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Your essential guide to the business of gaming.

Cyberpunk is dead. Long live Cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk is dead. Long live Cyberpunk.

Good morning! This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: the failure and promise of Cyberpunk 2077, Roblox postponed its IPO and GeForce Now's general manager tells us what he thinks will transform mobile gaming.

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The Big Story

Cyberpunk is dead. Long live Cyberpunk.

Cyberpunk 2077 is one of the best video games ever. Its launch has been one of the worst.

This was the most anticipated game of 2020. And now, even all the histrionics that have surrounded its eight-year development — the multiple delays, the polarizing media coverage, the intense work schedule, the Twitter melodrama, the problems even playing it — cannot obscure the fact that Cyberpunk has immediately become one of the most important games in the industry and will remain so for years to come.

Watching (and hopefully playing) Cyberpunk will provide a revealing lens for understanding the game industry's evolving technologies and business models.

The core issue right now is Cyberpunk's aggressive ambition: It is just too much game for most hardware to handle. The depth of detail, narrative maturity and sheer scale of Cyberpunk's world and story make it one of the most engaging games I have ever played. Visually, I have never seen a game as beautiful as Cyberpunk.

  • I can only say that because I've spent most of my 30-plus hours in the game playing on a custom $3,000 PC with brand new AMD 5600x CPU and Nvidia RTX 3080 GPU, components that are so hot they're sold out everywhere.
  • (For the true nerds: I'm getting around 70 frames per second at 1440p resolution with most settings on maximum, using moderate ray tracing and minimum DLSS.)
  • There are certainly annoyances and much polish is needed, but the software has not crashed for me and I have experienced only minor bugs. Still, even if you want to spend the money, it will probably take you months to get a PC truly worthy of the game.

The real problem is on consoles. CD Projekt Red was clearly irresponsible in releasing console versions in their current state.

  • I have not done all the testing personally, but it seems clear that the game's performance is mediocre at best on the new PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X and S, as well as the upgraded versions of the older PlayStation 4 and Xbox One consoles. On original PS4 and Xbox One hardware, the game appears truly awful and perhaps unplayable.
  • That's not OK, which CDPR belatedly came to acknowledge on Monday: apologizing, offering refunds and promising patches.
  • Keep in mind that versions fully optimized for the new PS5 and Xboxes aren't out until some time next year. The versions on those systems now are basically made for the older machines. The smug hype trickling down from PC gamers will be so strong that the game will almost certainly sell in vast quantities on console next year as improved versions become available.

In the meantime, the cloud is Cyberpunk's savior, and unless you have a serious gaming PC, that's where you should play it. Stadia and GeForce Now both deserve to be big winners amid the Cyberpunk soap opera.

  • Stadia has always worked far more reliably than anyone had any right to expect. The problem is that most people had no reason to pay full retail price to play a game in a Chrome browser tab. Now they do. Cyberpunk worked fine with an Xbox controller plugged into a decrepit MacBook Air. Now that's corporate teamwork.
  • Nvidia's GeForce Now offers higher image quality than Stadia, but is a bit more complicated and potentially expensive. Rather than sell you the game itself, GFN recognizes purchases made on other stores like Steam and GOG. Rather than run purely in a browser, GFN uses a thin downloadable client. And unlike Stadia, GFN naturally supports Nvidia's ray-tracing graphics technology.
  • Of course the cloud services can't compare in image quality and responsiveness to a high-end PC, but from what I've seen they're more stable and look better than the current console versions. (With the cloud, you can even run multiple copies of Cyberpunk at once.)

In truth, Cyberpunk is probably going to become a reference for the game industry for at least several years, precisely because it is so demanding and delivers spectacular entertainment when it is running well.

  • When new chips and systems come out, the question will be, "How much better does it run Cyberpunk?"
  • As Microsoft, Amazon and other companies expand their cloud gaming services, players will ask, "Does it include Cyberpunk?"
  • As Rockstar Games releases the biggest expansion yet for Grand Theft Auto Online today, many gamers will ask, "How does it compare to Cyberpunk?" (Quick answer: The Cayo Perico Heist will be far more polished.)

As implausible as it sounds, gamers are actually quite patient and they understand that both technical and gameplay flaws can be fixed. They will stick around if they can tell there is a great game waiting to be unleashed.

  • Just look at No Man's Sky, the open universe masterpiece that was excoriated on release in 2016 only to rebound and beat Fortnite, Call of Duty, Apex Legends and Destiny 2 to win Best Ongoing Game at The Game Awards last week.

The drama around Cyberpunk 2077 will eventually die down. The game itself, however, isn't going anywhere but up.

