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Opinion: Fallout 76 Must Fail

I had previously written that I didn’t want Fallout 76 to fail. And certainly, that was true at the time. But after reading scores of reviews, watching loads of gameplay videos, and objective technical analysis, I’ve changed my mind.

The only thing that matters to these companies is their bottom line. That’s the only thing that will truly get them to change.

Fallout 76 must fail. It must fail commercially. It must fail critically. Bad ideas, and bad executions of bad ideas, must fail. Bethesda needs to learn they can’t get away with peddling broken products and acting with such anti consumer impunity.

A Traceable History of Incompetence

In my previous article written during the beta period, I detailed Bethesda’s traceable history of broken games. We must remember the Skyrim PS3 issue which crippled performance after extended play, with Bethesda knowing that the PS3 could run into such problems.

Additionally, the Unofficial Patches for Skyrim and Fallout 4 are absolutely critical to experience a smoother, more-bug-free game. Bethesda didn’t bother fixing many of the lingering issues and instead relied on modders to fix their games for them — for free.

This clearly displays a gross systemic incompetence at the studio. Some may say that these decisions are made by executives and that the devs on the ground have to roll with it, therefore we can’t blame devs because they’re surely trying their hardest. Indeed, this is one of the most common retorts I have received.

However, if they really were trying their hardest, we would have seen that in the last 10+ years. Lingering issues such as tying physics simulation to framerate would have been ironed out years ago instead of persisting all the way through to 2018 and showing up in Fallout 76.

Specifically for Fallout 76, the issues began way back in the beta, as I documented in my article linked above. The timing of the beta was suspect, with only a few weeks go to before launch, and only being available at short intervals during the day when most people are at work.

It continued with a major issue on PC which forced PC gamers to redownload the entire beta at a snail’s pace. I experienced this personally.

The PC version then and now continues to lack basic standard features such as a vsync toggle, ultrawide support, FOV slider, push to talk, and brightness slider. As objectively analyzed by Digital Foundry, a 47 GB patch(!) was issued post-launch which seemed to deliver few, if any, improvements to the technical mess that is Fallout 76.

Indeed, there exists a lengthy, well-documented bug list on Reddit. One quick look at this list shows just how comprehensive it is, encompassing virtually aspects of the game from UI, to combat, to general stability. It’s incredible.

So then, back to the original retort of “it’s the fault of executives,” let’s assume for a moment that Bethesda’s previous games launched smoothly and were relatively bug-free. Had Fallout 76 been an isolated incident of issues, then sure, the executives are the incompetent individuals for pushing out a game before it was ready.

But Fallout 76 is not an isolated incident. It is simply one of many. Like I detailed above, Bethesda have a traceable history of launching technical mess after technical mess, with the same issues being persistent across titles. Therefore, this blame and incompetence extends beyond the executives. As this discussion will show, this incompetence is company-wide affecting Marketing, PR, Community Management, and beyond. This is something deeper, more systemic, and ultimately rotten.

Review Scores and Price Drops

Overall perception of Fallout 76 is a negative one. One need only look at Metacritic for a quick pulse. The game currently ranks at 54, 51, and 49 out of 100 for the PC, PS4, and Xbox One, respectively.

I personally despise scores, but the real meat is, as ever, in the reviews themselves. After reading a number of these reviews, a clear unified commonality emerges. Fallout 76 is a broken game which strips out all the things that make a Fallout game well, Fallout.

Prices have been dropping on this game as well, after being out fewer than two weeks. It first dropped to $40 for Black Friday, and then again shortly after to $35.

While the holiday shopping season may have something to do with the cheaper pricing, it isn’t unreasonable to attribute this drop in price in some part to poor reception, with Bethesda opting to lower the price in order to incentivize consumers to buy Fallout 76. To me, this shows a lack of confidence on the part of Bethesda in their own product, and is troubling to see.

