Fallout 76 isn’t good for much, but it is giving gamers one more chance to learn a valuable lesson. Don’t pay for a product you do not want—particularly when you know you are paying for a product you do not want.
Let me be up front: I think this game is bad. The critical consensus, that 76 is a failed experiment with a mountain of unfixable problems, is one that I agree with in broad strokes.
However, for the sake of productive discussion, I am not going to pile onto the bounty of criticism already out there. (If that’s what you’re looking for, I suggest the search terms “Fallout 76” and “sucks” and possibly “ass.”)
Alternatively, if you liked the game, mazel tov! Enjoy deathclawin’ it up. This article isn’t for you.
But for those of us that feel like we got got, I want to reflect on one question we should be asking ourselves as reports of unstable performance and other various gameplay issues mount.
Why in the name of Nuka-Cola did we invest in this game?
For years, the games industry has presented its customers with broken, incomplete, and frustrating products—that we have dutifully purchased anyway.
In some cases, like the early access releases of Subnautica and Minecraft, both games that grew in functionality over time, that was expected. In other cases, where games were seemingly mis-labeled as complete and met by players with obvious disappointment (as was the situation with No Man’s Sky), not so much.
Therein lies the genesis of 76‘s failure. Now, I’m not saying this game being awful is our fault per se. Of course, we didn’t make it; we just bought it. But, I will argue that by positively reinforcing studios’ bad behavior in the past, we invited our own outrage in the present.
Here’s a rundown on how some of 76‘s most infuriating let-downs could be spotted from miles (and franchises) away.
So, you’re surprised Fallout 76 is practically empty
As detailed in this player review, many 76-ers have eagerly hunted down challenges and storylines within the massively multiplayer setting only to find themselves on lonely, purposeless quests with no end game. They, of course, have my sympathies.
That being said, big content disappointments aren’t a new industry issue. As I mentioned before, a prime example is 2016’s No Man’s Sky.
If you’re unfamiliar with the Hello Games controversy, here’s the TL;DR.
Creator Sean Murray, speaking as an agent of Sony during previews, made a whole lot of hype-filled assurances in the year before No Man’s Sky‘s big debut. Then, when it came time to deliver, players were met with a glorified, intergalactic rock mining “adventure” starkly lacking in some of the game’s most anticipated features—notably including online play.
Thanks to the hype (and later some essential content updates), No Man’s Sky still made a boatload of money and moved on from its underwhelming launch largely unscathed. By many accounts, it’s now a decent and still-growing game that’s built up a sizable and passionate fanbase.
In the case of Fallout 76, customers weren’t sold non-existent product features; Bethesda pitched the game as a Fallout experience you could take online. But the reality of that idea is a story-light Bethesda RPG that replaces all the usual narrative hooks these games are known for with a directionless online community. That’s a similar kind of broken promise.
You’re pissed about all these microtransactions
Like lots of frustrated gamers, many 76-ers aren’t into the idea of coughing up more money to get the full Fallout experience.
Beginning in the world of mobile games and slowly seeping into full console releases, paying for more features, cosmetic or functional, is an unwelcome reality of the current market. Not only are these for-purchase features an easy revenue source for developers, they can also provide necessary post-release funding for game support. Simply put, publishers and developers aren’t villains for wanting to make money; that’s just why they exist.
However, motivation aside, many players aren’t looking forward to spending more cash. But we’re not giving creators any reason to reconsider that strategy.
Case in point: the debacle surrounding the microtransactions of Star Wars Battlefront II. The ins and outs of this one are a little complicated. In short, players learned during public beta testing that this full-priced $60 game was saddled with a laborious and random drop-dependent progression system that allowed players to spend money in exchange for, effectively, extra rolls of the progression dice.
No one was forced to spend money on the game’s random drop-filled loot boxes, but getting all the cool guns, abilities, and character skins would have taken a large amount of time and effort without them. So, naturally, people were angry. Really angry.
