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Former Bethesda staff allege that working on Fallout 76 was a “twisted nightmare”

Criticisms of severe crunch have been aimed at ZeniMax management

Fallout 76 is a post-apocalyptic massively multiplayer online RPG from Bethesda Game Studios.
Image credit: Bethesda Softworks

Staff who worked for Bethesda on post-apocalyptic multiplayer RPG Fallout 76 have come forward to share their stories from its development, and they don’t make for pleasant reading. Developers who spoke anonymously to Kotaku said they’d crunched in ten-hour shifts over six days a week prior to Fallout 76’s launch, with some saying they fantasised about being injured to avoid having to come into work the following day.

Fallout 76 experienced a troubled launch back in 2018.Watch on YouTube

QA testers in particular seem to have suffered while working on Fallout 76, which follows a pattern of low pay and long hours seen at other studios in the industry. It’s why QA contractors working on Dragon Age: Dreadwolf for BioWare Edmonton and Call Of Duty testers at Raven Software have recently voted to form unions. Testers on Fallout 76 allege that ZeniMax management expected them to work overtime regularly, and to come in on weekends even when the outcome wouldn’t contribute anything to the project.

One former Bethesda worker told Kotaku: “I played Daggerfall and Battlespire. Working there felt like a childhood dream for me that just turned into a twisted nightmare.” Some workers say they received death threats from consumers following the launch of Fallout 76 in 2018 too. Staff who’d worked at Bethesda said they didn’t feel Microsoft’s buyout of the company, completed in March 2021, did much to change their situation.

They pointed to Microsoft’s “hands-off” treatment of the studios it owns as the reason why. This doesn’t bode well for the $68.7 billion (£50 billion) buyout of embattled Activision Blizzard, announced in January this year. However, MIcrosoft Gaming CEO Phil Spencer has said he's "evaluating all aspects" of the company's relationship with Activision Blizzard to make "ongoing proactive adjustments".

Nate wasn’t overly keen on the game in his Fallout 76 review when it was released, calling it “an atavistic reprisal of a late-2000s MMO”. Ouch. “Worse yet, with its low server populations and absence of human NPCs, it’s as if it’s designed to feel like a dying late-2000s MMO,” he said. “The whole play experience seems set up to make you feel as if you’ve arrived just after the fun is over.” He felt a bit more favourably towards the sizeable Wastelanders update that arrived in 2020.

Fallout 76 is still puttering along four years later, but not on Bethesda’s launcher anymore because that’s been retired. You can find it on Steam instead, or try getting it to work on Game Pass for PC.

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