Xbox head acknowledges “disappointing” Redfall reception

Posted on May 5, 2023

Xbox head Phil Spencer has admitted that he is “disappointed” by Redfall’s mediocre critical reception, stating that the game performed worse than the studio expected. Despite this, Spencer stated that he doesn’t regret not delaying the game, and defended the right for internal studios like Arkane Austin to develop games that are outside of the genre that fans associate it with.

In an interview with Kinda Funny Games, Spencer discussed the reception to Redfall and Xbox’s future plans for its first-party titles. “There’s nothing that’s more difficult for me than disappointing the Xbox community,” Spencer said. “I’ve been a part of it for a long time. I obviously work on Xbox, I’m head of the business, I have a lot of friends and get a lot of feedback, and just to kind of watch the community lose confidence, be disappointed, I’m disappointed, I’m upset with myself.

Advising that the publisher does mock reviews for its games before launch, Spencer admitted that Redfall fell short of the review scores that he was expecting once it released to the public. “We do mock reviews for every game that we launch, and this is double digits lower than where we thought we would be with this game through [those]. That’s one of the disappointing things: we would never strive to launch a game that we thought was going to review in the low 60s – it’s not part of our goals.”

With many critics noting the game’s myriad performance and technical issues, Spencer was asked if Redfall should have been delayed. Spencer stated that he won’t delay a game if he didn’t believe that the delay would better help the developers realise their creative vision. “There are quality issues and we’re working on those, but a fundamental piece of feedback I get [from Redfall reviews] is that the game isn’t realising the creative vision that it had for its players. That doesn’t fell like a, ‘hey, just delay it’, that feels like the game had a goal to do one thing and when players are actually playing they’re not feeling that,” he said.

When a game needs to be delayed, like what we did with StarfieldHalo and Redfall, because the production timeline is saying, ‘we have this vision, and our production timeline don’t get us to the completion of that vision’, we do delay games.

To an extent, he has a good point; delaying Redfall almost certainly wouldn’t have remedied the game’s dull mission design and gameplay loop. However, releasing in a good technical state couldn’t have hurt the game’s chances of receiving a slightly better reception.

Finally, amid criticisms that Arkane, a studio most known for expansive single-player stealth-action titles like Dishonored and Prey, shouldn’t have branched out to the unfamiliar genre of co-op looter shooter, Spencer defended the right for Xbox’s internal studios to try new kinds of games.

One thing I’ll fight in what went wrong… There’s clearly quality and execution things that we can do, but one thing I won’t do is push against the creative aspirations of our teams,” he stated. “I know a lot of people will say, ‘hey, you’ve got teams, teams know how to do one kind of game, just force them to go do the one kind of game that they have a proven track record.

And I’m just not a believer in that. Maybe that means I’ll underdeliver for some of our fans out there but when a team like Rare wants to do Sea of Thieves, when a team like Obsidian wants to do Grounded, when Tango wants to go do Hi-Fi Rush when everybody probably thought they were doing The Evil Within 3… I want to give the teams the creative platform to go and push their ability, push their aspirations.

Again, these are valid points; studios don’t need to make one kind of game, and can indeed produce a successful product by branching out to new territory. However, for every Grounded, there is also a Babylon’s Fall or Anthem, where the experiment fails. Although there was nothing technically stopping Arkane from producing an excellent co-op looter shooter, it wasn’t what the studio’s fans were expecting, and it did not satisfy fans of the genre that Redfall was aiming for.

Spencer finally acknowledged that he “underdelivered” on the promise to deliver a great game with Redfall. As perhaps the first big exclusive to come out of the 2020 acquisition of ZeniMax Media, this is clearly not the outcome Xbox or its fans were expecting. Hopefully Bethesda’s Starfield will be more successful when it comes out on September 6th of this year.