Redfall ranks as one of the biggest disappointments of the year so far. So disappointing, in fact, that PCG's Tyler Colp scored it 44% and deployed the potent phrase "I'm having a miserable time" fewer than 20 words into his Redfall review. But bad games don't fall from the sky; more often than not, they're the culmination of a long chain of wrong decisions, limited resources, and plain old bad luck.
Between playtests, mock reviews, and simple experience, devs often know when their games are falling short of expectations, and a new report from Bloomberg has revealed that Arkane Austin was no different. In fact, according to the article, many of the studio's devs nursed a sly hope that Microsoft would straight-up cancel the project after it bought ZeniMax in 2020.
Bloomberg's investigation states that Redfall's development was afflicted by chronic understaffing. Arkane Austin's team of fewer than 100 people simply wasn't large enough for the job of creating a marquee, multiplayer-focused shooter—a problem that wasn't helped as dispirited veteran devs began an exodus from the project as it limped along. Around 70% of team members who had worked on Arkane's (excellent) Prey had departed the studio by the time Redfall was ready for store shelves, and the company struggled to replace their expertise.
A brief moment of hope was delivered in the form of Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax in September 2020, though probably not in the way studio bosses would have preferred. Sources told Bloomberg that, once Arkane Austin staff learned they'd been picked up as part of Microsoft's acquisition, they hoped the new boss would force a reboot of the project as a classic, Arkane-style single-player project. Failing that, they just hoped the corporation would cancel development altogether, freeing them from a task that staff were neither confident nor enthusiastic about.
No such mandate came. Instead, Microsoft allowed ZeniMax to go on much as it had before, enjoying a great deal of autonomy and ensuring that the plans for Redfall remained much as they had been from the start: A multiplayer FPS with barely any of the qualities—emergent gameplay, tight level design—that Arkane was known for. Small wonder, then, that it eventually released in the state it did.
As an inveterate Prey liker and Dishonored fancier, I was wary when Redfall was announced and disappointed—if not surprised—when it finally released. The entire Bloomberg report is worth reading to see how that project came to pass, and I hope the right lessons have been learned from its failure. With so many veteran devs apparently gone, I'm worried about where Arkane Austin goes next, but I hope it'll be a project much more in its wheelhouse than Redfall was.