Crunchtime for Cyberpunk 2077

Crunchtime for Cyberpunk 2077

THIS WEEK IN BUSINESS | Game set in a dystopian world where corporations are stomping on people is being made by a corporation stomping on people.

This Week in Business is a collection of stats and quotes from our sister site GamesIndustry.biz that sheds light on console sales, new trends, and more. Check back every Friday for a new entry!

Last year, I spoke with Lorne Lanning about why his Oddworld franchise condemning the exploitation of workers has always been made by developers who are exploited through crunch. He put the blame for that on the entertainment industry, and the consumer in particular.

"No one wants to say, 'This product was done by people who worked 9-to-5, and they all had great healthcare, weekends off, three weeks of vacation, and everyone had that. Here you go.' If it's not great, everyone goes, 'Who cares? Why didn't they lose some fucking sleep to get it done and get it better?'

"The audience is absolutely ruthless, and we should never suspect for a second that they're not. They're absolutely ruthless. They don't care how many people died making the product. [laughing] I mean literally. They don't care. We're ruthless with how we spend our money. We live in a culture that's based on 'Wal Mart's cheaper. Let's go there for our stuff. Amazon Prime delivers without shipping costs. Let's go there.' And that shapes our world."

Historically speaking, Lanning is right. There have been plenty of exposes on the terrible ways companies treat their employees, but that hasn't seemed to be any kind of barrier to their financial success. If people hear the game is good, they seem to have no problem buying it. Maybe they justify it as ensuring the developers' hard work doesn't go to waste, or maybe they don't even care enough to bother coming up with a reason that excuses it. And if people were really so horrified by crunch that they refused to buy these games, companies wouldn't make money off crunch conditions and magically find alternatives to it in a hurry.

But I can acknowledge Lanning is right without excusing his willingness to be part of that system and make his money off a team that crunches.

Like Oddworld, the Cyberpunk RPG has an anti-capitalist streak running through its very premise. Creator Mike Pondsmith has said it's about people using technology to fight "large megacorporations, powerful people, powerful forces, governments, etc. that are all pretty much conspiring to keep people oppressed and stomped on."

So naturally, when CD Projekt Red—the publicly traded company with loads of Glassdoor employee reviews noting low pay, loads of crunch, and poor management—made a Cyberpunk game, it would do so with no self-awareness about how its business practices ran counter to the thing it was adapting.

Last year, when asked about incorporating franchises with progressive politics, Pondsmith described the original publisher behind Cyberpunk as being a progressive group of people, but said, "if you want to get somebody to kind of see your point of view, don't preach."

With all due respect to Pondsmith, given the state of media literacy today and the abundance of fans who seem to be missing the point about so many franchises in popular media (there's a meme for that), I don't think these messages are getting through.

QUOTE | "This is one of the hardest decisions I've had to make, but everyone is well compensated for every extra hour they put in." - CD Projekt Red studio head Adam Badowski explains that the Cyberpunk 2077 studio has instituted mandatory crunch to finish the game.

QUOTE | "Making this commitment, I hope it shows that we are treating this matter very seriously." - CD Projekt co-founder Marcin Iwiński, last year, saying that the studio had adopted a new non-mandatory crunch policy.

QUOTE | "Maybe that's what should be questioned indeed. Maybe we shouldn't do it, it's flying too close to the sun. But we signed [up] to put ourselves at risk, and taking risks is burning out, is being upset, and so on. People don't see the pain behind projects, but it's a real pain, you are right. Because we're passionate, we work insanely long hours, we give everything and we're extra sensitive. I have all the more empathy for these people that I am part of [the team] too." - Michel Ancel speaks with Libération about the French paper's report, in which developers who worked under Ancel accused him of being "toxic" and burning people out.

QUOTE | "The parties respectfully request that the case—including any claims and counterclaims— proceed to a bench trial on a schedule determined by the court." - Epic and Apple may be bitter enemies when it comes to the App Store's efforts to take a 30% of all business on the platform, but the one thing they can agree on is that under no circumstances should the actual public determine the outcome of this case.

QUOTE | "To be blunt, we do not care how this looks nor do we care if you think the mods we do or don't moderate reflect on us, our political beliefs or what we do and don't want on our site. " - The people behind mod hosting site Nexus Mods have banned all mods "based around current sociopolitical issues in the United States" until the next inauguration. It's the opposite of the Valve approach on the surface, but it shares the same underlying aspiration of wanting above all else to never express (or be held accountable to) their political beliefs, which is in itself tells you a lot about their politics.

QUOTE | "For all that Sony, Microsoft and Nvidia may talk about how thrilled they are that everyone is so enthusiastic for their new hardware, the reality of starting a major product's lifecycle by pissing off a not insubstantial proportion of your devoted fans and lining the pockets of unscrupulous scalpers ought to be a pretty deep-cutting pain point for these companies." - GamesIndustry.biz's Rob Fahey says it's time for the hardware makers to change the way they think about preorders.

STAT | $8 billion - The expected valuation of Roblox after the game creation platform goes public, or about $500 million more than Microsoft paid for ZeniMax and its stable of studios and blockbuster franchises last week.

QUOTE | "Many companies have been extorted by Tim Langdell and Edge Games during this time, and this is only because the USPTO let him register his trademarks with doctored, fake specimens and based upon his lies about his nonexistent business activity. However, the [United States Patent and Trademark Office] had all the proof to stop him, and it knew all along that Tim Langdell was perpetrating a serious fraud. Yet the USPTO did nothing. Now Tim Langdell and Edge Games are totally free to start again." - Mobigame, maker of the mobile game Edge, in a filing with the USPTO, sounds the alarm that Langdell has Edge-related trademarks again, a decade after a court case against EA over Mirror's Edge resulted in his previous trademarks around the term being terminated.

QUOTE | "We take very seriously the responsibilities we have when marketing EA games and experiences in channels seen by children. In spite of this, we're aware that advertising for FIFA Points has appeared in environments it shouldn't have." - EA apologizes for a FIFA 21 ad in an in-store magazine for UK retailer Smyths Toys that called for the (presumably) children reading the magazine to use the virtual currency to open FIFA Ultimate Team packs. The company is also reviewing all of the marketing it has lined up to run in the future to ensure it "better reflects the responsibility we take for the experience of our younger players."

QUOTE | "While J.K. Rowling is the creator of Harry Potter, and we are bringing that to life with the power of Portkey [Games, the publishing label for Harry Potter titles], in many places, she's a private citizen also. And that means she's entitled to express her personal opinion on social media. I may not agree with her, and I might not agree with her stance on a range of topics, but I can agree that she has the right to hold her opinions." - When asked how the Hogwarts Legacy publisher will respond to Rowling's repeated anti-trans statements, WBIE president David Haddad confuses government censorship with the idea of a massive company using its considerable leverage to fight hatred rather than help fund it.

QUOTE | "The way we work at Interior Night, we make sure the narrative design is really solid. Every time we ask players to make a decision, we offer all the logical options that make sense in that context. And we also guarantee that the characters don't break their persona, so they're never acting out of character." - Caroline Marchal, CEO of As Dusk Falls developer Interior Night, explains her approach to making narrative games with what I choose to believe is a scathing rebuke of her former employer, Quantic Dream.

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Brendan Sinclair

North American Editor

Brendan joined GamesIndustry International in 2012. Based in Toronto, Ontario, he was previously senior news editor at CBS-owned GameSpot in the US.

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