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Effective Marketing For Cyberpunk 2077 Only Hurt It More

Between a rocky release and deceptive review practices, the last thing Cyberpunk 2077 needed was its name plastered all over the internet and beyond.

December 31, 2020

The only people that don’t know about Cyberpunk 2077 at this point live under a rock, and I seriously mean that. They must lack an internet connection or at the very least are locked away from society because anyone who has ventured outside or so much as looked at any screen within the last month or so should know what this game is. It’s been incredibly unavoidable, and this is because developer CD Projekt Red has spent a lot of money on two things: the game’s development and the game’s marketing campaign.

I’m not exaggerating when I say that this is the most I’ve seen of a game since Halo 3 in 2007. I can’t remember a game that has been so present in advertising space outside of GameStops, gaming outlets, and the occasional YouTube video. Instead, Cyberpunk 2077 has been everywhere. It’s on your TV, on Instagram, even plastered across screens in Times Square.

Outside of this massive advertising campaign, there was even a live-streamed Night City Wire video series dedicated to updating fans on new features before release. Something I often reported on and built up fans’ expectations to new highs. Night City Wire was something that hadn’t been done in gaming before, at least not to this scale.

CD Projekt Red was giving in-depth details on how its upcoming game was being developed and what content was going to be there at launch. All of this information was being presented well before the game itself was actually in the hands of the players. Pair that with its extensive gameplay trailers, and it was almost as if you already knew how Cyberpunk 2077 was going to play.

Except that obviously wasn’t the case. Unlike Halo 3, Cyberpunk 2077 released as a buggy and broken mess on most available platforms. I won’t recount the entire debacle that was the game’s first-week post-launch, but here are some highlights:

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Of course, there’s so, so much more. And it’s a shame because if you read my review of Cyberpunk 2077, you’ll find that I actually liked the game quite a bit. Past the bugs, it’s a downright fun experience set in an open world unlike any other. And I think that if those bugs and glitches didn’t exist, and this game released without being in what felt like early access quality, it would have been one of my favorite games this year.

[Cyberpunk 2077] made an image of itself in the minds of gamers.

That doesn’t matter though, because a lot of people would have still been disappointed by it. Cyberpunk 2077 did something that all major releases try to do; it made an image of itself in the minds of gamers. And its biggest mistake, and one that rendered the marketing budget and advertising time all worthless, was setting such high expectations with its marketing.

Of course, this issue isn’t exactly uncommon. The most notable instance of a game’s advertising setting expectations high for me was at E3 2012 when Watch Dogs was first shown off. The game was absolutely stunning during its presentation. For the time, its visuals exceeded expectations, and it featured numerous new gameplay elements, like its hacking system and other mechanics that just looked fun to play with.

Watch Dogs’ story ends the same way most of these stories end though — the game released and didn’t look or play like anyone thought it would. It was one of the first titles I bought for my PS4 and I completely hated it.

But there’s a big difference between Watch Dogs and Cyberpunk 2077. I was only excited for Watch Dogs because of a single gameplay trailer. CD Projekt Red saw that players were already jumping out of their seats for Cyberpunk and decided to keep pouring marketing on top of marketing. More ads, more showcases, making Keanu Reeves the face of the game, making glorified developer diaries (Night City Wire). This wasn’t just some marketing campaign, it was a mixture of ego on the part of CD Projekt Red, and gluttony on the part of consumers.

I was guilty of wanting more information after hearing more and more about the game. Every time I reported on another delay, I’d go and watch one of its lengthy gameplay trailers. When a Night City Wire episode wrapped up, I would go back and watch the one or two prior. I was totally hooked on everything Cyberpunk 2077, and even when the studio didn’t share any new information, I kept going back to what was there.

All of this amounts to what has been an extremely successful marketing campaign. It did everything it was supposed to: it got players excited, it made them think about the game, it bolstered pre-orders. It did everything right. But in this case, that’s the worst thing that could have happened.

Cyberpunk 2077 in its buggy state would have been disappointing enough to someone who had never heard of it and walked into a GameStop one day and bought it. But for the gamers out there that had been waiting for it for months —if not years— it was a monumental let-down. After all its hype, expectations were raised well beyond anywhere they should actually be, and in the end, Cyberpunk 2077 released in a state that was not at all what was presented. These two factors made for a perfect shit-storm. The time after its release would only serve to rub salt into the wounds of people that had looked forward to and bought Cyberpunk 2077.

“This wasn’t just some marketing campaign, it was a mix of ego on the part of CD Projekt Red and gluttony on the part of consumers.”

But worst of all, it felt as though CD Projekt Red was playing consumers for fools. Of course, I don’t know the inner workings of the company or what talks were like surrounding its release. However, there were clear internal decisions made there to deceive customers. CD Projekt Red joint CEO Adam Kicinski even said in an earnings call on November 25 that the game ran “surprisingly good” on last-gen consoles. When the time came for the developer to start handing out review codes to the press, they were solely for PC, assumedly because the game ran best on that platform. Console players picking up Cyberpunk 2077 on launch day had no proper metric to judge the game by except for CD Projekt Red’s own marketing materials, and those promises could never be fulfilled.

Video game marketing is already tricky for consumers to navigate. They, and even I, sometimes have to parse out what is true and what is too good to be true. There are very few AAA games that keep all their promises and live up to their marketing materials. Figuring out where the scripted trailer ends and the real gameplay begins is key to being an informed consumer in the gaming industry.

…going forward, I feel it will be hard to trust anything that comes from CD Projekt Red.

Cyberpunk 2077’s marketing campaign was so massive that it was impossible to sort through it. Everything was on the same level of utterly brilliant. Even members of the media who were able to play the game early said that it exceeded their expectations. There was no reason to believe that Cyberpunk 2077 was going to turn out the way it did. At least, that’s what CD Projekt Red wanted consumers to think, and for the most part, it got that.

Now, CD Projekt Red has to deal with the repercussions of its morbid marketing campaign. Besides a landslide of refunds of the game being doled out by Sony, Microsoft, and GameStop, CD Projekt Red may have some legal trouble on its hands as well. A Manhattan-based law firm filed a suit last week against CD Projekt Red on behalf of anyone that bought stock in the company. Part of the press release regarding the lawsuit explicitly cites the “defendants’ (CD Projekt Red) statements about its business, operations, and prospects,” calling them “materially false.”

It’s a shame to say this, but going forward, I feel it will be hard to trust anything that comes from CD Projekt Red. The developer, which I revered for its work on the Witcher franchise, hasn’t done itself any favors. The company lied to its consumers time and time again, and its marketing campaign for Cyberpunk 2077 is the biggest lie of all. Now that lie is everywhere. It’s plastered on walls, present on screens, and it’s doing its job well. It’s damn near impossible to not be reminded of the game at some point during the day, and that’s one of the worst things going for it right now.

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