Microsoft Hands-Off Approach to Redfall Led to Critical and Commercial Dud

The recent launch of Xbox-exclusive game Redfall was met with disappointment, as it proved to be a commercial and critical failure. The game’s intriguing concept, which revolved around vampires on a Massachusetts island, was overshadowed by numerous bugs and a lack of overall polish. Now, a report from Bloomberg, penned by Jason Schreier, sheds light on alleged behind-the-scenes turmoil that contributed to Xbox’s setback in its mission to compete with first-party console sellers like Sony and Nintendo.

According to the report, developer Arkane Studios, the parent company of which was acquired by Microsoft in 2020, struggled with a lack of direction even before the acquisition. Hoping to tap into the success of “games as a service” titles like Fortnite and Overwatch, Arkane, known for acclaimed single-player games such as Dishonored 2 and Prey, initially considered incorporating microtransactions into Redfall. Although in-game monetization was eventually abandoned, the rocky start reportedly set the tone for a disorganized and chaotic design process.

Sources, speaking anonymously to Bloomberg, described the leadership of co-directors Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare as unfocused. As the project progressed, the leads allegedly failed to provide clear direction, causing frustration among the development team. The studio’s references to other games like Far Cry and Borderlands created confusion within departments, resulting in varying ideas about the game’s direction. The report also highlights a tension between prioritizing single-player and multiplayer aspects, leaving developers feeling that Redfall was trying to achieve too much without excelling in either area.

Staffing and recruitment posed additional challenges for Arkane. Many developers joined the studio to work on the immersive single-player experiences it was known for, and when they found themselves working on a multiplayer-focused project lacking a clear vision, they chose to leave. The studio’s location in Austin, Texas, also presented difficulties due to regressive social policies in the state, which affected the hiring process. The undisclosed nature of Redfall during recruitment exacerbated the staffing issues. Despite outsourcing to other studios, it seems that Arkane’s efforts to scale up for a multiplayer game fell short.

After Microsoft’s acquisition of ZeniMax, the parent company of Arkane, the report suggests that Microsoft maintained a mostly hands-off approach. Apart from canceling the planned PlayStation version of Redfall, Microsoft allowed ZeniMax to operate with a high degree of autonomy. As a result, the final months of development were described as frantic, leading to multiple delays. Allegedly, studio leaders, including Harvey Smith, expressed optimism that the renowned “Arkane magic” would fix the game’s issues at the last minute. However, according to Bloomberg’s sources, the game’s release version remained largely unchanged since they last played it in 2021.

While Microsoft inherited what appears to be a significant challenge, the company bears some responsibility for not recognizing the flaws in the title before launch. They could have either shelved the game entirely or reworked it as a single-player experience. As the highly anticipated release of Starfield approaches in September, Microsoft will have an opportunity to learn from its mistakes and demonstrate its ability to rebound. In the meantime, Bloomberg’s detailed report offers further insight into the troubled development of this Xbox-exclusive game.