Nuked Frog

Remember last month when we were wondering about whether Bethesda’s latest monetization strategies were a boiling frog scenario? Well, they just tossed the frog in the microwave and nuked it:

PRIVATE WORLDS, SCRAPBOXES & MORE COME TO FALLOUT 76 WITH FALLOUT 1ST
Ever since Fallout 76 launched, we have consistently worked to improve and evolve the experience based on your feedback. That’s why we’re excited to launch Fallout 1st, a premium membership that offers something players have been asking for since before launch: private worlds for you and select friends. In addition to this huge feature, Fallout 1st also includes a host of exclusive items and membership bonuses, all of which you can find detailed below. And the best part? Fallout 1st is available right now.

Yep, Fallout 76 now has a $13/month (or $100/year) subscription option.

F76_First

A bargain at… none of the price

Reddit is understandably losing its shit.

F76_Rage

That last post is a great tip, BTW

The subscription itself unlocks Private Worlds, e.g. your own personal game world that up to seven other friends can join, infinite Scrap storage, a tent to act as a mobile second base, a monthly stipend of Atoms (premium currency), and some lookalike NCR armor from New Vegas. And emotes or something.

While it came as a shock to most everyone, Bethesda did “prime the pump” last week though, when they flat-out said they’ll be selling utility in the Cash Shop going forward:

Our approach to [Atom Shop] items at launch was to keep them purely cosmetic. But after looking at all the data, it became clear that to consistently deliver content that keeps Fallout 76 fresh and exciting for all, we needed to rethink our approach to the Atomic Shop.

While we had many ideas on what to add to the Atomic Shop, one of the ways was the direct result of the community’s feedback. We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collectron Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop. We’re also still working on all the previously announced items and new cosmetic categories.

[…]

Of course, players can also buy Atoms, and we’re careful with everything we add to not upset the game’s balance. Our main objective is to avoid a situation where players can spend money to gain a competitive advantage or make the game worse for other players. Even more so, we want systems that allow players who do choose to buy Atoms to make the game better for others, not just themselves. With these principles in mind, we make careful decisions about the items we offer to keep it fair for everyone.

That was the same News post that stated the much-anticipated Wastelanders update – which will see the introduction of actual NPCs – was delayed into Q1 of next year to, and I quote with heavy emphasis, “make sure the work we’re doing hits our quality bar, and yours.” Er, yeah. Sure.

The tragedy is that I can see where Bethesda was coming from.

Private servers and the eventual modding piece that goes with it has indeed been one of the most requested features since before the game even launched. Now it’s here. Considering that Fallout 76 basically runs off of Amazon Web Services (AWS), it was never going to be a “use your own hardware to host” scenario. Which means a subscription. So they made one. And if you already have a subscription offering, why not throw in a few additional features to try and entice the people who don’t care about private servers? Hence all the ancillary stuff like the Tent, infinite Scrap box, etc.

Where the dick meets the car door though is the timing.

Imagine if Wastelanders was coming out next week. A huge, sprawling NPC horde that changed damn near every inch of the game world with new quests, factions, and activities. Imagine that it was… at least passably decent. In the midst of all this positive press, imagine Bethesda rolling out this subscription, letting you have your private Fallout experience with no one killing the NPCs or starting quests before you get there. Some of the outrage would still be there – Bethesda has claimed Stash space is limited for server stability reasons, but the Scrap Box can also exist in public servers – but Wastelanders itself could be pointed to as being “free DLC” as promised.

Alas, it was delayed and the suits decided to roll out Fallout 1st anyway.

To be clear, I have no interest in defending Bethesda per se. This subscription was rolled out despite the Wastelanders delay because whatever dipshit suit in charge didn’t want to lose the holiday cash. Hell, the subscription was rolled out despite the “private” servers themselves being already-looted empty servers, with no control over who on your friend list can join. Oh, and the Scrap box is eating scrap too, I guess?

To an extent, none of this matters. Not because “it’s Fallout 76,” but because whales in gaming are not an endangered species and each dollar they spend on shit like this is a vote you never get to make with a boycott. People were calling bullshit on these lines from Bethesda:

We heard from many of you who wanted items with some real utility. Starting in April, we began adding items such as Repair Kits, Scrap Kits, the Collection Station, and a working Refrigerator. These have since become the most popular category in the Atomic Shop.

