Thoughts on Bloomberg’s article about Cyberpunk2077

Bloomberg today published an article about the release of Cyberpunk2077. The article triggered some thoughts on me.

Disclaimer: I am a big fan of The Witcher 3 the previous game of CD Projekt SA, I haven’t played Cyberpunk 2077 yet, and I hold some CD Project SA stocks. My thoughts in this post come mainly from the perspective of a Product-Minded software engineer and advocate of agile methodologies.

Employees, discussing the game’s creation for the first time, described a company that focused on marketing at the expense of development, and an unrealistic timeline that pressured some into working extensive overtime long before the final push.

Cyberpunk 2077 generated a lot of Hype and 13 million people pre-ordered it. From the (external )perspective that I have, the marketing activities before the launch were successful.

Overworking is unfortunately a common practice in the software industry. According to Blood, Sweat, and Pixels (a book that contains stories of the development process of some very popular video games) CD Project SA employees also overworked during the development of Witcher 3. The Witcher 3 was a game with bugs in its launch, it was very playable in all the platforms it was released though. After the launch of Witcher 3, CD Project continuously published new content and patches for the game. The company received a lot of praise for supporting the game so much after its launch, and all that despite having a business model that does not rely on in App Purchases or Subscription. The history of the company makes me hopeful that they will do the same with Cyberpunk.

Although Cyberpunk was announced in 2012, the company was then still mainly focused on its last title and full development didn’t start until late 2016, employees said. That was when CD Projekt essentially hit the reset button, according to people familiar with the project.

I am not sure what “hit the reset button” means in this case. In general making a “complete rewrite” of a software piece, may sound like a good idea in the beginning to many developers, as the “rewriting” starts though, the developers often realise, that the task is more complex and complicated than previously estimated. Step by step improvements and continuous evaluation of whether the “improvements” actually accomplish their goal, is often a better approach.

Much of CD Projekt’s focus, according to several people who worked on Cyberpunk 2077, was on impressing the outside world. A slice of gameplay was showcased at E3, the industry’s main trade event, in 2018. It showed the main character embarking on a mission, giving players a grand tour of the seedy, crime-ridden Night City. Fans and journalists were wowed by Cyberpunk 2077’s ambition and scale. What they didn’t know was that the demo was almost entirely fake. CD Projekt hadn’t yet finalized and coded the underlying gameplay systems, which is why so many features, such as car ambushes, were missing from the final product. Developers said they felt like the demo was a waste of months that should have gone toward making the game.

Ouch, this hurts me. This is unfortunately also a common practice in the industry. Examples of this, can also be found in Blood Sweat and Pixels. Even in a smaller scale, even in the bi-weekly “Review” or “Demo” ceremony known from “Scrum” or other “Agile” methodologies, development teams may feel “tempted” to fake certain parts of the software for the presentation. “Faking” software (though dummy integrations or otherwise) does not translate to real progress. This practice is unfortunately so common, that by now, I always assume this kind of early “demo” is either completely fake, or a vertical slice that is trying so hard to look good, it can’t possibly reflect what we will actually get down the road.

While The Witcher 3 was created by roughly 240 in-house staff, according to the company, Cyberpunk’s credits show that the game had well over 500 internal developers. But because CD Projekt wasn’t accustomed to such a size, people who worked on the game said their teams often felt siloed and unorganized.

This sounds like “unsustainable” Growth of workforce. Does hiring more developers and assigning them “tasks” necessary translate to better software? Probably not. In the Mythical Man Month, Fred Brooks demolishes several persistent myths around software development. These myths never quite go away: every new generation just has to learn them over again. The book was first published in 1975!

Have you played Cyberpunk 2077? What were your impressions of the game? What do you think of the “churning” practice in the software industry? Personally, I am looking forward to play Cyberpunk 2077 once the “updated” version for PS5 arrives (assuming my pre-ordered PS5 arrives until then).

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