It’s been a little under a month since Cyberpunk 2077 – one of the most hyped games of the past decade – was unleashed into the wild, and needless to say it has been rather divisive. Several have praised the game as an expansive, innovative experience that moves the open-world WRPG genre forward in many ways. Others have panned the game for its numerous technical issues, especially on older hardware, and unfulfilled promises by CD Projekt Red.
There seems to be no clear consensus on the game, even within our own site. My colleague Gareth Brierley absolutely adored the game in spite of its technical issues, awarding it a 4.5/5, and the game reached the 8th position on our best games of the year list. Meanwhile, I and some others were bitterly disappointed by the game, and I personally returned my copy. The issues players encounter seems to vary wildly from person to person, and platform to platform, which makes this divide even more difficult to quantify. However, no matter what side of the Cyberpunk debate you lie on, there are definite lessons to be learned, and here are key five takeaways for Microsoft.
The first major lesson is that polish matters. While some experiences such as Gears 5, The Outer Worlds, Battletoads and Tell Me Why launched in undeniably polished positions, others such as Ori and the Will of the Wisps and Wasteland 3 launched with something to be desired in the QA department. Now, those games had issues that were frankly a 20th the size of Cyberpunk’s on console, but they persisted nonetheless, and could harm the experience of some players and reviewers. While I personally did not encounter major issues in these titles, and they appear to have been mostly fixed, there also may have been no harm in giving the teams an extra few months for polish. Especially as the content pipeline starts up at Microsoft, the goal should be less releasing a game within a specified timeframe and more giving each individual title the time it needs. Bugs are inevitable, but they don’t have to be prevalent.
The second major lesson to learn is to under-promise and over-deliver. Now, I touched upon this premise briefly in an article last year in terms of setting expectations, but it becomes all the more important now. Cyberpunk’s hype cycle was not just a case of fan expectations running wild, it was also a case of corporate promises that CDPR failed to deliver upon. The more fuel you add to the hype fires, the more you inevitably risk getting burnt. Microsoft and their soon to be partners Zenimax, to their credit, don’t tend to announce things more than three years in advance (albeit with some notable exceptions), but it has become all the more important that you set realistic expectations with the chance of pleasantly surprising. This applies to everything from events to game releases, as if you promise the moon, and deliver the stars, even if what you give is undeniably great, it may not live up to people’s expectations.
The third major lesson to learn is to set realistic deadlines. Over and over, Cyberpunk 2077 was delayed, but in spite of this it still shipped in an arguably unfinished state. Promising Halo Infinite for the launch of the Series X made for a great soundbite and moment on the E3 stage, but when they failed to deliver on the promise, it let a lot of fans down. Now that the game has been given an additional year to polish, it is very likely that the game will be far better than if it was rushed out the door for the launch. However, this headache could have been avoided if further communication was made between teams, and while I do not doubt that the shift to work from home and the COVID-19 pandemic made a profound impact on the game, I also do suspect that the team may have needed more time as far back as Summer 2019, when key creatives dropped out of the game. Ultimately, Microsoft made a great call in delaying Halo, but also one that was rather costly from a PR perspective as well as with their brand partners.
The fourth major lesson is that it might be worthwhile getting involved with creative partners. What do Fallout 76, Anthem and Cyberpunk 2077 all have in common? Firstly, they were hyped up games that ultimately disappointed many at launch (although FO76 has had an incredible comeback, and the latter two still have a shot at one). Secondly, they were all third party games Xbox signed a marketing agreement with, plastering their logo everywhere across the trailers, posters and boxes. While on paper all three of these games sound like a slam dunk, in execution they all launched with their own set of problems which may have indirectly harmed Xbox’s image in the process. Perhaps it may be worthwhile to set up another support team internally to help with these projects so as to ensure they make the most of Xbox hardware and are polished (one such team does already exist), or that Microsoft waits until the game really starts to shape up before signing a marketing deal. Now, the obvious major wrench in this equation is Sony, who may opt to otherwise steal a marketing deal away from Xbox here, but perhaps being choosier may help in the long-run.
The fifth major lesson is pretty straightforward: listen to the RPG community. There have been several posts on the Cyberpunk subreddit, enthusiast forums and elsewhere from RPG fanatics that outlined what they liked and didn’t with the game. While finding a consensus is hard, some elements such as a desire for more skill checks, a more reactive world, more fleshed-out NPCs as well as praise for the characters and writing seem to be fairly universal. Upon completion of the Zenimax acquisition, Xbox will have 5 RPG studios in-house with over 10 teams between them. This is a massive investment in the genre, and if you take some of the community’s feedback to heart, it may win over some players from competing platforms such as PlayStation, as well as incentivize your existing customers to go further into the Xbox ecosystem. It would be wise to use this game as a learning experience to further the position of their RPG studios.
Ultimately, the tale of Cyberpunk 2077 has yet to be completed, and it is beyond possible that within a year’s time, it will be at the top of the WRPG pantheon with Fallout: New Vegas, Skyrim and The Witcher 3. However, in the meantime, the game has shaped up to be pretty divisive and there are several lessons Xbox should take to heart in order to prevent a similar situation with some of their upcoming RPGs such as Fable, Avowed, Starfield and the highly-anticipated Elder Scrolls VI. However, what do you think? Am I off-base here? Are there more lessons Microsoft should learn from the Cyberpunk launch? Let us know, and for the latest on Xbox games, from triple-A blockbusters to indie darlings, TheXboxHub is the place to be.