Cyberpunk 2077’s Chaotic Launch Is Stained with Ineffective Leadership

One of the major problems in many industries is how employers treat their employees. In tech, the hot fluid has only begun bubbling.

A gamer playing a video game.
Photo by Humphrey Muleba on Unsplash

There was a time when CD Projekt Red were a minor developer, translating major video-game releases into Polish. They went from collaborating with huge developers like Interplay Entertainment to becoming one of the biggest and most talked-about developers in the gaming industry. With The Witcher 3, they went from a small studio running out of money to one earning millions on each game.

A lot has changed since then. And just like those times when things were simpler for everyone, CD Projekt are now facing their past with dreaded eyes, looking down in shame. What happened? Cyberpunk 2077 happened.

Cyberpunk 2077, an action role-playing video game developed by CD Projekt (and published just a few days back), has been in development for years and details on it were very few and far between. One thing everyone knew was that the game was set in the future and will star an ensemble cast, including the legendary Canadian actor Keanu Reeves.

CD Projekt were reluctant to give specifics. At the outset, this seems like a good reason to build the anticipation of gamers, a lot of other reasons, however, pointed otherwise.

The spectacular mess of a launch they’ve encountered by the market is depressing, to say the least. And like in the case of hiding details about the long-awaited game, the raging episode that we all recently witnessed by the gaming community is only an extension of the company’s in-house conflicts.

Enthusiasm kills prowess

Marcin Iwiński and Michał Kiciński founded CD Projekt in 1990, a period when gaming-related technology recorded significant advancements. Everything they did is evident in how the two young men loved video games.

Along the line, however, this enthusiasm was replicated at almost all the leadership levels of the company. And while this quality might seem charming, it ended up harming the company’s products.

The New York Times magazine while reporting the company’s early employees describing their leaders, added that while they appreciate the visionary of the two gents, it isn’t always a pleasant element of a work environment. The leaders' enthusiasm for their games often ran ahead of their engineering and technical prowess, said the employees, as they spoke on condition of anonymity for fear of reprisal.

NYTimes’ Mike Isaac and Kellen Browning dived deeper:

Employees said that during game development, there was a general attitude of building more things themselves rather than sometimes licensing other so-called “middleware” — or supporting software — from other companies with greater expertise. As a result, the developers created worse versions of features that had been perfected by other companies.

Then came Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt Red’s first attempt at creating a novel, ultra-modern world.

Inside CD Projekt, the tension was high. Management made grand promises on the game’s promotional tour and developers were concerned and wished such wasn’t the case. Current and former employees were furious on Glassdoor, a website where employees anonymously review companies, expressing their concerns about this menace — and they have been for a long time now.

While employees from across several departments all said a thing or two about how great it is to be part of a talented team building great stuff, one can not help but sympathize with how sad they unveiled their relationship with the management of the company.

A recent review written just nine days before CD Projekt Red launched Cyberpunk 2077 screams this point more vividly. Under the cons of working at the company, this anonymous employee working in Quality Control mentioned things to the tune of “awful and incompetent management,” “mandatory crunch time,” and “high expectations from the management on very low salary pay.”

The recent catastrophic launch of Cyberpunk 2077, however, isn’t the first for the company. Perhaps it is more noticeable among gamers due to disappointment flowing from decade-long anticipation built by the company.

The first Witcher game, released by the company in 2007, was also buggy and stuffed with more features than it could support. Take into account the negative remark of early employees concerning the leadership team, and you’ll see a crystal repetitive pattern.

Zooming out of Warsaw

CD Projekt Red isn’t the only corporation where employees are mistreated along achieving a supposedly common goal.

A T-junction in the city of Warsaw, Poland.
Warsaw, Poland | Photo by Tomek Baginski

The leaders of technology, especially those in Silicon Valley, are known to taking a troubling bite out of the value in their products, even at the expense of making the world a better place as they often claim to do. This is appalling.

I remember when Brian Amstrong of Coinbase took a stand against his company participating in political matters, and then ridiculously forbade his employees from doing the same in the company. Water cooler short remarks that reminds people how their voice matters as they share their takes on what directly affects them as individuals? Yeah, a terrible thing to do at Coinbase. Politics is engrained into our lives, and there has to be a way to better approach this. Sadly, management always had their ways. Jason sums this up best in a post he published in September.

