Cyberpunk 2077, Anthem, and No Man’s Sky — Failed Launches in Video Games.
Note: I originally published at https://www.speedgamingnews.com on February 24, 2021.
“Failure” is a strong word. In the gaming world, a failure is when a game fails to meet consumer expectations, either failing to sell well, getting bad reviews and sometimes both. There are many reasons why a game would fail, perhaps it was too rushed, or it was too ambitious, or maybe the audience expected too much and got too little in return. Either way, the game just did not quite hit the mark for people. The gaming industry has had its fair share of duds in the past few years, games that shot for the stars and missed, all with their own stories of mismanagement and confusion. Hopefully, by looking at these games, people can understand just where and why these titles broke down.
A City to Burn: Cyberpunk 2077
Unfortunately, it was unbelievable. Cyberpunk 2077 was very quickly criticized for a multitude of problems and issues. On launch day, many found themselves suffering from a load of technical issues and bugs ranging from full-on crashes to graphical issues. While some did not have problems and those with higher-end PCs experiencing a world that was as beautiful as advertised, the greatest issue came with those on last-gen consoles. Players who used the Xbox One or PS4 found that their performance was so bad it was unacceptable. Crashing, low frame rates and textures so bad that they looked like they were placed on a PS2 game, the user experience was so bad that the PS4 Version was from stores (I believe this has only been done once before and Microsoft warned all potential customers about potential performance issues on the Xbox One.
What went wrong? A huge reason was that internal developers were not given enough agency on when the game should be released. An from Bloomberg revealed that when an original release date of April 16, 2020 was announced, some thought it was a joke. People estimated the game would only be ready in 2022, and when management said delaying an option due to the need for “double-dipping” on both current-gen and next-gen consoles, employees were forced into an insane crunch. The global pandemic made development even harder, and bleary-eyed programmers were crunching even after management on Twitter announced the game had “gone gold”. The game was never going to be done in time, and CD Projekt paid the price.
The end of BioWare Magic
Before became the game, everyone loved to hate on, there was Anthem. EA’s attempt to create their own looter-shooter to compete with the likes of Destiny, Borderlands, and The Division, looked fantastic when a demo was shown in E3 2017. Iron man suits in an open world seemed like a slam dunk. Furthermore, the studio behind was BioWare, the developers behind legendary series’ like Mass Effect and Dragon Age. These two titles had universal acclaim behind them for excellent characters, world-building, and player-agency. While they had a recent with Mass Effect: Andromeda, expectations were high, and audiences were excited to whet their teeth on a new looter-shooter.
As approached release, grumblings about bugs and content grew, and a demo for the game right before release gave players more concerns than hype. On launch, flaws and issues were shown to the world. The game was panned as repetitive, shallow, and uninspired despite some praise for combat and flying. Players found a multitude of strange issues on launch, including the fact that the best gun in the game was a level 1 rifle and the fact that unequipping all gear save one max level one would give you power as if you had the highest level. The team that once came up with the grandiose stories of Mass Effect and missed the mark with the story, with many finding it lacklustre at best.
The experience was bad enough that in less than a year, the development team was forced to change their plans for post-launch content, instead of looking to improve core issues. By February 2020, a year on from launch, BioWare announced that they were looking to completely reboot the game itself, akin to the 2013 revision of Final Fantasy XIV In 2021 however, it seems as though maybe cancelled completely. EA met mid-February 2021 to decide on their looter-shooter, and the silence afterwards has led many to believe that is dead in the water.
(As of Late February, Anthem is indeed dead in the water, unfortunately.)
What went wrong? Was it the same issue with Cyberpunk, where hype built the game to a point that BioWare could never have met? Was the game simply not ready on launch? Unfortunately, it seems like more of the same. Development was chaotic, constantly changing to acclimate developers leaving and ideas changing. With directors Casey Hudson and other lead employees leaving the project or BioWare completely, large decisions were often left to teams of people, which led to a lot of indecision. No one had a strong singular vision to guide the team, and an employee even stated that some small decisions would take over a year because people simply could not make a call. As launch day neared, the teams still could not see a collective vision, constantly scrapping and redesigning the core gameplay system. With that sort of confusion, there was no hope that could launch coherently, let alone be the game that fans and developers wanted it to be.
With the future currently in flux, BioWare is no longer a titan of the games industry, with many of its original leaders having left the studio. The studio has recently announced a game, as well as a remaster of the original trilogy to positive reception, but the fallout will stain their reputation for the foreseeable future.
Both games showed to have a long way to go, but there is still hope that they can turn it around. The last game covered, No Man’s Sky is living proof that if a team works hard enough, and truly puts its heads down to bring what they promised to players, a game can be turned around. Like both titles, there was a lot of hype surrounding No Man’s Sky (there is starting to be a pattern around here). Developers Hello Game s wanted to create a game that exemplified space exploration, drawing inspiration from famous Sci-Fi authors like Asimov, Clarke, and Heinlein. Players are thrown into the wild frontier of an uncharted universe and are then encouraged to explore, survive, fight, and do whatever strikes their fancy in the game world. What made No Man’s Sky different was the usage of procedural generation for nearly everything in the game universe, allowing players to have completely unique experiences.
Over the course of development, No Man’s Sky was widely promoted across the internet, with many being drawn to the small team with a large scope taking on triple-A studios. Creator Sean Murray was extremely passionate about No Man’s Sky, and his interviews gave many gamers extremely high expectations leading to launch. Murray seems to have realized that his excitement may have led to sugar-coating just how expansive the game would be and tried his best to caution players before launch. However, his train had gotten off the rails, and hundreds of thousands of fans were now locked into a game that gave them the ability to explore the near-infinite universe, with all the dangerous and beautiful bells and whistles to come with it.
However, the team was hard at work, pushing to give the players and themselves the game that was promised at launch. They learned from their mistakes pre-launch and did not share anything about their work until only days before the launch of their first update, “Foundation”. The update was warmly received, and it the right step for No Man’s Sky. Continued updates over the years culminated in No Man’s Sky Next, giving players a multiplayer experience with up to 4 players. Hello Games believed that that this was what they wanted to release in 2016 and vowed to communicate more directly with the community now that they had realized their vision.
Since then, No Man’s Sky has released many updates ranging from expanded multiplayer features, Virtual Reality support, and cross-platform support for all platforms. Reception has also turned from negative to positive, with players finding that the game no longer looks the same as it did at launch. No Man’s Sky has finally brought fruit with handed to Hello Games for its support and continued development.
Hello Games worked very hard to reclaim their reputation, and their work on No Man’s Sky deserves a lot of credit. Sean Murray and the team behind No Man’s Sky knew that they had made mistakes and worked hard to realize their vision. Unlike and Anthem, it does seem like Hello Games had a clearer path to success. The team had a vision, and certainly had the means and passion to accomplish it. Their only mistake was being too excited and sharing their hopes and dreams of No Man’s Sky rather than concrete details.
Hype Thrusters at Maximum
Hype can be a double-edged sword. Before launch, hype can be fantastic for gaining attention, and does wonders for pre-launch sales. That same hype can cause audience expectations to skyrocket to unrealistic levels. With how fast news can travel these days, teams in charge of communication or PR need to be doubly careful with the information shared with audience s or journalists. There needs to be work on both sides to ensure that everyone knows what they are getting.