While we had heard that Cyberpunk 2077 ended up recouping most of its development costs based on pre-orders alone, a series of unusually generous refund policy adjustments instituted in response to the game’s technical problems led some to wonder whether or not the game’s 2020 sales figures would reflect all of the bugs, missing features, and increasingly bad word of mouth.
Well, according to this figure tweeted out by Cyberpunk 2077 developer CD Project Red, it seems that Cyberpunk 2077 may have ended up exceeding many sales expectations despite the circumstances that negatively impacted the game’s launch.
There are a couple of things that we should point out about that number before commenting on what it may mean. First off (as CD Projekt Red notes via the fine print), current figures are at least partially based on estimates. That means that there’s still some room for error in regards to the exact number, although it’s highly unlikely that the final figure would be drastically impacted by “entirely accurate” sales reports.
More importantly, it’s still not clear how returns and refunds ultimately affected this number. We suspect this figure accounts for most returns and refunds requested by the end of 2020, but it may not account for any return and refund requests that were granted beyond that point. While most Cyberpunk 2077 refunds were likely processed in 2020, it’s also worth noting that we don’t know what that 2020 sales figure looked like before all those returns and refunds were accounted for. I’ve heard that CDPR issued about 30,000 refunds directly, but that number could be closer to 200,000 refunds overall based on other estimates.
Finally, it’s a little difficult to cleanly classify Cyberpunk 2077 as a clear sales success without knowing the company’s expectations. Yes, Cyberpunk 2077 appears to have made its money back, and yes, that is a big number relative to most other games, but if CD Projekt Red expected Cyberpunk 2077 to perform even better than this, then it’s possible that they still consider the game’s performance so far to at least be a minor disappointment from a strict sales perspective. They may even believe the game’s 2021 sales so far (which have still not publically been revealed) suggest that its long-term prospects aren’t as good as they previously hoped. There’s also something to be said for the damage to the company’s brand the game may have done.
Having said all of that, these sales figures do strongly suggest that the hype for Cyberpunk 2077 has so far greatly outweighed the consequences of its troubled launch.
In a way, that’s hardly surprising. Nobody spent substantial time with Cyberpunk 2077 until about a week before its release, which means that few people were aware of just how broken the game really was. Even then, initial reports and reviews were all based on the PC version of the game. That means many fans hardly had time to cancel their pre-orders while others still had no idea that the console versions of the game would be so bad that Sony would later pull the title from the PlayStation Store (where it’s still unavailable as of this time).
That’s a big deal, and it’s frankly clearer than ever why the Cyberpunk 2077 review process was so restricted and protected. As we already mentioned, Cyberpunk 2077 recouped its development costs based on pre-orders alone as over 8 million copies of the game were reportedly sold before the game was reviewed or released. That certainly showcases the power of the game’s hype, but what’s really fascinating is that Cyberpunk 2077 seemingly still continued to sell quite well even after people heard the game launched in a state that rendered it nearly unplayable for many.
Maybe quite a few of those people bought the game soon after its release and before the extent of its problems became something closer to common knowledge, but that assumption only strengthens the argument that Cyberpunk 2077’s pre-release hype ultimately helped the game more than its post-release problems hurt it.
To be fair, we’ve seen this go the other way. Games from Valheim to Stardew Valley are released with practically no marketing and go on to become best-sellers due largely to word of mouth and the overall quality of the experience. It’s not as if word of mouth and the final product are entirely helpless against someone’s preconceived notions about whether they’re going to buy a game or not.
Yet, at a time when we should all be aware of how the industry is becoming increasingly reliant on the kind of blockbuster titles that are more likely to be successful regardless of how they’re ultimately received, the success of Cyberpunk 2077 may end up serving as a sobering reminder that the pre-order process has long impacted the video game industry. There are times when it almost feels like word of mouth can help a small game more than it can hurt a blockbuster.
Calls to stop pre-ordering games may come across as bitter and potentially harmful to developers, but as we see in the case of Cyberpunk 2077, it’s entirely possible that the final word on a video game (or at least the one that matters most) to be written before any of us have actually played it.