Ben Nguyen
Mercury Staff

How Bethesda's premium memberships scam gamers

Bethesda released a scary addition just in time for Halloween: a “Fallout 76” subscription service. This “premium membership” promises all sorts of bug-ridden benefits for the low price of $12 a month and might as well be a spooky scam.

Fallout 1st is billed as a “premium membership” that brings one of the most requested features to “Fallout 76”: private worlds. That’s right, for a low price of $12 per month or $100 per year, you can have the privilege of playing by yourself. Along with unlimited storage in your scrapbox, premium currency monthly, an outfit and emotes, what more could you want?

Sarcasm aside, this is a straight rip-off. Not only is it a subscription service, it’s a subscription service for buggy features that should have been in the game already. In private worlds, some containers spawn already looted — supposedly due to how loot is instanced — and people from your friend list can freely join your private, invite-only server. Besides the private-but-not-actually worlds, the “unlimited space” scrap box is losing things put inside of it, never to be seen again.

These features should not be locked behind a paywall — a monthly/yearly one at that, especially when it’s for a game that you presumably already bought. Right now, I can boot up “Borderlands 2,” and have the choice of a public online game or a private game by myself. While “Borderlands 2” is a vastly different online first-person-shooter RPG, the ability to play by myself is not locked behind a monthly fee. I paid for the game. I should have a complete game to play. Everyone should, if they pay for one.

This is ultimately the result of the prevailing “games as a service” philosophy. Get the game, and the developers keep working on it to improve it over time. Except now, it’s become an excuse to release buggy and unfinished games to be improved as the “service” continues for another five years. Examples of failures include “Evolve” and “Anthem,” the former an example of bad support and the latter an example of a dumpster fire. That’s not to say that there haven’t been some successes, with “No Man’s Sky” and “Destiny 2” becoming actually fun games, despite failing spectacularly in critical and public opinion on launch day.

Despite its shortcomings, “games as a service” is still generally implemented in a more consumer-friendly manner than in Fallout 1st. Downloadable content is also released for most triple-A titles as additions funded by their purchase. For example, “Destiny 2” has multiple DLCs adding on more campaigns and missions, but the base game is still playable and feature-complete. You don’t have to pay $12 a month to be in a party with your friends or have more room for your guns.

Ultimately, the problem isn’t with subscription services in general. It’s the terrible value proposition that is Fallout 1st. “World of Warcraft” is a subscription service that acts like an arcade machine: pay to play the full game with all its features. “Guild Wars 2” is a free MMORPG that compares very favorably to WOW. Fallout 1st’s value proposition is small conveniences for the same price of playing a better game. The features in Fallout 1st should have been quality of life improvements, a step in the right direction to making “Fallout 76” not garbage. Instead, it’s a testament to Bethesda’s greed.

If you’d like to play “Fallout 76,” I’d recommend instead installing “The Outer Worlds,” “Fallout New Vegas,” “No Man’s Sky,” or literally anything else. If you are still playing “Fallout 76” and want it to be at least decent, continue bothering Bethesda. While it’s not clear if Bethesda director Todd Howard and the team have functional ears, they seem to be continuing to support the game, and are clearly responsive to some degree. But most of all, do not support this business model. Don’t buy this game, don’t buy the “premium membership,” and don’t buy other games that attempt to implement “games as a service” in such a greedy manner. The only reason why Fallout 1st exists is because Bethesda thought they could profit from it, and players should ensure they don’t.