Fallout Fallingout: Bethesda Sues Interplay

By Kieron Gillen on September 14th, 2009 at 12:47 pm.

This broke on Friday, but RPS were dividing and conquering across the world, requiring Kadayi – cheers! – to bring it to our attention. In short, Gamasutra reports that the coldness between Interplay (Original Fallout IP holders) and Bethesda (Purchaser of the Fallout IP) has crossed into an actual legal suit. However, it isn’t about the MMO situation, as described in the link. It’s to prevent any further distribution of the compilation Fallout Trilogy’s sales via Digital Download companies causing “immediate, substantial, and irreparable harm”. Do read the whole thing, and a little industry thought below…

I actually don’t really believe this is primarily about selling the older games. This is a high-level tactical battle between companies, with one trying to secure rights. The fact that – according to Bethesda – that they didn’t actually get their approval for packaging, advertising and promotional material means that Interplay are in breach of contract. This will be a step towards them acquiring the MMO rights back.

(Bethesda bought the IP, then leased the rights for the MMO back to Interplay. Seriously, go read the full story)

In other words, as pure business, this strikes me as a pretty smart.

As a developer of Fallout games, this is openly outrageous.

I’m not even someone who is particularly devoted to the original games, and I’m outraged. Bethesda’s buying of the rights was controversial, but the developers have constantly said how big fans they were of the original games. To my mind, the case counters that. This case simply says the company believes that anyone having access to those games would confuse and devalue the brand – because they’re using the original art which hasn’t been through Bethesda’s hand. At the best, it says they’re of historical interest, but pretty much should be kept in museums. Fundamentally, they’d rather people not have the chance to play Fallout at all if it’s not in a Bethesda-approved box.

Obviously, this almost certainly came from the business side, but it’s put everyone on the Fallout 3 team in an enormously difficult position, no matter what the reason. The next time they talk about how much they like Fallout, someone is going to say “You like it so much that you stop people from buying and playing it?”. Because answering “That wasn’t about the game – that was about the logos” implies that you care far more about the logos than the actual games themselves. And what gamer would argue that?

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165 Comments »

  1. Frenz0rz says:

    Oooh bugger, thats not good news at all. Hopefully this will all die down, instead of being a sign of things to come.

  2. KindGalaxy says:

    Well yeah, it is smart business. After the success of Fallout 3, and the DLC of Fallout 3 they now want to encompass any and all game sales, game development into their company. Honestly, the Fallout brand, and any Fallout game, MMO or not, will be better delivered from the hands of Bethesda than any other company since lets not forget Interplay were and always were a publisher of the Fallout games, Black Isle Studios was the developer of 1 and 2, Bethesda the developer of 3. What farm would Interplay develop a Fallout MMO in? One that would cause a nuclear meltdown on not just NMA but the new FO3 fans, MMO fans, and any remotely interested in sneaking behind a dude, putting a landmine in their backpocket and watching them explode.

  3. Heliocentric says:

    Are you sure this isn’t more about fallout trillogy implying that fallout 3 is involved?

  4. Latro says:

    I disagree. This only makes me angry at Bethesda and makes me think I’m going to boycott them.

    For once, the classics games are available so new generations can enjoy them, and thats “damage” to Bethesda?

    Lets give them more damage then.

    And yes, it may be good “business” sense… except the business they have is in managing a fan base. Way to go to alienate it.

  5. Dan Lawrence says:

    That’d make sense to me. I’m guessing there is a real risk of confusion of an uninformed gamer picking up the trilogy thinking he is getting the Bethesda game as well if the boxart doesn’t make the facts explicit.

  6. Nevarion says:

    Business as usual and a shame for that! Least for me as a gamer, I tend to take a less of a… ‘opportunistic’ point of view on a game(/toy).

    I may see the reasoning if it comes down to bucks only but at the same time I certainly despise this behavior.

  7. Ergates says:

    Even if they’re legally in the right, I can’t see that this is a good move from Bethseda. They must have noticed the reaction towards their buying of the rights in the first place – how exactly did they think this come across?

    If the article is correct, then it doesn’t ring true that this is all about getting back the MMO rights either. Is says the contract stipulates that interplay a) must start fullscale development of the MMO by 4th April ’09, and b) that they must secure $30 million in funding withing 24 months too. If Interplay haven’t met these requirements they the rights should return to Bethseda. (or is that too easy)

    This is what happen when people listen to lawyers.

