On Monday, December 7th, gamers from all around the world were finally given the chance to read and listen to critics' experiences with one of the most anticipated games of the year, Cyberpunk 2077. The game quickly ascended into the OpenCritic Hall of Fame, with an initial top critic average of 91 placing it at #6 in our 2020 Hall of Fame. The reviews almost universally mentioned significant bugs and performance issues but still hyped the game to be worth the wait.
What gamers didn't know is that, behind the scenes, CD PROJEKT RED appears to have been deliberately attempting to misrepresent its product.
The incentive was there. Up until last Friday, the developers believed that their bonuses were contingent upon hitting 90 or higher on Metacritic, according to a report from Bloomberg. As a result, the individual developers and publishers had ample incentive to distribute review codes in a way that maximized their aggregate scores and secured their bonuses.
In this case, they issued PC review copies to publications with high-end PCs and required that they not show any of their own gameplay recordings. They allowed no one to discuss or review the game on the Xbox One or PlayStation 4 consoles.
They did this knowing that their game had severe performance issues on Xbox One and PlayStation 4, which were its target launch consoles given they published its debut trailer in 2013 and the game's initial April 2020 launch date. They did this knowing that the visual bugs that you would see in a video were jarring enough to make many question their preorder. They knew that, if the console version were to be reviewed, it would receive negative reviews due to its performance issues and hurt the game's launch day sales.
They did it knowing that many publications generally can't re-review games. It's not part of their business model. The second review creates confusion with their audience in addition to dampening SEO and Google keyword rankings. Second reviews won't rank high on news aggregators, such as Google News or Apple News, because it's a topic that's been covered by them before. Second reviews also typically come after a game's launch, when many consumers have already decided whether or not to buy a game, and thus don't attract the same readership. Finally, Metacritic generally does not accept edited or updated review scores.
They did it knowing that, to this day, it is still challenging for consumers to return a video game. Physical retailers generally require that games be unopened in order to be returned. Digital retailers have tight controls on their return policies, with many (notably, some consoles) not offering returns at all.
They did it knowing that most online communities don't discuss the platforms behind the review. Most games, especially AAA games, usually don't have significant disparities in the experience between same-gen hardware. Consumers have come to expect that most games will be fairly reviewed across all platforms, and in our experience, most publishers respect that expectation. Most of the review roundups published by individual publications make no reference to the platform reviewed. Extremely large publications, like IGN or GameSpot, are typically afforded the chance to review all platforms and call out any major differences between them. It's a small, though typically inconsequential blindspot in how publications connect with gamers.
They did it knowing that what they were doing was wrong. It was deceptive, selfish, and exploitative. They did it anyway.
In 2015, prior to the launch of OpenCritic, the development team watched the PC release of Batman: Arkham Knight. While the game performed well and was received well on consoles, the PC release had so many problems that many gamers considered it unplayable. A few days after its release, Warner Brothers issued an apology and suspended all sales of the PC version. The OpenCritic team discussed this moment intensely behind the scenes. We revisited our designs, questioning if it was the right decision to aggregate all platforms into a single score.
We still believe in the single-score approach. Our policy has been that, unless a game has radically different experiences on different platforms, it should be presented as a single product. In almost every case, critics firmly call out bugs and performance issues in their reviews, and that's how it should be. Assassin's Creed Unity and more recently Valhalla were filled with bugs and performance issues at their launches, but unlike CD Projekt Red, Ubisoft didn't deliberately hide those issues from critics.
For the past five years, the single-score approach has worked well. Many gamers appreciate having all the reviews in one place, especially given that most games provide the same player experience regardless of platform.
But today, we believe that the single-score approach has failed our users in regards to Cyberpunk 2077. As a result, we have published a new warning on the Cyberpunk 2077 page:
Please note: This game has significant disparities in performance, player experience, and review scores between the PC, next-gen consoles, Xbox One, and PS4 versions.
The OpenCritic team and several critics suspect that the developer, CD PROJEKT RED, intentionally sought to hide the true state of the game on Xbox One and PS4, with requirements such as only allowing pre-rendered game footage in reviews and not issuing review copies for PS4 and Xbox One versions.
This notice will be taken down in February 2021.
CD Projekt Red has since apologized, and has urged consumers to seek refunds where available.