Wednesday 30 September 2020

CD Projekt Red enter home stretch of development on CYBERPUNK 2077

CD Projekt Red have entered the home stretch of development on their massive, eagerly-awaited video game Cyberpunk 2077. They have sent a complete build to Sony and Microsoft for release certification for their consoles and the game is effectively complete and working. The focus now for the final two months is bug-crunching and stress-testing for different PC configurations, which will entail forced overtime on the project, contradicting previous promises that such mandatory "crunch" would be avoided for this title.

The game was announced in 2012 and had its first proper trailer released in January 2013. The studio moved into full-time production on the game after the release of The Witcher 3 in May 2015. CDPR began spooling up to full release in June 2018, and since then have issued numerous trailers, previews and interviews. The incredibly lengthy gestation period of the game - only Star Citizen and Beyond Good and Evil 2 have officially been in development for longer and arguably Bethesda's Starfield - has led to its development becoming a meme and many people expressing doubt the game would ever come out. In reality the development process is, although long, not unprecedented; CDPR simply started talking about the game way earlier in the process than most companies normally would.

As covered (although not as in much detail as might be wished) in Jason Schreier's fine book Blood, Sweat and Pixels, CDPR suffered a huge amount of worker attrition during the development of The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt and its expansions in the period 2011-16. Staff were forced to work mandatory six-day and sometimes seven-day weeks for many months on end, and talented, experienced staff ended the experience by quitting. This move was self-defeating, since it meant that CDPR had to train up new staff with their procedures, software and the engine rather than using the skills and talent that had been built up over years. Labour laws in the European Union (CDPR are based in Poland) means that such "crunch" is compensated, which is not always the case in the United States, but it still takes its toll on the workforce.

More and more software developers are taking action to avoid crunch, noting that the (often temporary) boost in productivity it grants is often outweighed by the loss of talented and experienced staff in the process. Bethesda Game Studios, for example, take pride in how long they retain staff for and for their last several titles have avoided announcing any kind of release date until 3-4 months before they are there, at a point when the game is functionally complete, thus avoiding the issue.

In the specific case of Cyberpunk 2077, the head of the company has noted that the crunch period will only be for the last seven weeks of development and will be fully financially compensated. It's also typical for companies to offer extended periods of leave for non-essential staff (i.e. those not needed to address post-release patches) once the product ships and before they have to start firing up their next project. CDPR also note that 10% of the game's profits will be shared by staff. With their last game, The Witcher 3, having sold almost 30 million copies to become one of the biggest-selling games of the decade, this bonus will not be inconsiderable.

This doesn't excuse the hardship and problems caused by crunch, but in this specific case CD Projekt Red have taken steps to mitigate it and do better next time.

Cyberpunk 2077 now looks pretty locked on for its release date on 19 November on PC, Xbox One and PlayStation 4. Xbox X and PlayStation 5 versions will follow in 2021.

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