A new report has shed light on what led major Xbox exclusive Redfall to become one of this year’s most poorly received games.
According to Bloomberg‘s ever-reliable Jason Schreier, the Arkane Austin-developed first-person shooter suffered from a lack of direction and resources, among other issues. Schreier, who says he spoke to more than a dozen people who worked on Redfall, notes that leadership at publisher Bethesda had been pushing for games as a service at the time that Redfall began development in 2018. For context, Arkane Austin had been coming off Prey, a 2017 single-player game that reviewed well but didn’t meet sales expectations, so the goal was to have, in theory, a more commercially viable multiplayer title.
To help make a new IP, Bethesda tapped celebrated Deus Ex and Dishonored developers Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare to serve as co-directors. However, there was confusion internally surrounding what the new game, a vampire shooter that could be played alone and with other people, would actually be. That’s because Arkane was best known for single-player “immersive sims,” which let players tackle missions on their own in a variety of ways.
By contrast, Redfall was pitched internally as “a multiplayer Arkane game.” The tensions surrounding making single-player vs. multiplayer games, coupled with mixed messaging from Smith and Bare, is said to have frustrated developers. Schreier adds that the team’s headcount was under 100 people, not including outsourced developers, which is sufficient for a single-player game like Prey but not a larger multiplayer title like Redfall.
Compounding the lack of resources was the fact that roughly 70 percent of the Prey team had left the studio. At the same time, Arkane had trouble filling these roles for several reasons, including Bethesda parent company ZeniMax’s reputation for paying below-average rates and a struggle to convince some progressive developers to move to the more conservative Texas. On top of that, Schreier notes that because the game hadn’t been formally unveiled, the majority of applicants had been wanting to join Arkane to make immersive sims and, therefore, lacked the multiplayer experience needed for Redfall.
By the time Microsoft acquired ZeniMax in 2021, Schreier says many Arkane developers actually hoped its new owner would either cancel the game or at least allow them to reboot it into a single-player game. However, Microsoft is said to have taken a hands-off approach with Bethesda, affording the veteran publisher a high degree of autonomy. Xbox chief Phil Spencer said as much in a May interview with Kinda Funny, admitting that Xbox “didn’t do a good job early in engaging Arkane Austin.”
The final nail in the coffin came during the final stretch of development, during which time Redfall was delayed from fall 2022 to early 2023 and then May 2023. According to Schreier, Smith and other leaders kept promising that the game would eventually all come together at the last minute. Specifically, they were throwing around the term “Arkane magic,” which, as Schreier had previously reported, is a language similar to what developers have used to address morale on other troubled productions, such as BioWare Edmonton with Anthem. It’s the notion that a studio’s track record of shipping quality games means the new project will also work out, justifying the bumpy development — and, in many cases, prolonged overtime (“crunch”) — that the team went through.
The rest, as they say, is history. Redfall was released on May 2nd to a poor 56 on Metacritic, with many reviews citing a slew of bugs and a general feeling that the game didn’t seem to know what it wanted to be (given the inner tensions between making a single-player and multiplayer game, that’s not surprising.)
And on a broader level, Redfall‘s failure is a problem for Xbox as a whole, a publisher that’s been trying to build a first-party catalogue that can rival the celebrated exclusives from PlayStation and Nintendo. While Xbox has released some acclaimed titles in recent memory, like Obsidian’s Pentiment and Tango Gameworks’ Hi-Fi Rush, these were smaller projects that aren’t among the company’s heavy-hitters, like the troubled Halo Infinite. Xbox had been leaning on Redfall as one of its marquee Bethesda games since its reveal in June 2021.
As a result, this puts added pressure on Bethesda’s other big upcoming title, Starfield. As the next single-player RPG from Todd Howard’s celebrated team (Elder Scrolls, Fallout), all eyes are on how that ambitious space exploration game will pan out. Xbox, for its part, is holding a major Games Showcase on June 11th, after which a dedicated “Starfield Direct” stream will be held to reveal more about the game ahead of its September 6th, 2023 release.
Image credit: Bethesda