaimers.
The problem is, this is not how human nature works. Despite what CDPR’s intent is here, consumers won’t care. They’re so excited to see footage of this game so much that they’ll let their own hype blind them. Regardless of CDPR’s reasoning and their intent, people will now think of this footage as the baseline against which to compare all future footage and gameplay. It does CDPR no favors.
The mistake was CDPR releasing the footage after knowing, and indeed acknowledging, what they had done during Witcher 3’s marketing cycle. Keep in mind, it is entirely reasonable here to accept that Cyberpunk 2077 is a far more anticipated game than Witcher 3, due largely in part to the latter’s runaway success. Every successive game from CDPR has been more anticipated than the last, building on the success of the previous game.
In fact, nearly half a million people watched the reveal on Twitch. That’s half a million people who now have this this footage as a baseline on which to judge all future footage, despite what CDPR wants or says. According to game statistics site Githyp,
“CDPR’s official stream on Twitch saw a peak of 288k viewers — while there were a total of 459k concurrent viewers watching when factoring in restreams — making Cyberpunk 2077 the most watched game on Twitch [last Monday].”
For Cyberpunk 2077 to be this highly anticipated and for CDPR to still hit the same marketing beats as Witcher 3 is frustrating to see. Showing early footage of the game is exactly what CDPR did with Witcher 3. This infamously led to the whole downgrade controversy that clouded Witcher 3 up to and past its release.
Following the release of the game, Eurogamer interviewed the developers and asked them about this. Company co-founder Marcin Iwinski said the following,
“Maybe we shouldn’t have shown that [trailer], I don’t know, but we didn’t know that it wasn’t going to work, so it’s not a lie or a bad will – that’s why we didn’t comment actively. We don’t agree there is a downgrade but it’s our opinion, and gamers’ feeling can be different. If they made their purchasing decision based on the 2013 materials, I’m deeply sorry for that, and we are discussing how we can make it up to them because that’s not fair.”
This is CDPR expressing doubt and remorse over the fact that the initial footage they showed off for Witcher 3 gave gamers a misleading first impression of the game. This is because a first impression is so powerful that it becomes the benchmark against which all future gameplay is judged. Like I mentioned above, this is simply human nature. First impressions are incredibly powerful and cannot be underestimated in the slightest.
Yet despite this doubt and remorse, CDPR is hitting the exact same marketing beats with a game that’s even more highly anticipated. To me, this showcases a serious dissonance not between CDPR and their consumers, but amongst CDPR themselves. They are seemingly forgetting what happened last time and are pushing forward anyway.
CDPR doesn’t want people to judge the footage, except this is exactly what people will do and now consider the baseline when viewing any future footage. You can tell CDPR is worried of this because of how many times they mentioned during the video that this is a work in progress. This concern is also backed up by their press release after they revealed the footage.
“What we’re releasing today was recorded from a game deep in development. Since many of the assets and mechanics in the current version of Cyberpunk 2077 are most likely to be modified, we initially decided to show this gameplay only to media. Elements like gunplay (both in terms of visuals and how RPG stats influence it), netrunning, car physics, or the game’s UI — everything’s pretty much still in the playtest phase and we felt uneasy about publicly committing to any particular design. Animation glitches, work-in-progress character facial expressions, early versions of locations — all this made us hesitant to release what you’re about to see.
“However, we are also well aware that many of you want to see what the media saw. Although this is probably not the same game you’ll see on your screen when we launch, we still decided to share this 48-minute video with you. This is how Cyberpunk 2077 looks today. Let us know what you think!”
Some may say that this happened with Witcher 3, yet it sold well. This is missing the point entirely. My concern will never be about sales. I do not care about the financials of these companies. Neither should you. This is about perception and understanding human behavior.
The media isn’t helping in this regard. In fact, they’re contributing to and catalyzing the hype. This is completely anathema to the job of media, and is a complete abdication of their responsibility and obligation to the consumer. Articles like this one from PC Gamer are doing exactly the opposite of how CDPR wants people to perceive this gameplay. This just proves that no matter what CDPR’s explanation is for showing the footage early, people will get sucked into the hype and will use this footage to judge any and all future footage.
In fact, we have even more proof of this already happening with Spider-Man. People are getting legitimately angry that developer Insomniac Games removed a puddle from an earlier demo. It’s absolutely maddening and completely irrational, but this is what happens when you release footage too early.
We also already have comparisons being done on Cyberpunk 2077 itself with YouTube videos like this. People are already claiming downgrades compared to E3.
CDPR controls the conversation. Simply by releasing this footage, CDPR has invited controversy by letting people compare footage and claiming a downgrade. This is the mistake. This oversight of human behavior is the mistake. This seemingly outward lack of lessons learned from the Witcher 3 downgrade controversy is the mistake.
Some may suggest waiting to see footage at next year’s E3 and then see if CDPR made a mistake by revealing footage this year. But this just proves my point. We shouldn’t have to wait to see if a downgrade happened. The fact that one can even suggest to wait for future footage proves my point because there shouldn’t even be any footage to compare against in the first place.
Personally, I’m not going to get hyped off of this footage despite what most people will do. My sentiment will no doubt annoy some folks and they may accuse me of being contrarian or that I’m “not letting people enjoy things”. There is a difference between people enjoying things, and people allowing hype to drive their excitement. It is the job of the media to ensure the latter does not happen.
But it’s important to understand why such people will accuse people like me of “not letting people enjoy things.” This is simply because I’m saying something that is challenging their belief. They want to believe Cyberpunk 2077 will be incredible in order to justify their own excitement. Any opinion to the contrary will seem like a challenge to that belief. Even recognizing the existence of an opposing opinion will seem like a concession, that there is even the slightest of chances that the game may not be as good as they hope it will be. And so, they will lash out in anger. I’m used to this.
Releasing this footage was a mistake. CDPR could have very easily prevented all of this potential for controversy by simply not showing any footage. CDPR should know better. And it seems they don’t. It seems they simply haven’t learned. But now, it’s out there. Human nature has taken over. And nothing CDPR says or does from here on out can overcome this force.