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With 'Fallout First,' Fallout has lived long enough to become the villain

Fallout 76
Fallout 76 (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

When it comes to video games that have overt political commentary, Fallout is a franchise that often comes to the top of our minds. With its satirical depictions of capitalist ideologies, its unnerving stories of corporations exploiting customers, and its harrowing depiction of a nuclear apocalypse birthed by a war over resources, Fallout has been cautioning against rampant consumerism since its inception.

Yet, it seems that Bethesda, the franchise's current developer and publisher, either doesn't understand this core theme or simply doesn't care. With its announcement of 'Fallout First', a subscription-based membership for Fallout 76 that has negligible benefits and an absurdly high price, it has become abundantly clear what Bethesda's goal is. Like the many capitalistic masterminds that existed before Fallout's Great War, Bethesda seeks to squeeze every last cent out of its consumer base.

The core of Fallout

A nuclear bomb explosion from Fallout 4's prologue cutscene.

A nuclear bomb explosion from Fallout 4's prologue cutscene. (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

The cautionary attitude towards consumerism is a core part of Fallout's DNA.

Throughout the various Fallout titles over the years, one of the strongest and most recurring themes in their narratives is the idea that unrestrained, uncontrolled capitalism will inevitably lead to a collapse of society. If consumption becomes our civilization's core facet, Fallout argues, then we will endlessly consume, with little regard to the consequences. Values beyond profit will disappear; people are no longer people, but rather are exploitable consumers. This capitalistic grind will continue until there's nothing left to consume, at which point we will go to war with each other over what remains. What follows will be a broken, ugly skeleton of what we once had, scorched by the flames of nuclear bombs. And we'll likely keep making the same mistake, even after nearly blasting ourselves to extinction.

It's undeniable that this cautionary attitude toward consumerism is a massive part of the franchise's DNA, especially when you consider the existence of unethical characters like Fallout 3's Allistair Tenpenny, who tasks the player with blowing up a town, so people live at his luxury hotel instead. Bethesda, though, has ironically gone forward with decisions in real life that contradict the very message that the Fallout games contain.

The irony is almost too rich for words

The Vault Boy, once a parody of marketing iconography, has now lost all meaning.

The Vault Boy, once a parody of marketing iconography, has now lost all meaning. (Image credit: Bethesda Game Studios)

The way that Bethesda is attempting to drain the wallets of its consumers with high pricing and underwhelming content with the Fallout First memberships is indicative of its fundamental lack of understanding regarding what makes the Fallout franchise Fallout in the first place. It's the latest in a long line of questionable and controversial monetization systems put in place by the company. In truth, Bethesda has had everyone's eyebrows raised ever since it implemented the "paid mods" Creation Club system in Fallout 4 and The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim. Player concerns only continued to worsen over time as Fallout 76 ended up having a full-blown microtransaction store, complete with pay-to-win elements added down the line.

It's impossible not to think about the ironic relarionship between Bethesda's greedy monetization scandals and the fact that the core thesis of Fallout itself is a condemnation of manipulative capitalistic behaviors. We're not going to start the Great War over the Fallout First subscriptions, true. But even so, the attitude behind it — treating customers poorly and trying to get them hooked on purchasing everything in sight — is very much the same.

The irony of it is almost comical, though also disappointing.

It's difficult not to laugh a little bit when thinking about the situation, given the circumstances. It's fascinating how Fallout, thanks to Bethesda's controversial decisions, has now become what it was warning us about all along. Bethesda has even taken to slapping the Vault Boy iconography onto everything they sell. This is a character which, ironically, is seen as a parody of marketing symbols meant to entice buyers. Now that's literally what Bethesda uses him for. If that doesn't put Bethesda's comical mishandling of the Fallout franchise into perspective, I don't know what does. I do know one thing, though, and that's that if Fallout fans want to work against Bethesda's gross monetization scheming, they should avoid buying a Fallout First subscription. You'd be significantly better off using your money to get The Outer Worlds instead, as its developer Obsidian Entertainment is currently home to many of the minds behind the Fallout games that had meaning.

Brendan Lowry is a Windows Central writer and Oakland University graduate with a burning passion for video games, of which he's been an avid fan since childhood. You'll find him doing reviews, editorials, and general coverage on everything Xbox and PC. Follow him on Twitter.

