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Protocol Gaming
Your essential guide to the business of gaming.

Lessons from Cyberpunk

Cyberpunk

Hello! This week in Protocol Gaming, your weekly guide to the business of video games: what Cyberpunk's messy launch can teach us, and a whole bunch of developments in Chinese gaming.

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The Big Story

What Cyberpunk can teach us

The Cyberpunk 2077 fiasco is not over yet: That will only happen when (if!) the game is patched on last-gen consoles. But though we're still in the midst of it, the troubled launch has already taught us some very valuable lessons about the games industry — and some of its biggest problems.

Most obviously, there's the problem of management. Numerous articles over the last week convey one message above all else: CD Projekt's management was very, very bad at planning.

  • The company had eight years to make and polish the game, and yet the final product fell well-short of people's standards. Even numerous delays didn't help the team get on top of the situation.
  • Senior executives have admitted that they messed up, confessing that the company simply didn't spend enough time testing the last-gen versions.
  • As in so many other fields, execution ends up mattering more than ideas. Success can often come down to Gantt charts.

Relatedly, it's clear that crunch isn't a silver bullet. Regular six-day workweeks were put in place at CD Projekt to squash bugs, and yet.

  • Sometimes, people justify — rightly or wrongly — extreme work practices as a necessary part of building an amazing game. And sometimes games whose development involved crunch really are amazing! Take The Last of Us 2, for instance, or Red Dead Redemption 2.
  • Cyberpunk, though, shows that it doesn't always work. That ought to raise questions about the practice as a whole: If you don't know if it'll make the final product shine, why bother inflicting it on people at all?

The post-release has also shown where power really lies: with platforms. Sony pulling the game from the PlayStation Store last week was a watershed moment: If the Epic-Apple fight hadn't made it clear enough, it's now undeniable that a select few gatekeepers are in control.

  • CD Projekt relied on Sony and Microsoft's trust. It's said that the game was likely approved because Sony and Microsoft "trusted that we're going to fix things upon release." That trust was violated — something which could have implications for other developers in future, too.
  • The other major power-holder? Investors, who together with lawyers are already considering a class-action suit. With most large developers being publicly traded, everything — buggy games included — may well be securities fraud.

There's one thing we still don't know though: How much any of this will matter. For sure, CD Projekt is currently in a dire situation. Its stock has plunged around 40% in the last few weeks, and it's offered to cover the costs of refunds not honored by retailers. Its reputation is also a long, long way from where it was just a couple months ago, let alone at the height of The Witcher 3 mania.

  • But as Seth Schiesel pointed out last week, gamers can be patient. And there is a very real chance that the game is fixed in the next few months, people that have accepted refunds re-buy it, and we all forget about it in a couple years.

Whether the industry learns these lessons may ultimately depend on whether CD Projekt sees a sustained financial impact from the debacle. After all, the game recouped its costs from preorders alone. If the company's financials next year are solid, and the scandal all forgotten, then there's little incentive for it, or other companies, to change.

Overheard

  • "We show the social significance (of games) to improve our relations with regulatory authorities." —An anonymous Chinese game developer explained why companies, including Tencent, are developing games that serve the public interest.
  • "As there may have been slight changes in dates, then we're trying to react with understanding what parts of our evergreen catalog could we insert and drive to continue to keep the momentum that we have been seeing as we went into the period." —Doug Bowser said Nintendo's back catalog helps make up for delays of new games.
  • "I'm aware of the vulnerability involved when someone brings me an idea or a concept. I take great care not to shut the person down, and try to take their suggestion on its own terms." —Shigeru Miyamoto said he takes pains to be a compassionate boss.

READ MORE

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

  • PUBG was the highest-grossing mobile game of the year, according to Sensor Tower. It, combined with Chinese version Game For Peace, brought in almost $2.6 billion this year. Honor of Kings was second, with $2.5 billion, followed by Pokémon Go's $1.2 billion.
  • Unity bought RestAR, which lets users create 3D models from video scans. It also announced a partnership with Snap, which will add Unity Ads to the Snap Audience Network.
  • ByteDance is in talks to buy a stake in CMGE, Reuters reports, which could be worth as much as $275 million. It would put the company even deeper in competition with Tencent than it already is.
  • Keywords continued its acquisition spree, buying developer High Voltage Software for $50 million, PR firm Indigo Pearl for $2.7 million and recording studio Jinglebell for $2.2 million.
  • Alexandre Pelletier-Normand is Rovio's new CEO. He was the company's executive vice president for games. In less cheery moves, Adult Swim shut down Big Pixel Studios, with around 40 people reportedly being made redundant.
  • Discord raised $100 million at a reported $7 billion valuation, led by Greenoaks Capital. In other fundraising news, Parsec raised $25 million led by a16z, for its remote development tool; and Tilting Point said it would invest up to $40 million in user acquisition funding for Joycity's new game.
  • Skillz listed on the NYSE, having gone public via a SPAC. Its shares rose on debut. Meanwhile, esports were confirmed to be a medal event at the 2022 Asian Games.

Look Out For

Halo Not-Quite-Infinite

If you're stuck at home this Christmas looking for something to do, 343 Industries has just given you one excellent option. It's announced that the Xbox 360's Halo games will go dark next December, giving you just a year left to reminisce about the simpler times of 2007. Better make the most of it!

Thanks for reading. Tell your friends and colleagues to subscribe here, and send tips, feedback and ideas to shakeel@protocol.com. We're taking next week off, so have a wonderful holiday and see you Jan. 5!

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