The site took accounts from almost a dozen former Bethesda and ZeniMax Media staffers, who describe Fallout 76’s development as one laden with 60-hour crunch weeks, poor pay, obligatory overtime, exhaustion, excessive surveillance from “chronic snitches,” physical impairments from overwork, contractor abuse, poor planning, and gaslighting from bosses, with the brunt of pain falling on QA testers, who were bribed with “free” pizza to sacrifice their weekends lest they lose their job at the biggest games employer in the area. Once the game launched at the end of 2018, QA dealt with death threats from gamers, and after the launch, there was an “exodus of senior developers” from a company that was theretofore a top games company for employee retention.
Kotaku’s piece can’t help but touch on the mess that was the game at its launch; we’re sure you’ll remember it too. It was awash in bugs, exploits, marketing fails, and frankly idiotic design decisions. Apparently, that wasn’t just a player opinion; developers also thought it was incoherent, insufficiently tested, built in the wrong engine from the start, and subject to Todd Howard’s “seagulling” – that is, he’d allegedly “fly in” and “shit all over an idea.” And it shipped like that. “In general, every major bug in 76 [that appeared at launch] was known by QA,” one source said.
MMO gamers will definitely want to read the sections on how the multiplayer was botched by devs who “resented being assigned to make a live-service game.” One source said that Bethsoft bosses “treated Elder Scrolls Online like it was this complete fluke” and had “no respect at all for the hard work and dedication that it took to make an MMO that is still running and is still popular.”
“Bethesda Austin, which was tasked with helping to bring Fallout 76 to life, was well-known as a multiplayer studio, and ZeniMax Online is the sister studio that released the highly successful Elder Scrolls Online. However, two sources told Kotaku they did not believe that the two studios’ online multiplayer expertise was utilized to its fullest potential until after Fallout 76 launched. Employees with multiplayer experience said they pointed out major problems during production, but they would not be satisfactorily addressed until after the scathing reviews at launch. […] A similar phenomenon occurred around The Elder Scrolls Online. The MMO’s launch had been rocky, but the developers managed to significantly stabilize the game by the time Fallout 76 began production. However, the multiplayer studio’s successes were not internally given as much merit or considered aspirational.”
The craziest part is that one tester said it used to be worse, and the buyout by Microsoft apparently changed little, as Microsoft has been “hands-off” and “allowed dysfunction to fester” inside Bethsoft. With a fresh light now shining on that dysfunction, maybe that will change.