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A futuristic blue-haired punk attacks with a sword in Cyberpunk 2077 Image: CD Projekt Red

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CD Projekt has blown years’ worth of goodwill in a week

Botched Cyberpunk 2077 launch and now problems with Devotion

Nicole Carpenter is a senior reporter specializing in investigative features about labor issues in the game industry, as well as the business and culture of games.

It’s been a bad week for GOG owner and Cyberpunk 2077 publisher CD Projekt — but it’s mostly of the company’s own doing.

The publisher and its game development arm, CD Projekt Red, faced criticism all week for Cyberpunk 2077, a highly anticipated game with eight years of built-up expectations and bold promises. But the game’s release has been soured by a messy launch, with significant console performance issues and unmet promises of refunds. That is, until Sony announced on Thursday night that it would honor refunds for PlayStation 4 players — and pull the game from the PlayStation Store.

Over the past decade, CD Projekt amassed goodwill with its community, thanks to the success and support of The Witcher 3, as well as the perceived generosity of GOG, a storefront for games that boasts a strong anti-DRM stance. That goodwill had been so strong that many fans overlooked earlier misdeeds.

But this week, the tide of public opinion appears to have turned against the studio. On Wednesday, days after the botched launch of Cyberpunk 2077, the company announced it would not list Taiwanese horror game Devotion on its storefront. That revelation came mere hours after Devotion developer Red Candle Games announced the game’s release on GOG.

Red Candle Games’ announcement was met with excitement from players. Devotion was initially released on Steam in February 2019, but was only available there for six days before it was removed. Devotion included a meme critical of Chinese president Xi Jinping, angering players who review-bombed the game — meaning, they left large numbers of negative reviews and comments. Red Candle took Devotion offline for a “complete QA check.” It never returned.

scary door in a dark hallway Image: Red Candle Games

The Devotion incident reportedly resulted in the game’s publisher, Indievent, losing its business license in China. Red Candle Games has since apologized, calling the inclusion of the meme a “careless and unprofessional act.” Devotion later got a physical release in Taiwan, and was added to the Harvard-Yenching Library’s prestigious Chinese collection.

Mere hours after Red Candle Games announced Devotion’s re-release on GOG, CD Projekt said it received “many messages from gamers” about plans to bring Devotion to GOG, which influenced its decision to block the game on its platform. Polygon reached out to GOG for more information, but has not heard back.

Commenters on social media suggest the risk of upsetting the Chinese government by distributing Devotion through GOG is the real reason behind CD Projekt’s decision. Cyberpunk 2077 is not yet officially licensed for sale in China, but players there have been purchasing the game via Steam and on console through other storefronts.

“China’s government could move to ban [Cyberpunk 2077] in an official capacity, should there be any controversy around the game like there was with Devotion last year,” video game industry analyst Daniel Ahmad, an expert on Chinese markets, wrote in a report on the Niko Partners website. Ahmad added that Cyberpunk 2077 would have to adjust the game’s content to get an official release in China, which restricts games with “excessive violence, drug use, and adult content.” Cyberpunk 2077 has a lot of that.

The situation has already blown up online. GOG’s initial tweet about delisting Devotion has racked up thousands of comments and retweets with players questioning the legitimacy of the “many messages from gamers” explanation.

CD Projekt and GOG haven’t been immune to controversy before, but the company positions its digital retail arm as “truly gamer friendly.” Its legion of fans sometimes overlook its faults, including transphobic tweets and marketing and mandatory “crunch” during the development of Cyberpunk 2077. Although the game’s development workflow and marketing was widely criticized ahead of its launch, fans’ enthusiasm remained high. The game pulled in enough pre-orders and sales that the publisher said Cyberpunk 2077 had recouped its development costs just one day after its release.

But those tides have largely turned in the past week since Cyberpunk 2077 was released. Players have been furious at how poorly the game runs on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One, and even angrier that CD Projekt intentionally kept this footage out of reach of reviewers by not offering console review codes, ahead of its launch. On Tuesday, CD Projekt’s co-CEO admitted to investors that this was the “wrong approach.”

Players continue to be upset with CD Projekt as they seek out refunds on the game, which the company encouraged players to request, at least at first. CD Projekt later clarified that it had no special arrangement with Sony or Microsoft to offer refunds, and that players must have met requirements to get a refund — something that often means not having started the game at all. On Thursday night, Sony decided it would offer refunds, as well as outright remove the game from the PlayStation Store — a move that shocked the industry.

Wednesday’s announcement about Devotion seems to have also eroded the goodwill that CD Projekt has established over the years, with thousands of angry messages flooding GOG’s Twitter account. Now, Sony’s move seems to have cemented CD Projekt’s very bad week.

GOG has maintained its silence, but social media commenters continue to bring up Devotion on that tweet and others.