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Cyberpunk and the challenges of modern game development

Take a moment and think about your favourite game. Think about what put that game in your top spot. It could have been the engaging story with twists and turns that meant you couldn’t put the controller down until you’d found every scrap of narrative. Maybe it was the rich, fully-developed game world that took you away from your sofa and into a world that you could only ever dream of before that, filled with colours, sounds and places that made you feel like you were actually there. Or maybe it was the gameplay itself that challenged you, made you rethink how you approach a situation and pushed you to think outside the box.

Whatever your reasons for that game standing above all others, it’s there because it gave you something you couldn’t find anywhere else. 

Our love for games has grown massively through each console generation and new PC hardware drop and with it, our demands and expectations have grown as well. Game Developers know this and are always chasing the goal of creating something that is a person’s next favourite game. But with this chase comes a problem. 

Game development is taking longer than ever, especially in AAA games, and release dates are starting to become more of a vague aim than a real drop date. Games are being delayed more regularly than ever before, as developers try to push the boundaries of what’s possible. And previously, this was ok. Games got delayed but the extra time meant we got experiences that were smooth, cleanly made and matched ambition with reality. From Uncharted 4 to GTA 5, there are stories across the sector of games being pushed back from their original release dates to allow for more polish. 

Clearly, pushing for new horizons is putting more pressure on developers and with big ideas comes new levels of hype and expectation. Cyberpunk 2077 is an open-world game set in Night City, a sprawling megalopolis in which you play as V, a mercenary outlaw looking for an implant that is the key to immortality. The game was developed by Polish company CD Projekt over 8 years and received over 100 awards pre-release making it one of the most anticipated games of the year, but was subject to several delays and eventually released in December 2020 with a number of bugs and issues, including being almost unplayable on console. The game is one of many over the years that has been delayed to allow for more time to clean up the final product, but eventually released with bugs, missing content or borderline unplayable (Assassin’s Creed Unity, Fallout 76, No Man’s Sky to name a few). 

The Cyberpunk release eventually led to a number of lawsuits against the company which are still playing out and a publicly available list of planned updates to try and bring the game up to the quality that was first promised. 

So, what’s the solution here? Do Game Developers reduce the scope of their games? Do consumers reduce their expectations? Should preorders be scrapped to encourage Game Developers to release a finished product? These are some of the ideas that are currently being discussed amongst consumers and game developers. 

But the issue isn’t so cut and dry. Innovation and pushing limits is such a vital step towards creating gaming experiences that are engaging, refreshing and that capture the attention of the market. Without reaching for new heights, games become formulaic. It’s also key to remember that even games that don’t match expectations on release are often brought up to standard (No Man’s Sky is a great example of this, having spent years since release updating the game and adding content that has eventually matched what was originally promised). There’s definitely a balance that can be established here between consumers tapering their expectations and game companies not over-promising before they’ve delivered. 

One issue with Cyberpunk was the target of launching the game on current and next gen consoles, as well as PC. Usually, console games are ported to PC and to have a PC to console port is unusual which was felt in the end product. 

There are lessons to be learned from the rocky launches some games have had over the years. The gaming sector is a powerhouse valued at $162.32 billion this year, and expected to reach $295.63 billion by 2026. Keeping this audience engaged and growing is vital, but at the same time, giving games awards before they even release based on trailers that may not reflect the end product builds excitement for a final product that may be unachieveable without more development time. Development, innovation and hype form a delicate web and as consumers and creators, expectations need to be realistic. Rockstar development cycles are a great example. Holding off on announcements and marketing until their games are nearly finished and ready to be shown properly, with an occasional delay for polish has proved incredibly successful and given gamers some of the most complex, realistic and immersive worlds in gaming. 

Gaming experiences can be robust, engaging experiences that push new boundaries and perform the unexpected but to avoid delays, bugs and disappointment that ultimately damage the reputation of respected developers. All sides of the industry including consumers need to rebuild the way games are released and approach marketing in a new, more patient way.