This week on Cold Take, Frost talks about the shifting of blame when it comes to AAA video game releases like Redfall.
Who Is to Blame for Redfall? – Transcript
Some of you seem to have figured out my intro Easter eggs. Well then what do you make of this one?
Here’s a harsh truth for your Monday lunch break. Sometimes a game just sucks, no pun intended. It’s not as common in the Triple-A scene, where the worst thing a game can be is a little buggy, predatory, unoptimized, and generic but still manage a 6/10 review score. The sheer amount of talent and money that circulates in the higher division guarantees even Triple-A turds are shinier than the average game development caca. So when a big name developer or publisher releases a 6/10, 5/10, or– god forbid– 4/10 game, the vocal disappointment is near deafening. In the case of Redfall, the conversation has moved past the topic of quality. The riled up populace demands accountability. “ Who’s fault is this? Who’s to blame? How could you?” And it’s all a ruse. I think there’s problems with perception and expectations from the consumer side, but I don’t pity Johnny Triple-A because I’m tired of playing their blame game.
The first problem is perception. There’s a negative attitude towards games that are just average. Which is a shame because the average game is average, but the spotlight nature of the video game industry means the unremarkable games are left out in the dark. The average consumer mostly sees the curated, the well-advertised, the well-received, and the highly anticipated games that float to the top of the pile, be it indie or Triple-A. Even the remarkably bad games that end up at the top of Steam’s Worst Rated Games list, like Flatout 3, can strike up a conversation, and E.T. The Extra Terrestrial gets Wikipedia pages to archive its life, death, and landfill burial. This is Hollywood ugly, the Steve Buscemis of the gaming world. Considering Redfall to be the bottom of the barrel is to live a sheltered life. There’s another barrel under that barrel, and it’s filled with remarkably unremarkable strings of code I’d sooner call unseasoned malware than video games. I can’t even bring myself to name these games or show footage because YouTube has rules against online bullying. Unfortunately, the perception problem isn’t one that will go away any time soon because no one wants to make content that no one wants to watch or talk about simply for the sake of expanding the horizons of their audience. Not even me.
The second problem is expectations, fan expectations especially. Redfall has its issues. I could drone on about how the game drones on with hollow immersive sim elements, shoddy gunplay, and the most uninspired looter shooter system I’ve played in recent memory, but I’ll let the big guy tell you all about that–Truth be told, I kinda felt myself having fun with the jank for a few minutes so that’s worth something. Being generic and a bit dull, yet functional, is par for the course. Except Redfall ain’t fully functioning. The AI, which is a major focus of the game, is remarkably terrible. I kid you not, sometimes enemies shoot each other pointblank mid gunfight before correcting themselves. But given everything I’ve played, everything I’ve seen in the shadows, it’s still a relative 4/10, milk-it-for-a-few-meme-compilations-on-social-media-and-move-on-with-my-life, kind of game based on its own merits in a vacuum.
But Redfall doesn’t get to be in a vacuum. It gets to sit atop a mountain molded by molehill upon molehill of expectations. For starters, it’s a Triple-A game with a seventy dollar price tag at launch implying a certain level of competence is to be expected. It’s developed by Arkane Studios, who are most notable for creating Deathloop, Dishonored 1& 2, and Prey, furthering the implied competence in regards to the immersive sim genre. It’s published by Bethesda Softworks, the very ones that published Fallout 3 and onwards, Elder Scrolls, and the newer Dooms. That same publisher was recently acquired by Microsoft, which makes Redfall the console exclusive champion sent to represent Xbox in the gladiator pit against the likes of PlayStation’s exclusive champion, God of War: Ragnarok, and Nintendo’s exclusive champion, The Legend of Zelda: Tears of the Kingdom. Redfall was sent out to die for Starfield. I, a man who had zero expectations for Redfall, am only marginally disappointed. People who had higher expectations suffered a greater fall due to the emotional displacement.
But we want something tangible to point our fingers at. Reason three, let’s blame the consumers. Stop pre-ordering bad games. Stop buying bad games. Stop hoping. Stop dreaming. The reality is no one cashes in their paycheck and sets out to buy bad video games. My savvy consumerism dogma only works in good faith. If all the marketing is misleading and the hype cycle’s exaggerated then you can’t have an informed opinion on a product upon release date. To a certain degree. Making a trend chasing live service multiplayer game was a red flag for Redfall…and Fallout 76…and Anthem…and Marvel’s Avengers…and Suicide Squad, but there’s no way anyone could’ve predicted that Arkane Studios, a studio known for making single player immersive sims, wouldn’t get it right either.
Reason four, let’s blame the developers themselves who made the game. Except, no self-respecting developer wakes up every day to crunch week after week and delay their release so they can have more time to make sure every last square inch of their game is thoroughly soaked in kerosene before they use it to set light to the reputation they worked so hard to build over the last two decades. For five, let’s include the publishers that pressure deadlines and try to make their investors their money back any way they can. Six, the out-of-touch investors themselves that replace creativity for penny pinching dead trends to make a quick buck. Seven, Phil Spencer, the Microsoft Gaming CEO who’s laid his soul bare to the public. Eight, Al Gore for inventing the internet. And nine, my momma for birthing me. Ultimately, it doesn’t matter who we scapegoat if nothing changes. What is needed is action.
The kind of action Satoru Iwata, the former CEO of Nintendo, was known for. He and his coworkers consistently pushed forward innovation that led to extraordinary success during the days of the DS and the Wii, but they weren’t perfect by any means. The 3DS and the WiiU missed the mark and caused the company to flounder. Sometimes your ideas just don’t work. In response to the failed reception, Mr. Iwata halved his salary in 2011 and 2014 and other higher ups received reduced pay by 20%-30% so the hard workers on the ground floor would be provided for during the hard times. They rolled up their sleeves, patched up the holes, and the Nintendo ship has been sailing smoothly in its Switch era, because action gets the job done.
Nowadays, Phil Spencer laments the Xbox One’s inability to keep up during a critical point in the console wars. He expresses surprise that the mock reviewers, allegedly, assured him Redfall would be better received. He sits on his hands and says things like, “We’re not in the business of out-consoling Sony or out-consoling Nintendo. There isn’t really a great solution for us.” So he reassures us with a promise that cloud gaming and optimized games will be the focus. By posing the answer to the question “Who’s to blame for this mess?” Phil Spencer keeps the media right where he needs them. Let the public muse and argue over the questions you want and keep them from asking the important questions.
Like is it okay for Triple-A to release games in this state for $70 while also offering it for $10? Does Game Pass make it okay?No it doesn’t. That’s like saying it’s okay to release a game in a broken state because the modders will fix it. It’s okay to release a game like this because it’s better with friends. It’s just another consumer excuse for the people who think they’re the ones coming out on top, provided by Triple-A itself. All that’s to distract from the real question.
“What’s Triple-A gonna do about it?” and “How are they gonna do it?” Because we are now sandwiched between two sliced promises of “things will be better.” The hype cycle promises us things will be better than they are and the apology cycle promises us things will be better than they are. Meanwhile nothing actually changes if we waste our time bouncing off of both points and playing the blame game. Perception is a problem. Expectations are a problem. Apologies are nice, but apologies without action are hollow.