Bethesda's gamble to reinvent the landscape of Fallout, if only for one game, is off to a historically poor start. Launching almost two weeks ago, Fallout 76 has just 29% of the active players that Fallout 4 had in the same timeframe, and with player reports of countless bugs, low review scores, and a holiday season once again bringing more games than anyone has time for, it may not be too soon to assume most potential players have already moved past the idea of giving much time to Fallout 76.
At E3, the announcement of Fallout 76 was met with mixed reactions. The series' usual formula of a deep single-player RPG experience was gone and in its place was an MMO focused on survival and base-building. As release grew nearer, Bethesda warned people often that the game would launch in a buggy state. Such a PR move seemed especially curious for them because their games have long been famous for such launches, so if now they had made it a focal point of their run-up to release, it must be especially problematic.
That reading turned out to be accurate as reviewers and players have since slammed the game on every outlet available. Its OpenCritic score of 53 rests in the basement of all AAA holiday 2018 games and it's been getting review-bombed on all the usual digital storefronts. Most notably of all, however, is the plain statistical truth we have on site. Compared to Fallout 4's early days after launch, Fallout 76 has just 29% of the active players. Fallout 4 had cleared 100,000 total players tracked on TA after 13 days, but today Fallout 76 has yet to eclipse 30,000. Most startlingly, the game has been on deep discount via most retailers since the weekend, and yet the game has not received a significant bump in player count. It hit 25,000 tracked players after six days, which means in the week since then it's only added another roughly 4,000 on TA. Across all platforms, we expect a similarly slow climb.
As a publisher, Bethesda has made it a recent habit to announce a game and release it just months later. It's a practice much appreciated by players who have been mentally trained to expect long marketing calendars and at least one delay. However, in the case of Fallout 76 one has to wonder what the benefit was to launching this game as troubled as it is. It seems like their reputation for buggy but beloved games empowered Bethesda Game Studios to feel like this launch would follow in the same footsteps as Fallout 4, Skyrim and others before it. The usual refrain of "yeah it's buggy, but..." is no longer working in this case, and the developers were probably relying on that.
With Starfield and The Elder Scrolls VI both expected to arrive next from Todd Howard's studio, that leaves Fallout 76 as the last game in the series for at least the next several years. As an MMO, it's meant to change, grow, and improve over time, and surely the game already has a pocket of players that appreciate it for what it is today. But with so many games to choose from and so much negative press out of the gate, it feels like in less than two weeks most would-be players have already dropped Fallout 76 like an atom bomb.
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