So, it’s happened. Cyberpunk 2077 came out, and it’s a massive flop. This is certainly not the first time a highly-anticipated game did not meet the fans’ expectations, but this time it seems to be more broken than usual. The “refund” debate has ignited hotter than ever.
Before we get into that debate, let’s first look at previous releases that have also sparked this debate. In 2016, No Man’s Sky came out with basically no features. It was vast, it was empty, and it was fine. It wasn’t great, it wasn’t terrible, just…fine. Still, all the marketing and hype around the game prompted outrage in many who demanded a refund, but why?
Erik Kain of Forbes.com had written in August 2016, “What if you thought all these things because Hello Games had told [you] to expect them?” Is a game that’s misrepresented in its marketing, but represented accurately by the back of the box or digital marketplace description warrant a refund? Kain also points out, “In an industry that’s always handled refunds poorly, and that’s always in a state of near-war between consumers and game makers, publishers and retailers should err on the side of caution.” When you’re selling a product, at what point do broken promises become false advertising?
To answer that question, we go back three more years to 2013’s Aliens: Colonial Marines. This was a game that had a fantastic showing at E3 in 2011, and upon release, somehow managed to look worse. It was, in fact, so much worse that a two gamers sued Sega and Gearbox in 2013, stating the final product was misrepresented.
This video gives a good idea of how misrepresented the game was:
In 2014, Publisher Sega settled to the tune of $1.25 million. In 2015, developer Gearbox was dropped from the lawsuit, so the liability of the bad game is left somewhat dubious.
This circles back to Cyberpunk 2077. It is not difficult to find memes where PC gamers depict console players as whining crybabies. There seems to be this perverse attitude telling console gamers to be thankful for what they have. PC gamers suffered through so many bad ports of console games, that console gamers are not allowed to cry about a bad port of a PC game. This is a confusing opinion, however, given the bug reports on both PC and console. Further, while every game might be made on a computer, the PS4/XB1 versions have to be certified for their platform. Even updates for some games like Warframe need to be certified before they can be deployed.
It looks like Sony, Microsoft, and Best Buy learned from the Aliens: Colonial Marines and No Man’s Sky scenarios, understanding the near-war state with consumers over refunds, but also realizing that refunds are likely cheaper than litigation. While $1.25 million isn’t a lot of money for a company like Microsoft, that number doesn’t take legal fees into consideration. Even Sony, the grandmasters of telling consumers to kick rocks, is allowing for refunds of digital copies of the game. As of this writing, Cyberpunk 2077 is being taken off the Playstation store because it is broken. My personal theory is that the executives at CDProjektRed pressured Sony and Microsoft and rushed the certification of 2077 to meet their pre-Holiday deadline, and when the game was released as a broken mess, they had no choice but to backpedal and issue refunds, or face the wrath of countless gamers.
It is unfortunate that a game with so much promise was released so incomplete. The executives in charge at CDProjektRed didn’t seem to learn from the industry’s past mistakes. This is a tragic story that goes all the way back to ET on the Atari 2600. I suppose it’s fortunate that there’s no landfill for digitally distributed games.