Refunds

First, let’s set up some context for this discussion. Keep in mind, Pete Hines said this when justifying why Bethesda moved away from Steam to use their own client (emphasis added),

“Because it’s an online, always-on game-as-a-service. Based on our experience, based on other things that we’ve done, we felt like having a direct relationship with our customers was super important to us. And so doing it through Bethesda.net, exclusively, allows us to have that one-to-one relationship with customers, that quite honestly you don’t always have when you go through another third-party where they might own the relationship with the customer in terms of being able to email them or to reach out directly and contact them.

We believe it’s going to help us deal with some issues and challenges that we’ve seen in the past. And again, it’s a new experience, like the game itself is and we’re going to see how it goes and how it works and what benefits it allows us to have in making sure that our customers have the best experience possible.

So clearly, his excuse is to cultivate a better relationship with the customer. Cynically, I believe the real reason is (as it almost always is) about money. And in this industry, my cynical notions turn out to be true far more often than not.

Now on Steam, you can refund a game if you have less than 2 hours of playtime, and you’ve purchased it in the last 2 weeks.

The ZeniMax (Bethesda’s parent company) Terms of Service states DLC, “is not returnable, exchangeable, or refundable” once that DLC has been redeemed. It continues that some return situations may be possible if they are “approved by ZeniMax or required by applicable law.” In fact, glancing across the internet, Bethesda does appear to be providing refunds for some consumers. However, this is not consistent.

Personally, I find their policy anti consumer. If you as a consumer are not satisfied with a product you purchased for any reason, you should have the right to return that product for a full refund, within reason. This directly contradicts Pete Hines’ claim of wanting to have the “best experience possible.”

With all this context in mind, Reddit user ZPKane requested a refund, citing performance issues. Initially, Bethesda was agreeable,

“Greetings! Thank you for contacting the Bethesda Customer Support Team. Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to begin processing that refund for you right at this moment. There is nothing to worry about though. We’ll begin processing the refund as soon as we can and we’ll reach back out to you via email to let you know once we’ve started that process. Thank you for your continued interest and support! Warm Regards, Bethesda Customer Support”

But then, they backtracked saying,

“Greetings, Thank you for contacting the Bethesda Support Team. Customers who have downloaded the game are not eligible for a refund. We apologize for the inconvenience. If there is anything else we can assist you with please reply to this email for further assistance. Thank you for your patience. Kind Regards, Bethesda Support”

This is absolutely absurd and is anti consumer. This is blatantly bad customer service. It directly contradicts Pete Hines’ claim of wanting to provide the “best experience possible.” This is incompetence.

Lawsuit

There’s a law firm planning a class action lawsuit by D.C. based firm, Migliaccio & Rathod LLP.

“Migliaccio & Rathod LLP is currently investigating Bethesda Game Studios for releasing a heavily-glitched game, Fallout 76, and refusing to issue refunds for PC purchasers of the game who found it to be unplayable because of its technical problems. While minor bugs and glitches are expected with the release of most new games, Fallout 76 launched with a 56GB patch that has proven to be but a starting point for the game’s problems. Gamers who have tried to receive a refund because of the game’s myriad glitches have been unable to do so since they downloaded the game, leaving them to deal with an unplayable experience until patches bring it back to a playable state.”

Personally, I honestly don’t think this lawsuit will result in anything. However, it does show that people are slowly but surely getting tired of Bethesda peddling broken products for $60. If nothing else, this is an indicator of the shift in public perception. I find this to be a positive thing.

Missing Basic PC Features and Lack of Communication

All this is on top of the fact that the PC version of the game is still missing basic expected features, despite PC gamers asking for them from the Beta period.

Bethesda finally released a Reddit post detailing future patches, and it’s here where they discuss PC features. In short, the PC will receive a FOV slider, 21:9 support, and Push to Talk later on December 11.

Think about this for a moment. These three features have been standard in PC gaming for years and years. The fact that these basic standard features have to be implemented in a post-release patch from a company with the pedigree of Bethesda is genuinely mind boggling. Some people may counter with gratitude that at least Bethesda is implementing the features.

