Fallout Online Offline?

By Alec Meer on April 16th, 2009 at 11:10 am.

Confused squinting at legal dispute time! We’ve known for a while that Fallout 1/2 publishers Interplay had clung onto rights for a Fallout MMO as part of their skin-saving deal to flog the Fallout 3 license to Bethesda, and a few months back the reborn publisher had coolly revealed they have one ‘Project V13‘ in the pipeline. Deal done, right? Apparently not. Bethesda may now dispute Interplay’s right to make Fallout Online…

(In a rare moment of objectivity, I’ll attempt to keep my own opinions in check here, as they’re likely entirely irrelevant in the face of the legal issues around this.) Motivating Bethesda’s possible about-face is a clause stating Interplay had to have secured $30m funding and commenced full-scale development of a Fallout MMO by April 4th this year, otherwise the rights would revert to the big B.

And here it gets muddy. Interplay have made a fair amount of noise about working on an MMO, hiring two of the original Fallout team (one of which has since walked out in favour of an RPG that some have speculated is a sequel to Wasteland, the original inspiration for the Fallout series) and bringing in Masthead, the Bulgarian studio currently working on Earthrise to provide legwork and funding. Plus, Interactive Game Group (headed up by a former Atari CEO) last year purchased 2,000,000 Interplay shares. Sounds like enough, right?

Well, Masthead only came onboard on April 2, which is perilously close to that April 4th deadline. So the question is whether Interplay really has fired up its engines yet, or if they’re still at the planning stages – in which case they haven’t met the conditions of the 2007 Bethesda agreement.

So far, Bethesda have only made noises about cancelling the agreement as a result, rather than going ahead with any legal action just yet. Interplay certainly seem to think it’s coming, however.

Who’s right? Well, if Interplay genuinely haven’t got anything solid to show yet then they’ve not met their half of the bargain. On the other hand, there clearly is something in motion, and for Bethesda to potentially axe someone else’s in-development project seems pretty harsh. Again though, opinions scarcely matter in the face of a binding contract. Just as well, really – it’s rather tricky to work out who’s the good guy in this particular fight.

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60 Comments »

  1. Garg says:

    If I was in Bethesda’s position I would be a little worried; ultimately they now have a lot invested in the Fallout brand, so I guess they should be concerned about how Interplay are going about developing this MMO. But if Interplay have finally got themselves into gear it is, as you say, a bit harsh for Bethesda to beat them with the legal stick.

  2. kuddles says:

    I’m just as skeptical as Bethesda, really. It seemed like every three months or so for the past five years Interplay would mention something about their “plans for the future”, which would make a bunch of forum-dwellers and game blogs go crazy, but as far as I can tell it’s always been just one guy in an office trying desperately to secure funding for anything. I would be shocked if even preliminary work past what is needed to make a pitch to investors has even been done.

  3. Heliocentric says:

    Interplay do not exist as a developmental entity. A while ago i stumbled across a now changed interplay site looking for patches. All the site wanted to was sell the ip to their titles. Listed staff was all legal and financial.

  4. Rei Onryou says:

    My money is on Interplay just going “oh crap, deadlines coming up, lets put something together quickly”. If that’s the case, then I’d expect a second rate Fallout MMO that’d tarnish the Fallout license.

    I’m not surprised Bethesda are acting like this. You’d have expected the majority of preliminary work to be sorted before now, not hiring a dev 2 days before deadline.

  5. sfury says:

    “it’s rather tricky to work out who’s the good guy in this particular fight.”

    I say they’re both EVIL.

  6. AbyssUK says:

    You know Bethesda instead of bitching could help them make the MMO perhaps give some funding or hire out talent.. would that not be cheaper than legally kicking Interplay while they are down and then making it themselves ?

  7. a rob amongst many says:

    Abyss, that would be difficult since there’s no talent at Bethesda! Haha!

  8. Chaz says:

    All sounds to me like Interplay is just desperately trying to quickly cobble something together just to hang onto the license. I’ll eat my socks if they actually do eventually release a Fallout MMO.

    Fallout 1&2 were released a long time ago and games have moved on a lot since then. So just because they managed to get two of the original Fallout team involved doesn’t mean much to me. Let’s face it, until Bethesda came along we would never have seen another Fallout game from Interplay. Personally I think the MMO license for Fallout would be much better off in the hands of a company with the drive and wherewithal like Bethesda, to make a decent go of it.

  9. Xercies says:

    I think the original contract is a little bit harsh, it seems like Bethesda like kicking someone that is down very hard. And they’ll probably keep kicking until they are dead. Thugs.

