A discussion of blame, intent and Fallout 76

It’s safe to say that Fallout 76 has been one of the year’s most controversial releases, plagued with issues ranging from internal bugs, to botched preorder incentives and now a serious privacy and security breach.

One of the most recent of the controversies, before the, y’know, significant data breach, was the PR minefield regarding a canvas bag of all things. The bag was part of a Collector’s Edition preorder incentive that would house the package’s larger trinket, the T51-B Power Armour helmet. Upon arrival of the Collector’s Edition into customers hands, they found they had been given a bad but not the bag that had been advertised. The bad that ended up in the Collector’s Edition was actually nylon, a much cheaper alternative to canvas. This was then alluded to in a leaked support message that seemed to confirm the company had switched out the canvas bags for nylon as a cost-cutting measure.

The controversy was stirred a second time by Bethesda’s announcement that they would send out canvas replacements. And then, all that was overshadowed by a raft of personal information belonging to Bethesda customers being leaked onto the web.

Prior to any of this, Bethesda was copping wide-ranging criticism for the array of bugs within Fallout 76, many of which had been carried over from Fallout 4. Criticisms of the game ranged from the incredibly broad — that it hadn’t been in development long enough — to the very specific — a single boss spawning three times, and with three times their intended health.

Much of the criticism takes place on YouTube, and many of them have been addressing Bethesda as a blanket term, ignoring the differences between developer and publisher.

When we talk about games being released in unpolished forms and consumers being unhappy, it’s reasonable for those consumers to be motivated to speak out.

However, the content that has been produced by YouTube personalities addressing Bethesda as a single entity is indicative of a larger problem. Many people see Bethesda as a single entity, but it isn’t. It is a cluster of companies, all with different departments and sometimes they don’t communicate in ways that they should. There’s nothing inherently wrong with criticising a bungled product launch, but a lot of the criticisms being thrown around aren’t being sent in the correct direction.

I’m writing this quite introspectively — I’ve spent a lot of this year writing articles in consideration of the difficulties within the industry. Long hours, abusive bosses, addictive properties. So I’m at a point now that when I hear somebody refer to “Bethesda” as derogatory term, as if good things have never been associated with the title, I’m perplexed.

We saw similar controversy about Mass Effect Andromeda, No Man’s Sky, and Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare, when they made their rounds in the press cycle.

And that’s a lot of what’s been happening in the YouTube space. Creators going absolutely insane at this Bethesda boogieman, targeting an amorphous corporate whole irrespective of exactly who their complaints should be directed at. Their viewers, incensed, pick up on this and so the blanket blame game continues.

Here’s a good example of what I’m talking about — Angry Joe’review. Perhaps too good of an example.

I’ve been told that I’m getting too hyped up about this kind of thing and that it’s not that important. That it doesn’t mitigate anybodies disappointment, and while that is certainly true it’s also not the point. The point is having baseline respect for people trying to do their jobs. If you were working as a creative, spending years of your life building a piece of art (the quality of which is immaterial because art is entirely subjective) and after all of that work and time and commitment to the project, you copped weeks of targeted, personal harassment from an internet hate mob because the marketing department cut a corner on a fucking canvas bag, I’d imagine you’d feel pretty unhappy.

This applies to developers and publishers across the board. Nobody wants to be called out for bad work that isn’t theirs. Nobody wants to be called out for shoddy work in the first place.

Bethesda are an interesting example, because they have public figureheads that are easy to target. Todd Howard as a game director and executive producer at Bethesda Softworksand Pete Hinesthe VP of Bethesda Softworks, in charge of marketing. Both men have been celebrated on the internet through meme-age. For the record, the canvas bags were Pete’s department. I’d be interested to hear his thoughts on that whole situation.

Which is why it doesn’t really make sense to me that the blanket Bethesda term is being used in blame over this canvas bag incident (CanvasGate, if you will). There’s no way I’m going to blame the developers of Fallout 76 for what is so obviously a publicity and sales issue; which lie within the domain of Bethesda Softworks, the publisher, not Bethesda Game Studios, the developer.

To the latter half too, I’m also not willing to blame the publisher for not having ironed out the bugs of Fallout 4 that have traveled over to Fallout 76 — stuff that the modding community on the PC was all too willing to fix, as explained by Gopher, a famous modder within the Nexus Mods community. Stuff that people were all too willing to fix unpaid and out of passion.

Before I think about my disappointment regarding a video game, I come back to the point that it’s a video game — it’s not going to kill me out of frustration.

But consumers get awfully passionate about what they love, but it would appear that in the … Fallout… of this incident, we’ve grabbed the pitchforks and torches and gone after anyone who could be reached. We don’t know where we’re going or who we’re going for.

Keep in mind a few things — Bethesda Softworks was the driving force behind the recent iD titles, being the reboots of their popular 90’s titles; the same with the rebirth of Prey, Rage and the creation of Dishonored. These all came from development studios other than Bethesda Games Studioswhich gave you the beloved Fallout series and the Elder Scrolls series.

Honest, hardworking people are behind each and every one of these many titles — don’t let their efforts spoil over toxicity.

You can dislike something and not be a dick about it. Keep respect in mind, despite disagreements in creative direction.

Zachariah Kelly

A Journo from Sydney who loves looking into the why's who's and what's of Video Games.