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Op Ed: Cyberpunk - From Valid Criticism to CDPR Witch Hunt

Let us all start off with saying something we can all agree on. Cyberpunk has many flaws. The ones that come right to mind, the place holder feeling police and locals NPC AI, the not quite done cooking game mechanics such as some of the cyberware functionality/implementation, the lack of car modifications, or the very thin interaction or activities with your romance partner post romance story line. All valid issues or concerns which I also share.

And then you have the covered 1,000 times already general bugs and last gen console stability issues. Which I am sure I don't need to get into detail at this point with everyone else under the sun covering it, thus partly the inspiration for this Op Ed.

We can all agree these are issues and CDPR needs to address either in the upcoming major patches in Jan and Feb but also DLC or expansions down the road.

So I am totally on board with all that type of valid criticism, that I listed as have others in other posts. It is fair and reasonable.

The issue is the positives, in article and YouTube post after post I hardly see the mention of the strong narrative story, excellently written characters or engaging music. It is, mostly, about the console issues/bugs, stock prices and lawsuits and disgruntled ex-employees.

What I take issue with is what has morphed from valid criticism into only what I can describe as a witch hunt. And from someone who lived and worked in Salem, Mass I can tell you I don't toss that phrase around lightly. But sometimes you got to call something what it is no matter how ugly it has become.

How did we get here? Well, it all started in my view with the unprecedented hype machine that CDPR let get out of their control. Like Dr. Frankenstein, his monster seemed like a good idea at the time, but he never thought of the long-term ramifications or possible negative outcomes. His reach and ambition blinded his analytical, long term thought process. And it seems to me the same happened to CDPR making a monster of a PR, hype machine. At the time it sounds like a good idea. But what happens when that machine snowballs into a avalanche you can't possibly keep under control or keep expectations reasonable anymore?

Well CDPR, and us as consumers, found out the hard way.

So, the game launched, and if reports are to be believed, even with the game scaled back from its initial vision upper management ignored the developers saying they needed more time, it dropped in less than an ideal state.

While it hit some very high notes in writing, story, quest and environmental design, music and voice acting it hit some pretty disappointingly low marks too, such as the aforementioned issues.

And thus, reality set it. Gamers, especially those on last gen consoles, were hit particularly hard by their disappointment. The hype monster they crafted for 2 years was torn asunder and what was there, a very good but flawed game, was however NO where near what gamers felt they were "promised".

Let's address that for a moment as a side bar. NOTHING to you was "promised". The 2 year old video you use to prove such a claim from E3 literally has a "DOES NOT REPRESENT FINAL GAME" watermark on it. That is simply different verbiage of "Subject to change, does not represent final game". So, no nothing was "promised", you simply saw something in a video, explicitly marked that it may change, chose to ignore said warning and just assumed in your head you were getting that no matter what. Sorry, but that is how game dev works. Parts get moved or changed all the time. So, let's move on.

None the less, back to the collapse of the hype monster. That fueled anger which fueled into resentment. They "lied" to us type of sentiment. Now I am not going to full throat defend that allegation. As it is partly valid. However, I feel a much more accurate depiction of events is they "mislead" you. I can't find anything where they outright "lied". They did make some broad ‘best game ever’ type comments, which again is subjective and I am not sure I am comfortable labeling a as “lie”. No more than if a friend claims they make the best Boston Cream pie ever. It is a “lie”? To you maybe, but maybe not to your friend with their rose-colored glasses. All that nuance aside, however, there is a lot of evidence to support they DID let the hype monster spin out of control, did very little to temper expectations, and let the community assume what they wanted to about the game. Those assumptions then transmuted into "promises" or "facts". Mostly done by the collective subconsciousness of the community granted, and not CDPR. In the end however I still fault them. But once the reality set in and anger and emotion is driving the community, those nuances and distinct differences lose all meaning to torches and pitchforks mentality.

So yes, what I am getting at is this is mostly a self-inflicted wound on CDPR by CDPR as the cause of how this hype train derailed in a blaze of glory. However, what happened after that wasn't CDPR fault, it was however the YouTube talking heads and several game "journalists" who saw low hanging fruit click bait bandwagon to jump on and oh my did they ever. Let's take a look at how the legit criticism turned into hate for the sake of hate for easy clicks to what is now a witch hunt.

First came Techradar, Gamespot and GamesRadar and others. Posting and re-posting every little crumb of bad news they could, masking they were hopping on the negative bandwagon for click bait with legit news about the game. Game being pulled from the Sony store valid news of course (however arguable the tone of some articles was less then objective in several cases). But then these kinds of headlines;

“Cyberpunk 2077 loses over 75% of players on Steam” - TechRadar

Funny, almost a month after release a single player game is losing players, almost like the time people finish most of the content in a single players game and they move on or something. But it’s “News” apparently. Yet, looking at their site I don’t see too many other occurrences of them making a big deal about people moving on from a non-multi-player game a month after release. Huh.