  10. KBKarma says:

    Interplay fuck up again? I am very surprised.

    No, I’m really not. Interplay keep screwing things up. If Bethseda are half the Fallout fans they say they are, they care a lot about Interplay’s developmental capabilities. Also, they’d get more money if THEY could make the MMO.

  11. phil says:

    Perhaps Bethesda is weighing the negative publicity attached to preventing the production of a fanboy pleasing sequel with uncontested ownership of the brand.

    That said, on the face of it Interplay are in a stronger legal position, it’ll take numerous human sacrifices, church defilements and horse molestations to raise a lawyer strong enough to prove they haven’t abided to the terms of the contract.

  12. Snappyterm says:

    Abyss, while I wouldn’t necessarily support legal action on Bethesda’s part (Not that my support matters one iota), why would they have any interest in assisting in the funding of Interplay’s game development? They’re a development studio themselves, and this is business. Charitable publishing? That’s not just bad business, it’s moronic.

    Xercies, honestly, reading the contract and considering the sitatuation and beggar’s position Interplay were in (and to an extent still are in), the contract seemed frankly generous. Kicking someone that is down? If Bethesda hadn’t bought the Fallout rights, Interplay would be more than ‘down’, it would still be a complete non-entity. As it is, it’s simply a nostalgia-inducing name on a fledgling studio in apparent flux.

  13. Psychopomp says:

    I already hate Bethesda, for the direction they’ve been going since Morrowind; but I have no faith in Interplay.

    DILEMMA!

  14. egg says:

    @sfury

    I second that!

  15. Tei says:

    There are still people wasting million of dollars of that fools gold? You can’t out-wow wow, and the market is saturated. There are negative synergy for new players.

  16. DK says:

    “Let’s face it, until Bethesda came along we would never have seen another Fallout game from Interplay.”
    And it would have been better for it. Fallout 3 is an abomination when taken as a sequel. A dirty hackjob of Oblivion when taken as it’s own game.

  17. Bullwinkle says:

    “And it would have been better for it. Fallout 3 is an abomination when taken as a sequel. A dirty hackjob of Oblivion when taken as it’s own game.”

    Well, jeez. And there I was, enjoying it. Thanks for setting me straight!

  18. Snappyterm says:

    No, Brotherhood of Steel was an abomination. Fallout 3 just wasn’t a sequel in the style of the earlier Fallouts, and it lost a great deal for it.

    It’s one thing to not the like the game, but all the hyperbole surrounding its failures is ridiculous.

  19. Radioactive Blob says:

    Actually, I found the game to be fairly loyal (as much as it could be, considering the change in dimensions and perspective) to the first Fallout, for better or for worse. The negative comparisons often come when the game is pitted against Fallout 2 (which, for reasons beyond me, is the favourite of the two for many people).

    I would venture to claim that Fallout 2 was just as starkly different from Fallout 1, but this fact is only overlooked because they’re both isometric and ‘look’ the same.

  20. Jeremy says:

    Most people love Fallout 3, some people hate Fallout 3 because it has 3D graphics, and some people hate Fallout 3 because they hated Oblivion, generally speaking though, it is a great game when you take it out of context of the story they made :) I loved the game and I am eagerly awaiting the final expansion, so I can just get the whole expansion bundle and start a new character. Plus, it gives me time to try and beat Spelunky.

    I wouldn’t say Interplay has a very strong position at all. Scraping together ambiguous assets and having a “plan” doesn’t fulfill the full scale development concept in the least. They need a lot more than a genre and a setting to call it full scale development. Maybe they’ve got some secret storage room full of plans, but the fact that Masthead signed on only 2 days before the deadline, I find that hard to believe. I’m not disappointed to say the least, Interplay has proven to be a complete disaster and taking the Fallout series to an MMO is.. let’s be honest, going to fail. I say put the last bullet in Interplay’s head, sometimes it can be a mercy kill.

  21. jonfitt says:

    Sounds like Bethesda were very generous in the first instance, and it’s come time for interplay to relinquish the MMO rights.

    Does anyone here actually think that:
    A) Interplay would ever finish a Fallout MMO
    B) It would be any good?

  22. Snappyterm says:

    If I may counter-venture, I would suggest that Fallout 3 was mechanically loyal to the first Fallout, losing out though on the murkier “roleplaying” aspect. Unfortunately, those parts are also trickier to describe, so we tend to simplify and say, “Well, the writing wasn’t as good.”

