Several months ago, when I was covering E3 announcements for the site, and talking about what I was looking forward to, one of the main ones I called out was Fallout 76. I was excited for the Power Armor edition, even though I knew I didn’t need it and couldn’t really afford it, and I was even more excited about the Fallout 76 Pip-Boy 2000 that was offered by Bethesda and ThinkGeek.
Fast forward to now and I will fess up: I cancelled my orders for both and have yet to play Fallout 76. The more they talked about the game, a few things became clear, and I knew I should save my money.
First, and most important, was that this wasn’t a game I was likely to enjoy playing. Fallout is an single player action RPG that features first person / over-the-shoulder 3D shooter mechanics in an rich world full of unique and interesting NPCs (both allies and enemies). It featured a lot of story, a unique combat system in V.A.T.S., and a whole lot of things that got you living and invested in the world.
The more that Bethesda talked (or, in a lot of cases, talked around) the game, the more it became clear that most of that would be missing. Rich world, sure. Combat… kind of, though being online would likely mean that VATS wasn’t there, and they dodged questions of the story outside of the initial setup for the game. My assumption back then was that this game was going to be a soulless shell of a game that removed the best parts of Fallout to capitalize on the name. Like I said, I haven’t played it, but nearly all of the reviews, and a lot of people I know that have played it… to mixed (or worse) reviews. Some have picked it as the hill to die on and defend (I’m curious how many of them also loved No Man’s Sky when it came out), but for the most part, it’s indifference to unhappiness.
For its part, Bethesda hasn’t exactly been making friends with how they’ve responded. In slightly more than a week after launch, they’ve already had the game on sale for nearly half off. Black Friday/Cyber Monday aside, that’s a terrible thing to do to the people who actually paid for the game and worse, preordered it. Seriously, if this isn’t a lesson in never, ever, preordering a game, I don’t know what is.
They also released a fairly tone deaf apology letter on the state of the game at launch. Bethesda is kind of notorious for releasing buggy games, having once used that as a point of evidence in a lawsuit, but you can go watch livestreams and videos of how bad it is in Fallout 76. A lot of these were found in the beta (which wasn’t a beta, it was a “pay us and we’ll let you stress-test our code), where players can edit the files like a regular single-player game and basically hack their way into things. Worse, things like physics and speed were tied to framerate… so you could look down and turn into The Flash. From a development point of view, these are mistakes that have no excuse… some of them are things you’d learn about in a basic game development course. It’s bad enough that their initial dev cycles for “enhancements and features” seem to be focused entirely on things that are broken or missing from the game. Apparently “content” in AAA games now consists of making things work as expected.
Yesterday, things blew up in a more spectacular fashion, however, when people who purchased the $200 Power Armor version (which is the one I had pre-ordered and cancelled). When it was originally shown, demoed, and advertised (that part will become important), they called out that the armor would feature a canvas bag. You can see it in the image I posted at the top of the article (the one on the store . That was actually one of the coolest features, because it was potentially useful outside of something to gather dust on the shelf, and very authentic to a military feel.
People who ordered it, instead, got a cheap nylon bag (the kind that would never be used in a military application, because they are garbage that would fall apart at the slightest touch of water or heat). Having dropped that kind of money, people were understandably upset and contacted the company. That brings us to the headline, and how badly it was handled. Here were a couple of responses that came from Bethesda support…
Due to unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon 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.
And someone who was unusually honest (and kind of blunt)…
We are sorry that you aren’t happy with the bag. The bag shown in the media was a prototype and was too expensive to make.
You know what isn’t a valid excuse for delivering something that was committed to in advertisement and order? Being “too expensive to make.” In fact, there already looks to be a lawsuit gearing up for this for deceptive trade practices, and I wouldn’t be shocked if this becomes point number one when they take it to court.
For their part, Bethesda knew that the responses were bad from their support. I like to imagine they got together, saw it was a firestorm, and then promptly went about to trying to figure out how to make it even worse. They tried to smooth over the response by throwing the person under the bus and calling them a contractor, but as far as I can tell, their problem is that the person told the truth.
I’ve talked about pouring gasoline on a fire before, like with what happened with Blizzard and their recent Diablo announcement. That story has gotten far more complicated, by the way, since there’s a great write-up on Kotaku about exactly how badly they pantsed things over there. (If you haven’t read Jason Schrier’s work, you should… Blood, Sweat, and Pixels is a fantastic book, and his writeup of Mass Effect: Andromeda is fantastic journalism that makes my heart hurt as a fan of the series).
