Why everyone should care about 'Fallout 76' (Part 3: Fallout)
Damage reaching outside of the game
Somehow it gets worse
In Part 1, we explained the background of video game scandals, including why Bethesda was able to use the shortsightedness of other companies to keep a competitive edge in the industry. In Part 2, we discussed the eroding of Bethesda's once-legendary goodwill with its customers. This culminated in Bethesda's most recent release, which was glitch-filled, poorly marketed and accompanied by at least two major scandals within a week of release.
And yet, somehow, it gets worse.
Before we delve into some of the ugliest behavior of any company this year, let's look back at the key concept we began these articles by stating. The video game industry is now a massive factor in the American economy. Bethesda, an American company, is among the biggest game developers. If Bethesda suffers significant financial loss, it is potentially harmful to others, even non-gamers, as it will negatively affect the economy.
A series of insults
Bethesda found itself at a pivot point just a week after the release of "Fallout 76." People were already speculating about what could be done to make the situation right. Maybe the worst thing they could choose to do would be to reduce the price, as it would make their most loyal customers -- the people who preordered the game -- feel as though they had been further cheated.
Of course, this meant the price was reduced.
One week after the game's release it was marked down with a 50%-off sale. No compensation was offered to players who had purchased the game for $60. Worse, some players had purchased special editions that sold for $200. Those players not only felt cheated out of $170, they were about to have a series of insults done to them that would result in legal action.
Customers who ordered the $200 special edition of "Fallout 76" were promised a power armor helmet and a canvas duffel bag, replicas of items found within the game. The power armor helmet was not functional as an actual helmet for motorcycle riders or extreme sports enthusiasts, but it was a fun souvenir for the mantle. The canvas duffel bag, however, was large enough to be functional for vacation luggage.
Special edition customers received a thin, easily breakable nylon bag.
If it had been advertised as a nylon bag, this might not be a problem. If Bethesda had been honest about its products over the last year, this might have not been a problem. If the "influencers" fom amateur social media channels who were flown in to give the game extremely forgiving reviews had not been given proper canvas bags either, this might not have been a problem. But this was a problem.
People who ordered the special edition began asking for their money back. These are Bethesda's most loyal customers -- the people who always buy their games, the people who's loyalty allows Bethesda to take risks on new concepts, the people its whole business model was built on.
Bethesda was facing a crucial moment. A moment where they could try to salvage what was left of their reputation, or at the very least return some confidence to the people who might be wondering if they should spend money on the next Bethesda game with a preorder or wait for the reviews to come in.
This is how the company handled requests for refunds:
Fallout 76 200$ Collector's Edition Comes With Nylon Bag Instead of Canvas— AllGamesDelta (@AllGamesDelta_) November 28, 2018
"The bag shown in the media was a prototype and was too expensive to make.
We aren’t planning on doing anything about it." pic.twitter.com/Mnf0IohQda
The response resulted in a severe backlash from the community. There were video rants. There were tweetstorms. Quickly, Bethesda countered with a new tweet.
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.— Fallout (@Fallout) November 28, 2018
But that contract worker had been correct. At the time, the company was not offering compensation. On top of arguably scamming its customers this company was blaming employees for speaking honestly. A change in policy quickly came, and once again Bethesda would have been better served by doing nothing.
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.— Fallout (@Fallout) November 29, 2018
Please visit: https://t.co/TJBMjYaph0
The company offered 500 Atoms to the players who ordered its special edition games. For those who don't know, Atoms are the currency used in the "Fallout 76" store, and each one is worth a cent. What Bethesda was offering was a $5 coupon that could only be used within its game.
At this point, a lawsuit was inevitable. The company had taken money from millions of customers in increments of either $60 or $200. A lot of them were claiming that the product delivered was less than what was promised. It was just a matter of which law firm was the first to react.
That law firm was Migliaccio & Rathod LLP, which announced research into a class-action lawsuit against Bethesda.
Once again, Bethesda changed its policy on the canvas bags. Originally, it had blamed the switch on a shortage of canvas, which people largely agreed was a lie. Now, with a lawsuit on the way, the company must have found where the canvas had been hiding, because it released this tweet:
We are finalizing manufacturing plans for replacement canvas bags for the Fallout 76: Power Armor Edition. If you purchased the CE, please visit https://t.co/S5ClEZuQrx and submit a ticket by Jan. 31, 2019. We’ll arrange to send you a replacement as soon as the bags are ready.— Bethesda Support (@BethesdaSupport) December 3, 2018
The lawsuit has not gone away, however, despite the fact that (only after being caught in multiple PR debacles and potential legal action) Bethesda was finally agreeing to ship out the product it had sold. There were still a number of things that Bethesda had promised that it was not going to deliver.
The game was not what the company said it was. There were no graphical improvements, the beta testing was not beta testing, the company stopped just short of cash when it came to bribing early reviewers and, in general, the company was regularly caught engaging in deceptive trade practices. We will most likely do an update if and when this lawsuit gets to court.
Life for Bethesda employees had to be getting worse on a daily basis, and I wonder which of them were enjoying those times with the fair certainty that things would begin getting much worse.
On Dec 5, a massive breach of data occurred, allowing users to see all customer support tickets for Bethesda over the return requests related to the Power Armor Edition of the game. Among the information leaked were addresses and banking information. This was not an intentional hack by an outsider, but rather a code oversight failure by the company itself. This was a huge dose of incompetence on top of a season of greed by what was once considered to be the most trusted name in the gaming industry.
Perhaps the most shocking aspect of the newest scandal was that people no longer seemed shocked. Angry, yes, but the surprise was gone when it came to bad news about Bethesda.
People no longer trust Bethesda. Some hang on to their hope that it is still the company that prided itself on ethical business practices, but the majority of customers now treat Bethesda with the same wariness as other companies. Most gamers no longer plan on purchasing Bethesda games on the release date, but rather some time after post-release reviews come in from multiple sources.
Remember that the term "gamer" now represents 65% of America. Imagine for a moment that we were reporting that the majority of America was not planning on buying from Ford Motor Co. until independent organizations verified that the company's next car functioned as advertised. That is the level of decline Bethesda has experienced over the last two months.
We reported on the signs that such a disaster was on the horizon, complete with a plea for Todd Howard to avoid this catastrophe. The release of "Fallout 76" played out like a culmination of every worst-case scenario Bethesda's software, marketing, legal and PR departments could come up with.
The fallout from this is going to last. Zenimax, Bethesda's parent company, is now going to have a hard time selling its next titles. Obsidian, a company that famously worked with Bethesda to make "Fallout: New Vegas" is already using this disaster to market its own upcoming games. Most importantly, Bethesda itself is now going to have to do business without the trust of its customers.
The glitches that have become a telltale sign of Bethesda releases are not going to be lovingly teased, but will now be coldly put on a list of reasons not to purchase anything the company makes. Experimental games will not be tried by curious gamers, but will be tested thoroughly by critics and stand little chance of recouping their cost if they do not function beyond expectation.
There are new scandals. For example, Bethesda promised that "Fallout 76" would not have loot boxes (which as we mentioned before are so reviled in the gaming industry that lawmakers are considering outlawing the practice) and yet savvy gamers have noticed that the code to add in loot boxes has been inserted in the game files in a recent update. However, we are beyond the point of this mattering because Bethesda has already lost its most valuable asset.
Bethesda lost the trust of its customers.
Bethesda is now entering a world of scrutiny that it did not evolve in, and it may not be able to live within the standards other publishers have had to. It entered this world by its own choice, whether it realizes that or not. If the company fails in this new world, the market will have to absorb the consequences.