So here we are again: another Fallout 76 patch and another controversy. Unlike the previous patch in which a bug existed in the new raid that could delete all your character’s worn items, the focus of collective ire is on… a $7 fridge in the cash shop.
Reddit, of course, is having none of it. The fridge itself does not add to Stash space, but allows ~15 food items stored inside it spoil 50% more slowly. There is already a backpack item that you can earn via gameplay that has a fridge mod option (90% reduction) to slow spoilage of all food in your inventory, and there is a Perk under Luck that does likewise. Nevertheless, this is Pay 2
What happened to no pay to win?
…or is it? There have been some counter-current threads poking fun at the absurdity. Many of those people have been accused of being (paid) shills, as if Bethesda had otherwise demonstrated the level of sophistication necessary to coordinate an effective PR campaign of any kind despite every possible evidence to the contrary.
Between the extremes are more sensible concerns. For example, the general idea that Pay for Convenience incentivizes inconvenient game design. Or how the mere existence of these items permanently close off design space, because anyone who bought one would get rightly pissed if there was a 90% freezer added to the game later. I would also include under “sensible concern” the question of why there wasn’t a trashy, rusted out fridge added as a sidequest reward that anyone can get while the pristine $7 version peacefully exists in the Atom Shop.
It is a fair question to ask why we’re bothering to talk about this at all. There is a general, background radiation-level of concern around microtransactions and cash shops, but the primary impetus to rage was the simple fact that Bethesda said the Atom Store would be cosmetic only.
Here are the tweets from Pete Hines:
Or did they?
There is another Reddit post that highlights the fact that the context around the above Tweet matters. Specifically, the now-deleted question was asking whether someone could buy a legendary minigun from the Atom Shop, and Pete Hines replied “No. Only cosmetic.” In other words, specifying that one cannot buy guns, but only cosmetic skins for guns.
The “cosmetic only” takedown continues in this extremely well-sourced post that essentially shows that Bethesda never gave any particular indication that cosmetics were the only thing slated to arrive in the Atom Shop. The stress was no competitive advantages and no P2W items. When people questioned the existence of Repair Kits – which allow you to repair gear instantly in the field – Bethesda responded with allowing different versions to be found in-game, and stated “If we find that Repair Kits do offer any sort of competitive advantage once they are available, we will make any changes necessary to ensure that advantage is removed.”
In fairness, there are some counter-arguments in that last link that show other contexts in which Bethesda employees have stated “cosmetic only.”
For myself, I find the entire argument complex and interesting.
First, I have a longstanding hatred of microtransactions and the erosion of Consumer Surplus that results. You see this in Fallout 76 with the fridge and the junk robot that could have been in-game quest rewards, but you also see it more broadly… everywhere. Guild Wars 2 is an egregious example of how the fashion endgame is essentially co-opted by the gemmed endgame. Sure, you can technically farm in-game gold to turn into gems to purchase new armor models, but why all those extra steps? Because shareholders.
On the other hand, a fridge and repair kits are about the most benign bullshit that I can imagine getting worked up about. Yeah, something something boiled frog, but Bethesda has been exceptionally communicative regarding fan feedback to changes. It doesn’t stop them from slamming their dick in a car door every patch, but I am not getting a nefarious vibe here. Last patch they added an in-game Atom Shop kiosk despite the fact that everyone has to click through an Atom Shop screen on game startup. After fan outrage, that in-game kiosk was removed with the very next patch.
Second, it’s fascinating from the “they lied!” angle. Let’s put aside the question of whether they really lied or misspoke or whatever. Are developers allowed to change their minds? Probably… not, right? A Tweet or interview from before the game was released saying one thing and a change in strategy (to get more money, mind) would rightfully be considered a Bait & Switch. There are X number of people who would not have purchased the game at all if they knew there was a possibility of P2W items down the road (not that these are P2W by any stretch).
On the other hand, Bethesda brought all this up in an April 2019 blog post:
We read tons of feedback and suggestions from the Fallout 76 community, and Repair Kits were a popular request that we wanted to get into players’ hands. We also felt we could try out something new with these, both in-game and in the Atomic Shop. As we look to the future, we’re exploring ways we can bring other community-driven ideas to the game as well, such as refrigerators for C.A.M.P.s, ammo and food converters, and even the ability to send scrap to your stash without having to head home. Repair Kits are our first attempt at a utility item like this, and we plan to make adjustments based on your feedback, so we hope you’ll share your thoughts with us when they go live later this month.
Five months ago, utility fridges were on the roadmap. At some point we are going to see “ammo and food converters” and chances are good that we are going to be here again, having the same conversation about P2W when they come out too. Probably still absent any sort of indication about what someone is winning for having paid.
I’m conflicted with the whole thing. Part of that is probably because I actually really enjoy the Fallout survival game experience, and hate seeing Bethesda snatch defeat from the jaws of victory every patch. Another part is a sort of reflexive “Fake News!” reaction when everyone piles on the game just because that’s the game we pile onto now. It used to be No Man’s Sky and now it’s Fallout 76 until something else comes along. I thought it was still Anthem’s turn, but whatever.
I would say none of this matters and go on my merry way playing the game, but that’s not how games work these days. Even though Fallout 76 is very much a solo survival game for me, its continued development hinges on cash shop purchases and the community reaction to them. Plus, you know, it’s a shame when artistic resources are spent on paywalled material when it could have been integrated in gameplay instead.
So, Bethesda, for god’s sake man, be careful with that car door.