  8. Heliocentric says:

    Read it again, i agree with the post its just an ip grab.

  9. ChaosSmurf says:

    “And yes, it may be good “business” sense… except the business they have is in managing a fan base. Way to go to alienate it.”

    Their business is selling games.

  10. smiler says:

    Bethesda In Money Grab Shock!

    Is anyone genuinely suprised by this?

    Now to just add Bethesda to my little book of grudges…

  11. AsubstanceD says:

    Just shows how important advertising and marketing are considered to these big game development companies. They do not believe it is good enough to develop a good game, or even market just their own game to death, but also necessary to limit the types of games which could become popular (polarize the market). The fact that they are trying to control a push for the sale of past games just goes to show that they really do not respect the previous Fallout games like they claim (which is the impression I got from playing Obli… Fallout 3 anyway).

  12. Senethro says:

    Ugh, 10 posts in and the b-word has already been thrown about. Boy howdy I can’t wait for yet more boycott websites to spring up.

  13. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    Ugh. Bunch of bastards. Legality and rights aside, that’s a nasty move.

    Then again, I’ve never even bought a Bethesda game.. but on the other hand, I do love Fallout.

  14. neems says:

    Perhaps it would have helped if Bethesda hadn’t used the title ‘Fallout 3′, as you do get 3 games in the ‘Fallout Trilogy’ set, even if FO3 isn’t one of them.

  15. Risingson says:

    Cinism time, I guess. Of course ‘someone’ could get confused over the Fallout trilogy, as many people use to have the attention capability of an ameba. Of course this is about selling games. Now, the question is : how, really, could perjudice selling the old Fallouts to the sales of the new ones? No way, simply. Now, if we accept that a company like Bethesda can really ignore the fan and put their comercial interests explicitly and cinically above the gamers, we could also just send them money for existing.

  16. Allandaros says:

    “Bethesda’s buying of the rights was controversial, but the developers have constantly said how big fans they were of the original games. To my mind, the case counters that.”

    Just remember that devs being big fans is very different from the legal department being big fans, alas.

  17. vasagi says:

    Boycott, the new internet “you suck, your games suck, dev suck and my mom sucks” for whiners allez uber the platz

  18. Optimaximal says:

    As Heliocentric touches on, are we not sure that it’s Bethesda getting irate with Interplay change the title of the bundle(s) from Fallout Collection to Fallout Trilogy, which might well be where all the ‘artwork’ and ‘boxart’ claims come from?

    Bethesda and ZeniMax spent almost the entire of F3′s development ice-skating uphill against the fanbase and I don’t think anyone in their company is stupid enough to start throwing their weight around needlessly.

  19. Flibberdy says:

    It looks like Interplay decided to ignore their contract and didn’t submit the old FO imagery to Bethesda so they could OK it. Not that I agree with what Bethesda’s done, per se, but we don’t know what led up to this legal hoohaa. For all we know Bethesda asked nicely a bunch of times and then when they got tired of being ignored they did this.

    Then again, it could just be Bethesda sticking their finger up to people who want to buy the originals.

  20. Greg Wild says:

    Honestly, I’ve got no time for Interplay. They’ve spent years arsing around trying to scrape something together, and I’ve got very little sympathy for what is evidently a failed endevour. The debate over distribution rights is perhaps a bit of a dodgy move by Beth, but ultimately Beth is hardly going to take FO1/2/T off Steam when they’ve got their own stuff up on there anyway – hopefully they’ll just use it as an opportunity to take advantage of GoG. At least we might see Skynet up on there.

    Honestly, the sooner people realise Interplay is a thoroughly spent force, the better.

  21. Latro says:

    Of course the business is selling games.

    To who exactly is what this kind of thing makes one think they arent sure.

  22. Schadenfreude says:

    In other news, Bethesda has been seen having an intimate dinner with Timothy Langdell.

  23. pkt-zer0 says:

    “For all we know Bethesda asked nicely a bunch of times and then when they got tired of being ignored they did this.”

    Ausir suggests that the opposite is the case. Bethesda never intended to approve any material Interplay sent to them.

  24. CMaster says:

    While you can see that some people may pick up the “Fallout Trilogy” expecting to get FO1, 2, 3 in there, nobody is going to continue making that mistake having played it. I really don’t see them losing any sales long-term.

