Redfall is one of the most disappointing game releases of 2023 so far, especially coming from an prominent studio like Arkane. Here is what was going on behind the scenes during development, leading to some obvious problems.
On June 1, Bloomberg’s Jason Schreier published a piece about Redfall’s troubled production after talking to more than a dozen developers who worked on the game. Below are the key takeaways from the investigation.
The lack of clear vision and creative direction
- Arkane started working on Redfall in 2018, when its owner ZeniMax was trying to sell itself. At the time, the company also pushed its studios to make live service titles with microtransactions.
- The game’s co-directors, two veteran developers Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare, were initially excited about the concept of making a multiplayer project where players would fight vampires together.
- However, employees were baffled by the idea of “multiplayer Arkane game” and the possibility of incorporating signature immersive gameplay elements from the studio’s previous titles into a co-op game like Redfall.
- Some team members told Schreier that Smith and Bare failed to provide a clear direction for the project. The leadership kept changing references, from Far Cry to Borderlands, and couldn’t resolve the “fundamental tension between single-player and multiplayer design.”
- Developers who worked on Redfall claimed that the game had a “significant microtransaction plan” that was only abandoned in 2021 due to growing criticism of the GaaS model from gamers.
Talent exodus and staff shortage
- Arkane Austin, responsible for making Redfall, employed less than 100 people, which wasn’t enough to make a live service game. According to some employees, attracting devs from ZeniMax’s Roundhouse Studios also didn’t help.
- On top of that, experienced developers were uninspired and didn’t want to make a multiplayer title. As a result, 70% of employees working on Prey left the Austin office by the end of Redfall’s development.
- Arkane alo experienced trouble hiring new staff due to ZeniMax’s reputation for paying lower than average salaries, Texa’s social policies and laws, and the fact that Redfall wasn’t yet announced (the studio couldn’t pitch the game to potential employees).
- It also wanted to hire some devs with experience in multiplayer shooters, but those who agreed to work at Arkane wanted to make single-player immersive sims in the spirit of the studio’s previous games.
Poor management and hopes for a single-player reboot
- After Microsoft acquired ZeniMax for $7.5 billion in 2021, some Arkane employees hoped that the new owner would cancel Redfall or let the team reboot it as a single-player game.
- Microsoft, however, preferred not to interfere in ZeniMax’s operations and the work of its studios and even presented Redfall as one of its key console exclusives at the 2021 Xbox showcase.
- At the time, Harvey Smith tried to calm down the developers, ensuring that the game would get “exponentially better” thanks to the “Arkane magic” (probably akin to the infamous “BioWare magic”).
- Following the distracious launch of Redfall, Microsoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer promised to revisit the company’s processes in terms of quality control and management. However, he also noted that he would never “push against creative aspirations of our teams.”