CD Projekt Red, based in Warsaw, released Cyberpunk 2077 globally on December 10, 2020 across Steam, Epic Store, GOG, PlayStation and Xbox. The game has been hotly anticipated ever since it was first announced in 2012, and broke a number of launch records on Day 1. CD Projekt Red noted that the game had 8 million pre-orders and that these confirmed sales created profitability immediately. While the open world single player action RPG game is not officially out in China (has yet to be granted an ISBN license), a huge number of gamers in China have played it via (unlicensed) PC game distribution platforms and on console platforms (also unlicensed).
Two big platforms for the game in China are Steam and GOG, the latter of which is owned by CD Projekt Red themselves. China was at one point the #1 market for pre-orders on PC and the title was the top selling game on Steam in China during Week 1. According to Niko Partners’ China Games Streaming Tracker, the game was streamed by more than 7,500 streamers on Day 1 across Bilibili, Huya and DouYu, and viewed by more than 19 million fans. It ranked #2 in the Niko Index, which is Niko’s approximation of viewers on the streaming platforms. The game has continued to remain popular as key influencers stream the game themselves and as streaming platforms encourage others to stream too by posting instructions for fans on how they can stream it safely without exposing some of the possibly controversial content.
How Cyberpunk 2077 and CD Projekt Red became a hit in China
The success of Cyberpunk 2077 in China comes from market investment by CD Projekt Red and the popularity of (unlicensed) PC game distribution platforms, such as Steam. China has strict laws and regulations around game content, prohibiting excessive violence, drug use and adult content, among other themes. It will be highly unlikely for Cyberpunk 2077 to be granted a license in China without major game revisions. While Chinese PlayStation and Xbox owners imported the game disk from overseas or downloaded it via the Hong Kong PSN / XBL, the PC version via Steam and GOG are the top distribution points in China. Steam has allowed Chinese gamers to access popular unlicensed games such as Grand Theft Auto V and PUBG, as well as CD Projekt Red’s The Witcher 3 which released in 2015.
The success of The Witcher 3 in China earned CD Projekt Red the nickname “波兰蠢驴“, which translates to ‘The Dumb Polish Donkey’ in English. While the English translation sounds derogatory, it is a term of endearment in China, with players using the name to praise the devs for working hard and releasing a large amount of high-quality content for a low price, as opposed to releasing a title filled with low quality content and microtransactions. The company has increased its presence in China since the release of The Witcher 3 and also worked with GAEA Interactive to release a card game for mobile based on The Witcher franchise.
CD Projekt Red has built up its presence in China through social media and video platforms, such as Bilibili where it has over 1 million subscribers. To put this into perspective, CD Projekt Red’s Youtube account has approximately 240,000 subscribers while its Twitch channel has 385,000 followers. The company has informed Chinese gamers on the progress of development and released promotional videos in Chinese to showcase the game. CD Projekt Red reported that it invested heavily in the localization of the game for Chinese audiences, working with four professional recording studios and 150 voice actors, including key influencers, to record over 100,000 lines across 10,000 person hours.
Cyberpunk 2077 post launch
Cyberpunk 2077 trended on social media site Weibo for most of Day 1, and several *memes* emerged where people joked about taking the day off work to play the game. PeroPero Games, the developers of music rhythm game Muse Dash, posted on its social media channel that it had given its employees the day off so they could stay home and play it. Other memes and videos emerged about the in-depth character customization system on short video platforms, such as Douyin (TikTok). CD Projekt Red also invested in promotions, which included video content and ads on popular gaming sites. A great effort was devoted to the game’s in-depth character customization system, cyberpunk narrative, open world gameplay and excellent localization for China.
Not everything is coming up roses though. On the downside, players criticized the game for having too many bugs and for performance issues on last generation consoles. While these issues are less pronounced on the PC version, there is an outcry from the gaming community. The company apologized on social media right away and offered refunds to players who were dissatisfied, while promising to resolve the issues in upcoming patches. This could impact the long-term popularity of the game, which was already limited due to it being a single player RPG. As nearly all owners of the game playing on console in China are using last gen consoles, this may damage the reputation of the company. Even PC gamers in China have voiced criticism over their experience with the game despite there being less issues than console.
CD Projekt Red does not have a license for Cyberpunk 2077 in China, so of course there is inherent risk with distribution purely over unlicensed platforms. China’s government could move to ban the game in an official capacity, should there be any controversy around the game like there was with Devotion last year. The gaming regulator could also order streaming platforms to take the game down, hence why streaming platforms and CDPR have released guides to streamers to ensure they do not broadcast anything controversial. For now, players are enjoying the game, and the theme of Cyberpunk has resonated there. China’s two largest game companies, Tencent and NetEase, have already announced they are developing Cyberpunk-esque games (no surprise). Tencent announced Code: SYN for consoles and PC while NetEase has announced Code: T for mobile.
We will continue to monitor the game in China through our China Games Streaming Tracker, China Games Market Database, and Value Added News Analysis Service. Please contact us for more information on how to access these services.
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