(Bloomberg) -- Prior to its debut, Cyberpunk 2077, which stars Keanu Reeves and is set in a massive, dystopian sci-fi city, was one of the most-hyped video games on the planet. But when it was released in 2020, the game suffered from myriad glitches and other problems.
Now, its publisher, CD Projekt SA, is looking for redemption. On Sunday, the Polish company said it plans to release a new expansion, Phantom Liberty, on Sept. 26. It will feature a new story, starring Idris Elba, while overhauling various parts of the game, such as its class abilities and its much-derided police system.
“There’s an absolute dedication to what’s needed to be done to make it right,” said Gabe Amatangelo, the expansion’s director.
Phantom Liberty features an ambitious storyline that involves rescuing and protecting the president of the game’s fictional “New United States of America.” Based on a recent hour of playing time, the new extension appears to challenge players with lots of interesting decisions, such as whether to trust a pair of drifters who show up at the safe house in which the president is hiding.
Following the blueprint of the company’s previous hit game, The Witcher 3, CD Projekt had originally planned to release at least two expansions for Cyberpunk 2077. But after its poor reception, the company scrapped the original strategy, pivoted to free content updates and eventually decided to focus on Phantom Liberty.
In May 2021, top director Konrad Tomaszkiewicz left the studio following an internal investigation into accusations of bullying, which he denied. Shortly afterward, his brother Mateusz Tomaszkiewicz, who was leading Phantom Liberty, stepped down too and was replaced by Amatangelo, an industry veteran who had joined CD Projekt the previous year.
Amatangelo went on to lead the development of Cyberpunk 2077’s well received patch 1.5, which was released in February 2022. He and his team are now finishing the new expansion. CD Projekt’s board of directors, he said, has given them carte blanche to “make it right,” including all the time and resources he requested.
Whereas the expansions of The Witcher 3 were released within a year of the game’s arrival, Cyberpunk 2077’s Phantom Liberty has been in development for more than two years. “The commitment to it from a board level is something else, really,” Amatangelo said. “I was struck by the humility and willingness to change.”
By contrast, people who worked on the initial release of Cyberpunk 2077 said that they had expected to keep improving the game for at least two more years of development. Instead, the rushed release has become a cautionary tale for the industry and a reference point when other companies delay games.
Despite its problems, Cyberpunk 2077 has been commercially successful, selling more than 20 million copies. But it was also marred by so many glitches that Sony Group Corp. ended up pulling it from the PlayStation digital store for more than six months.
In addition to winning back displeased fans, Amatangelo has been working to resolve some of the company’s cultural issues. CD Projekt recently opened an office in Boston to improve its recruitment of veteran game developers who do not want to move to Warsaw. Amatangelo, who is American, said he splits his time between the US and Poland.
During the release of Cyberpunk 2077, CD Projekt was widely criticized for breaking a promise and forcing employees to work extensive overtime — an industry problem known as “crunch.” After the game came out and CD Projekt faced significant attrition, the company again vowed that it would not ask employees to crunch.
On Phantom Liberty, Amatangelo said, they have lived up to that promise, implementing various policies to prevent people from burning out, including a system that alerts management if someone is working for prolonged periods of time. He said if an employee asks to do a few extra hours, he’ll permit it, but only to a certain degree.
“Fortunately, it’s a very healthy work-life balance right now,” Amatangelo said.
In brief conversations, lower-level staff members backed up that assertion, while also cautioning that work-life balance at the company remains an ongoing, complicated issue — as it is throughout the entire video-game industry.
Amatangelo said that after Phantom Liberty he will direct a full-blown sequel to Cyberpunk 2077. This time around, rather than using proprietary technology, CD Projekt will use Epic Games’ Unreal Engine — a decision that will also likely help the company’s recruiting efforts.
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