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The Human Toll Of Fallout 76’s Disastrous Launch (Kotaku investigative article)

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Former ZeniMax developers claim that Fallout 76 was severely mismanaged




“No one wanted to be on that project because it ate people. It destroyed people,” one former developer on Fallout 76 told Kotaku. “The amount of people who would go to that project, and then they would quit [Bethesda] was quite high.”


Kotaku spoke to 10 former employees of Bethesda and its parent company ZeniMax Media who were familiar with Fallout 76’s development, all of whom shared their accounts only under the condition of anonymity. Some sources said that they signed non-disparagement agreements upon leaving the company, and feared that ZeniMax’s influence in the industry would prevent them from being hired elsewhere.




Some testers would only find reprieve when they finally left the Fallout 76 team. Two former testers recounted that one of their colleagues said in a QA group chat after leaving the project: “I didn’t cry last night when I was taking a shower.” Another said in the same chat: “I pulled into work today, and I sat in my car for a second, and my chest didn’t feel heavy like it normally does.”




These testers shared stories with Kotaku about ZeniMax management, and how it would habitually require overtime from QA, even when that overtime wouldn’t contribute to fixing a bug. A former tester who worked on the game’s DLC recalled being coerced into coming in to crunch on the weekend because the latest version of the game needed a fix. The individual tester would later discover that the development team had not implemented the fix, and that any work they did on the unfixed build would be for nothing. According to the former tester:


I remember seeing one of my coworkers stand up, look at the person who was in charge that day, and scream across the room: “Why are we here? We gave up our day for this. The build isn’t the build we need. This is useless. This is a waste of our time. Like why are we here?”




The testers also coped with the pressures of being surveilled. A couple of sources told Kotaku that QA workers would have their breaks timed or sometimes even be followed into the restrooms by non-management employees described by one source as “chronic snitches.” According to them, these otherwise normal testers, designated as “coordinators,” did not have a real title or pay bump, but felt that micromanaging their peers would help their career standing at ZeniMax. Another did not recall if people were specifically followed, but knew testers whose bathroom breaks had been timed.




Some sources noted that the project drove an exodus of senior developers who had worked on some of Bethesda’s most prolific titles. Many developers developed physical health issues, such as tinnitus and back pain. One source said it “wasn’t uncommon” for artists to have wrist braces. Senior staff who’d remained loyal to the company for 20 years finally found their reason to quit. Some had been around since Fallout 3 and Skyrim. Fallout 76 was their final breaking point.


“People don’t need to suffer so that patch 42 can come out on time. It is a deliberate decision to foster a workplace and a work cycle where that can happen,” one source said. “It is prioritizing the work over the people.”





A couple of sources Kotaku spoke with didn’t feel that the teams had a coherent direction for what Fallout 76 was supposed to be during its initial three-year development cycle. According to one source, Howard was supposed to be in charge of the game, but he spent most of his time working on Starfield, which reportedly started development after Fallout 4 shipped in 2015. One source told Kotaku that his subordinates would call it “seagulling” when he would “fly by later and shit all over an idea” that had popular traction within the design team. Another source felt that Howard was a decent executive producer, albeit one with a “bigger is better” design philosophy.


According to Kotaku’s sources, Bethesda leadership did not fully anticipate the challenges of producing a full-fledged live-service game, or the costs that doing so would inflict on their employees. Bethesda seemed to assume that putting “rock star” senior developers with extensive Elder Scrolls and Fallout single-player experience on the Fallout 76 team would smooth out any difficulties in making a live-service game, but this would not prove true.


“As the game increased in size and scope, no additional time was ever really given for [testing],” one source told Kotaku. “A full pass of this huge multiplayer game with multiple expansions? [QA] got three days in a good week. It was one day if production issues resulted in a late build being delivered.”



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I'm not surprised. AAA (lol) game development is already really high stress, and Fallout 76 went from concept to shelves at a speed that can only be explained by Zenimax execs saying "we need to sell something. You have 6 months. Go." Not to mention probably no one on the dev team had any prior experience with creation engine.


A lot of people were shocked at how soon the game came out after it was announced (a mere 4/5 months, iirc) and I think it's because they literally didn't even start making the game until months before it was announced. The whole game screamed of "just release something, we'll worry about making an actual game later."


Imagine the pressure everyone involved in the project must have been under. And shit rolls downhill.

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