CD Projekt RED’s Cyberpunk 2077 is riding a wave of positivity for Phantom Liberty, its first major expansion that adds a new story, characters, quests and area. A free update is launching alongside it to revamp the AI, police systems, and more. However, it wasn’t long before the company was under scrutiny at launch for performance issues on current-gen consoles, bugs, missing features and more.
So while things are good now, Michał Platkow-Gilewski, CD Projekt’s VP of PR and communication, hasn’t forgotten the old days. Speaking to Games Industry during Summer Games Fest, he said, “We’re in a cool moment right now. Yes, the road was bumpy. When everything was awesome and amazing before the release of cyberpunk…it was the time of my life, but it was too good to be true.
“The game was shaping up to be amazing, and we were all super hyped. But this hype surrounding us was a big pressure. Then there was the release, and it was not a fairy tale anymore.
“We knew that we had to work hard to come back. It was a tough moment for everyone. We had to rebuild a lot of things inside of the company. We started with pipelines on the dev side; we thought, ‘Should we tie our future with a different engine or should we stay with our own? We made some decisions about how we work, how we are structured. It was a big rebuilding.
“At the same time as this, we knew we wanted to work on cyberpunk and make not just a great expansion but also improve several things in the base game. It was quite a journey, but right now, I am just excited to see what people will say when they start playing.”
Being at the company for 12 years and seeing it grow from 120 people to around 1,200 (with his own team going from six to almost employees), Platkow-Gilewski’s biggest regret is letting down fans with Cyberpunk 2077.
“I was personally not happy with how things turned out. I was not expecting that. I immediately knew that we had to come back. I liked the spot we were in. I’m not talking about the peak of hype, but two years before that, we had our community, we liked them, they liked us, and it was awesome to work at CD Projekt RED.
“After the release, it was tough, but I knew we had the same people. The gamers are the same… we just need to fix our relationship. The only thing we can truly do is just deliver what we are capable of. I have a feeling that soon we will be able to do that, and hopefully, that will be a new beginning for everyone.”
One of the ways is by changing the company’s culture and approach to crunch, which was apparently clear during the game’s development. “It’s really hard to change a company when you have to deliver something and have a deadline. It’s not the best time for that. Everyone was waiting for the release.
“These changes would have happened anyway, but [the Cyberpunk situation] was another motivation. It was a wake-up call to say, ‘Let’s rebuild, let’s restructure, let’s rethink… what can we learn from this?’ It’s not an easy fix. It’s not like you can decide to do something different starting tomorrow. It’s a process that’ll probably take a lot of time, but I can see that the company works differently than it used to. And no one wants to repeat the mistakes that were made.
“cyberpunk took us a lot of time to deliver, and we grew. We needed to rethink how we were working in bigger groups and ensure that everyone listened to each other. And also make sure we empower teams to work on their fragments of the game, but when you combine everything, it runs smoothly from all sides. We need to empower new leadership as well. We want to decentralize how we work.
“The biggest thing was standing up and saying, ‘We have to do it’. Yes, we were expecting a different launch for cyberpunk, but now we have another chance. As the person responsible for communication, I want to rebuild the connection with gamers because we had people following us for years, and they were disappointed. That’s, for me, the biggest thing. We have to make the game for them.”
Currently, the team is entirely focused on work-life balance in the studio. “Work life [balance] is important to us. It always has been, but it was hard to maintain the balance. I’m enjoying my private life now way more than I used to. We are improving, rebuilding, and reshaping the studio on so many levels that it’s hard to say precisely what’s happening. But work-life balance, how we work together, how we empower even smaller teams, what are the pipelines, how we speak with management, all that… it’s constantly changing.
“There are a group of people responsible only for transformation. They are not responsible for the quality of what we are delivering but for what’s going on in the studio, including creating new spaces so it’s way more comfortable to work. The whole COVID situation hit us as well, and we had to figure out how to work [with people at home]. On the one hand, we are missing our colleagues because we don’t see them so often, but on the other hand, we learned how to work with digital tools to make sure that everyone knows everything.
“All this mess started when we were still making cyberpunkbut now we have the time to work on these tools to develop them, to create best practices…it’s an interesting time.”
It matches Phantom Liberty (and Project Orion) director Gabe Amatangelo’s statements that work-life balance is currently “very healthy.” Lower-level staff confirmed this to Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier, though they added that it remains an “ongoing, complicated issue.”
Cyberpunk 2077: Phantom Liberty releases on September 26th for Xbox Series X/S, PS5 and PC. Head here for more details on its features.