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Xbox boss Phil Spencer apologises for Redfall's disastrous launch: "We let a lot of people down this week"

"I'm upset with myself."

Image credit: Bethesda

Xbox boss Phil Spencer has personally apologised for the failure of Arkane's Redfall, which was widely panned this week.

The triple-A first-party shooter has suffered a disastrous launch, with players and reviewers criticising everything from the blandness of its world to the many bugs, its uninspired looter shooter mechanics to performance issues. It is Arkane's worst-reviewed game, and has a "mostly negative" user review rating on Steam.

The failure of Redfall has also brought into question Microsoft's ability to launch high-quality games with any regularity after a string of high-profile flops, and has caused some to cancel their Game Pass subscription between now and the upcoming launch of Bethesda's Starfield in September.

In a sweeping video interview with Kinda Funny Games, below, Spencer takes responsibility for Redfall, saying: "I'm upset with myself."

Kinda Funny Games interviews Phil Spencer.Watch on YouTube

Promising Microsoft will revisit its development processes in the wake of Redfall's launch, Spencer pointed to the news that Redfall would run at 30fps on console at launch when gameplay had suggested it would run at 60fps. (Spencer admits Microsoft knew Redfall would run at 30fps on console at launch when the misleading gameplay was released.)

On Redfall's launch:

"I'll just say all up, there's nothing that’s more difficult for me than disappointing the Xbox community. I've been a part of it for a long time. I obviously work on Xbox, head of the business, have a lot of friends, get a lot of feedback. And just to watch the community lose confidence, be disappointed, I'm disappointed. I'm upset with myself. I revisit our process - I think back to the announcement of 60fps and then we weren't shipping 60fps, that was our punch in the chin, rightfully, a couple of weeks ago. And then seeing the game come out and the critical response was not what we wanted, and it's disappointing.

"What can we learn? What can we get better? One thing I'll fight is what went wrong. There's clearly quality and execution things we can do, but one thing I won't do is push against creative aspirations of our teams. Then 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 they have a proven track record for. I'm just not a believer in that.

"Maybe that means I'll under deliver 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 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.

"But I also need to have a great selection of games that continue to come that surprise and delight our fans. We under-delivered on that and for that I apologise. It's not what I expect, not what I want. But it's ours to deliver."

Zoe runs through six reasons Redfall is a massive disappointment.Watch on YouTube

Why not delay Redfall?

"If I think about a team's execution on a game, we had a creative vision and did we realise that vision through the game we created? That's not a delay question if the answer is no. This isn't a Redfall specific conversation. But we will build games that review in the high 80s, and we will build games that review in the 60s. It's part of being in game publishing, and if you're afraid of that, then you shouldn't be in the entertainment business, you shouldn't be in the games business.

"That said, every time we deliver something below our own internal expectations, that surprises us, we should check our process.

"I don't look at the review scores on Redfall - there are quality issues and we're working on those - but I think there's a fundamental piece of feedback that we get that the game isn't realising the creative vision it had for its players. That doesn't feel 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 thing, they're not feeling the creative execution of the team.

"When a game needs to be delayed, we did with Halo, we did with Starfield, we did with Redfall, because the production timeline is saying, we have this vision, and our production timelines don't get us to the completion of that vision, we do delay games. We do that.

"Learning about the quality - and there are clearly, I've seen them, I know there are bugs in Redfall - but when I look at the crash rates on the game, because we get all the telemetry of everything that's happened, it's not out of proportion for a game that has just launched. It's in the pocket of what we would expect.

"That's not to deny any of the animation, streaming of texture bugs, the AI bugs we've seen. We will go work on those.

"But when I look at the review scores of this game, did we have enough of a creative differentiation in our core idea? And did we realise that creative ambition? I'm a huge supporter of Arkane Austin. Their track record is awesome. I love a lot of the great games they've built. This is one where the team didn't hit their own internal goals when it launched.

"I think it's maybe a little simplistic to just say, hey, if you would have just delayed it three months the core creative of the game would have delivered on something that was different than what it was.

"So I look at them in different camps. If there's a production timeline issue, we've been open to delaying. If we just have more bugs than we should have at the end of a game, we're open to delaying. At some point we have to have a creative vision and put the game out, and reviewers and players will tell us what they think."

Newscast: Can Microsoft's Activision Blizzard deal appeal succeed?Watch on YouTube

On the Redfall reviews

"We do mock reviews for every game we launch, and this is double digits lower than we thought we would be with this game. 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.

