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CD Projekt Red risked the reputations of others to insulate Cyberpunk 2077 – VentureBeat

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Cyberpunk 2077 is out, and it’s the only thing people can talk about. But while many people are playing and enjoying it, many others are encountering a game that is broken and buggy — especially on PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. Over the past week, developer CD Projekt Red has tried to apologize to fans, but in the process it has often soured sentiment about the game and itself even more. And the company’s actions reveal that it was willing to risk its own reputation as well as the reputation of its partners and reviewers to isolate Cyberpunk’s launch from fair criticism or further delays.

As a reviewer with the benefit of hindsight, I feel duped and used by CDPR. And maybe the company didn’t make a conscious choice to use the media to deceive fans. But that’s what it feels like, especially in the light of the company’s ongoing behavior toward partners like Sony and Microsoft and toward gamers themselves. It also feels in line with the company’s recent history of transphobic and edgelord marketing.

Last week, CD Projekt Red apologized to fans for failing to reveal the PS4 and Xbox version during the promotional period of the game. But the studio did not give a reason for why it made that decision — and yet it had clear motivation to only show Cyberpunk 2077 running on PC. The game is rough on PS4 and Xbox One due to bugs, but it also performs significantly worse. The apology feels weak. It’s the kind of thing a company does when it knows it’s easier to ask for forgiveness than to be forthright about the state of its product.

My immediate response when something like this happens is to lay responsibility with consumers. We shouldn’t spend money on things until we fully understand what we’re buying. I still feel that way, but I think we should also acknowledge that CD Projekt Red took every step it could to ensure people felt informed without fully understanding the reality of the PS4 and Xbox One versions.

It feels like CD Projekt Red used reviewers to help fool consumers

CD Projekt Red designed the Cyberpunk 2077 review process with the purpose of getting the best possible reviews while minimizing the media’s opportunities to inform their audiences about the flaws. The media is complicit in this and must take its share of the blame. But CDPR also minimized the opportunity for reviewers to understand what they were agreeing to take part in.

As someone who reviewed Cyberpunk 2077, I should’ve been more skeptical. It’s crucial to always examine how the marketing machine is trying to use the media. But throughout the process, CD Projekt Red presented Cyberpunk 2077 like any other normal review without ever disclosing that the experience we were getting on PC could feel materially different than the experience on consoles.

Let me recap the events of the review to illustrate what I mean.

Before Thanksgiving, CDPR’s external PR firm reached out to inform the media that it was getting codes. Media could go to a website to request a code for PS4, Xbox, Stadia, or PC. It’s a simple process that has worked well in the past, so going into the long holiday weekend, most people felt confident that they would be getting review code for their platform of choice.

And I remember taking this as a good sign for the state of the game. CDPR seemed confident by offering up codes to so many people for all platforms.

But a few days later, CD Projekt Red’s internal PR began reaching out to a much smaller pool of media. And this time, the deal is that you get a code if you plan to review on PC.

This isn’t abnormal. Cyberpunk 2077 review keys were in high demand, so it seemed like CDPR was trying to keep things quiet so it wouldn’t upset the hundreds of people who would still have to wait for a code. But taken with everything else, this also now feels like part of the manipulation — especially because my understanding is very few codes ever went out to people who requested them through the PR website.

Feeling unwittingly complicit

But by most other measures, the review embargo was normal. By the time we got code, we had six days to play before the embargo expired for written reviews. That’s not a lot of time, but it’s also not unusual. And the written reviews had no stipulations attached to them. We could talk about any and all problems with the game including bugs and crashes.

But that unrestricted written review embargo also now feels like a diversion tactic. As part of written reviews, you could post a video, but you could only use CD Projekt Red’s B-roll. Now, generally, this also isn’t too abnormal. Sony games often come with embargoes that restrict what captured video you can use in your content. It’s more rare, however, that the review embargo prohibits the use of any captured footage and restricts use only to official B-roll. Typically, other companies will say you can use footage from this beginning area only or something to that effect.

That should’ve raised red flags, but the video embargo also expired before the release of the game. And as a site that primarily works in text, it wasn’t something I thought about too much.

When I wrote my review, I assumed I was generally playing the same game that everyone would get. That is a failure of imagination on my part, but in my view, CDPR cultivated that false sense of reassurance in the first place.

With hindsight, CDPR’s actions in the review process seem manipulative to me.

  • The company never showed Cyberpunk 2077 running on PlayStation 4 or Xbox One prior to release.
  • It said explicitly that the game runs surprisingly well on those systems.
  • Through its external PR, it suggested that console codes were ready to go prior to release.
  • It then quietly only let reviewers experience the game on PC.
  • Even on PC, however, it wouldn’t let critics post footage of bugs and crashes until two days after the game nailed its initial reviews.
  • During this process, CDPR never communicated to the audience or to the media that the PS4 or Xbox One versions would run significantly worse.

Most people who purchased or preordered the game for PS4 and Xbox One didn’t see the game’s subpar performance and bugs until Cyberpunk’s release day. Even if some fans saw footage earlier, they probably also saw the 90-plus Metacritic score.