But this misses the point entirely. A company like Bethesda should simply know better. It shouldn’t take constant feedback from their PC audience and a post-release patch for these features to exist in their games.

You compound this with Bethesda’s lack of communication, which they themselves have admitted to on Reddit.

“We know you’re frustrated and angry at the state of things right now, whether it’s the issues you’re running into in the game, or the lack of communication about fixes, updates, or news. To be clear, this account is run by us, Bethesda Game Studios community team. Yesterday we posted to let you know that we’re still here gathering your feedback and, more importantly, working to get info from the team we can share. We didn’t want you to think the silence meant nothing was happening. We’re sorry and understand this was not the right approach, and we’ll work to make a better bridge between you and the dev team at BGS.”

Here again, it’s tempting to show leniency and say that at least Bethesda are admitting guilt. But once again, this misses the bigger problem.

This is Bethesda. They are a major corporation with plentiful resources at their disposal and, most importantly, pedigree and history in the industry. It is entirely reasonable to assert they such a company should have experience in communicating with consumers.

But here again, they fall utterly short. Are you noticing a theme here? This isn’t the fault of any one single individual at the company. There is a clear systemic problem at Bethesda, one that affects virtually all facets of their business. It is this systemic incompetence that seems to persist throughout the company.

Collector’s Edition Canvas Bag

This all culminated to just earlier on Wednesday, with a consumer receiving a nylon bag instead of the advertised canvas bag after purchasing the $200 Collector’s Edition of Fallout 76.

When he reached out to Bethesda about this, he was given the response,

“We are sorry you aren’t happy with the bag. The bag shown in the media was a prototype and was too expensive to make. We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.”

We aren’t planning on doing anything about it.

Bethesda eventually responded to this saying,

“The Bethesda Store’s Support member is a temporary contract employee and not directly employed by Bethesda or Bethesda Game Studios. We apologize to the customer who took the time to reach out. The support response was incorrect and not in accordance with our conduct policy.”

There’s a lot to unpack here. Bethesda is entirely responsible for the messaging back to customers, regardless of their use of a contracted employee. They control the messaging. This is a failure on part of Bethesda to provide the proper training and oversight required for customer relations. This is yet another display of incompetence.

Regarding the missing canvas bag, they responded with this,

“Unfortunately, due to unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon carrying case in the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. We hope this doesn’t prevent anyone from enjoying what we feel is one of our best collector’s editions.”

I find this genuinely absurd. I’m no expert, but I find it incredibly difficult to believe that a material like canvas is a difficult to obtain en masse. With a company with the means and resources of Bethesda, they should have no issues getting a hold of canvas. Hell, I’ll go to Dick’s Sporting Goods and buy some for them.

They followed up with this,

“We understand and respect that there is disappointment with the bag in the Power Armor Edition. We are sorry. Please contact Bethesda Support to provide proof of your CE purchase. They will assist in granting your account 500 Atoms.   

Please visit: https://help.bethesda.net/app/answers/detail/a_id/44432 …

Bethesda’s use of the word “respect” is baffling here. 500 Atoms (a fake currency) roughly equates to $5. In their mind, offering customers $5 of in-game currency (which costs Bethesda nothing) is justifiable recompense for deceptively marketing a $200 collector’s edition.

Do you know what you can get for 500 Atoms? Flowers and a door. This doesn’t show respect. This shows a clear and utter lack thereof. This is a bait-and-switch. It is a disconnected display of overwhelming incompetence.

It gets worse. As of this writing, it appears that canvas bags were given to influencers at a preview event earlier this year. It’s important to note, this kind of thing isn’t new. Influencers frequently receive free swag at such events.

But against the current backdrop, the perception of this is overwhelmingly negative. It is telling of a few things. Bethesda clearly have the means to create high quality bags and hand them out for free. It’s entirely justified for a consumer who paid $200 to look at that and get upset.

