pulled “Cyberpunk 2077” from its PlayStation Store after a wave of user complaints, as one of the holiday season’s most anticipated videogame releases risked becoming one of the industry’s most spectacular flops.
, maker of the rival gaming console Xbox, both on Friday also said they were offering full refunds to anyone who used their game stores to buy “Cyberpunk 2077” a science-fiction action game featuring Hollywood star Keanu Reeves. They joined the game’s developer, Warsaw-based
CD Projekt SA,
which Monday said the $60 game didn’t function properly on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One and took the unusual step of offering refunds to dissatisfied players.
The backlash has added a sour note to what many in the gaming community hoped would be a sweet finish to a big year for the industry, as people stuck at home during the pandemic spent more hours and dollars on virtual play.
“Cyberpunk,” which became available Dec. 10, was the industry’s only original major title to come to market during the holiday season, and its hype included a deluge of video ads featuring Mr. Reeves. The game was also a huge bet for CD Projekt, and some analysts have hoped it could drive demand for the newest generation of consoles, Sony’s PlayStation 5 and Microsoft’s Xbox Series X and S, which made its debut in November.
Instead, the launch has been transformed into a cautionary tale about the hazards of trying to push out a big, new project amid the challenges posed by Covid-19.
“Cyberpunk” was the costliest project in CD Projekt’s more than two-decade history—and the most complex, as the company made it playable on nine platforms at launch, instead of three platforms in the past. CD Projekt delayed the project three times amid disruptions caused by remote work, but still raced to get the game out by this year’s holidays.
While some players and reviewers have praised “Cyberpunk,” others have complained about problems including technical glitches, especially on the older versions of Sony and Microsoft’s consoles.
took a swipe at the game on Twitter, posting a screenshot of a message from an unidentified player that said the game’s performance brought the writer to tears.
CD Projekt’s co-chief executives told The Wall Street Journal earlier this month that they miscalculated how long it would take to complete the game. On Monday, CD Projekt executives apologized and said they would be making fixes and improvements. The game’s problems were centered around users with the previous-generation consoles, they said.
“We ignored the signals about the need for additional time to refine the game on the base last-gen consoles,” Co-CEO
said on a conference call. “It was the wrong approach and against our business philosophy.”
CD Projekt said in a tweet Friday that the game remained available for purchase in other stores and online. “All purchased digital and physical copies of the game will continue to receive support and updates as we continue to improve your experience,” it said.
In “Cyberpunk,” players navigate a futuristic city as an outlaw seeking a one-of-a-kind implant that is the key to immortality. The game promises several hundred hours worth of entertainment, voice-overs in 18 languages and an original score lasting more than 10 hours. CD Projekt also invested in artificial-intelligence technology to create more advanced special effects for “Cyberpunk” than those in its prior games.
Sony’s decision to pull the game was unusual. In previous cases of game recalls, game publishers have typically made the decision themselves, said
Joost van Dreunen,
former CEO of SuperData Research—now owned by Nielsen Holdings PLC—and an adjunct professor at New York University’s Stern School of Business. “What is unique about this situation is: It is PlayStation saying, ‘Oh, hell no, we’re not having this,” he said.
Microsoft said it has granted refunds to most customers who have requested one and has expanded its existing refund policy until further notice, but it continued selling the game in its store.
“We know the developers at CD Projekt Red have worked hard to ship ‘Cyberpunk’ in extremely challenging circumstances,” Microsoft said. “We also realize that some players have been unhappy with the current experience on older consoles.”
“Cyberpunk” isn’t the only example—or even the most severe—of a company misjudging a product launch during the pandemic. The short-video service Quibi Holdings LLC, one of Hollywood’s most ambitious startups, shut down in October after a series of problems and lower-than-expected viewership following its April debut.
Videogame popularity has surged during the pandemic as people took a break from movie screenings and dining out. Analytics firm Newzoo BV predicted at the start of this year that consumer spending on game software world-wide would hit about $159 billion in 2020r. More recently, it estimated 2020 sales will hit nearly $175 billion.
But game production—a mix of cinematic creativity and sophisticated coding and engineering—has been significantly harder this year. Remote work has sometimes disrupted tasks such as testing and bug-fixing, recording original music and doing motion-capture work.
The pandemic also has delayed other developers’ games. Microsoft in August pushed back the release of a new installment of its shooter franchise “Halo” to next year.
CD Projekt’s struggles aren’t likely to have a large ripple effect across the game industry, but could serve as a reminder to the game publishers to be more careful and to reassess their release schedules, and for distributors to rethink their certification processes, Jefferies analyst Ken Rumph said. Getting more input from external testers, especially for different types of devices, could have helped, he said.
“Every time something goes wrong, everyone’s like, ‘Great, it’s happened to those guys, not us,’ but also, ‘Could this happen to us? What could we learn from this?’ ” Mr. Rumph said.
—Sarah E. Needleman contributed to this article.
Write to Dave Sebastian at email@example.com
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