22 Comments
  • "The cautionary attitude towards consumerism is a core part of Fallout's DNA." Totally agree. "Bethesda has even taken to slapping the Vault Boy iconography onto everything they sell. This is a character which, ironically, is seen as a parody of marketing symbols meant to entice buyers. Now that's literally what Bethesda uses him for." Haha, completely read my mind there and I imagine of many others as well. It's a pity interplay went under if they didn't who knows what the Fallout franchise would have evolved into; however it would most likely will never been what Bethesda/Zenimax have imposed on it. I wonder if the decisions where pushed down from Zenimax? Who knows, looking forward to OuterWorlds. Edit: Totally forgot OuterWorlds launched today lol... I need sleep.
  • Whoever is behind the decisions is certainly mishandling Fallout, that much is for sure.
  • Well at least they still pull out pretty good entries with the main game... And you have way more play time for your money than most games those days... I mean we are talking about a derivative "arcade" title new service that a lot of other wouldn't even offer on such a game... I'm not defending the decision... It is BS but if it stays at that I'll take that compared to many other studios that do way worst and/or have way lower quality releases on average... Let's not tear down a good studio too fast other deserve it way more... But since it's the norm with them we don't see as much a$$ kick...
  • A scarier thought is that they might not be mishandling Fallout. If this new approach is bringing in a ton of money, then Fallout First and FO76 might be in Bethesda's books under "wild success".
  • When I say “mishandling” I’m referring to them failing to do the franchise’s core theme and point justice, not monetary success.
  • Well written. This is exactly what I feared when I first read that FO76 was a MP game, glad I never started it. It's a damn shame too, because I love FO, especially the old ones. I certainly feel like I am playing an alternate reality Fallout while playing The Outer Worlds, hopefully this attitude in the game continues.
  • Beth keeps making the wrong moves with 76 and it's sad for the series. I kept holding out they could turn this game around and win some people back but it's hopeless at this point.
  • Great article. I agree with so much that is said.
    It's really sad to see the fall of the fallout franchise. They have made a mockery of the franchise.
    Vault boy is become a joke as it has become what it parodied. They have got it so wrong. The image is so bad. I think what they did with fallout 76 got to be worse than what EA did with Star War Battlefront 2 or Activision did with their COD bs...
    This is Bethesda, the company that said that quality single player game is their DNA. They made fun of EA during th whole EA Battlefront 2 mess. And I think that's why this is even worse. The reason why we should keep trashing them is because they want to make a trend out of it. After the whole Battlefront 2 madness, publishers said, "hey we have microtransactions, but it's not as bad as EA's battlefront 2". And we used to see fanboys agreeing and defending them.
    That's why for me it's zero microtransactions in full price games. ANY full price games.
  • This comment is right on the money. Spot on.
  • Right, and you know Richard? This is valid for whoever if doing it. We should criticise it, even if it's MS doing it.
  • Totally. If MS brought out an Online MMO and did this, I'd be right behind you. Pay to win is terrible. And I'm shocked Bethesda have been so blatant about it making it pay to win.
  • Well, not just pay to win. I would say any microtransactions in a full price game.
    I don't see much difference between pay2win and stuff like pay2progress faster, or pay 2 grind less, or pay 2 not play the game late ...
  • Pity those who didn't see this coming or thought otherwise of Bethesda. You really didn't think anything like this was coming from the company that sold you Skyrim 20 times?
  • Not so much that we haven’t seen it coming. Rather, this is the straw that broke the camel’s back, and the irony that Fallout’s core moral is the antithesis of this is both comical and sad.
  • Not only that, this is the studio that INVENTED this crap with Horse Armor in Oblivion. Remember the outrage because of that cosmetic purchase?!?
  • hahahahahaha that headline!
  • What a fantastic article. The irony in what Bethesda have done is so, well, Ironic. Hahahaha. Spot on with this article.
  • Thanks for the kind words!
  • I haven't even played Fallout and even I know fallout is not about consumerism, it is a critique of government and state control, using violence to get your way. Hell, what you do in the games is getting more and more stuff so you become increasingly powerful and able to shut down evil and corrupt government programs. And the irony of a website that is all about marketing vexing on about how "capitalism" is bad, because of some company you don't like, is a little rich.
  • Fallout is about a lot of different things, but I find it ironic you’re trying to speak with any authority on the subject upon admitting you’ve never played a single Fallout game. If you had you’d realize that overconsumption and rampant capitalism is literally what lead to the bombs falling in the first place. It’s far from being the only theme in Fallout, but it is undeniably one of the core ones. Also I never said capitalism is bad. I said unrestrained and overly-aggressive capitalism is bad. There’s a difference.
  • Gotta love when subject matter experts chime in to something they know nothing about.
  • ????? You haven't played fallout. But claim to know what it's about???? SMH