Fallout 76: PR Trainwreck


Courtesy of Bethesda

Anthony Winslow, News Editor

Ever since its announcement at E3 2018, Fallout 76 has been one of the most hotly contested-over games of the year.  Many fans were wary of an always-online Fallout game, worried that it would be less about interacting with an interesting world through a personalized character, and more about fighting other players and boring NPCs with little to no motivation.  To both Bethesda and fans’ dismay, the issues are much more complex than expected.

The Beta(s)

Courtesy of Bethesda

Fallout 76 went though multiple trial periods preceding its release, meant for players to test the game and give their first impressions, while also serving as stress tests and checking that there weren’t any egregious issues.  Many fans were off-put by the game’s lack of living, breathing characters: all of the story would be delivered by notes, audio recordings, and robots.  This is a massive departure from the previous fallout games, where characters had elaborate backstories, motivations, and outcomes.

The effects of this change were quickly described by series veterans.  One player documented feeling simultaneously starved for human contact and overwhelmed by their acquaintances during their time with the game. Among other issues, they later stated that the game’s story segments, “drag on in a way that’s fundamentally incompatible with the amount of distraction going on around you.”

After the multiple testing periods, opinions seemed mixed.  Some people praised Bethesda for taking risks and allowing them to play one of their favorite franchises with friends, while others lamented the loss of atmosphere.  However, there were problems common among users:  the game’s performance was variable, as it dropped frames and suffered long loading times.

Surely, these issues would be fixed when the game released, right? Well…

Full Release

Courtesy of Bethesda

At the time of writing, Fallout 76 currently sits anywhere from a 40%-60% score on most review sites, and has been described as disappointing, underwhelming, and unprofessionally buggy.  Customers’ biggest issues are typically the game’s technical performance, its repetitive gameplay and quests, and the lack of need to engage with other players.  One common complaint is especially surprising: the game’s user interface is a mess, something completely uncharacteristic and amateurish for an industry veteran such as Bethesda.

On the other hand, there are some upsides.  In spite of the game’s impersonal story, the world-building and environmental storytelling has been praised across the board.  The game’s revised perk system has been generally well-received, and playing with friends makes the game much more enjoyable.

That brings us to our question: why has this mediocre game stayed in the headlines since its release?  It’s not a masterpiece, but it certainly isn’t a disaster.  Sadly, Bethesda has been spending much of its accumulated goodwill on… a canvas bag.

The Canvas Bag Saga (and its Fallout)

Courtesy of Bethesda

The Fallout 76 Power Armor Edition is a $200 collector’s edition of Fallout 76.  It contains the game, a wearable power armor helmet, a map, 24 figurines, a steel-book case for the game, and a “West-Tek” canvas duffel bag.  Or at least, it was supposed to.

On the Power Armor Edition’s arrival, customers discovered that the West-Tek canvas bag advertised had been replaced with a much cheaper nylon bag without any warning.  Customers were dissatisfied and confused, so logically, they got in contact with Bethesda’s support team.  Things only got worse from there.

At best, customers were given loaded responses that got them nowhere.  At worst, one user was given a needlessly hostile response that set Bethesda’s already volatile user base aflame.  Games journalism group Polygon reached out to Bethesda and got the following response:  “The support response was incorrect and not in accordance with our conduct policy. Unfortunately, due to unavailability of materials, we had to switch to a nylon carrying 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.”

This only further angered players who felt they had been cheated by an underwhelming game, and now an underwhelming collector’s edition.  Bethesda offered compensation of 500 atoms, the in-game premium currency used to purchase cosmetics (worth about $5) to make up for their mistake, but players weren’t having it.  Some even accused Bethesda of trying to “bribe” those affected, because if the atoms were accepted as compensation, people wouldn’t be able to level a lawsuit against Bethesda.

As if all of this wasn’t bad enough, more accusations of shadiness flooded in as people discovered that some media “influencers” who had been expected to give the game a good score were given free Fallout 76 bags.  Granted, these weren’t identical to the bags advertised in the original photo, but they were certainly of a higher quality, and definitely not made of nylon.  This only further riled fans who had already felt betrayed by the whole situation.

Finally, Bethesda cracked.  On December 3, 2018, Bethesda Support tweeted that the originally advertised canvas bags would be manufactured, and people would be able to file a support ticket to claim one until January 31 of 2019.  Was this the end?  Of course it wasn’t.

Soon after people had begun to send in orders for their canvas bags, some users reported being able to see and manipulate other people’s tickets.  These tickets didn’t just include usernames: they had contact info, personal information, even home addresses!  Bethesda made an official response and apology, but the damage had already been done.

So what now?  The media has had a field day with this entire situation, dubbing their articles with humorous headlines such as “Bag-gate” and “Nylon-gate”. Customers feel scorned, even longtime fans have a bad taste left in their mouth from the whole mess.  And Bethesda should feel incredibly embarrassed.

If there’s any way you could pull a moral out of this catastrophe, it probably goes something like, “Don’t try and deceive your customers, especially when your main product isn’t very well received to begin with.”  It seems as though Bethesda could have stayed out of most of this disaster had they just delivered the product they promised.  Or at least, the bag that they promised.