Redfall is the worst-reviewed major release of 2023, and a black eye on Microsoft’s first party ambitions, a truly terrible game from a studio that had previously produced greatness. What exactly went wrong here? Well, who has a better tale than Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier?
Schreier has once again dug into a struggling, in this case, failed game, and found what appears to be a combination of managerial incompetence when first concieving Redfall, and then a hands-off approach from new owner Microsoft, when they might have avoided this altogether with some decisive action.
The report (which I highly suggest you read all of here) talks about how Arkane was confused about being asked to make a multiplayer game in the first place, which did not lend itself to their traditional style of gameplay. It was also the plan for several years during its development that it was going to be a live service multiplayer game with microtransactions.
At release, the game did not have an in-game item shop, but it did promise future live service aspects, including two new sold-separately classes. It’s unclear whether those plans are still moving forward. When Redfall was released and scored badly, the game’s developers were not surprised. The project had been pulled into too many directions, pushed into territory the developers were uncomfortable with, and chronically understaffed compared to larger live service games.
But perhaps the most eye-popping quote of the entire piece is about Microsoft:
“The acquisition gave some staff at Arkane hope that Microsoft might cancel Redfall or, better yet, let them reboot it as a single-player game, according to sources familiar with the production. Instead, Microsoft maintained a hands-off approach. Aside from canceling a version of Redfall that had been planned for rival Sony Corp.’s PlayStation, Microsoft allowed ZeniMax to continue operating as it had before, with great autonomy.”
Arkane was hoping Microsoft would step in and overrule their bosses, either cancelling the game outright, or at least letting them reboot it so it was back in their single player comfort zone. Microsoft did neither, and Phil Spencer would later says that they didn’t do a good job “engaging” the studio. If this felt like a game that probably should have never seen the light of day, that appears to be a sentiment at least some people working on it seemed to share.
The saddest part of the story is that 70% of Arkane Austin no longer works there, and it appears the studio that made Prey may not really ever exist in the same way again. That’s the larger tragedy here rather than producing a bad game, which was not the fault of the workers, but poor management dictating a bizarre, trend-following pathway and Microsoft making the wrong choice in a trolley problem once they acquired the publisher. Hopefully we do not see a repeat of this in the future with their own newfound first party devs.
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I’ve been writing about video games, television and movies for Forbes for over 10 years, and you may have seen my reviews on Rotten Tomatoes and Metacritic. I cover all manner of console and PC games, but if it’s about looting or shooting, I’m definitely there. If I’m watching something, it’s usually science fiction, horror or superheroic. I’m also a regular on IGN’s Fireteam Chat podcast and have published five sci-fi novels.
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