Cyberpunk 2077's Developer Breaks Promises To Be "Humane," Critics Say

People are losing faith in the gaming industry's relationship to its workers

Key Takeaways

  • After promising it wouldn’t push mandatory crunch to roll out Cyberpunk 2077, Polish game developer CD Projekt reneged.
  • Crunch culture has infected the video game industry, leading to a pattern of worker violations and unhealthy working conditions.
  • With modest pre-sales, the industry is watching how Cyberpunk 2077 performs.
Cyberpunk 2077's trauma team
CD Projekt Red

Cyberpunk 2077 has officially gone gold, signaling readiness for a scheduled mid-November release. After breaking promises to forego crunch, however, the company’s practices have left developers and consumers wondering if it’s worth it.

The much-anticipated open-world sci-fi RPG has enthralled gamers since its initial teaser trailer debuted back in 2013. Periodic updates have kept the game in the crosshairs of the gaming industry as an ambitious project filling a void in the increasingly narrow field of AAA titles.

However, in order to meet these high expectations, CD Projekt Red, the video game publisher responsible for popular titles such as The Witcher series, initiated mandatory 6-day weeks, forcing workers to work high-stress overtime hours ahead of the game’s release. A failure of expectations, according to Head of Studio Adam Badowski.

"They’re taking advantage of people like me and the passion we have for gaming."

"I take it upon myself to receive the full backlash for the decision," Badowski wrote in an alleged email to employees, according to reporting by Bloomberg. "I know this is in direct opposition to what we’ve said about crunch… It’s also in direct opposition to what I personally grew to believe a while back—that crunch should never be the answer. But we’ve extended all other possible means of navigating the situation."

Crunch Culture

"Crunch" is an industry term for the practice and culture of initiating excessive, mandatory overtime hours, often ahead of launch, for video game developers.

The practice has been lambasted and unearthed as a standard in an industry that remains hostile to attempts at unionization to combat employer overreach much like this. The hours are deemed excessive, and employees have gone on record to discuss abuses ranging from 100-hour work weeks to a culture of fear instilled by higher-ups in these often months-long crunch time scenarios.

"I love video games, it's why I’ve always seen myself working in the industry in some capacity," said 23-year-old aspiring game developer Mehdi Anwar. "With all the things I hear, [like a] lack of unions and worker protections, [it] makes me rethink my plans to be a developer, but then I remember how much I love it all. They’re taking advantage of people like me and the passion we have for gaming."

Frustrated woman computer programmer with head in hands sitting in creative office
Maskot / Getty Images

In May 2019, founders of parent company CD Projekt expressed the desire to have their firm be seen as a “humane” alternative to the common practices in the video game industry while indicating an anti-mandatory crunch policy. Developers like Anwar think this is what happens in a largely unregulated industry where workers are at the mercy of the performative kindness of their bosses.

"It's crazy, and it's even crazier that no one seems to care."

Aside from employees and aspiring developers, questions about the ethicality of the gaming industry’s treatment of workers has come under relentless fire over the past several years.

In the past, this practice of crunch was relegated to the period leading up to a game’s launch, but due to the changing landscape of video game consumption—downloadable content, early access, updates, patches, and in-game purchases—it has become a constant for some dev teams.  

Unionizing the Workplace?

Crunch has become a hot-button topic that has reignited conversations regarding unionization in the multi-billion dollar industry. A $120 billion industry, video games have become the world’s number-one entertainment sector, outpacing Hollywood and music in revenue. This fact leads many to see the lack of unionization as an oversight long overdue for a solution.

"Films have had unions forever, so what’s taking gaming so long? It’s no longer a niche thing that nerds do in the basement," Anwar said. "It's crazy, and it's even crazier that no one seems to care. People are more worried about the latest graphics while the people making it possible are slaving away in an office with no sleep."

Cyberpunk 2077 character resting in a chair in a screen-filled red room
CD Projekt Red

Still, CD Projekt Red’s reneging on their original plans to combat crunch hasn’t snuffed the excitement of consumers. With modest pre-sale numbers, the new IP is sure to satiate the appetites of gamers eager for a next-gen game to break in their new consoles this winter. Many of whom, if we are to take the YouTube comments seriously, have been patiently waiting since they were middle schoolers for Cyberpunk 2077, which has been in development for the better part of a decade.

From accusations of transphobic art and transphobic jokes to the current dispute surrounding its usage of crunch time, Cyberpunk 2077 has been marred with controversy throughout its development, but the demand remains the same.

Whatever the future holds for this game, the working conditions of developers remains a point of contention for a consumer base that is becoming progressively conscious. Cyberpunk 2077 is set to release on Xbox One, PS4, and PC on Nov. 19.