Adrian Jakubiak, a former audio programmer for CD Projekt, said one of his colleagues asked during a meeting how the company thought it would be able to pull off a technically more challenging project in the same timeframe as The Witcher. “Someone answered: ‘We'll figure it out along the way,’” he said.
For years, CD Projekt had thrived on that mentality. But this time, the company wasn’t able to pull it off. “I knew it wasn't going to go well,” said Jakubiak. “I just didn't know how disastrous it would be.”
Part of the fans’ disappointment is proportional to the amount of time they spent waiting for the game. Although Cyberpunk was announced in 2012, the company was then still mainly focused on its last title and full development didn’t start until late 2016, employees said. That was when CD Projekt essentially hit the reset button, according to people familiar with the project.
“There were times when I would crunch up to 13 hours a day — a little bit over that was my record probably — and I would do five days a week working like that,” said Jakubiak, the former audio programmer, adding that he quit the company after getting married. “I have some friends who lost their families because of these sort of shenanigans.”
The overtime didn’t make development of the game any faster. At E3 in June 2019, CD Projekt announced that the game would come out on April 16, 2020. Fans were elated, but internally, some members of the team could only scratch their heads, wondering how they could possibly finish the game by then. One person said they thought the date was a joke. Based on the team’s progress, they expected the game to be ready in 2022. Developers created memes about the game getting delayed, making bets on when it would happen.
There were also cultural barriers brought about by hiring expats from the U.S. and Western Europe. The studio mandated everyone speak English during meetings with non-Polish speakers, but not everyone followed the rules.
Even as the timeline looked increasingly unrealistic, management said delaying wasn’t an option. Their goal was to release Cyberpunk 2077 before new consoles from Microsoft and Sony, expected in the fall of 2020, were even announced. That way, the company could launch the game on existing PlayStation 4, Xbox One, and PC, then “double dip” by releasing versions down the road for the next generation consoles. People who bought the old console versions would receive free upgrades when the new ones were available. Some engineers realized that Cyberpunk was too complex of a game to run well on the seven-year-old consoles, with its city full of bustling crowds and hulking buildings. They said management dismissed their concerns, however, citing their success in pulling off The Witcher 3.
But by the end of 2019, management finally acknowledged that Cyberpunk needed to be delayed. Last January, the company pushed the game’s release to September. In March, as the pandemic began ravaging the globe and forcing people to stay inside, CD Projekt staff had to complete the game from their homes. Without access to the office’s console development kits, most developers would play builds of the game on their home computers, so it wasn’t clear to everyone how Cyberpunk might run on PS4 and Xbox One. External tests, however, showed clear performance issues.
As the launch date drew closer, everyone at the studio knew the game was in rough shape and needed more time, according to several people familiar with the development. Chunks of dialogue were missing. Some actions didn’t work properly. When management announced in October that the game had “gone gold” — that it was ready to be pressed to discs — there were still major bugs being discovered. The game was delayed another three weeks as exhausted programmers scrambled to fix as much as they could.