Did Microsoft’s “hands off” approach set the stage for Redfall’s demise?

Robert Collins

Did Microsoft’s notoriously hands off approach toward its internal studios set the stage for Redfall’s disastrous launch? At least one prominent gaming journalist thinks so.

Jason Schreier, writing for Bloomberg, recently penned a sweeping assessment of Redfall’s development cycle—and more specifically, what went wrong with the ambitious open-world multiplayer shooter. A month out from the game’s launch, it is currently one of the worst-reviewed games of 2023 thus far.

In his article Schreier notes that around the time Redfall began development, the idea of “games as a service” was beginning to take off thanks to titles like Fortnite and Overwatch. Zenimax, which at the time was looking for a buyer, encouraged its studios go in the same direction (of multiplayer-focused games with microtransactions), Schreier says.

So it went with Redfall, at least initially. But according to the Bloomberg piece,

Staff members said that, over time, they grew frustrated with management’s frequently shifting references to other games, such as Far Cry and Borderlands, that left each department with varying ideas of what exactly they were making.”

The report also states that Arkane Austin was constantly understaffed throughout Redfall’s development. All this inevitably led to a crisis of morale which led to a great deal of turnover at the studio. Which in turn exacerbated the understaffing issue.

Add to that the fact that developer Arkane Studios had relatively little experience with multiplayer games. Rather, it was known for single player oriented games like Dishonored and Deathloop. As Schreier reports, once the Zenimax acquisition completed in early 2021, the team behind Redfall were hoping that might be cancelled or at least reworked into the kind of single player experience that was Arkane’s bread and butter.

Alas, neither of those things happened. What did happen was an incohesive, unfinished game at launch—and one that has put a dent in Arkane’s considerable reputation. One has to question Microsoft’s role in all this. As MIcrosoft Gaming XEO Phil Spencer admitted following the Redfall launch, “We (Xbox) didn’t do a good job early in engaging Arkane Austin.”

After taking much criticism for doing the very opposite with some of its earlier acquisitions, Microsoft has adopted a famously “hands off” approach when it comes to its internal game development studios. In the case of Redfall, that approach can partially be blamed for the end product. Perhaps going forward Xbox Game Studios can find a happy middle ground with its studios that involves oversight without undue interference.