Bethesda needs to either offer full refunds, or ship that influencer bag to consumers who bought the collector’s edition. It is the right thing to do. (Update: It seems that as of December 3, Bethesda will be issuing replacement canvas bags, “as soon as the bags are ready.” There’s no indicator on whether or not these canvas bags will be the ones advertised, or an entirely new design.)

With all this taken into account, apart from the blatant deceptive advertising, this speaks to two major issues. Considering that the type of customer who would spend this much money on a product is most likely an ardent fan of your game, it’s baffling that said company would so easily cast him aside with such a casual unsympathetic response. This is terrible customer support.

Secondly, companies constantly claim that games are too expensive to make. No doubt, part of that expense is a marketing one. Bethesda is literally claiming here that the canvas bag was too expensive to make, but are bundling it with an expensive $200 Collector’s Edition. And in the same token, they are charging consumers with microtransactions, asking for more money on top of the $60 entry fee.

It is insane how companies can claim poverty like this when absolutely no one asked them to make an expensive canvas bag for a $200 Collector’s Edition. It becomes more absurd when you pause to consider the fact that this is the same company who milked Skyrim for years and year, releasing a million different versions of it across platforms. For them to claim that this bag is too expensive after reaping the literal reward from their cash cow is nothing short of pure unadulterated greed.

This flies in the face of basic common sense and again, points back to the incompetence issue that has been persistent throughout this piece. As evidenced, this incompetence is pervasive throughout Bethesda.

The Big Picture

Fallout 76 is objectively broken. Consumers and media defending this game are catastrophically short sighted. No reasonable human being should defend, excuse, nor rationalize Fallout 76 and Bethesda’s anti consumer behavior.

When faced with overwhelmingly objective evidence of the game’s broken state and Bethesda’s anti consumer behavior, some will still claim to enjoy Fallout 76. They still want to defend this game and the company, claiming that they want to see it improved and want to see it succeed. This is completely irrational.

This grossly misses the bigger picture. You shouldn’t look forward to the improvements because the game should have released stable, feature complete, and technically sound in the first place. You owe Bethesda nothing. They’re the ones asking you for your $60 (and more with the $200 collector’s edition), and then they have the gall to ask you even more in microtransactions after the fact.

Stop flocking to their defense in the face of overwhelming evidence. Use common sense here folks.

I fundamentally believe people who claim to enjoy this game while casually casting aside its major problems are wrong to do so. It is so thoroughly ignorant and frankly, a dangerously naive mindset to have. By claiming to enjoy the game in the face of overwhelming evidence, consumers and media are merely showing Bethesda that this behavior is acceptable. It’s not. People need to wake up.

The only thing that will affect these companies is their bottom line. Fallout 76 must fail so that Bethesda can learn that they cannot get away with peddling this garbage to consumers.

Despite all this, despite all of this awful garbage that consumers have had to endure with this broken half-baked product, nothing will get done. Bethesda will peddle out another broken game in Starfield on objectively broken technology in a few years’ time, and all this will happen again. To quote Bethesda, “we aren’t planning on doing anything about it.”

Header image source: Imgur

Written by
A highly opinionated avid PC gamer, Poorna blindly panics with his friends in various multiplayer games, much to the detriment of his team. Constantly questioning industry practices and a passion for technological progress drive his love for the video game industry. He pulls no punches and tells it like he sees it. He runs a podcast, Gaming The Industry, with fellow writer, Joseph Bradford, discussing industry practices and their effects on consumers.

3 Comments

  1. Great article, agree 100%
    The industry as a whole is in a bad place now. Good opportunity for a company to bring actual good games to the market.

  2. I am actually glad I decided to pass this one up, I am a huge fan of the Original Fallout series and loved Fallout 4 but the new direction they went with this game just makes me sad.. Good article..

  3. People,
    Stop pre-ordering these games. This is your fault.
    Make the companies feel like they have to actually make a good product BEFORE they get your money.
    Sheesh. Its not that hard.

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