2019: On stage in front of a rapturous audience, Keanu Reeves announced that Cyberpunk 2077 was coming on April 16, 2020. The most anticipated PC game of the decade finally had a release date. Its first, but not its last—this year Cyberpunk has been delayed to September 17, then November 19, and finally just a few more weeks to December, which is nearly here. And as painful as those delays were, they also set up an exciting and rare opportunity: the biggest game of the year was going to come out just weeks after the launch of powerful new graphics cards that could truly do it justice. 4K! Ray tracing! This would, surely, be a Crysis moment for a new era of PC gaming.
Too bad those new graphics cards are impossible to buy.
More than two months after the release of the RTX 3080, stock is still sold out across the world. Resellers are still charging extortionate prices on Ebay. PC gamers gather in Discord channels and install browser extensions that monitor web pages for a chance to buy a card when it appears, knowing it'll likely sell out in seconds. The RTX 3070 is just as hard to find. AMD's competitors, the RX 6800 XT and RX 6800, also sold out instantly.
There are now more varieties of cutting edge graphics card to try to snag, but that seemingly hasn't eased the supply crunch. Shopping for four sold-out new graphics cards instead of two still feels like dividing by zero.
In a way, Cyberpunk 2077's delays almost seemed like the stars aligning. Here was this game people have been waiting for for seven years, and its final release date happened to coincide with a tremendously exciting few months for PC hardware. It's rare for AMD and Nvidia to be releasing new hardware so close together, or for new graphics cards to offer such a leap in performance as these new ones. The timing was perfect—until the shortage ruined that beautiful symmetry.
If Cyberpunk 2077 had actually released in April, few people would've been talking about waiting to play the game on new graphics cards; we still didn't know when those would be coming out. But the delays primed us to get excited for a big moment and yearn for the maxed out experience that is frustratingly not unobtainable. A huge part of PC gaming is that drive to reach the cutting edge, getting a little more performance by overclocking or slightly shinier graphics by picking just the right settings. It's why we build ridiculous computers like The Large Pixel Collider.
The shortage has forced many PC gamers into choosing between that cutting edge experience and playing Cyberpunk 2077 on their current hardware at launch. For example: "My biggest fear right now is not having an rtx 3080 or rx 6800xt before cyberpunk release. I am freaking out!" writes one fan on the subreddit. "I just cant bring myself to play it before having a new graphics card. Does anyone else feel this way?"
Realistically, if you're not trying to go all-out with 4K and ray tracing, Cyberpunk 2077 will run fine on more modest hardware. And even if stock was plentiful, the $700 price of the RTX 3080 is far too much for many PC gamers. The most-used card on the Steam hardware survey is the GTX 1060, which released for $250 in 2016. The coronavirus pandemic has been hard on millions of people's finances. High-end PC gaming is absolutely a luxury. But for millions of PC gamers, that's what a big moment like this is all about—being totally immersed in the excitement of playing a brand new game on the best possible hardware.
For those who finally get a new graphics a few months from now, the little thrill of playing games on it and watching the framerate numbers go up will still be there. But the conversation around Cyberpunk 2077 itself will have trailed off; it won't be the same buzz of tweets and forum posts and Discord chats that will dominate December. Just by being online, we'll all absorb bits of knowledge about the game and see things we might have discovered by ourselves. Waiting to play Cyberpunk won't ruin the game, just like playing it right now on an older graphics card won't ruin it, either. But it won't be quite the same as doing both on day one.
I don't think AMD and Nvidia are to blame here—2020 has been as hard on manufacturing as it has everything else. There's no solution but to wait until there are enough cards to go around, or give up and make peace with a perfectly decent not-quite-4K-ray-traced experience. The lucky few who managed to get their hands on a new GPU this fall will have that experience.
But if you're disappointed that Cyberpunk's launch could have been that perfect conflux of hardware and software for far more PC gamers—or if you're still desperately searching for a card or trying to decide whether to play it now or wait until next year, you're definitely not alone.