Ever since the Arkane Austin vampire-blasting multiplayer game Redfall launched, people have been wondering how Redfall happened. While the game has some positive moments in its lore-building, it otherwise feels unfinished, particularly with its sloppy visuals and plethora of bugs. Jason Schreier at Bloomberg has now released an investigation into the development of Redfall, which finds that the game had incurred problems almost since its inception, and about 70% of the Arkane Austin staff who had worked on Prey (2017) left the studio during the development of Redfall.
Development of Redfall began in 2018 at Arkane Austin, as parent ZeniMax was quietly looking to sell itself and was encouraging its studios (which also includes the likes of Bethesda and id Software) to create games-as-a-service projects like Overwatch. Microtransactions were intensely encouraged. Arkane Austin, with co-directors Harvey Smith and Ricardo Bare, ultimately took this information and decided to make a multiplayer game about battling vampires and maybe paying for “occasional cosmetic upgrades,” and it was an opportunity to create a game with broader market appeal after Prey had not been financially successful. Redfall was pitched as a “multiplayer Arkane game.”
However, the problems in trying to develop Redfall surfaced early. Firstly, management kept offering conflicting visions of what the game would and should be, resulting in developer confusion about what they were creating. How to reconcile single-player and multiplayer within an Arkane game was never really resolved either. Secondly, Arkane Austin employed fewer than 100 people, which had been enough to make a single-player game like Prey but was not a healthy number for developing a large multiplayer game with microtransactions to manage; outsourcing work to other studios was reportedly not enough to alleviate the strain.
Exacerbating things even further, Arkane needed new employees with experience in making multiplayer games, but since it hadn’t announced Redfall yet, it was mostly getting applicants who wanted to make single-player immersive sims like Prey. ZeniMax reportedly pays lower-than-average salaries as well, straining the applicant search even more so. (Remember, after the Mick Gordon situation with Doom Eternal, ZeniMax and co. are not your friends.)
As a result of plummeting morale and apparent lack of direction, veteran employees left the company during Redfall development in droves, with about 70% of the staff who had worked on Prey ultimately leaving Arkane Austin. When Microsoft purchased ZeniMax in September 2020, there was hope that Microsoft could right the ship and maybe even let the game become single-player only, but instead Microsoft stayed pretty hands-off, allowing ZeniMax to retain autonomy for better or worse. Although, in 2021, Redfall was at least allowed to dump its “games as a service” elements and in-depth microtransaction plans.
Reportedly, Redfall struggled so much during development that “several” people who played the game in 2021 where “shocked” to see how little had changed up to launch. Leaders at Arkane had kept expecting “Arkane magic” to happen and that all the pieces of Redfall would eventually fall into place for launch, but it just never happened. (This aspect is almost identical to the challenged development of Anthem at BioWare.) That brings us back to the present, where Redfall released to a weak critical reception, and the developers are promising fixes.
Basically, almost every problem you would have imagined to have happened during the development of this game did reportedly happen. It even lines up in part with speculation Escapist writer Thomas Wilde raised last month about Redfall. Hopefully, Microsoft, ZeniMax, and Arkane have learned a valuable lesson from this situation.