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Fallout fallout

Scan of a 1960s bomb shelter brochure - more excellent images at this fine fellow's Flickr account.

Against all odds, ever-struggling games publisher Interplay still functions - despite being nearly $3m in debt. Still, that's better than the nearly $60m in the red it was back in 2001, eh? Now it's a hobo that can afford a wash once in a while.

Given that actual game sales only contributed $62,000 to the $5.4m Interplay's earned in the last quarter, almost all of the rosy finanical tint it claims to be back in its cheeks was put there by flogging the rights to the Fallout series to Bethesda earlier this year. This seems no cause for celebration to me, rather like saying "I've got this oil well underneath my house, but I can't afford to dig down to it. So I sold it to my incredibly rich neighbour for £20 and a ride in his Ferrari. Now he's even richer, but hey, it's £20 I can put towards my rent!"

More positively, Interplay plans to invest the profits it doesn't have (but, um more so? Less so? 'Interplay has less anti-profit'? Argh.) into the long-rumoured and occasionally confirmed Fallout MMO, as it's retained online rights to the post-apocalyptic RPG. As revealed back when Fallout 3 was flogged to Bethesda in April, Interplay has two years to start development on Fallout Online, six years to finish it and must secure at least $30m of investment in it if it wants to hang onto rights for such a title. And, as we discover today, it's still looking for investors. So, we're headed towards half a year on from the deal being brokered, and Fallout Online isn't even on the drawing board yet. Place your bets, gentlemen please.

"I am pleased with the progress the company has made, particularly with our debt load, which has improved from $59 million in December 2001 to less than $3 million today. With that difficult period behind us, we are focused on securing funding for development of a Massively Multiplayer Online Game (MMOG) based on the popular Fallout franchise. Along with our strategy of leveraging our existing portfolio of intellectual gaming properties, Fallout Online will play a key role in the future of Interplay."
- Herve Caen, Interplay chairman and CEO

Interplay sounds convinced it can secure funding (it claimed back in December that $75m would be sunk into Fallout Online), but I wonder. Who really wants to chuck a sack of money at a company whose only revenue to speak of over the last year came from selling its most valuable asset? The game they would be investing in, meanwhile, is a project that's been going nowhere fast since 2004, and part of a long-dormant franchise with more than a whiff of PC nerdery around it. Strikes me that until Bethesda's Fallout is a proven success, Interplay mightn't get the funding it needs. Odds of Bethesda's Fallout being out before that two-year clause expires, then? Uh-oh.

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Bethesda's Fallout 3 - I am well-pleased by the recent trend for vintage music in games

Then again, do we really want Interplay to make Fallout Online? There's been no talk of a developer yet, so Lord knows whose hand will end up at the till, and this is a publisher that's spent most of the last decade plagued by financial cock-ups. I care a lot about Fallout, and, together with most of my RPS comrades, a post-apoc setting is something we're craving for an MMO to do well (Auto Assault's mutant ladies in metal bikinis approach is exactly what I don't want in my scorched Earth). I don't really want an underfunded, desperate to turn a profit rush job from Fallout Online - today's statement sounds very much as though Interplay's hanging it's last remaining threadbare hat on this game working out. I certainly don't want it to be a WoW clone, as it almost inevitably will be.

So, perhaps it'd best if Interplay did lose the rights. I don't yet know whether Bethesda truly are the folks for the job (while Fallout 3 is looking splendid, and citing Cormack McCarthy's The Road as an influence is reassuring, the shockingly bad storytelling, voice-acting and facial graphics in Oblivion are elementary crimes I'd rather weren't committed in a Fallout game), at least their Fallout Online wouldn't have desperation as its main driving force.

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Alec Meer avatar

Alec Meer


Ancient co-founder of RPS. Long gone. Now mostly writes for rather than about video games.