    I’d certainly agree with that complaint, though F3 did have its moments. If I was to put a sentence though to my feelings as to what was lost in the translation, the setting didn’t feel as well realised as the first Fallout (and to a lesser extent the second) achieved. This unfortunately, is one of those lines that sounds like poncey bollocks, particuarly as it’s so hard to substantiate.

    Don’t get me wrong, Fallout 3 was beautiful, and looked like a wasteland. It was rare though to have a moment of utter amazement at how different this person that I’m talking to is, when compared to the people I know in the world it is now. How fundamentally changed their outlook is, I feel was never demonstrated satisfyingly, in comparison with the first Fallout.

    As for the difference between Fallout 2 and 1, I’d agree to an extent. I suspect that it’s ignored because people believe that the losses were compensated for by gains in other areas (It was a more developed open world, for example), whereas they see more losses in Fallout 3. A pretty 3D world is the only real gain, all in all, and that only has so much influence over an RPG enthusiast.

  23. Tei says:

    Fallout 3, need something like a wheater system. With sand storms, radiation storms… something. For a 3D game, it also needs something burning on the horizont, maybe a house, or a ship, or something. It also need *some* (not all) yellow-green-radiactive blood or water, or something like that.
    Fallout3 also need some better “collectors quest”. Maybe collecting fungus, or maybe “hidden ammo caches”.
    Fallout3 also needs more “low tech” weapons, like a bow. Bows are cool and all games with realistic bows are cool (FACT!).
    Fast travels options able the designer to make uninteresting areas. Slow travel options force the areas designer to make then memorable, and replayable. Fast Travel is evil, because disconnect areas, that become like tiny islands.
    Fallout 3 may also need some interactive enviroment, maybe the burning grass of Farcry2.

    Games like Fallout 3 feel like a static background with a few mobs here and there (much like a JRPG game) and dialog options on static NPC’s.

  24. Adventurous Putty says:

    Fallout 3 wasn’t that bad at all, minus the horrendous writing — call it an oversimplification of a larger problem, if you will, but that’s what sticks out in my mind.

    I’m usually sympathetic to Bethesda, considering I’ve been a fan since Morrowind, and I get the distinct feeling that the company probably wouldn’t litigate against Interplay if it felt any semblance of confidence that Interplay actually cared about making that FO MMO.

    As it stands, it’s rather apparent to anyone who looks at the situation objectively (i.e. anyone outside of No Mutants Allowed, which is no doubt exploding in flames as we speak) that Interplay has simply used the FO MMO as an excuse to cling to the license and, as someone pointed out so aptly before, no longer exists as a development entity. This perceived movement that they’ve been making in the last few months seems to be their attempt to shoddily throw together something to appease Bethesda — and, since Beth has now released a game for the franchise and has it in its interests to keep that franchise’s name clean, their worry is understandable and, I daresay, laudable.

  25. Dreamhacker says:

    Heck, it’s not like they would get any money from Interplay even if the won in court. I dont think anyone at Interplay has been paid realworld money in years.

  26. Aphotique says:

    Personally, at this point from Interplay, I would gladly accept an isometric Fallout MMO easily done in the vain of 1 and 2. An idea I think Bethesda would probably beat down with a stick. Its nothing new, and I don’t feel as though it necessarily has to be, in fact it may benefit from it moreso.

    Then again, I’ve also been playing ‘mmos’ since the mid-90′s ala Nexus, the Realm, and UO so the idea has a huge nostalgia tag attached to it for me. Being in the genre for so long also helps me cope with the many…MANY…disappointments that come out of it, but also the knowledge that someone else will usually come along with an idea similar enough to appease the masses.

    I don’t really agree with the argument of saturation though, at least not in terms of the genre. That would be like saying there are too many first person shooters, or puzzle games, or adventure games, or platformers. Saturation only comes from ideas, so I’ll give you fantasy mmos, but the genre as a whole isn’t saturated.

  27. Xercies says:

    Fallout 3 to me was a really good RPG, I have never played Fallout before so I’m not going to get into the arguments about whether it was faithful to the series or not.

    To me it made Bethesda be more like their games to Morrowind then the rubbish Oblivion. Oblvion was all style and no substance. Morrowind and Fallout 3 was so atmospheric and great to just explore and go out your business. Both had rather weak generic stories but both had a world that you could get lost in to compensate.

  28. Garg says:

    Found an update on this over at Gamasutra:

    “Interplay Finances Cast Doubt On Fallout MMO”

    http://www.gamasutra.com/php-bin/news_index.php?story=23231

    “…Interplay’s SEC filing reveals it is actually approaching insolvency and may not be able to fund its operations — making the full-scale development of an MMO a stiff proposition.”

