Betas serve an odd sort of purpose in gaming society. Companies use them to test out elements of the game, to make sure things are working properly and servers are up to the load of people, as well as generate hype by allowing folks a chance to try a product ahead of launch. Fallout 76 is one such game. It is an entirely new approach to the formula. At E3 2018, Bethesda revealed a beta phase would be held for people to understand what the company hoped to accomplish. Unfortunately, the more information we hear about the beta, the more questionable it sounds.
Indications that things might not all be great in Vault 76 happened when we started to hear rumors about how to get into the beta. For most games, these trial phases are free. This is not the case with Fallout 76. Instead of being an open beta, where people can download a client and play for designated days, you need to commit to the game before you can try it. While there are ways around this, such as some people pre-ordering through Amazon to get the beta access code, knowing they can cancel the pre-order if things prove disappointing, this barrier of entry is a bad idea for an entry in the Fallout line. It might seem like a way to artificially generate sales.
This kind of gatekeeping could also be seen as Bethesda attempting to get the right “sort” of audience to play the Fallout 76 beta. If a beta is free, a larger audience will be willing to give it a go. All it costs is some time and a chunk of your hard drive’s space for the duration of the event. But locking a beta behind a paywall alters the audience. Only people who are big fans of Bethesda and Fallout already would be willing to pay $60 ahead of time. Which could mean the company could be guaranteeing themselves an audience that is more forgiving and positive about the experience.
Timing is another concern. Fallout 76 launches on November 14, 2018. The beta is set for sometime in October 2018. Except, Bethesda has already noted that it will be a gradual rollout. While everyone who pre-orders and registers their beta code will eventually get to play, they will be allowed into the trial in spurts. This means it is not likely to be a one weekend affair. Rather, with a rollout in place, it could take place over a week, or maybe even two week, period.
As I mentioned earlier, betas serve a number of functions. The most important one is supposed to be testing. This should be an opportunity for Bethesda to make sure Fallout 76 works the way it should and can handle the number of people who queue up to play. But, realistically, how much can be done within a month? Depending on the date of the beta, there may not be enough time to fix any issues discovered when a larger audience gets into this trial. Let’s be serious here. Bethesda games can be great and are known for their general quality, but they are known for being an absolute mess at launch. We know Fallout 76 is going to have some sorts of problems. By having the beta so close to launch, Bethesda is reducing the chance of making actual changes based on feedback.
Let’s be optimistic about Fallout 76. It could end up being a good game people will enjoy. But, let’s also try to be realistic. It could also have a lot of issues. Judging by some of the beta decisions, some problems seem more likely than others. The beta is locked behind a paywall, which means people have to pay for access and there is a better chance diehard fans who will be less critical will be trying it out. It is also being held in October, meaning there might be a month or less for Bethesda to address an issues that come up during the beta. There is a lot here to worry people.