From its inception in 2018, Redfall, the multiplayer shooter game developed by Microsoft’s Arkane Studios, promised a fresh and exciting entry into the gaming world. Set on a fictional Massachusetts island besieged by vampires, Redfall aimed to bring together the best elements of immersive, single-player experiences for which Arkane is known and a novel multiplayer environment. Yet, when the game debuted on May 2, 2023, it was met with widespread critical disapproval, indicating a significant misstep in the execution of its ambitious concept.
A report by Bloomberg revealed that Arkane Studios had historically produced games, such as Prey and Dishonored 2, that were adored by fans but underperformed in sales. Unfortunately, Redfall seemed to break this tradition, failing to impress critics and consumers. The game’s numerous bugs, lack of polish, and underwhelming gameplay resulted in a dismal Metacritic score of 54 out of 100, categorizing it among the worst-reviewed games of the year.
Various issues plagued the game’s development, leading to its eventual downfall. One of the most prominent challenges was the lack of a clear direction for the game. Although Arkane Studios had a strong reputation for creating immersive, single-player games, developing a “multiplayer Arkane game” proved confusing for team members. This uncertainty was amplified by shifting references to other games, creating a disparity in departmental understanding of the game’s design and objectives.
Further exacerbating Redfall’s development troubles was a persistent staffing issue. Arkane’s Austin office was reported to employ fewer than 100 people, adequate for smaller, single-player games. This workforce deficit led to multiple delays in the game’s release schedule and increased pressure on the remaining staff.
Moreover, high attrition rates due to staff disinterest in developing a multiplayer game led to an approximately 70% turnover of the Austin staff who had previously worked on the 2017 game, Prey. Replacing these experienced workers was challenging due to ZeniMax’s reputation for paying below-average salaries and Texas’s conservative social policies.
Despite these struggles, hope was kindled among the staff when Microsoft purchased ZeniMax in September 2020. Some employees were hopeful that Microsoft would either cancel Redfall or allow it to be rebooted as a single-player game. However, aside from canceling a planned PlayStation 5 version of the game, Microsoft maintained a hands-off approach, causing disappointment among the team.
The game’s microtransaction plan also sparked controversy. For the first three years of Redfall’s development, a significant microtransaction plan was in place, which was scrapped in 2021 amidst an increasing backlash against the “games as a service” model.
Upon release, Redfall was heavily promoted as one of Xbox’s major upcoming releases, but it fell far short of expectations. The final product was plagued with technical glitches, and the gameplay was criticized as a poor compromise between single-player and multiplayer designs.
As a result, Redfall became a high-profile misfire for Microsoft’s Xbox division, which has struggled to produce hits this year. The setback raises the stakes for ZeniMax’s other upcoming games, particularly Starfield, due in September.