Bethesda’s Director and Executive Producer Todd Howard has discussed how the studio’s experiences with Fallout 76 were good overall, and how similar online games could be possible in the future.
Speaking during a keynote speech at Develop:Brighton 2021 (via GamesIndustry.biz who had also interviewed him previously), Howard discussed how The Elder Scrolls VI becoming an Xbox exclusive would be “hard to imagine,” as well as his history with The Elder Scrolls and Fallout franchises. This also included the controversial Fallout 76.
Originally designed as a multiplayer mode for Fallout 4, the project grew into its own multiplayer game. Yet, it also had no NPC quest givers- something many would consider a hallmark of the series. The game was designed for most content to be player generated; as factions, alliances, and rivalries grew.
Howard discussed how he admits the game “wasn’t really giving our audience what they wanted” and “Without a doubt, we let a lot of people down.”
“The story stuff and the quests didn’t go in until late in the project, and I think our designers did a great job with one-armed tied behind their back, trying to tell stories through holotapes, terminals and things like that. Whereas the survival aspects work for a lot of people, we quickly recognised that the game wasn’t really giving our audience what they wanted and they were really let down by what we delivered on day one. Without a doubt, we let a lot of people down.
We wanted to make something different, but the audience doesn’t always want something different. And that’s no fault of theirs, it’s totally understandable. I think maybe we did a bad job of saying how different it was going to be.”
The day one let down was not just limited to what was intended to be in the game however. For those unfamiliar, the game has been plagued with issues. While Bethesda Director and Executive Producer Todd Howard stated he “knew we were gonna have a lot of bumps,” the issues have been numerous and serious.
When the game was launched it was discovered to be heavily buggy, as documented by YouTubers Internet Historian and Joseph Anderson (Editor’s Note: Niche Gamer is not affiliated with either of these individuals, nor support any allegations made in these videos).
This resulted in extremely low reviewer and user scores. Some of these issues also included exploits that would allow players to obtain nigh-infinite money, nuke codes, items, and access the developer room (an in-game area containing every item in the game).
While refunds though digital platforms typically have limits based on time played or how long the game has been owned, details of how to get a refund even after playing the game for 24-hours became wide-spread. This allegedly resulted in Bethesda stopping further refunds.
This lead to a lawsuit investigation from Migliaccio & Rathod LLP, over Bethesda “releasing a heavily-glitched game, Fallout 76, and refusing to issue refunds for PC purchasers of the game who found it to be unplayable because of its technical problems.”
The Australian Competition & Consumer Commission (ACCC) would later conclude their own case, finding Bethesda parent company ZeniMax at fault, and demanded they issue refunds in Australia. EB Games Australia later began to offer refunds for the game.
Hackers then began to find yet more ways to abuse the game. They began to spawn Fallout 4 assets, and NPCs (what would later be a feature of the Wastelanders update).
More worryingly, they also began stealing from other players, being able to take the entire inventory of any player in sight. Unkillable NPCs then began to loot dead players of their powerful weapons.
The Wastelanders update was then delayed due to the coronavirus pandemic, along with the cancellation of Quakecon 2020, and Bethesda announcing they would not host a showcase in June as a supplement to the cancelled E3 2020.
“Ultimately, despite the issues and the very well-deserved criticism we got, there were a lot of people playing,” Howard stated. “Not on the scale of a regular Fallout, but millions of people that told us there was something here, so let’s keep at it.” The loyalty of these fans seems to have motivated Howard and the team.
“I’m hugely proud of the team who worked on the game and month after month made it better. I don’t think there’s a magic formula without having the discipline to go through the work. Without that community out there making this game their own and really believing in us, I don’t know that we would have gotten to where we are.”
In spite of all the issues, and the studio now focused on Starfield and The Elder Scrolls 6, Howard states he (in GamesIndustry.biz’ words) “doesn’t rule out the prospect of another multiplayer-only Bethesda open world game.”
Howard reportedly stated he would conduct more extensive beta testing over building a game designed for most people to experience first at launch. Howard also described the studio’s experience with Fallout 76 as a positive one.
“Overall, it’s [Fallout 76] been a really positive experience for us. It’s made us much better developers, much more connected with our community. So I can’t say it’s going to be a one-off.”
Howard also discussed the future; with Bethesda’s Creation Engine being updated for the next-generation of consoles. “The overhaul on our engine is probably the largest we’ve ever had, maybe even larger than Morrowind to Oblivion.”