And over the weekend, I assumed that a lot of this was just circumstantial evidence that proved nothing but unfortunate coincidences. But that was before I noticed that CDPR was treating Sony, Microsoft, and its fans the same way.

CD Projekt Red’s disappointing behavior is now a pattern

I can only get so mad at CD Projekt Red. Yes — I feel like the studio tried to use me to mislead people. But it seems like a company acting desperately due to the pressures of running a publicly traded gaming studio. One of the true frustrations of capitalism is the futility of punishing other people. What’s the point if the system is going to remain the same? It’s like whenever a character in a movie dismissively says, “It’s just business.”

But that doesn’t mean we have to forget CDPR’s behavior during the Cyberpunk launch. I just want to be realistic about the power I hold. And that’s limited because I’m not interested in handing out pitchforks and torches.

It’s also limited because I’m not Sony or Microsoft. And I think those are the entities that CD Projekt Red might really have to answer to.

CD Projekt Red threw those companies under the bus by revealing that Cyberpunk 2077 was able to bypass final Xbox and PlayStation certification. This is for a game that launched with a scene that caused epileptic seizures. Developers know that they can get waivers to launch on consoles without final certification as long as they plan to fix issues by launch. But that’s not something developers say out loud to gaming fans. Because what CD Projekt Red has just implied is that Microsoft and Sony are complicit by way of inaction of releasing a game that could have injured vulnerable people.

It’s a bad idea to potentially expose your business partners to liability (deservedly so) in what seems like an effort to take some heat off of your studio.

On top of that, as part of its apology, CD Projekt Red put the burden of refunds on Sony and Microsoft. The studio told customers to ask those companies to return the game. But this is not something CDPR discussed or arranged with Sony or Microsoft, according to its emergency call with investors on Tuesday. Many people are reporting that Sony is denying refunds. Once again, in an effort to take heat off of its game, CDPR looks like it’s putting one of its partners into the crosshairs.

CDPR’s actions appear like it’s willing to drag Sony’s and Microsoft’s reputations down with it. And if that’s true, then it seems obvious to me that it would also risk the reputation of critics in the media.

Compared to CDPR burning its reputation with major platforms, burning critics barely even rates.

So far, Microsoft and Sony haven’t said much about CD Projekt Red or Cyberpunk. PlayStation customer-support representatives are telling customers to wait for a patch.

GameStop is now also telling people to seek out refunds directly from CD Projekt Red.

Gaslighting gamers

What finally convinced me to write this, however, was GOG backpedaling today on its plans to release the survival-horror game Devotion. This game previously launched on Steam before the developer pulled it due to review bombing because it included a mild jab at Chinese president Xi Jinping. Earlier today, GOG, which CD Projekt Group owns, said the game would come to its store.

A few hours later, the company posted this on Twitter:

It’s disappointing that yet another company is bowing to censorship pressure from China. But again, we live under capitalism, and “don’t talk about China” is the unstated rule at nearly every media company in the world. But what really stands out to me is how GOG phrases its reasoning.

“After receiving many messages from gamers” is how the tweet reads. Once again, a CD Projekt Group beefed something and once again it is shifting the blame somewhere else. This wasn’t GOG’s cowardice — they’re just doing this for the gamers.

And burning reviewers is one small thing. Burning Microsoft and Sony is another. But using gamers as your shield for giving into censorship is the most telling of all. When this company’s back is against the wall, it will drag someone else in front of it.

But I’m not angry. I feel like my anger would add nothing on top of what Sony’s and Microsoft’s lawyers are capable of. Instead, I’m writing this, and I’m doing so as a reminder to myself and others to treat CD Projekt Red with complete skepticism in the future. We should default to the assumption that the company is hiding something.

That’s the best way to insulate yourself against companies that behave like CD Projekt Red.


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Apple shifts hardware execs as mysterious new project looms – MobileSyrup

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Dan Riccio, who has worked as Apple’s senior vice-president of engineering since 2012, is stepping back from leading Apple’s hardware division.

In a recent press release, Apple confirmed that Riccio is working on a mysterious “new project” and will continue to report directly to Tim Cook, its CEO. Riccio has worked on several notable projects, including Apple’s ARM-based M1 processor, the AirPods Max, the iPhone 12 and even the original iMac.

“Working at Apple has been the opportunity of a lifetime, spent making the world’s best products with the most talented people you could imagine,” said Riccio in a recent press release.

“After 23 years of leading our Product Design or Hardware Engineering teams — culminating with our biggest and most ambitious product year ever — it’s the right time for a change. Next up, I’m looking forward to doing what I love most — focusing all my time and energy at Apple on creating something new and wonderful that I couldn’t be more excited about.”

It’s unclear what this new initiative is, but there’s a possibility it could relate to recent rumours surrounding Apple’s long-rumoured AR/VR glasses or possibly its electric car project.

John Ternus will take on Riccio’s former role of senior vice-president of engineering. Ternus has served as Apple’s VP of hardware engineering since 2013 and played a significant role in the release of the first iPad and, more recently, the first-generation AirPods.

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Apple’s ‘Time To Walk’ Reveals Monopoly Power – Forbes

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It was harder to start a workout on my Apple Watch this morning. Not much harder, maybe just 5% or so, but harder. And a bit more annoying.

