The launch and subsequent first month of Fallout 76, the MMO version of the longstanding post-apocalyptic RPG series, has been nothing short of a man-made disaster. Between the bugs and glitches, a lack of structure, a deep contradiction between narrative and mechanics, overbearing survival mechanics, and a general departure from what makes the series appealing, there’s plenty not to enjoy about the game, and even after the latest tone deaf update, much has yet to change.
The most current outrage comes from the notes of Fallout 76’s latest patch. One eagle-eyed Reddit user spotted signs that Bethesda might be preparing the game for a series of performance boosting microtransactions. Worse, it appears that key features, like XP gains, were nerfed in order to be monetized into so-called “Lunchboxes,” making what might have been a mundane addition into something almost sinister by taking content that was already paid for, removing it, and making the player pay for it again.
If the rumor is true, this sort of nickel and diming (which is pretty egregious by almost any standards, even if you aren’t bothered by microtransactions) runs afoul of what I loved about the Fallout community in the first place. When I played Fallout 3 back in 2009, it was my introduction into not just the series, but also a treasure trove of additional content made by enthusiasts hosted on the Nexus Forums. Installing a mod, which was more laborious back then, not only gave me a sense of accomplishment but also added hundreds of hours to a game that, at the time, was one of my only refuges as I recovered from a number of things in my personal life. I couldn’t believe how generous these modders were, that they would donate their time to extend the duration of a game that was one of the only places where I was happy. There was no end to what I could refine or improve upon within the game—the weather, the radio stations, the missions, the range of enemies. I could even add interiors to the otherwise empty houses and buildings creating a ghost town stage illusion of depth. It felt like such a gift. The strength of that community is part of what has made the Bethesda-era series so great.
It’s not that I think the quality of Fallout should be built on free content. Bethesda has taken advantage of that in the past, and they don’t do a good job of acknowledging where many of their content ideas come from, much less compensating the community’s contributions. I also think modders should be paid for their work if they wish to be, and I’m happy to put my money where my mouth is to support that. But in a shared online space like Fallout 76, there’s far less opportunity to even enjoy modded material. And many of the niches that modded content once filled have now been monetized by Bethesda (just see the DLC of Fallout 4, which focused so heavily on base building). Combined with how disruptive and incongruous mods are to the universal experience of an MMO, it seems this once integral part of the fan experience has been rendered obsolete.
There are better reasons to criticize microtransactions, of course. They tread the line of exploitation by offering an element of monetized risk taking—in this case, Bethesda is asking us to pay even more for a game we’ve already paid a base price for. Microtransactions are usually the realm of free-to-play games, and it’s generally accepted as a fair trade off for not having to plunk down $60. And again, while I support the right of content creators to be paid for their work, I find it hard to believe that a white painted set of Power Armor is worth $18 USD. Does Bethesda really need this much of my money to run a game that often has only 20 concurrent players per server even on a busy day? What is going on?
The short answer is that Bethesda stopped listening a long time ago, and nothing is going to stop them from trying to bleed this cash cow dry, certainly not a pesky little thing like fan feedback. If they’d been listening to that, a lot of Fallout 76 wouldn’t have happened in the first place. That said, even most defenders of microtransactions would agree this is a new low. And I’m honestly surprised, and disappointed, and disappointed with my own surprise, that they could find yet another way to fundamentally misunderstand why we loved Fallout in the first place.
Holly Green is the assistant editor of Paste Games and a reporter and semiprofessional photographer. She is also the author of Fry Scores: An Unofficial Guide To Video Game Grub. You can find her work at Gamasutra, Polygon, Unwinnable, and other videogame news publications.