…but are you really sure that it’s bullshit? Does it really surprise you that utility items were added and that people buy them by the thousands? Shit, a while back I was logging into Guild Wars 2 every day for a month hoping that Character Slots would go on sale in the Utility tab of the cash shop. I barely even play GW2! That was just for Character Slots too, and not any of their actual Utility items like daily resource nodes, special zones with crafting stations, and so on. Fallout 76 is no GW2 or Elder Scrolls Online though, so the hubris is especially galling despite the methods being identical.

My prediction? The subscription details will eventually change, private servers will actually be private, and mods will change how the whole system works on a fundamental level. People who still don’t like survival games will continue to not play Fallout 76 anyway, and yet they will still buy Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6 on release because self-control across a population that is 72% overweight/obese is clearly not a strong suit. And really, why wouldn’t you play games that give 40-400+ hours of fun just because another team in the studio keeps slamming their dick in a car door? 

Then again, maybe I have just been reheated one times too many.

Posted on October 25, 2019, in Commentary, Fallout and tagged , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink. 5 Comments.

  1. I think that was everyone was expecting/hoping was private server to be run on our own computer – and to be able to mod the hell of them, like any other Bethesda game.
    But this would have bypassed their monetisation scheme.
    And maybe, they could have rented those online private server for a monthly cost, with a list of curated mod that they guarantee will work.

    The two questions are :
    – do their techno allow it, or a specifc dedicated server is needed ?
    – if it is possible, would box sells would have been enoughto more than compensate the premium subscription than they currently sell ?

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    • I have been leery of any company that claims offline modes are impossible ever since the SimCity debacle of 2013. Bethesda hasn’t technically said offline is impossible (yet), but given how it’s all cloud based, I find it unlikely.

      As for the rest, the days of box sales alone sustaining a multiplayer experience is long gone. Even if it was possible, company investors would not allow that cash to sit on the table. Just look at GTA5, which made millions and millions, then went on to make a billion more dollars with the GTA Online portion.

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  2. I don’t doubt that initially the utility stuff was selling more than the cosmetics, in part because cosmetics in F76 don’t make nearly as much sense as they do in something like LoL. The problem with going down that path is eventually people stop buying the basic utility, and you have to keep feeding the whales more and more powerful stuff. That again works short-term, but eventually you reach a tipping point and the average player stops playing (might have already happened with F76), and then whales stop buying because spending no longer gets them what they really want (power over the masses).

    Ultimately this is all a mess; if F76 was just Fallout 4 New Vegas (a big mod at full price), with whoever much DLC sold for it after release, everyone would be better off. More money for Bethesda, more happy Fallout fans.

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    • I was going to provide a counter-argument, but on reflection, I think we indeed got here through just bad business decisions.

      Like, the reason we have a multiplayer Fallout survival game is because Bethesda acquired an additional studio that was already working on multiplayer stuff. So in that respect a single-player Fallout was never on the table. But was the acquisition driven by a desire to have multiplayer Fallout? Did the suits just want something to fill the hole before Starfield and TES 6? We know that Todd Howard was selling the “every player is a NPC!” pretty hard, but was that his creative vision or was it driven by how much cheaper the game would be get to market? I think Obsidian in the past expressed interest in doing another New Vegas-esque collaboration… was the interest not there on the Bethesda side, or the contracts side, etc?

      I could see it going any one of those directions.

      Taken on face value though, Todd Howard has said that they always wanted to try multiplayer Fallout, couldn’t get it viable in Fallout 4, then saw an opportunity to do it during the lull before Starfield. Could it have been New Vegas 2 instead? Maybe. But probably not.

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      • Why probably not? New Vegas was just a super-large F3 mod; same engine without major changes, so all of the focus was on producing new content using existing tools (oversimplified but basically). F76 is a multiplayer mod of F4, same engine without major changes (to the gameplay side, the ‘make it work online’ stuff is new). Instead of focusing on those multiplayer changes to the engine, wouldn’t it have been roughly the same effort and spend to create more F4 content and call it New Vegas 2?

        I mean I fully get the drive from a suit on the outside; create multiplayer on the cheat and open a cash shop = profit. But someone on the inside, including Todd, should have seen fairly early on that such a plan was not only going to result in lower revenue, but a LOT of consumer anger because the end-product just doesn’t really work (as a Fallout title or just as a decent game)

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