    Once again, I wish developers made new games rather than sequels and remakes, so this sort of battle wouldn’t happen and companies wouldn’t waste millions on liscencing.

  25. JuJuCam says:

    As I understand it Bethesda are basically claiming that consumers think that FO1, 2 and Tactics are Bethesda produced games? Umm… Really?

  26. der Rudi says:

    Obviously people who do not read labels…

  27. Lilliput King says:

    From what I’ve heard, “a thoroughly spent force” is right. Bethesda is a vast development powerhouse (no matter what you think of their games), but Interplay’s glory days are over. Word is they barely have any capital.

    Bethesda knows this, and knew this when they short term leased Interplay the rights for the MMO – they knew Interplay didn’t have the resources to get a game together in the time they gave them, and that Interplay would either go bankrupt or fail to make the game, and break the contract between the companies. They’re happy to take advantage.

    Vast, evil ole’ Bethesda has been dicking Interplay around for years, and now they’re going to take them apart.

    It’s thoroughly detestable.

  28. Premium User Badge

    oceanclub says:

    Interplay make contract with Bethesda.

    Interplay break contract.

    Bethesda sue.

    Am I understanding this correctly?

    P.

  29. Naurgul says:

    Well, it seems obvious to me that when Bethesda added the clauses about the Fallout MMO milestone and the approval for re-releases to the contract, the only thing they had in mind was how to sue Interplay into resigning the last remaining rights they had on the franchise. The real question though is: Why the hell did Interplay agree to this? Did they really think the MMO could have reached the required milestones by now? Did they really think that Bethesda would ever give them the green light to sell the older Fallout games anywhere? Why didn’t they settle for selling the rights for less money but without the clauses or even selling them to someone else?

  30. Greg Wild says:

    It’s probably worth noting that as well as a major lack of funds, Interplay lacks…well, Interplay. Fargo of course left years ago. Most of the former FO devs work either for Obsidian (on a new Fallout game, of course) or have gone elsewhere in the industry or otherwise. To my knowledge, isn’t Chris Taylor basically the only “original” developer they’ve got to their name? Most tellingly in my opinion, Jason Anderson abandoned PV13 a good while back to join up with Fargo.

    I just don’t see any point in indulging in a facade of sympathy for what is apparently more or less a nebulous arrangement of IP owned by a rather distasteful (according to NMA, anyway) CEO in his own right.

    I’d rather see Fallout with Beth, than no Fallout at all.

  31. manveruppd says:

    I agree with Helio and Opti, Bethesda are obviously basing their complaint on the bundle being called “Fallout Trilogy”, which, to be fair, is a valid complaint. If I didn’t know anything about the history of the Fallout IP, I’d definitely buy that thinking that it has Fallout 1, 2 and 3 in it. Casual gamers don’t follow the shifting fortunes of publishing houses with as much dedication as the hardcore, so that kind of name would not only defraud the customer but possibly rob Bethesda of a sale too.

    Whether this is genuinely what Bethesda are miffed about, or whether this is merely tactical manouevreing to take back control of the IP, will become clear pretty soon, depending on whether they accept a settlement, name change for the bundle and monetary restitution, or whether they insist on going to court, proving breach of contract, and wresting back the MMO rights.

    All due respect to Kieron and others who have expressed outrage at Bethesda’s moves, but do you really think Interplay would make a better custodian of the Fallout IP in the state they’re in these days? We’d all love to see them rise from the ashes and be great again, but the fact is the people that made them great now work elsewhere, and no Fallout game they produced would have what made the first 2 special. They farmed out development of the MMO to an unproven Bulgarian dev ffs! It could still turn out to be brilliant, but I honestly don’t believe that Interplay designed anything but a quick and dirty cash-in skinning trite and familiar MMO gameplay in post-apocalyptic hues, designed solely for getting Interplay out of trouble. Even if it is a well-thought out game, I’m dubious about Interplay’s ability to supervise the developers implementing their design decisions when they’re in Bulgaria, as well as their capacity to fund the project adequately.

    So, moral outrage aside, ask yourselves what’s in YOUR best interest as gamers and consumers before you go about lambasting Bethesda’s lack of corporate ethics. You may be right, but they may be doing exactly what needs doing in order to eventually get a decent Fallout MMO into our hands. This might seem like a cynical and pragmatic view, but, equally, it would be cold and heartless to allow a great setting to languish in the hands of a company that doesn’t have the means to do anything good with it. If someone has to play dirty to get more Fallout games out there, let them!