Today Apple launched Time to Walk, a podcast series with famous people about walking. It’s included with Apple Fitness+, a subscription service that costs $80/year, and I learned that it launched by not being able to start a walking “workout” the ordinary way on my Apple Watch. Instead of a list of possible workouts in the Apple Watch workout app, there’s now a big “Time to Walk” image with musician Shawn Mendes at the top of the list. The Apple Fitness+ video podcast series will include episodes with Golden State Warriors player Draymond Green, country music legend Dolly Parton, and Emmy award-winning actor Uzo Aduba.

Somewhat disconcerting, when you don’t expect it.

To select the workout you want, of course, you simply have to scroll past it. As I did again at lunchtime for my strength training workout. And as I’ll have to do again this afternoon for another walk. And 10 or 12 more times this week.

Hopefully, if I don’t use it, Time to Walk will go away. But I have no idea if it will or won’t: there’s no option to remove it or delete it.

Big deal? Not really, to be honest.

Unless you’re a podcaster doing fitness-oriented episodes. Or a fitness app competitive to Apple’s Fitness+. Now you’re not only competing with the owner of the platform that you’re delivering your services to (which is hard enough) you are also competing with some aspects of that platform owner’s service mixed in with potential customers’ everyday experience of that service in places most wouldn’t expect.

(At least, I didn’t.)

I think I have Fitness+ for three months free due to purchasing a new Apple Watch. Or I’m on a free one-month trial. Or maybe I bought it. I honestly don’t really remember: I must have hit “Yes” somewhere. (That alone, of course, is another competitive challenge for anyone offering a non-Apple fitness subscription, app, or experience on iPhone: the ability for Apple to just start a service on an iPhone as a result of a hardware purchase, or offer it with a single-click assent.)

Apple says that Time to Walk is “an inspiring new audio walking experience on Apple Watch for Fitness+ subscribers, created to encourage users to walk more often and reap the benefits from one of the healthiest activities.”

That’s great. It really is. I absolutely 100% agree with Apple that walking is therapeutic and healthy. As my mother never fails to remind me, it’s “good for your body and good for your soul.”

For once, Apple agrees with mom.

“Walking is the most popular physical activity in the world, and one of the healthiest things we can do for our bodies,” Jay Blahnik, Apple’s senior director of Fitness Technologies, said in a statement. “A walk can often be more than just exercise: It can help clear the mind, solve a problem, or welcome a new perspective.”

But I’d much rather experience it intentionally as the result of a choice.

The way to launch a new service like this is simple: a notification on my phone or watch that Apple has a new service, with details about what it does and where it lives, insight into why Apple is sending this to me (example: “you’re getting this notification because you have the Apple Fitness+ one month free trial”), and how I can ignore it, opt out, or delete it after trying it.

It should not just show up, unannounced, undeletable, unskippable, on my device.

Small detail? OK: you’re not wrong if you think so.

But sometimes the small details are important, especially when you want to maintain a level playing field on your platform, silence the growing monopoly chorus, and simply be user-focused rather than push-all-the-subscriptions focused.

Apple competes with Amazon Halo, Google’s Fitbit premium memberships, Peloton, and dozens if not hundreds of other fitness, wellness, and health services. All of them should compete, as much as possible, on a level playing field. That’s not always 100% possible, but in an ideal world, an Apple service on an iPhone should be as easy to access and use as an Apple service on an Android.

And vice versa.

Again, not totally realistic for plenty of software, hardware, and ecosystem reasons. But certainly an ideal to aim for.

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Apple launches 'Time to Walk' feature for Apple Watch and Fitness+ – MobileSyrup

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Apple has revealed a new ‘Time to Walk’ feature for the Apple Watch and Apple Fitness+ subscribers.

According to the company, Time To Walk offers “an inspiring new audio walking experience on Apple Watch for Fitness+ subscribers” that aims to encourage subscribers to get out and walk more often.

With Time To Walk, notable celebrities like country music star Dolly Parton, NBA player Draymond Green, Canadian musician Shawn Mendes and Emmy Award-winning actor Uzo Aduba, share what Apple calls “life-shaping moments” that were recorded while walking outside or at locations that mean something to them.

New episodes of Time To Walk will appear in Apple’s Workout app on the Apple Watch each Monday until the end of April. Episodes will run between 25 and 40 minutes. To use Time to Walk, you need to have AirPods or other Bluetooth headphones paired with an Apple Watch, though a Wi-Fi or cellular connection isn’t required as long as you’ve downloaded the episode ahead of time.

At least at the outset, Time To Walk sounds similar to a standard podcast. That said, the location the recording was made in could potentially make at least some episodes a little more interesting than they may initially sound.

Apple Fitness+ launched back in mid-December for $12.99 per month or $99 a year. Apple is currently offering a 3-month free trial of Fitness+

The fitness service features nine different categories of workouts, including cycling, treadmill, rowing, HIIT, strength, Yoga, Dance, Core and Mindful Cooldown. Each workout includes music and is curated by trainers, similar to competing fitness services from companies like Peleton and Echelon.

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