After nearly a year into release, Bethesda seems hell bent to shoot itself in the foot with Fallout 76. From launch, fans complained about the bug-ridden gameplay and lack of NPCs. Bethesda responded with an expected narrative, whereby the studio apologized, promised that the grass would be greener soon, and released a slow drip of free updates until the game eventually looked like how everyone thought it would on day one.
Now, Fallout 76 has significantly improved where hardcore fans of the franchise were perhaps starting to finally feel their devotion had paid off.
However, Bethesda incomprehensibly decided to announce its new USD$99.99 annual subscription service, Fallout 1st, just to provide the most requested feature: private servers, in the same week as Obsidian Entertainment released the space-western game The Outer Worlds.
Bethesda’s attempt to monetize features that were requested at launch is bewildering, especially as the publisher vocalized on several occasions that additional content and DLC would be free. Naturally, the idea was met with universal scorn, bringing people together to unanimously condemn the move. The fact that anyone in a senior role would greenlight Fallout 1st means that either the publisher’s marketing strategy is grossly incompetent or is treating loyal fans with contempt, believing the hardcore faithful will pay the subscription fee regardless.
Obsidian’s The Outer Worlds is an RPG with the DNA that embodies everything Fallout fans adore. The game offers a stunning single-player experience with exciting dialogue, characters, and worlds. Additionally, the story narrative and character lineup are so well written that players will feel immersed into their character’s journey.
Moreover, The Outer Worlds was continuously reported by news outlets as “Fallout: New Vegas in Space,” a comparison echoed by senior members of Obsidian during interviews. Despite all the efforts by Obsidian and Private Division to advertise The Outer Worlds, Bethesda’s tactile misjudgment was quite simply the best marketing campaign The Outer Worlds could have asked for.
The sad fact is that the developer that owns the Fallout franchise made an intensely unpopular move aimed at hardcore fans, whilst the original Fallout developer released a true spiritual successor to the series.
Furthermore, what makes Bethesda’s decision even more ludicrous is that The Outer Worlds is currently available on Xbox Game Pass, which means that players can jump on the game for only USD$10. The full game is cheaper than the questionable premium subscription for Fallout 76. Additionally, players will also have access to an endless library also containing Gears 5, Sea of Thieves, and countless other games for that price.
Bethesda also appears to be shamelessly unaware of the irony of using the image of Vault-Tec Corporation’s cartoon mascot, ‘Vault Boy’, to sell Fallout 1st. Vault Boy’s conception was inspired by Herbert Marcuse’s 1964 book One-Dimensional Man. Marcuse explored and criticized consumerism and capitalism, highlighting the Cold War, where apocalyptic nuclear destruction was a realistic fear but wealthy American and Soviet Union citizens could buy luxury bunkers.
The company has turned its back on all the iconic socio-economic, philosophical, and political satire. Bethesda led the way criticizing capitalism and consumerism, mocking how companies exploited even the darkest opportunities to generate capital. Bethesda has ignored Harvey Dent’s famous line in The Dark Knight, perhaps by keeping the Fallout franchise alive, transforming it into a GaaS model, and adopting exploitative micro-transactions the company has now become the villain.
The Outer Worlds has gladly picked up the mantle of criticizing corporate exploitation of consumerism. The game overtly mocks corporate marketing strategies by forcing NPCs to repeat tired slogans as a contractual clause. Furthermore, the game could covertly satirize Bethesda too. If one were to think of Bethesda every time someone in the game refers to The Board, the similarities become increasingly more obvious. Unfortunately, Bethesda’s days of producing timeless RPG classics such as The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind seem like a lifetime ago, and the company appears to be on a mission to self-sabotage its reputation.
Fallout 1st, and Fallout 76 as a whole, has been a PR disaster for Bethesda. Instead of ditching the GaaS model or turning Fallout 76 into a free-to-play game, the company has introduced the absurd USD$99.99 annual subscription fee. The only logical (and cynical) explanation for such a decision would be to align with the old adage coined by Phineas Taylor Barnum: “There’s no such thing as bad publicity.” Whilst this may be true, Obsidian and Private Division will undoubtedly be rubbing their proverbial hands in delight because Fallout 1st is the best advertising campaign The Outer Worlds could have hoped for.