The most anticipated game of 2020 is finally here. Cyberpunk 2077, a role-playing game set in a dystopian future and based on a pen-and-paper title from the ’90s, is being released Thursday.
Cyberpunk 2077, made by Polish video game company CD Projekt Red, features V — a character players can customize — who has a malware-infected biochip in their head. That malware takes the form of Johnny Silverhand, played by Keanu Reeves.
CD Projekt Red is known for making the successful Witcher series, which was adapted into a popular Netflix (NFLX) show last year. The streaming service has signed on Cyberpunk for an anime series launching in 2022.
The game was originally due in April but experienced a series of delays that left fans wondering when they would get their hands on the title.
CNN Business played Cyberpunk ahead of its launch and talked to CD Projekt Red about the delays — as well as how the studio plans to make its money back.
That last point is key, as the game received a “substantial” budget, Michał Nowakowski, Projekt Red’s senior vice president of business development, told CNN Business. Costs included paying a team of more than 550 people, spending on a large marketing campaign and hiring Reeves, Nowakowski said.
So Cyberpunk needs strong sales to make back that budget and turn a profit. The title costs $60 and is available on Google Stadia, Xbox One and PS4. It will arrive on next-gen consoles next year.
“The immense buzz around the new title is promising,” said Joost van Dreunen, founder of video game investment firm New Breukelen.
He expects Cyberpunk will sell about 18 million copies – which would be less than the sales for Projekt Red’s last “Witcher” title, but still “more than enough to run a profit on the project.”
Players of Cyberpunk 2077 role-play as a nomad, a street kid or a corporate employee who journeys around Night City completing quests in a world dominated by corporations.
It’s a massive world that CD Projekt Red estimates could take 100 to 200 hours to explore – and it also took a large amount of time to develop, with Bloomberg reporting employees working long hours to make their deadlines. This labor issue in the industry, referred to as “crunch,” has been in focus recently.
CD Projekt Red declined to comment on crunch beyond a tweet from studio head Adam Badowski in September: “This is one of the hardest decisions I’ve had to make, but everyone is well compensated for every extra hour they put in… 10% of the annual profit our company generates in 2020 will be split directly among the team.”
As the pandemic spread, most of CD Projekt Red employees shifted to working from home. Because the studio has employees in areas the pandemic hit early, including China, Japan and Korea, the company had a jump on taking precautions like moving office equipment to people’s homes.
“At first, it was chaotic,” said Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, the game’s quest director.
A few staff members were infected with Covid-19, but fortunately they recovered fully, said Nowakowski. He declined to say how many Covid cases there were in total but described them as “isolated” and “not sizable.”
As time wore on, the multiple delays to the game also meant more work for the marketing team, which had to reschedule some promotions, he said. Certain events couldn’t be moved, such as the city lights of Cologne, Germany, displaying the words “Cyberpunk 2077” in the sky. The city lit up in November as originally planned, timed with the Xbox Series X’s launch.
Nowakowski was upbeat, however: “It was launched maybe a little earlier than should be, but it still helped with brand awareness,” he said. “And the pre-orders were running anyway, so I definitely wouldn’t say any money was lost.”
So far, the game has received mixed reviews. Some players noted bugs that need to be patched and a quest line that doesn’t leave the player free to explore and do things on their own. Other critics have slammed the game’s depiction of trans people – something Projekt Red has come under fire for previously – and people of color.
In Nowakowski’s view, the depictions are “nothing that will be controversial, to be perfectly honest. There’s nothing that should shake people up, in my personal opinion.”
Tomaszkiewicz, the quest director, said employees “still get surprised” by how the public receives their games.
“I think I speak for most people at the office here, because we’re all super excited to see what how people will react,” he said. “Will they have the same impressions as we imagined they would when they will play through our content?”