Arkane Studios staff who worked on Redfall open up about the game’s mishandling, revealing they hoped Microsoft would cancel the project.
Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier reported on the claims, noting Redfall‘s low Metascore of 54. At this time of writing, the score remains the same across PC and Xbox Series X, along with an average user score of 2.8 out of 10.
The game’s underwhelming performance was a surprise to analysts and Microsoft — including head of Xbox Phil Spencer. Reportedly, over a dozen anonymous developers who worked on the game knew that Redfall was going to bomb, including Arkane Studios.
Redfall began development in 2018. This was also when Bethesda Softworks’ parent company ZeniMax was asking its studios to make live service games to generate revenue. ZeniMax requested games included microtransactions to be implemented in franchises — with Fallout, Doom, and Wolfenstein, seeing new versions released that incorporated multiplayer and the requested monetization options.
Arkane Studio co-directors Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare were looking to make a title with wide appeal after Prey didn’t meet the sales they had hoped. They settled on Redfall‘s core concept — a multiplayer game with cosmetic microtransactions where players would fight against vampires.
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As Arkane Studios had made it’s name with single-player titles that combined stealth and combat, developers felt confused when it was pitched to them as a “multiplayer Arkane game.” Some were unsure if their gameplay was technically possible in a multiplayer title, and the differences between single-player and multiplayer was an issue across the project.
While Smith and Bare seemed enthusiastic about the project from the outset, but didn’t give a clear direction as the project continued. This was while staff became annoyed with management shifting between references to the likes of Far Cry and Borderlands, leaving them unsure what the goal was.
Issues were only exacerbated by being continuously understaffed. At less than 100 people, Schreier reports, it wasn’t enough to make a multiplayer game that would challenge live service games like Fortnite (usually requiring hundreds of people). Additional support from Roundhouse Studios and other studios designed purely for outsourcing didn’t help much either.
These factors led to poor morale at Arkane Studios, with veteran developers who had little interest in a multiplayer games leaving the studio. For comparison, 70% of developers who worked on Prey would leave the company. Bloomberg verified this information by comparing the credits of that game to the staff’s LinkedIn.
The hits kept coming, as attracting talent to stem the hemorrhaging staff size was another problem. ZeniMax reportedly is infamous for salaries being below the average, while Scheier also claims “progressive” and “moderate” developers wouldn’t be keen to move to conservative Texas for work.
This was further magnified by the fact Redfall hadn’t been announced, so even vague details couldn’t be used as a hook for prospective hires. As a result, Arkane Studios could only hope for developers with multiplayer experience would apply to them. As expected, those who wanted to work on the immersive single-player games Arkane was known for applied instead.
Amid all this, Microsoft would purchase ZeniMax on September 21st, 2020 for the sum of $7.5 billion. While far from Microsoft’s main reasons, Redfall was another potential feather in their cap. Some members of the staff at Arkane Studios, Shcreier reports, hoped Microsoft would either cancel the project or turn it into a single-player game.
Instead, Microsoft avoided getting involved with development — permitting ZeniMax to continue overseeing the project as they saw fit, though cancelling the PlayStation 5 version. Microsoft also had high hopes for how Redfall would turn out, revealing the title at the Xbox & Bethesda Games E3 2021 Showcase — as their final game of the presentation, no less.
Arkane Studios was pulled to breaking point, as the last months of development eked out precious time with delay after delay. From Halloween 2022, it was pushed to early 2023, and then May 2nd. Smith and other leaders within the studio reassured their staff that, once the final art was added and the bugs were dealt with, the game would vastly improve before launch.
They even promised “Arkane magic” would uplift the game in the last moments of development, as it had for their prior games. Schreier notes that BioWare had also used similar claims, and was criticized for it. Instead, Redfall launched with a plethora of bugs — to the point of being almost unplayable and, most certainly, unenjoyable.
Smith would later tell Eurogamer in an interview that “Early on, there was a little pressure here and there. You know, executives, always [say] ‘What if there was a store?’ and I was like, ‘There’s no store, there’s no microtransactions’. There was pushback and a back and forth.”
On the contrary, the inside sources insist that Redfall had, in Schreier’s words, “a significant microtransaction plan in place.” It was in 2021 when Arkane Studios ditched such ideas, and due to live service games becoming infamous with gamers.
Interestingly, in his interview with Eurogamer, Smith also discussed how Redfall‘s vampires were inspired by the “0.1%” who were taking advantage of the people. “Our fiction was never a disease metaphor,” he admitted.
“You’re fighting private military contractors, and people who used to be your dentist or your baker or a cop who have decided to throw in with the new masters,” Smith explained.
To summarize, Redfall was kneecapped by an understaffed team working on a project they had little experience and love for. There was a total lack of direction, and it was put on a pedestal while the developers were told to bank on literal hope to resolve the issues.
Publisher Bethesda Softworks reportedly declined to comment to Bloomberg, while Smith and Bare did not respond.