Redfall Proves Xbox Needs to Make a Major Strategy Change

Time to get hands-on.

Redfall vampire screenshot

As the most recent Xbox exclusive, Redfall had a lot to live up to. But reviews lambasted the game, leaving observers to wonder why Arkane, a studio known for immersive sims like Prey and Dishonored, would make a middling shooter like Redfall that seemed designed primarily with microtransactions and live-service gameplay in mind.

The answer, according to a new report from Bloomberg, is that many of the studio’s developers didn’t want to be making Redfall at all. Instead, the game had been mandated by its parent company, ZeniMax, which was acquired by Microsoft partway through development. In the wake of Redfall, Xbox head Phil Spencer admitted, “the game isn’t realizing the creative vision that it had for its players.”

Xbox has long championed a hands-off approach to established studios it has acquired. But Redfall proves that it's time Xbox changes its strategy.

Redfall developers reportedly hoped Microsoft would cancel the project.


Arkane Studios has a reputation for making critically acclaimed games that don’t sell very well, at least in the eyes of its parent company ZeniMax. Despite Dishonored 2, Prey, and Deathloop being some of the best immersive sims of the best decade, none of these games were commercial successes. In 2018, when development on Redfall began, ZeniMax was looking to be acquired, and “the company was encouraging its studios to develop games that could generate revenue beyond the initial sales,” reports Bloomberg.

This led to Redfall’s inception as a multiplayer game focused on microtransactions, an element that would later be removed before the game’s final release. According to Bloomberg, this was a massive hit to morale. Developers at Arkane wanted to make immersive sims, and hiring new employees was similarly difficult because people didn’t want to work at Arkane to make a middling multiplayer title. By the end of Redfall’s development, 70 percent of the Arkane Austin staff credited on Prey had left the company.

This story is all too familiar lately, with countless games attempting to jump on the live-service bandwagon too late. A recent example is the chorus of groans that greeted the recent reveal of Suicide Squad: Kîll the Justice League, a game developed by Rocksteady, the studio known for some of the best superhero games ever made. The game has been delayed in response to negative feedback while the trends it is chasing grow ever more stale.

ZeniMax’s mandate for Redfall hurt the morale of developers wanting to make the immersive sims Arkane is known for.

Microsoft finalized its acquisition of ZeniMax in 2021. Bloomberg reports that the acquisition “gave some staff at Arkane hope that Microsoft might cancel Redfall or, better yet, let them reboot it as a single-player game.” That didn’t end up being the case, but hopefully Xbox will learn from this experience.

As Microsoft has acquired several studios in recent years, fans fear a large corporate presence will change the unique identity of the developer. But Xbox has allayed these fears by committing to its hands-off approach, letting studios be who they are.

Xbox can’t rely on its hands-off approach when it comes to acquired companies.


While this is good in theory, it gives Xbox a get-out-of-jail-free card when failures like Redfall happen. The majority of Redfall’s development occurred under Xbox’s watch, and nobody stepped in to right the ship. Acquisition is not just a way for Xbox to let studios work and profit off of them. It needs to take a more active role in development and take responsibility when failures happen under its watch. Developers on Redfall were hoping Xbox would be a lifeline, but that never happened.

Going forward Xbox needs to change its strategy when it comes to its acquired studios. It isn’t enough to stay hands-off and let studios work. It's about empowering devs to do what they do best — even if it means changing course.

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