    Bethesda could be right to think that something may be amiss over the MMO.

  29. Okami says:

    Since I’ve played neither Oblivion nor any of the Fallout games, I can say of myself, that I hate Fallout 3 entirely because of it’s own merits. Or lack thereof.

  30. Ixtab says:

    The whole deadline thing sounds like Bethesda were actually trying to kick Interplay into action forcing them to make something before they lose the license, so actually supporting the MMO, and the fact that they’re threatening legal action but haven’t taken any yet makes me think that maybe they’re trying to prod Interplay into action.

    Of course it could equally be that they’re evil sadistic bullies and are picking on Interplay, I don’t really know.

  31. ChampionHyena says:

    Rararararararararar. Popular games are terrible. Grrrrr.

    I’ll take an unpopular (yet populist) stance here and publicly declare my (totally hetero and platonic) love for Bethesda. Morrowind is a glorious and still-replayable achievement, and Oblivion really was great despite all the wonk. So was Fallout 3, despite its inheritance of bits and pieces of said wonk.

    So, understandably, this news struck me as a little worrying. I never supposed that the Fallout MMO would ever come together. Interplay, modernly, is just far too inept to do so. Either it would never materialize, or it would be cobbled together as some abominable undead pseudogame. Women would be weeping and men gnashing their teeth and old-school Fallout fans whinging even louder than they already did when someone dared suggest Fallout 3 not be isometric and pixellated.

    But regardless of how bad Interplay might eff it up, I’d considered it their RIGHT to eff it up. I’d had a momentary fear that Bethesda, flush from its monumental Fallout 3 riches, was making a power play as a means to line their coffers with yet more sweet delicious capitalism. Now I’m not sure that’s the case. I wasn’t aware of this clause declaring just how prepared Interplay had to be to back up their intentions. Now it seems that Bethesda have recourse to act as they will. But this brings up a question.

    Did anyone, at Bethesda or elsewhere, really think that there was any chance in hell that Interplay would be able to pull this off on any remote approximation of a schedule? Really?

  32. ChampionHyena says:

    Hey, Gravatar. Update my gorramn Gravatar.

  33. drewski says:

    I think Fallout 3 is second only to Bioshock in the amount of AIM hating the fact that a lot of people like it, and they don’t.

  34. unclelou says:

    I liked Fallout 3 a lot, but thought it’s a total failure as a Fallout sequel.

    /carves own little niche

    Damn, it’s already crowded in here, too.

  35. ChampionHyena says:

    @drewski: Yeah, what the hell? It seems that there are quite a few games that we were supposed to laud and enjoy when they came out, but now for some reason it’s the chic thing to hate them.

    Hey, Bioshock 2′s coming out. Let’s get all excited about it now, and love it when it comes out, then hate it a few months down the road, just so we can claim consistency.

  36. Jante says:

    People, people, people! Interplay does not equal Black Isle Studios. Interplay is not the company that gave us Fallout, Baldur’s Gate, et al. That was all Black Isle. The numerous interviews with former Black Isle employees I have read over the years all state that Interplay was riddled with mismanagement, horrible finances and bad decisions. Attributing Fallout’s and Baldur’s Gate’s successes to Interplay would therefore seem to be a bit of an overstatement and a huge bucket of misplaced credit.

    And so it came as no surprise to me when (as most of us probably know by now) “on December 8, 2003, in the midst of serious financial difficulties, Interplay laid off the entire Black Isle Studios staff. By then, most members had moved on to found Obsidian Entertainment.”

    So, I have no qualms about wishing Interplay and their inept CEO Herve Caen the worst of luck in keeping this license. If someone should get it’s Obsidian, or failing that, Bethesda themselves. I think a Fallout MMO could be a disastrous direction for the franchise, so I don’t really care about the actual game either way.

  37. SirKicksalot says:

    1. Make some assets that look like Fallout

    2. Make a deal with a certain Bulgarian studio that makes a certain post-apocalyptic MMO

    3. Dress said MMO in the Fallout skins referenced at no. 1

    4. ???

    5. Profit!

  38. Serondal says:

    If they could pull it off and give you the entire united states to explore it may be interesting, but like you say Jante it will probably FLOP unless they pull it off perfectly, which never happens. It would be neat if you could go into the wastelands and start your own town and have to defend it from raider players and try to eek out of a living with what little resources you have. Maybe making a group of hard core warriors like the brotherhood of steel. however I really doubt it would be this way, it would probably be a WoW rip off

  39. gryffinp says:

    Can I point out that there is no way in hell a Fallout MMO could ever be good ever? Even if classic Black Isle made it, it just wouldn’t work, because they would try to make it like Fallout. There would be a thin veneer of the Fallout exploration and goodness hiding boring. Mountains and mountains of boring. Any good MMO will be either original or based off a liscence that hs nothing to do with RPGs. See: Age of Conan, WoW, Warhammer Online. And I suspect Bethesda realizes this. Honestly at this point I imagine the thought process was something like this:

    “Well, we have the Fallout license, but Interplay does seem to want to make a Fallout MMO, so we might as well let them try, even though it will be crap.”

