How the Cyberpunk 2077 Best Buy Debacle Became Another Next-Gen Sales Failure for Retailers

Best Buy shipped copies of Cyberpunk 2077 to pre-order holders a week before the game was set to launch, but even this bungle is eclipsed by the Xbox Series X and PS5 stock fiasco.

Cyberpunk 2077
Photo: CD Projekt Red

The lead up to the release of the long-awaited sci-fi RPG epic Cyberpunk 2077 has been anything but smooth sailing. Originally announced all the way back in 2012, CD Projekt Red’s follow-up to The Witcher 3: Wild Hunt has suffered several delays, and not all of them due to the Covid-19 pandemic.

Most recently, reports of poor working conditions at the developer shed light on the dark side of a studio that originally promised it would not rely on development crunch and mandatory overtime to finish the game. Then another delay came, pushing the game from its November launch date to December. The most toxic members of the game’s “fanbase” immediately responded by sending death threats to several of the studio’s employees.

Now, with the Dec. 10 release date in sight, people are ready to turn their attention to the game itself. Cyberpunk 2077 has been marketed as CD Projekt Red’s most sprawling and engaging open-world game yet, an immersive experience full of stories and colorful characters set in a neon-drenched city. What we’ve seen so far in the cinematic trailers and gameplay walkthroughs seems very promising.

But just as CD Projekt Red was preparing to finally take whatever was left of its victory lap, Best Buy completely dropped the ball. On Wednesday, fans who pre-ordered Cyberpunk 2077 from the retailer started receiving their copies in the mail earlier than expected — more than a week ahead of the game’s launch. It’s a mistake that will likely lead to many more story leaks hitting the internet before most players have even had a chance to unwrap the game.

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Even before Best Buy broke the street date, unauthorized footage of the game had already found its way online, and the leaks will only get worse now that a portion of players have their copies and aren’t embargoed like members of the press and content creators usually are. You should probably refrain from looking up Cyberpunk 2077 on Reddit if you’re trying to avoid spoilers.

“We’re getting closer and closer to launch and chances are some of you will get your hands on a copy of Cyberpunk 2077 before release day,” CD Projekt Red wrote on Twitter on Wednesday after fans began posting pictures of their Best Buy copies of the game online. “However difficult this might be for us to achieve, our ambition is for gamers all across the world to have the same spoiler-free experience at the time the game releases.”

The studio also suggested in the message to fans that it would take down streams and videos that popped up online before Dec. 9 at 6 am ET. A quick look at the Cyberpunk 2077 page on Twitch reveals that streamers are following this directive, at least for the moment. But Twitch is hardly the most cavalier social platform on the internet, especially now that it’s aggressively enforcing copyright and DMCA violations.

Regardless of how the inevitable leaks play out, the Best Buy debacle is yet another bad mark on the record for retailers who have continuously struggled to serve gamers during the busiest shopping season of the year. While the Cyberpunk 2077 situation could maybe be blamed on the fact that the actual release date has changed so many times this year, undoubtedly making matters more confusing, this game’s launch is hardly the worst offense on the part of retailers.

The next-gen console launches for both Xbox Series X and PlayStation 5 have been nothing short of a nightmare. Consoles have gone missing, scalpers are reselling consoles for two to three times the price, and these are mole hills when compared to how difficult it is to find retailers that actually have these consoles in stock. While part of the responsibility falls squarely on Microsoft and Sony’s shoulders for launching consoles in the middle of a pandemic that clearly limited their ability to actually meet consumer demand, retailers didn’t make the experience of pre-ordering one of these consoles any easier.

As gamers scrambled to secure their consoles on the first day of PS5 and Xbox Series X pre-orders in September, several retailer sites went down throughout the process, their servers buckling under the weight of so many new visitors. In some cases, retailers like Walmart and Best Buy let you add a console to your cart but wouldn’t let you actually check out. Others wouldn’t let people add consoles to their cart at all even though the listing said it was still in stock. Even the Microsoft Store itself went down during the initial Xbox Series X pre-order window, and GameStop had fans sit in a queue that wasn’t actually a queue at all.

Those who were lucky enough to pre-order a console didn’t all make it to launch day unscathed. Amazon, for example, had to send out emails to some customers to let them know that their consoles might not ship in time for launch day. Unfortunately, to add insult to injury, it seems some scalpers who employed bots to buy their next-gen stock did receive their consoles on time.

The point is that retailers were incredibly ill-prepared for these launches and are still struggling to recover. And for Best Buy, its latest Cyberpunk 2077 flub is just the cherry on top. Yet, despite the fact that customers may have quite the laundry list of complaints about the user experience at these retail sites, stores like Best Buy, Walmart, and Amazon ultimately still made their money, as both Microsoft and Sony reported record-breaking launch numbers. With sales better than ever, do these retailers really need to worry about fixing their most egregious issues for the next go around? After all, even scalper money is still money.

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As many places around the world head into another lockdown due to the rapid increase in Covid-19 cases and deaths, gamers still searching for a PS5 or Xbox Series X should probably brace themselves for a cold winter without a next-gen console. But if you were one of the lucky few who pre-ordered Cyberpunk 2077 from Best Buy, perhaps you can find a little solace in that.