Fallout 76. Okay, you can stop laughing now, that wasn’t the punchline. But really, the general public perception around Fallout 76, Bethesda’s attempt at grafting multiplayer, games-as-a-service elements and micro-transactions onto Fallout 4′s husk remains less than kind. You’ve no doubt come across players of the game who enjoy it and can attest to some of the updates being good.
While I bemoaned Nuclear Winter as a tired, belated attempt to cash in on the battle royale trend, some players loved it and Bethesda did good to make its pre-beta permanently available to owners after the whole limited week offer. Wastelanders will bring in human NPCs, dialogue trees and actual consequences to one’s choices, fulfilling a request that fans have had since, well, the game was confirmed to have none of these. From different seasonal events to player vending and back-packs, Bethesda has done some good stuff with Fallout 76. The general game is still a shambles but they’re listening!
However, take the most recent update, Patch 11, which caused Legendary loot drops to become more scarce, Power Armor to vanish from players inventories and a whole heap of freezes and bugs to come about. Some issues which were supposed to be fixed still remain. Others, like randomly going headless when exiting Power Armor, are new to the franchise as a whole. Bethesda has promised a hotfix for some of the issues – which should be live as of this time – and apologized for the trouble caused.
Deja vu? That or a buggier version of Groundhog Day. When Bethesda went about nerfing things, like the White Knight perk which made repairing easier, and stealthily making the game grindier as a result, fans were furious. As a result, Bethesda increased its communication substantially, apologizing to the community and generally doing everything possible to ingratiate itself to players. Of course, it also added Repair Kits to the Atom Shop to squeeze more money after accumulating enough good will, skirting the line between “no pay-to-win advantages” and “time-savers.”
Its latest item, Scrap Kits which convert all the junk in your inventory to scrap immediately and send it to your stash without needing a Workbench, also appeal to one’s laziness.
So Bethesda messed up (again), fans are angry and demanding a Public Test Server, the firing of PR persons, their own hiring as dedicated testers, so on and so forth. All out of love for the game. That’s to be expected, right? What’s incredible to note is that despite all the mistakes, outrage and calls for action, the cycle will go on. Ever get that feeling of deja vu?
It’s become a trend for several such titles. Destiny launched in a rubbish state and made foul-up after foul-up before Bungie started bending over backwards to listen to its players. Destiny 2 went back on everything positive that fans enjoyed about it and lo and behold, Bungie once again did everything to show that it was “listening.”
This seems to be a trend in today’s games-as-a-service industry – Epic Games realized this incredibly early with Fortnite: Battle Royale and received credit for its sheer transparency. And while reactions to some of its updates are that they’re more gimmicky than actually addressing core issues or improving gameplay, the general vibe among fans is that Epic is listening to them and cares for them.
For reference, look at games that don’t have the right flow of communication down. BioWare’s Anthem is in a terrible place but the developer’s lack of communication before the Cataclysm PTS dropped made things far worse. Even if the Cataclysm has some decent features – and yes, does somewhat resemble that E3 2017 demo after some changes – fans are still wary about coming back due to the general air of communication. The Division faced a rapidly declining player population in its initial few months until Ubisoft Massive committed to better and more frequent communication along with taking fan feedback more seriously. Even when it was flamed and criticized, it never stopped talking to players.
The point of all this? Communication is the “get out of jail free” card. Bethesda has messed up on an incredible scale, releasing Fallout 76 in a broken state but fans still stuck with it. Even as it continued to break, the developer recognized that communicating and nurturing those fans, making them feel special and wanted, was the key to success. Because there’s no better way to retain players in this games-as-a-service world than to make them feel like they’re part of something bigger, invested in this shared experience with others and the developer. It’s almost cult-like, in a way. Even if Bethesda messes up again, it simply needs to talk to its fans and then provide some other new and shiny thing to appease them.
Take the most recent “Inside the Vault” blog post. Patch 11 was a horrible mess? Well, Bethesda has released a hotfix to address some issues and promises that it’s “actively investigating everything you’ve been reporting to us and we are looking to address as many of these bugs as we can with future updates.” Ever get that feeling of deja vu?
In the meantime, there’s a new event coming up! Isn’t that exciting? You shouldn’t worry that this $60 game is still facing numerous game-breaking glitches, some that have been part of this studio’s titles for years now. You shouldn’t be concerned that the Atom Shop is slowly but surely selling more items with gameplay advantages. And you especially shouldn’t be concerned about the prices of micro-transactions. Just think about how Bethesda is listening, feel special and log back in the next day.
I wouldn’t ordinarily have a problem with players just enjoying a game for the sake of it. It’s not that Fallout 76‘s players are completely faultless – even if the game is barely functioning, they enjoy it and appreciate the developers working overtime to ensure its success.
However, it’s hard to not look at how Bethesda has handled the development of this title and see the cynical approach to money-making, the urge to keep churning out broken patches with the comfort of fixing things later. And yet, it’s also fascinating to observe how far it will go to appease its players for the sake of that mighty revenue and daily active user count. Such are the goals of games-as-a-service titles, make no mistake, but you have to wonder how long fans can partake in this cycle of “mess up, apologize, ingratiate, repeat.”
If Fallout 76 has taught me anything, its that fostering a community that will happily sing kumbaya as the game breaks, in both new ways and old, that too eight months down the line, is not only possible but entirely profitable. Now, how about that Meat Week, fellow Vault-Dwellers?
Note: The views expressed in this article are those of the author and do not necessarily represent the views of, and should not be attributed to, GamingBolt as an organization.