Can Duruk from Margin, a substack newsletter about tech trends and news, believes that companies like Facebook are much more beholden to their leaders’ whims. But that “there is a new world coming,” as Facebook should expect content moderation challenges, and even predicted the emergence of new winners in the content game. If Mr. Can had chosen CD Project Red when he wrote the post, his predictions would have been actualized already.

Giant tech corporations aren’t all bad and they aren’t the villains all of the time. If anything, the coronavirus pandemic revealed they can be more. We chat with our medical consultants face-to-face from the comfort of our bed (well, not comfortable per se). Alive and reading this article, I can go far in reminding you how impactful our tech gadgets and the internet had been this year. Some of us even begin to see thanksgiving through a fresher set of eyes.

This is all great. But zooming in beyond the walls of some of these companies can usually lead you to think of them in a new, creepily dim light.

The leaders of technology, especially those in Silicon Valley, are known to taking a troubling bite out of the value in their products, even at the expense of making the world a better place as they often claim to do.

Rummage through most companies’ websites, and you’ll see that their web copywriters did a great job with tying the product they are selling to the clearly defined value they’ll be adding to their customers. But as the pie begins shrinking, everything the management stood true for gets thrown out the window, with the employees at these companies mostly the first to pay the price.

A greener future in tech

I get that a company has to make money, and that to realize that, management often have to set deadlines on projects. But being a part of countless circles, one weirder and more complicated than the other, I refuse to believe that there isn’t a collective problem that couldn’t be tackled through collaboration. I believe deadlines are both more effective and more realistic when employees have a say and some control over them.

Innovation in tech doesn’t end with providing a newer feature in a product but also encloses how companies provide these features.

Making the world better begins with things as effortless as parting your lips in smiling to others. It doesn’t end with paying others handsomely either. Rather, this noble adventure begins with a kind, warm, and honest gesture, and it is only fitting that the employees at these corporations feel this before anybody else.

For the average gamer, Cyberpunk 2077 might be a major bug issue among other things. But in retrospect, bugs have always been an issue across the tech industry. Even Goliaths like Facebook still suffer miserably from this melancholy. People can pardon bugs and have been doing that for a long time.

The makers of Cyberpunk 2077 might not have much to do with content moderation challenges, as Mr. Can predict with Facebook, but they might as well have. They are facing bigger challenges: Massive refund requests, a possible class-action lawsuit by their investors, and bad customer reviews (lots of them).

These challenges are more pressing, and getting to their base is more important than rewriting a few thousand lines of code.

CD Projekt Red might fix all their bugs — if that is, in fact, possible — but how they relate to their employees is at the heart of their problems. It is in the best interest of the management in these corporations to ask the real question and work towards fixing the real bug.

The future is green, but they have to mow the right field. And the sooner they do, the better it’ll be for everyone; end-consumers inclusive.

Conclusion

At the peak of my varsity days, I had a roommate that was consumed with developing video games. I remember days when, while working, he’d go full-throttled, frustrated with me and with his computer. I’ll make a joke. He’ll respond by throwing things like his computer mouse. They’ll hit me. I’ll leave him alone. And he’ll later find both himself and his mouse (I usually hid it).

I had a meager interest in coding, which makes me sympathized with him even more whenever he was having one of these episodes. And looking back at those tantrums today, I can only imagine how terrible it’d be for someone to go through this hell of trying to get your computer to understand you (literally) while having top executive breathing down your neck on Slack. It must be horrible.

CD Projekt is based in Warsaw, the capital of Poland. A city notably nicknamed “Pearl of the East,” even as it was invaded and occupied numerous times in the past, by rebuilding itself, rising from the ashes, and emerging as one of Europe’s greatest cities. As with every historical cycle, this transformation took several years.

Today, like in the Warsaw of the past couple of centuries, synergy is still the most important quality for a group of people to reach a common goal.

Though it gets harder to earn the trust of consumers after betraying it, this isn’t impossible. Coming from Warsaw, CD Projekt have their whole future ahead of them. They can still make it a future worth getting nostalgic about for their audience of farther into the years but not with how the management teams treat their employees.

Entrepreneur, Writer. Carving a place for myself in this world.

Get the Medium app

A button that says 'Download on the App Store', and if clicked it will lead you to the iOS App store
A button that says 'Get it on, Google Play', and if clicked it will lead you to the Google Play store