Or “In 'Cyberpunk 2077,' The Only Truly Punk Move Is Not To Play" – NPR

A quote from the ‘review’ “Cyberpunk 2077 is about ... nothing. There's a plot of sorts. A kind of threaded narrative about a heist gone wrong in such a way that V ends up with Keanu Reeves permanently stuck living in his head. But it isn't about anything. You run around collecting guns and meeting people and (mostly) killing them and (occasionally) just talking to them, and both options are terrible because the killing is almost always pointless and the talking, somehow, is even worse because the writing is so, so bad.”

As this article from IGN explains the game DOES have a lot to say actually but it is subtle and not all in your face necessarily. In fact, just looking at the raw message of why unregulated capitalism is a horrible thing is plastered all over the game as in-world adverts, TV shows and NPC conversations. If you take none of the other cyberpunk themed messages, warnings away after playing this game how could you possibly miss that one? Unless of course you either aren’t, trying to jump on the cool kids hate bandwagon, or you are under qualified to review such games due to your lack of mental acuity. I’ll let you the reader decide which one fits this case.

Then you got Jason Schreier and his Bloomberg article "Inside Cyberpunk 2077's Disastrous Rollout". Which citing alleged complaints about the language some employees used in meetings. That is how bottom of the barrel, seemingly grasping at straws for negative news to pile on it has become. Now in fairness the article did bring up some valid points, such as the disconnect of upper management and the developers requesting more time. But this goes back to my point of how people are mixing valid issues with hyperbole to up the drama queen factor for clicks.

Then there were the endless articles about its stock prices and lawsuits. I never knew gaming news sites cared to much about a company’s stock prices or CNBC level news. Is the stock price effecting the patching or post launch content? If it is then certainly valid to report on, otherwise is has zero bearing on the game or what gamers should care about on a game news site. The only people that matters to is rich people wanting to be richer or direct investors. Not Billy Bob in his moms basement who can’t understand why a next gen game doesn’t run on his 8 year old console hardware (that's another topic). But yet the way they drummed, hyped this story up and all the Billy Bob’s posting comments about it, playing armchair investor, you’d think these people had their life savings in CDPR. As someone who works in the financial field, I can tell you talking to investors and stock traders all day long, this stock dip means ZERO in the big picture. The same folks who said sell 2 weeks ago are going to calling those exact same clients up in another few weeks saying the stock is a steal and to buy. As I said, meaningless “news” in the long term that will have no effect on the work being done to the game. But I digress.

So now the talking heads on YouTube needed their sweet, sweet click bait money so they seized upon the opportunity the game media was harping on, and this is where it went from hyper criticism to witch hunt level negativity.

You had almost daily videos for weeks by people like MattyPlays or LegacyKilla with headlines like “Cyberpunk 2077 Is In MORE Trouble - CDPR Devs Angry, Xbox Offers Refunds, & MORE!” or “CDPR Gets EXPOSED! E3 2018 Cyberpunk 2077 Demo FAKED, Devs Needed Until 2022 & Troubled Development!” respectively.

A few weeks back, and the reason I un-subbed from Matty, is he started a video, to paraphrase ‘You know me, I don’t like to be negative, buuut…’ and then goes in a 15min tirade on how Cyberpunk is a mess and failing and OMG the sky is falling level hyperbole. I just couldn't take his barely masked forked tongue and whoring himself out for click bait non-news.

And these are not one offs; I could easily find and list off another dozen channels doing EXACTLY that. This exaggerated, focusing on the negative. Hopping on, as I said above, the low hanging fruit click bait negativity bandwagon. And just beating this dead horse into the ground to milk the clicks and eyeballs has turned into, in my view, a witch hunt. Non-stop “OMG the bugs!” (yes we got it the first 253rd time you mentioned it) or related piling on. And rarely addressing the positives, because let’s be honest pragmatism and being equally positive, fair in reporting isn’t conducive to clicks, and they know this. Objectively has gone out the window on most of these videos due to that.

However, like the Salem Witch Trials, this too has a dark underbelly. The Salem Witch Trials were really not about finding witches. It was the Puritans way, taking advantage of the citizens ignorance, to eliminate political and religious opponents. It is not coincidence the 19 people killed in the trials were not Puritans. And same can be said here, the initial criticism was valid, just as the first accusations raised were valid (albeit ignorant) in Salem. However, people then jumped on that, and manipulated it to be to their advantage. And here, especially on YouTube that is what has transpired. People just pumping out 10+ min video after video mostly turning molehill “news” into mountains for no other reason than their benefit. Again, like in Salem, a witch hunt is good for some people. And here some talking heads like Matty and Killa are no better then those Puritan witch hunters in my view, and frankly I am embarrassed for them.

The irony will be, in 3 or 4 months when things shape up, and the game gets on track to be the next Witcher 3, these same people like Matty and Angry Joe will pretend then never hopped on this bandwagon because the cool kids will have moved to the ‘OMG this game is great” bandwagon and they will be proclaiming what a amazing game this is and barley giving a passing mention to their weeks of negative coverage or figurative obituary writing for this game.

You know, I would find their faux indignation far more interesting if it wasn’t going to be so full of the inevitable, and predictable, hypocrisy by this summer.
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