— Seth Schiesel

Overheard

  • "We've seen companies take innovative approaches to creating a more market-based relationship between investors and companies." —Roblox CEO David Baszucki explained why the company is delaying its IPO, reportedly as a result of huge pops from Airbnb and DoorDash last week. That's not slowing Roblox down, though: It just bought Loom.ai.
  • "Top influencers earn a lot of money for their work on those platforms, and there's no reason talented game makers shouldn't also be amply rewarded for their efforts." —Manticore CEO Frederic Descamps explained why its UGC platform Core will share 50% of revenue with creators, drawing a stark contrast with Roblox's 24.5% share.
  • "Discord is using group chats to backdoor into a Twitch competitor." —Gelt VC's Turner Novak thinks Discord's new party games feature is going to be a big deal.

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON FIRE TV

Amazon

The lockdowns this year have transformed our homes into offices, schools, concert halls, movie theaters and gyms. Our homes are working harder for us, but so is our technology. The device that is working the hardest is perhaps the TV—becoming our lifeline to a far more virtual world.

Learn more.

Lootbox

  • EA outbid TakeTwo for Codemasters. It's paying $1.2 billion for the company, well above TakeTwo's $870 million offer. In other deals: MTG bought Hutch for $375 million; Rollic bought Onnect for $6 million; and Tencent invested "several hundred million" renminbi in Wizard Games.
  • Nintendo sold over 1.3 million Switches in China this year, according to market research from Niko Partners. That's almost double the sales of the PS4 and Xbox One combined over the same period, and brings the Switch to nearly 4 million total sales in the region. The Switch also sold more units than any other console in the U.S. last month, despite a big launch for the PS5.
  • Gamestop revenue missed estimates, with comparable sales down almost 25% year-over-year. Its stock plunged on the news.
  • German antitrust authorities are investigating Facebook, examining whether Oculus requiring a Facebook account is an illegal practice. Oculus sales are currently unavailable in the country.
  • Raashi Sikka is Ubisoft's first VP of global diversity and inclusion. She was previously at Uber Eats, where she was head of D&I for EMEA, APAC and global regions. In other moves: Peter Moore joined Nifty Games' board; Dave Curd is PUBG's new creative director; Michael Booth is leading Bad Robot's new dev studio; Quentin Cobb, Alex Sulman, Chris Kovach, TJ Madigan and John Bautista are launching a new ZeniMax Online office in San Diego; and ex-Zynga vets Marcus Segal and Mike Pagano Doom launched ForeVR, a new studio backed by Zynga's founders.

Q&A: 

Phil Eisler, Nvidia Vice President and General Manager, GeForce Now

What was your first gaming system?

Nintendo Entertainment System. I remember fun times playing Super Mario in the basement with my friends in Canada. It's cold up there, eh?

What is the most important trend in the game business in 2020?

Ray tracing. Now that the second generation of hardware ray-tracing GPUs are available and more games are taking advantage of it, we're seeing a transformation in the look and feel of video games. In time, it will probably have a larger impact than the hardware programmable shader from back in 2001.

What has been the most overlooked aspect of development in the game business over the last year?

5G mobile networks. They are finally rolling out to consumers around the world and offer a 10x increase in bandwidth with one-tenth the latency. This creates a platform capable of streaming PC-quality games to phones everywhere that will transform the type of games that we play on mobile devices.

What new technology or technical development are you most looking forward to?

Cloud-to-mobile touchscreen inputs. The last piece in the puzzle to make cloud gaming on mobile devices great. Who wants to carry a controller in their pocket? We're working with a large publisher on this capability and it is transformational.

What games are you playing recently that don't come from your company?

Like half the planet, I've been really enjoying Cyberpunk. CD Projekt [Red] did a great job of blending a video game with a sci-fi movie to create a really fun experience that feels like the future of entertainment. Also, I like playing Among Us with my kids. It's great to see an indie game company come out of nowhere to capture a whole generation of kids playing video games with their friends.

Look out for

Elon has logged on

The Cyberpunk launch has been … tumultuous. But it reached a whole new height Monday, when Elon Musk — who is, remember, the second richest man on the planet — started tweeting memes to the game's Twitter account. Seems he likes the game though!

— Shakeel Hashim

A MESSAGE FROM AMAZON FIRE TV

Amazon

The lockdowns this year have transformed our homes into offices, schools, concert halls, movie theaters and gyms. Our homes are working harder for us, but so is our technology. The device that is working the hardest is perhaps the TV—becoming our lifeline to a far more virtual world.

Learn more.

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe here, and send tips, feedback and ideas to sschiesel@protocol.com and shakeel@protocol.com. See you next week.

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