  32. Demiath says:

    Although I normally wouldn’t dream of cutting Bethesda any slack, methinks Kieron Gillen reads too much into this. Interplay has been a complete mess for years and their overall management of the Fallout IP (including rushing Fallout 2, licensing away almost everything to Bethesda and hiring a bunch of virtually unknown Bulgarians to create the MMO) has been a disaster (legally and otherwise) waiting to happen more or less from day one.

    But maybe I’m just being so admirably relaxed about all this because I already bought Fallout 1 and 2 from GOG.COM and have the DRM-free install files safely stored on my external drive where the big bad B can’t touch ‘em…

  33. Dan Lawrence says:

    @Lilliput

    Hang on a minute, Interplay are hardly county fair rubes being tricked by the sinister machinations of the Bethesda money men. Interplay were a big company in their own right back in the day and they are free to make whatever deals they like, no doubt they made a large sum from the Bethesda Fallout deal which they thought they could leverage to begin production of an MMO. If they’ve failed to do that its hardly the fault of Bethesda.

  34. Starky says:

    I have no sympathy for Interplay what-so-ever, they sold the IP (again repeating what is said above they were the publishers NOT the developers, they didn’t make the games) leased some rights back then since then spent their time screwing around and trying to milk the classic games after the success of FO3.

    Interplay failed, and Bethesda clearly want complete control of the IP and nothing more to do with Interplay. Personally I don’t blame them one bit. I honestly think the Fallout IP would be much better in Bethesda’s hands anyway (mmo included).

    Yes it sucks that the old game sales are just another battleground of this legal mess, but from the sounds of it Interplay have several times broken agreement (legally binding contractual agreement) – in the end it doesn’t matter how hard it was to raise money, or how well intentioned their actions, in business you don’t break contract. Ever.

    If you do, you get sued. Simple as.

  35. Dracko says:

    “We’ve ruined the Fallout IP’s future and now want to destroy its past too.”

    Cheers, Bethesda.

  36. Latro says:

    Whoever is reading the criticism of this as an “Interplay rules! Less defend them”, is misreading it.

    Interplay is a zombie? Yes
    Bethesda is more capable of keeping the franchise alive? Yes, in whatever form, and I was one of the people that thought that even if FO3 was not going to be a “classical” FO, it didnt matter as we were not going to get Van Buren anyway.

    Going after selling the old games, when for the first time in years the Internet is actually delivering the marvel of having a market were we dont lose the classics and people can actually see and play games from the past? Dick move

  37. Latro says:

    Disclosure: FO3 was 90% a marvel, then the ending. So just to put into context that I’m not a NMA puritanical fantatic :-P

  38. phil says:

    Considering Interplay claimed it was using the funds the Fallout IP sales generated to restart development on brands like MDK and Descent, whilst reissuing its older titles, ie basically what people wanted them to do, this is annoying as they’ll likely go bust again.

    That said, the chances of a Fallout MMO actually being successful and not, for example, bankrupting them anyway, were incredibly high.

    On the brightside, there’s never going to be Clayfighter 128.

  39. Lilliput King says:

    I’m not sure having another Fallout game from Bethesda would actually be best for the consumers.

    FO 3 was appalling. (flamebait, but really)

    Either way, theres very little original in the Fallout setting, really. And a rose by any other name would smell as sweet, you know?

    I guess I just prefer developers to care about the games they make. It may be that the development side of Bethesda do care, but thats not evident in their games, and it’s certainly not what we see here.

  40. Tei says:

    Re: “smart bussines decission”.

    People will download these games. Most people that download these games are not to play then, but to feel again things, will launch the game once, see the menus, play a few minutes.

    If you unable people to play for the privilege to download a game that already own. These people will download such game elsewhere, most probably with “abandonware” on the name.

    So heres a bussines decission described as “smart” that is actually pushing forward Warez, and attacking Digital Downloads. Not soo smart to me.

  41. Naurgul says:

    I’m pretty surprised about the people who defend Bethesda on the grounds of Interplay being what can be best described as “a bunch of jerks”. I say: Of course there’s no sympathy for Interplay. Who the hell would care about them? They destroyed everything good they had because they thought they could make quick cash in the console market. They deserve nothing. With that said, however, this legal manipulation that Bethesda is doing is still despicable. The fact that the victim is rotten does not remove the immorality of the act.

