Cyberpunk 2077's "too big to fail" status reveals a dark truth about video games

Despite the backlash, gamers are buying.

Cyberpunk 2077 was too big to fail. Yes, the game was met with immense criticism due to its buggy state, especially on consoles. Yes, Sony, Microsoft, and even GameStop are offering full refunds to displeased players. Despite all of that, the game has still managed to sell 13 million copies, according to developer CD Projekt Red.

Even though the backlash towards Cyberpunk 2077 is ongoing, the game's financial success sets a bad precedent for the games industry. It's a route we've starting to see more developers take, and could lead to more disappointing launches in the future.

CD Projekt Red confirmed Cyberpunk 2077's sales numbers in a December 22 report to investors. Pre-refunds, we learned more than 8 million players pre-ordered the game. Apparently, this figure also accounts for all of the Cyberpunk 2077 refunds thus far.

CD Projekt Red's reputation has been tarnished by the game's rocky launch and they are facing some legal opposition. Still, the successful launch demonstrates that it was nearly impossible for this game to ever flop, even though it was released too early and had lots of problems.

Cyberpunk's undercooked launch isn't an isolated incident. Marvel's Avengers, Madden NFL 21, and Watch Dogs: Legion had almost as many issues as Cyberpunk 2077 when they launched earlier this year. Their publishers released them to meet a deadline, hoping that issues could get fixed in a series of post-launch patches.

The ability to update a game after launch is an extremely helpful tool for developers. But it's also given studios leeway to launch games before they're truly ready for prime time and make fixes post-launch. Cyberpunk 2077 shows that this strategy can still work.

Cyberpunk 2077 is also an ambitious game at its core, so players on PC or Stadia and those willing to look past all of the technical issues can still find the game enjoyable. CD Projekt Red took a chance that this hype and fun would carry them through a rocky launch.

It seems to have worked.

Perhaps the lure of Keanu proved overwhelming for gamers, making them willing to overlook Cyberpunk 2077's many flaws.

CD Projekt Red

We might not see the full impact of Cyberpunk 2077's launch until future CD Projekt Red titles underperform, like Cyberpunk 2077's multiplayer or The Witcher 4. There's precedent for this, as Assassin's Creed Unity sold well despite many bugs, but follow-up Assassin's Creed Syndicate's sales slouched as underwhelmed players steered clear of the series. That said, it's also possible that those games still do very well if fans put their trust in CD Projekt Red again.

In an interview with Inverse, Valorant Art Director Moby Francke explained that if a development team knows that a game will be consistently updated, then management can agree that they don't "have to get it to 100 percent right" at launch.

This strategy worked for Valorant, partly because the development team embraced the game's early access period, making players covet access to beta tests after having seen their favorite streamers play. The team at Riot Games clearly told players that the project still had room to grow in terms of art and content.

Cyberpunk 2077 had the luxury of launching unfinished. The only cost was CD Projekt Red's good reputation. For now, anyway.

Cyberpunk 2077 is available now for PC, PS4, Xbox One, and Google Stadia.

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