    Now:
    “Well Interplay is really screwing the pooch on this, It’s obvious that the Fallout MMO is just not going to happen. We’d better try to get the MMO license back, if for no reason other than avoiding brand dilution. Besides, maybe if we threaten them they’ll get enough shit together to squeeze out SOMETHING.”

  40. Radioactive Blob says:

    “Tenpenny: I want you to kill some zombies. Bring me 25 zombie skins to collect your reward.”

    Am I right?

  41. Vinraith says:

    May this horrible idea languish in legislative oblivion forever.

  42. Wulf says:

    As far as I know, Interplay is a developmental entity, and moreover, some of the chaps (and one of the most important chaps) from the original Fallout are on board with the new Interplay and working on this new MMO. I got this from CD Projekt, the information’s out there on the Internet if you care to look it up.

    Bethesda on the other hand I’ve had a poor opinion of and I’ve been suspicious of them ever since Oblivion, which was a horribly developed title to be sure (lizards with boobs, and… oh, wait, M’aiq can tell you the rest, because his role in Oblivion is purely to defend poor design choices, which is pathetic beyond belief). Then came the DLC, and they were the first company to properly use it to milk money out of their fans (I’ll always remember them as trend-setters).

    So we have Interplay, with some real pedigree to it, versus Bethesda, as it is today (who don’t seem to have a tenth of the heart and soul they did when they made Daggerfall). Well, I know where I stand. I see Bethesda as a bit of a slimy, money-grubbing company whose games I avoid, and I see Interplay as a beacon of hope and potential.

    If they use the legal stick to beat down Interplay, it’s not going to do a lot for my already tarnished opinion of them. They’re not far off being what EA used to be, thankfully EA learned their lesson and became something better, but Bethesda are just stepping into that golden era; profits made from poor games, milking, and suing! Woo money, rah rah rah. Et cetera.

    Bitter? Yes, just a bit. I happen to like the people who’re a part of the new Interplay. If a lot of older game fans knew what was goin on these days, they would too.

  43. Tei says:

    @Wulf: Your post is very honest, and I like it. But I disagre. Bad people can make good games. The world is strange like that. And we are here to play games, not to judge people.

  44. Thumper says:

    And further, good people can make bad games.
    Just because you happen to like some of the guys at Interplay doesn’t mean that they’ll be able to develop a successful MMO.

    It takes a huge amount of resources to make one and it sounds like they’re a little hard up. Except in very special cases, you can have all the talent in the world, but without the cash it’s not gonna get off the ground (nobody bring up Love please!).

  45. Archonsod says:

    I’m gonna be all controversial and say I actually preferred FO3 to the previous two games.

  46. apnea says:

    Well, seeing as the new status quo here is something akin to “People who hate XYZ games are irrational trendists and thus wrong on everything (until they’re not and are agreeing with me)”, I’ll take a chance and put my lot with that scorned crowd of actual capital-h Haters:

    FO3 and Oblivion are profoundly flawed products, are put to shame by other truly great games of the genre (and their prequels) and will not stand well the test of time except through unofficial modding. There.

    Remember kids, I called this spot while it was still unpopular.

  47. apnea says:

    If that was too meta for you, simply consider the fact that FO3′s reception by gamers (not reviewers) is pretty much split 50/50 love/hate, all the while both sides of the argument pile on with the “I’ll be unpopular and say etc.”

    Stop posturing. Bethesda are divisive. Deal with it without standing in for some imagined silenced cultural Other in your head.

  48. ChampionHyena says:

    M’aiq knows much, tells some.

  49. ChampionHyena says:

    Oh, and let me point out that we can’t even talk about ANY Fallout game without the conversation suddenly and irreversibly steering towards Fallout 3 and the merits/flaws thereof. And then towards Oblivion and the merits/flaws thereof. And then snarky, unkind words about Todd Howard’s mom.

    Can’t we get through a single discussion about ANYTHING Bethesda does without getting into some big hissyfit about whether or not we liked Fallout 3 oh shit wait a second

  50. Jeremy says:

    I like FO3. Commence the fit of hissy.