Bethesda released this in response to failing to deliver an advertised feature on the product
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://t.co/TJBMjYaph0
— Fallout (@Fallout) November 29, 2018
For those keeping track at home… 500 Atoms is about $4 in their virtual currency for their microtransaction garbage that’s baked into a full-price, incomplete, buggy, and broken game. It will effectively buy you nothing at all useful (another one showed a door and some flowers). It’s more than you can easily earn in game, but still not at all much (you can get 10-20 through daily and weekly quests). The best response I saw was this:
Ironically 500 Atoms won’t even buy you the Fallout 76 postman skin that actually has a canvas bag (it costs 700) pic.twitter.com/UCN3kXYDmn
— Chris Livingston (@screencuisine) November 29, 2018
I mean, this game doesn’t have humans or NPCs other than the characters, yet still somehow there’s a market-based economy to sell you appearances. On checking a guide for the Atom store, it doesn’t look like you can buy any appearances that are in their shop right now. Beyond that, this is not an apology, because it’s not useful unless you’re playing the game. It doesn’t make up for an unusable physical product, it’s just a sinister way to get you to spend money.
It’s absolutely unbelievable that a company, any company, thought this would be a good thing. In trying to rush out and head off a problem, they made it worse. They’ve opened themselves up to legal action that they will almost certainly pay for… not just in money but in the loss of goodwill. They’ve hit some of the most hardcore and dedicated fans of their game, those willing to spend hundreds on special products, and I’d be shocked if hardly any of them purchase a product from the company again.
The behavior of the company is pretty telling. This was the first Bethesda game that didn’t come to Steam. In part, that was originally because they wanted to drive people to using their awful launcher (something consumers don’t want to do)… but now it looks like it has been so they can avoid Steam’s “not all that great but better than nothing” refund policy. Bethesda has been refusing any refund requests, and that will probably sink them when it goes to court (like it has other companies that put out overly broken games in recent memory). Sadly, because of how that sort of legal action goes, the lawyers are who will win, and customers will probably get a settlement worth some more atoms, and nothing will change.
At least at first. Make no mistake… Bethesda’s reputation will hurt after this. They’ve always had a reputation for bugs and weirdness, but that was baked in as part of the charm. Fallout and Skyrim had all kinds of crazy videos of things going wonky, and we laughed at them… but it’s now taken a lot more negative and hostile side with fans. And given how the company has acted, they deserve every bit of it. To be clear, I’m talking about directions towards a company and product… not to the people working on it or individual devs. Harassment of them is never justified or acceptable.
You don’t have to look far to see a parallel of another company that went down this road and hasn’t really recovered in the eyes of their former fans: Electronic Arts. A lot of this feels reminiscent of the debacle around Mass Effect: Andromeda, Sim City, and Star Wars Battlefront 2, and a lot of other titles. I know that I, personally, haven’t purchased a single EA game since Andromeda. I’ve heard good things about Battlefield V, but I won’t purchase it until it’s in the bargain bin, if at all. I know a lot of other gamers who feel the same way about their products… EA has become a warning badge on something to avoid.
More than anything, this whole mess should serve as a warning for consumers. These companies do not deserve your money just because of their name or history. Don’t preorder a game to subsidize it, because it’s just a way they can deliver a sub-standard product and rip you off by denying you a refund later. Don’t buy into arguments that it’s hurting the devs and workers, either… the company is the one treating them poorly and using whatever excuse they can to avoid paying them fairly. Customers are not on the hook to make up for corporate bad behavior.
Once upon a time, a company had to work to earn your money… they weren’t owed it or guaranteed just by trading on your name. A good product should be what earns money, not just being another thing on it. And companies should be making products for their customers to enjoy and love, not building ways to force in microtransactions and exclusive DLC to try and trick them out of their money.
The trend that so many of these companies have been going is worrisome, and sadly, this isn’t the exception. It’s just the latest high profile example of a game company missing the point, badly. We need to vote with our wallets until it gets better and they focus on the customers as consumers instead of money dispensers. There are examples of companies that are doing it right… after all, Smash Brothers Ultimate comes out in 8 days.
Vote with your wallet. Right now Bethesda has done nothing to earn your money.