"If you look at the review scores over the last year, it's not a defence at all. If you look at the review scores over the last year, I think the teams have done a better job in upping the level of quality of the games we shipped. Some of those games first shipped on PlayStation, but still, when I go through the list of the games, you still have to build a game, you still have to ship a game, and this game was significantly below our internal metrics in terms of where it actually reviewed. But that's not on anybody but us. We have to own that.

"In terms of our commitment to the game, absolutely, the team at Arkane is on taking the near-term feedback, we're still working on the 60fps, we have a good timeline for that, we're committed to getting that done, and we're going to continue to work on the game. We've shown a commitment to games like Sea of Thieves and like Grounded, to continue to go and build games.

"But I also know these games are $70. I'm going to take full responsibility for launching a game that needs to be great. There are still questions that pop every so often, of how committed is the company to this category? When are we just going to push Xbox out of the market? There's a lot of Twitter 'firing of Phil' right now, which is fine. I'm way overpaid for the role I have anyway. I get that's my responsibility. But we will remain committed to the game and the players, as long as the players want to go play games. That's my commitment to the community. I'm kind of at a low point right now in terms of my delivery on that commitment to the community. But it very much stays. I want to support the team. I want to support the creative ambitions of the teams. And I want to support the players.

"We let a lot of people down this week with the launch of the game, but we will continue to strive on. You have to, right? That's what creative is about."

On lessons learned

"In terms of lessons learned, I'll even go back to the Redfall videos on IGN of showing videos of the game running at 60 on PC at the point knowing that the game was going to run at 30fps at launch on console. We have to be transparent about what we're showing, that what we're showing is representative of what our console customer, our most committed customer to our brand, financially committed, what they're gonna see, what they're gonna play, and that transparency just has to get better. And I'm not pointing at anybody but myself.

"It's transparency in what we're building, what our aspiration is for the game, what it's gonna look like, what the futures are. It drives me crazy when we have self-inflicted wounds of putting things out there, communication that's confusing or misleading about what the actual end product is going to be."

What went wrong with Redfall?

"When we acquire studios, there's games that are in development when we acquire a studio, and then there are things that are either really early in development or not even conceived yet. We need to improve on engaging in games that are midway through production when they become part of Xbox.

"I do think there's a different expectation for a game and even a team when you've been third-party and all of a sudden you become part of first-party. There's a different expectation in terms of how you're going to perform on our console. There's a different competitive set when people look at what this game is, and the other games they're going to say, hey, I want this game to feel as competitive as this other game on another console platform, in our case.

"And we didn't do a good job early on in engaging with Arkane Austin to really help them understand what it meant to be part of Xbox and part of first-party and use some of our internal resources to help them and move along that journey even faster.

"So, we left them to go work on the game. They're a very talented team, I love that team and I still do, and I will totally bet on them to do another great game. When Matt Booty (Head of Xbox Game Studios) and Jamie Leder, who runs Zenimax, and I sit down, I think we can engage earlier with our different studios.

"Thinking about how our internal processes of dev assistance, even some of our internal ATG [Advanced Technology Group] resources, and how those work with our internal teams, I think we can do a better job.

"We did a better job with Starfield. Again, nobody should believe it until they're playing the game. But that game was earlier on in production, and it was easier for us to swarm a bunch of people to go and help with some of the technology on our platform and ensure we're going to ship a quality experience there.

"We should have been there for Harvey [Studio Director, Arkane Austin] and the team earlier. That's on us. And then through the process, it's an Unreal game. We have a bunch of studios that have done some really great work on Unreal over the years. And I think we were too late to help in that when they had certain issues they were working through, which any team will - it's nothing to do with the specific engine - but we have a lot of experience and we needed to get on that earlier with the team, and we didn’t do that.

"That's not an excuse. So when the 60fps issue came up, we were definitely diving in. We had people from The Coalition and people from Rare looking, both teams that have done some really great work with Unreal, to help us build a 60fps plan, but obviously that was a plan that had to be in place last fall in order for us to really be in a position to have it at launch.

"I take that as learning, as painful as it is. There's a bunch of other stuff I could go into, but then we end up with dev doc."

Thoughts now turn to Microsoft's Xbox Showcase event and Starfield direct in June, with the pressure to deliver perhaps greater than it has ever been before.

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