My column this week details the mind-boggling string of outrageous failures perpetrated by Bethesda surrounding the Power Armor edition of Fallout 76. Specifically, it talks about how this $200 edition of the game promised a canvas bag but delivered something worth far less.
Like I say in the article, a company as big as Bethesda has no excuse whatsoever for making this kind of mistake. Only an idiot would cut this particular corner. If you’ve got a customer willing to pay you $200 for a videogame with some extra trinkets, then you need to make sure that customer is happy. Not because you’re a nice person or you care about the customer, but because this customer is a cash cow and treating them well will allow you to extract more wealth from them in the future. I’m not faulting Bethesda for being rapacious and exploitative, I’m faulting them for attempting to be rapacious and exploitative and being completely shit at it.
It’s easy to look at Fallout 76 and see that Bethesda is arriving two years late to the fad of Day Z clones. Fine. They attempted to jump on a trend and they miscalculated. Predicting the future is hard and I don’t fault them for messing up. But the canvas bag controversy? Market segmentation is Business 101. This is the easy stuff. The obvious stuff. If you can’t get this right then what are you doing trying to run a company?
We can compare this to Valve. Recently they entered the collectible card game market with Artifact. It’s a game where the developer allows you to spend real money for a chance to win virtual goods that cost nothing to produce. Not only is the customer spending actual money for imaginary goods, but they aren’t even guaranteed to get the goods they want! And instead of feeling ripped off, that just gives them a reason to pay the developer even more money for another spin with the random number generator.
I can understand why a company would want to run a CCG. There’s a lot of money in it. We can call it cynical or predatory, but at least it’s competent at being cynical or predatory. You don’t start the game up to discover atrocious art, broken mechanics, a horrible interface, countless glitches, rampant cheating, and regular crashes. Artifact might be a runaway success or a commercial flop, but Valve at least made a real product.
Bethesda has gotten it into their heads that quality doesn’t matter. Their game is broken in terms of mechanics. It’s broken in terms of technology. Their $200 premium goods are shameful Walmart trash. Their customer service is broken and dysfunctional. Their public relations is so bad it’s basically self-sabotage.
Maybe some of the blame for this belongs to us folks in the gaming pressAssuming I qualify as “gaming press”. I refuse to call myself an “influencer”. . Maybe everyone was too indulgent with Bethesda in the past. We humored their bugs and tolerated their habitual re-releases of Skyrim. Fallout 4 was a mess of childish ideas, idiotic dialog, lazy worldbuilding, and frustrating glitches that demonstrated a palpable contempt for the source material, but critics gave it an 84%. Wolfenstein II was showered with critical praise despite being distinctly inferior to the previous game.
Bethesda has been cutting corners for a long time, and they’ve been getting away with it. They’ve become complacent and even entitled. They’ve gotten it into their head that they can toss out a halfhearted attempt at a classic 90s nostalgia brand and sell millions of copies regardless of quality.
It’s my hope that this controversy isn’t just a moment of cathartic outrage for the fanbase. I hope this creates a shift in attitudes. It seems like the company is deeply dysfunctional. They have incompetent public relations, shoddy art, no QA, infuriating marketing, shameful IP management. This isn’t just a bad manager or a couple of bad decisions. This is a fundamentally destructive corporate culture.
I’m hoping the failure of Fallout 76 gives them a wake up call and makes them uncomfortable enough that they can enact some sort of reforms. I don’t want to see Bethesda go out of business, but I’d rather watch them go out of business than continue to release games as an elaborate form of shitposting.
 Assuming I qualify as “gaming press”. I refuse to call myself an “influencer”.
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