Cyberpunk 2077 and the dangers of hype

With CD Projekt Red’s new game Cyberpunk 2077 now only a few weeks away from release, the already-excessive hype surrounding the game has reached fever pitch. In fact, it’s been a long time since I’ve seen such an over-hyped title. Excitement for a game is good, and from the point of view of the game’s developers, it’s good news that there’s an engaged and excited audience waiting for the title to be released. But there is such a thing as too much hype, and we’ve seen countless times how that can ultimately lead to disappointment – even if a game is pretty good.

For the record, because I know an article like this is ripe for misinterpretation: I am categorically not saying that Cyberpunk 2077 looks like it’s shaping up to be a disappointment or a bad game. Instead what I’m saying is that too much hype can be a bad thing, and even if a game is decent, can lead to players feeling underwhelmed.

In the absence of independent reviews, what we have right now is marketing material released by the game’s developer. And that marketing material is scripted and edited in such a way as to show the game in the best and most exciting light; that’s what the objective of marketing is, after all. Many of these trailers and small recorded clips of gameplay look thrilling and very exciting, but anyone with a computer can cut together a trailer that looks decent. Any game, even notoriously bad ones like Marvel’s Avengers or Contra: Rogue Corps, can be made to look good in their own marketing.

Is Cyberpunk 2077 over-hyped?

Right now, the hype surrounding Cyberpunk 2077 is allowing players to do the one thing any developer needs to be very wary of: build up a personal expectation of what the game could be. All the talk of customisation and unique quests is setting up an expectation that the game can literally be anything players can imagine, and the absence of reviews or any real gameplay amplifies that. How many games have we seen seemingly promise the moon only to fail to live up to expectations?

No Man’s Sky is a recent example of a game that generated similar levels of hype leading up to its release. In that case, players accused studio Hello Games of false advertising, as they were left disappointed when promised features were not what they expected. Hello Games certainly over-hyped No Man’s Sky, but it was players themselves who took that hype and built it up to impossible heights. I can’t be the only one feeling at least a slight sense of déjà vu, can I?

I want Cyberpunk 2077 to be a phenomenal game and to sell well. I want it to demonstrate unequivocally that there is still plenty of life left in the single-player game space, given how many big publishers have abandoned it in the push to always-online multiplayer titles. But I’m nervous. A lot of players seem to be building up Cyberpunk 2077 in their minds to an impossible standard, one that no game could ever live up to. And all the while, CD Projekt Red seem content to let them do so.

Are players setting themselves up for an underwhelming experience?

In all the discussion surrounding the game, never once have I seen CD Projekt Red say “no.” They have never said “no, that feature isn’t part of the game,” “no, you can’t do that,” “no, you can’t go in every building, fly every aircraft, romance every NPC,” and so on. Because their marketing team has been quite happy to show off a range of things players can do, both in written and video form, I feel there’s a real danger that expectations are being created for many players that can simply never be met.

It’s far too late now to change course. Any damping down of expectations needed to happen months ago if players were to get into the right mindset in time for the game’s release. Cyberpunk 2077 should be judged on its own merits, not pre-judged by players with self-created notions of what the game could have been, yet that’s what happens time and again when a game sees this level of fanatical over-hyping. Cyberpunk 2077 may very well turn out to be a good game – but like every game, it will have its limitations. There will be things players can’t do, limits to customisation, and perhaps even the odd bug or glitch that snuck through testing or couldn’t be patched before launch. None of these things are uncommon in games, and in most cases would be happily overlooked. But in a title that has received such inflated hype, the crashing back to earth as players realise that it’s just a game, not an infinitely spectacular sandbox, can be devastating.

Can Cyberpunk 2077 possibly live up to the lofty expectations players have?

No Man’s Sky was good, even at launch. The only reason that’s an unpopular opinion is because the game had been hyped to oblivion and back for months, and when players quickly realised that there was little more going on than flying a spaceship, mining minerals, and exploring, they were devastated. The dream of living a second life in whatever galaxy they’d imagined in their heads was dashed – and thus the game was considered crap. A lot of the fault lies in the way No Man’s Sky was marketed… just like a lot of the fault for Cyberpunk 2077′s massive hype bubble lies with CD Projekt Red.

Maybe they’ll pull off the impossible, and release a game so spectacularly amazing that it will truly let players do everything they can imagine. And if that’s the case then sign me up, because I’d want to play a game like that! But as things sit right now, I’m getting that sense of déjà vu that I mentioned. Are we going to see a game on par with the best titles of the generation? Are we about to see a game that breaks the mould and redefines what a game can even be? Or are players going to hit the wall when they realise that Cyberpunk 2077 is just a game?

Even if it turns out to be a great game, too much hype could damn it. We all need to be careful when it comes to pre-release marketing and trailers, even for projects we’re excited about. Until the game is ready and is in the hands of reviewers and the general public, the possibility for deception or misunderstanding exists. And even in cases where games haven’t been deliberately dishonest, excessive hype can lead to the sense that a title is underwhelming and disappointing when it doesn’t do everything players hoped for.

I’m keeping my fingers crossed for Cyberpunk 2077 being a lot of fun. But I’m also trying to avoid boarding the hype train.

Cyberpunk 2077 will be released on the 19th of November 2020 for PC, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5 Xbox One, and Xbox Series X. Cyberpunk 2077 is the copyright of CD Projekt Red. Screenshots and promotional artwork courtesy of the Cyberpunk 2077 press kit on IGDB. This article contains the thoughts and opinions of one person only and is not intended to cause any offence.