How Cyberpunk 2077 Sold a Promise—and Rigged the System


Performance aside, the game, as a whole, is just OK. While some people do quite like it, Night City gets same-y. Combat is whatever. But that wasn’t the point. The point was the great dissonance between built-up expectations and reality, the feeling of broken trust.

CD Projekt Red is directly responsible for the size of that gap. Years ahead of launch, CD Projekt Red offered journalists curated previews that inspired breathless ledes like Metro’s “Cyberpunk 2077 may be the best video game ever made” in 2018. A year later, cinematic teasers and short, monitored gameplay sessions led some to suggest that Cyberpunk 2077 should be on top of gamers’ “most wanted” list. In June, CD Projekt Red had reviewers stream the game from a PC the company controlled. “It’s a playground rife with opportunity,” wrote Eurogamer at the time. “It’s a game about deciding who you want to be.”

In the meantime, the scaffolding was bending: Cyberpunk 2077 experienced three delays, including after January of this year, when CD Projekt Red described the game as “complete and playable,” and after it claimed the game had “gone gold,” or been completed, in October.

In November, CD Projekt Red sent nondisclosure agreements to journalists ahead of Cyberpunk 2077’s launch that forbade the inclusion of original gameplay footage in their reviews. They could share screenshots, but the only gameplay footage they could publish had to come from CD Projekt Red. Infringing obligations in the NDA could amount to around $27,000 per violation. (WIRED’s practice is not to sign NDAs from companies we cover.) In Cyberpunk 2077 the video game, the item database characterizes NDAs as “junk … a standard document that prohibits a lot and offers little in return.”

Reviewers also only received the PC version of the game, keeping the abysmal last-gen console play out of view. In a call with CD Projekt Red’s board today, joint-CEO Adam Kiciński admitted that the company had “ignored the signals about the need for additional time to refine the game on the base last-gen consoles” and showed the game mostly on PC during their marketing campaign. (He did apologize.) Once reviewers received their games—often mere days ahead of launch—they mainlined the main storyline and as many side quests as they could muster, wrote a couple thousand words, and posted them online on December 7, three days prior to Cyberpunk 2077’s December 10 launch.

CD Projekt Red had nearly a decade to architect the great Cyberpunk 2077 mythos. Game reviewers had just a couple of days to assess it, and were hamstrung in how they could portray it. Gamers who had dropped $60 on this cyberpunk pleasure palace back in 2019 reeled; all the hot air came whizzing out. One professional reviewer, Kallie Plagge, gave Cyberpunk 2077 a 7/10 on GameSpot—not even a pan—criticizing it for one-dimensional world building, disconnected side quests, and large-scale technical issues. Mass harassment attended the review. Reactionary YouTubers, who did not have access to the game, dedicated long videos to dismantling her critique, dissecting her playtime and playstyle. But just days later, once gamers had finally played Cyberpunk 2077 themselves, many did a 180. “Everyone talked shit about her, but I’m starting to agree with Kelly [sp] Plagge,” read one popular post on /r/cyberpunkgame.