  42. qrter says:

    The next time they talk about how much they like Fallout, someone is going to say “You like it so much that you stop people from buying and playing it?”. Because answering “That wasn’t about the game – that was about the logos” implies that you care far more about the logos than the actual games themselves.

    Surely the dev team only needs to answer “That’s not our work, that’s the legal department” and be done with it?

    I don’t see why the Fallout 3 team would have to feel responsible for something they most probably have little to nothing to do with.

  43. Starky says:

    Drako that is utter balls, FO3 was a good addition to the IP – unless of course you’re one of those irrational counter-culture haters who refuse to believe that critical acclaim, many industry awards, public acclaim and huge sales some how ruined the IP.
    One thing you can be sure of FO3 was a damn sight better than anything Interplay could have managed – better than anyone could have managed short of a micricle happening in the form of Black Isle studio’s reforming (al the major players back) and given 100 million to make a game.

    Whatever MMO Bethesda makes out of the MMO IP, I’d wager my life savings and a lung that it will be a tonne better than anything that random Hungarian studio Interplay hired could do.
    Hell a Bethesda & ID joint project mmo could rule the planet in my opinion (just let ID handle the tech and animations).

  44. Lilliput King says:

    @ Dan, as Greg pointed out, Interplay was once great. Now they’re penniless, and lack the people that made them great. The people they do have are largely inexperienced. In other words, the company that was Interplay doesn’t really exist anymore, except in name.

    I think you’re spot on about the deal. Yes, they’re free to make whatever deals they like and yep, as a publishing company they hoped it would give them the capital to fund their MMO.

    I imagine it seemed like a pretty good idea at the time, till Interplay’s new crew learnt how harsh the world of business is. The way I see it, Bethesda set them up for a fall.

  45. Dante says:

    As some people have pointed out, this is a complex situation, there’s a very real case to be made about Interplay’s ‘Fallout Trilogy’ (1, 2 and Brotherhood of Steel) being an attempt to get sales out of people who think they’re mistakenly buying Fallout 3.

    There’s also the fact that Bethesda’s lease with Interplay required them to begin development of the MMO by now or the rights would revert to Bethesda. They say they’ve started, but there seems little evidence to prove that.

    Not that I’m completely taking Bethesda’s side here, I’m just saying it’s a complex issue and neither side is being particularly honourable about it.

  46. Lilliput King says:

    I imagine the Trilogy is 1, 2 and Tactics, rather than Brotherhood of Steel.

    I don’t honestly understand the problem, though. It’s a trilogy of fallout games. The first 3, no less.

    Fallout Trilogy. Mm?

    Never remember there being a case of Interplay suing Bethesda for tricking people into buying FO 3 when people thought they’d be getting the third Fallout game, Fallout Tactics.

  47. Dan Lawrence says:

    @Lilliput

    Sure, I know they are rumoured to be low on money now but they (the founder at least) have been around in buisness a long time and know how it works. They still signed the deal despite all that, I’d be right with you if Interplay were some startup indie developer with no cash and little understanding of the ways of money.

    Addressing the main article, as other commentors have made clear it seems like Interplay deliberately chose to rename a pre-existing package of the old Fallout games from ‘Fallout Collection’ to the much more Bethesda baiting ‘Fallout Trilogy’. Its a shame that Bethesda is trying to get the games pulled from sale but I think they have at least had some provocation from Interplay.

  48. menki says:

    Trilogy issue is fair enough, I’d be pretty pissed if I bought the Star Wars trilogy and found out it contained A New Hope, Empire, and Caravan of Courage.

  49. Bhazor says:

    Honestly I fail to see how Bethesda are the bad guys. Interplay signed both contracts and Interplay failed to fullfill both contracts. Interplay has been using Fallout 3 as free publicity and you can’t be surprised Beth wants a cut of that. Bethesda uses Steam themselves, if they get the rights to publish the originals they won’t vanish from there. If anything we’ll see better deals as you could buy “The Complete Fallout” rather than buying the Interplay and Bethesda games separately. Heck with Zenimax money we could see remastered versions with higher resolution and fixed AI.

    In terms of developers/publishers Interplay has been on life support for 6 years.

    Reply to Pkt-zer0

    Because NMA is a completely impartial source for information.

  50. Jae Armstrong says:

    Ehhh… as bad as Beth are, Interplay have been worse for a long time. Even NMA seem to be siding with the big B on this.