And yet, with enraged Reddit comments still hanging in the ether, Battlefront II became one of the best-selling games of Nov. 2017, second only to the mammoth Call of Duty franchise. This could be chalked up to the virtually guaranteed market success of anything with a Star Wars moniker, or to Battlefront‘s massive reactive changes. Admittedly, Electronic Arts paid big for its mistake as the AAA release failed to produce the expected financial returns in the longterm.
But even so, scenarios like this one reinforce the idea that no amount of fan outrage toward in-game purchases will stop publishers from trying to implement them, along with other income models above and beyond the up-front price of a game. It comes back to the fundamental point that AAA games are more expensive than ever to produce, so the business interests that pay for them need to find ways to both justify their investment risk and continue with future development.
With that in mind, it really shouldn’t come as a shock that this bummer of a trend hit the Fallout franchise. At the annual E3 trade show in June, Bethesda announced the addition of “Atoms,” an in-game currency paid for with real money, to the 76 landscape. The currency can be used to purchase purely cosmetic items for your character, making in-game payments appealing, but not necessary.
You just want to play the freaking thing
One of the most objectively negative things about Fallout 76 is that it’s just plain old broken. We’re talking glitches. We’re talking server crashes. We’re talking rampant, framework exploitive cheating. All of that, we should have expected.
If you’re a Bethesda loyalist in any sense, you know that many of the publisher’s created worlds are often so large and complex that debugging them before release is nearly impossible—and that won’t be changing any time soon. We keep buyin’ em, they keep makin’ em: it’s an agreed-upon reality.
But even outside of the Bethesda-verse, gamers have a history of buying mainstream releases that are borderline unplayable. Most notable: PlayerUnknown’s Battlegrounds, abbreviated PUBG.
PUBG is a broken mess. Ask just about anyone, including PUBG Corp, the company that makes it. But, it is also ridiculously—and I mean ridiculously—popular.
At $30 a pop and in spite of its enormous bug infestation, PUBG had sold 50 million copies on Windows PC and Xbox One as of June 2018. That substantial console-based PUBG player base is estimated to make up only a fraction of the game’s total users, as an even greater number of PUBG-ers hail from the free-to-download mobile version.
Both Fallout 76 and PUBG are technical catastrophes that (assuming revenue estimates for 76 arrive as expected) gamers are purchasing despite knowing of their drawbacks.
However, there is one critical difference. PUBG was released at a $30 price point and labeled as early access. Fallout 76, on the other hand, began at $60 and revelations that it wasn’t quite finished didn’t come until close to launch.
You’re looking for a way out
Even if you were unaware of the prior bad acts of other franchises or failed to connect the dots making this “Do Not Enter Fallout 76” warning sign, you had a good shot at knowing 76 would disappoint you anyway.
Broadly speaking, it was common knowledge that Fallout 76 was going to be rough. Bethesda said as much in a pre-release press statement just last month and plenty of players predicted the present blowback after that first announcement. Moreover, free-to-access public beta testing of the game revealed plenty of 76‘s most glaring issues in the weeks leading up to its Nov. 14 release.
But, I’ll level with you. Let’s say you didn’t pick up on any of the above red flags, bought Fallout 76, and have been left reeling from post-purchase discontent. That’s totally cool, no judgment. You’re just not allowed to do it again.
No matter how much you scream into the social media void about a bad purchase, you are still making that purchase and, in a sense, have endorsed the product you now own.
If you’re worried a game won’t have all the features that were promised, hold off on that pre-order.
If you’re against microtransactions, consider not buying games that have them—and certainly don’t make them when they’re presented to you.
And finally, if you think the experience you are buying point-blank will not be functional, do not set your money ablaze and then cry about it later.
No amount of sunk cost fallacy, FOMO, or internet troll fuel is worth sacrificing a market demand for quality content. At the end of the day, the studios behind even our most beloved projects aren’t our friends; they’re business people. If we want to communicate with them effectively, we have to use the correct language.
While official revenue numbers have yet to be made public and a number of return attempts still hang in the balance, Fallout 76 will likely do well enough for Bethesda. That’s fine this time around, but you know how the saying goes…
Fool me once, shame on you. Fool me a tenth time, have $60. No, really. We insist.
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