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Report: Some Arkane staff hoped Microsoft acquisition would kill Redfall

Understaffing, retention issues, and a drive towards microtransactions reportedly left the team at Arkane Austin fighting an uphill battle.

Chris Kerr, News Editor

June 1, 2023

2 Min Read
Redfall artwork featuring the title's four playable characters

A Bloomberg investigation into the development of Redfall, the multiplayer shooter from Microsoft-owned Arkane Austin that launched to tepid reviews earlier this year, details a production in turmoil and a studio caught in a philosophical tug-of-war.

The report, which is based on the experiences of over a dozen people who worked on Redfall, indicates the project was initially spun up because ZeniMax, the privately held owner of Bethesda and Arkane back in 2018, was encouraging its studios to create games-as-a-service titles that could generate long-term revenue.

ZeniMax was reportedly encouraging its studios to bake microtransactions into those experiences–although it stopped short of mandating them. This all came during a period when ZeniMax was chasing a potential sale, which eventually manifested when Microsoft bought the studio and its subsidiaries, including Arkane, for $7.5 billion in 2021.

That push for more games-as-a-service projects resulted in Arkane, which had until then built its reputation on developing single-player immersive sims, pushing ahead with Redfall. It initially envisioned the game as a team-based shooter that would include cosmetic microtransactions, although those were eventually scrapped in 2021 due to "games-as-a-service" titles taking heavy flack.

A project lacking direction

The decision to pivot to multiplayer development reportedly left staff confused. As did the direction of Redfall co-leads Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare, who apparently struggled to create a sense of cohesion, providing the dev team with multiple references to other series, including Far Cry and Borderlands, that struggled to illustrate what, precisely, they should be striving towards.

Understaffing and retention issues also hampered production, with Bloomberg suggesting that 70 percent of Arkane Austin employees who worked on Prey had actually departed the studio before launch, while Redfall's core dev team comprised less than 100 people.

Replacing those who exited was challenging, too, with prospective hires looking to join Arkane to work on immersive sims like Prey and Dishonored, and not multiplayer projects like Redfall.

When Microsoft finally announced its $7.5 billion acquisition of ZeniMax in 2020, the project was in such a state that some members of the Austin studio hoped the deal might ultimately kill the project, or perhaps even allow them to reboot it as a single-player title.

What happened was that Microsoft took a hands off approach–although it did scrap the PlayStation version of Redfall–and failed to manage expectations, eventually billing Redfall as a key name on its 2023 first-party release slate (after a significant delay).

The result was an underwhelming launch that only increased the pressure on Microsoft to start delivering on its promises of a first-party renaissance.

To hear more about the production of Redfall, be sure to check out the full story over on Bloomberg.

About the Author(s)

Chris Kerr

News Editor, GameDeveloper.com

Game Developer news editor Chris Kerr is an award-winning journalist and reporter with over a decade of experience in the game industry. His byline has appeared in notable print and digital publications including Edge, Stuff, Wireframe, International Business Times, and PocketGamer.biz. Throughout his career, Chris has covered major industry events including GDC, PAX Australia, Gamescom, Paris Games Week, and Develop Brighton. He has featured on the judging panel at The Develop Star Awards on multiple occasions and appeared on BBC Radio 5 Live to discuss breaking news.

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