We are in an age where video games are here to stay and are ever-evolving. One may think that video games aren’t as important as telecommunications, computer engineering, or any of the modern day conveniences people need to live an optimal life, however, we neglect to think about how much video games influence, shape, and impact our society (Sacirbey, 2016).
Game developers are responsible for the design, creation, and development of video games and over the last 35 years game developers and consumers, for the most part, have had a symbiotic relationship; working off of one another to improve each and every aspect of gameplay. A great game can deliver on all expectations that game developers create and outline for players (consumers), then developers can bring these expectations full circle with excellent implementation of features into the gameplay (Bethke, 2003). Keeping in mind that, in these technological environments, nothing is untouched by the work of a developer — players are constantly roaming and scouting games for new and interesting features.
Games allow for consumers to immerse themselves into hundreds of hours of a storyline, or multiple storylines, and although graphics, features, and technology have improved over the years, the relationships between companies and consumers as well as the implementation of these features have declined in value for some companies. A common denominator in declining value can often be summed up to Feature Creep; most common in gaming and technological companies, is one of the most serious problems for products. “Feature Creep makes products visually cluttered, causes them to respond more slowly, and requires more resources such as memory. All of this ultimately leads to poor task performance, increased workload, user dissatisfaction, getting lost while interacting with products, and eventual sales loss (Lee, et. al., 2006)”.
One example of this failure in the gaming industry can be seen in “Fallout 76” a game developed by Bethesda Softworks. “Fallout 76” is a unique failure because Bethesda’s “Fallout” (the first game in the series) was widely respected as one of the best role playing video games. Therefore, when the highly anticipated “Fallout 76” was released in November of 2018, and players struggled with limited gameplay and game-breaking glitches it lead to an uprising from consumers. Leading to not only demanding refund requests that weren’t answered but also defaming the Bethesda name (Webb, 2018).
I will explore the disastrous release of “Fallout 76” and its relation to Feature Creep. Discussing the concept of Feature Creep through a corporate lens, displaying direct correlations to organizational human factor failure. I argue that “Fallout 76’s” demise was the organizational human factors of the company’s internal expectations, feature creep, as well as relationship and interactions with its consumers.
Context: What is “Fallout 76”?
“Fallout” is a video game franchise that is a (an action) role-playing game situated in a post-apocalyptic world set during the 22nd and 23rd centuries. The series was originally created by Interplay Entertainment in the 1990’s and further developed by Bethesda Softworks from the early 2000’s onward. Over the past ten years, the “Fallout” franchise had three more notable games in the series; “Fallout: New Vegas” in 2010, “Fallout 4” in 2015, and “Fallout 76” in 2018. These three games will be discussed further, considering that they illustrate Bethesda at its height and fall in the gaming industry.
“Fallout: New Vegas” is a direct sequel to previous games in the series. Although simplistic in dialogue, graphics, and animations, it was a fantastic role-playing game. In the gameplay there are four final choices to make leading players down four very different paths, or players have the option to a completely self-interested play (Marshall, 2019).
“Fallout 4” transformed its dialogue from simplistic in “New Vegas” to oversimplified. Additionally, the game’s primary storyline is not overtly interesting. However, this is also Bethesda’s “Fallout” at its peak (Geis, 2015). Even though the storyline can be seen as tad boring, there are unique story ideas and aspects that were introduced. There’s a copious amount of things to do in “Fallout 4” allowing players to not only be overwhelmed but also satisfied. “Settlement building! Exploring! Romances! Everything lacks the elegance of New Vegas, but the game makes up for it with size and scope.” (Marshall, 2019).
Many would believe that Bethesda could only go up from here. However, that was not the case. “Fallout 76” is the first live service video game of the Fallout universe. Although the graphics are stunning, the game launched with many issues. Some of the principal issues included, no non-player-characters (NPCs) in the game beyond robots as well as one super mutant, meaning that every person you met in the game was another player, effectively launching a game devoid of any substance. The game was bug ridden, with over 200 bugs identified in its first launch, with one player being permanently unable to die, along with this Bethesda’s support site also leaked full customer information (Nielsen, 2018; SirSaltie, 2018). Additionally, in the first few months of release patches weren’t making the game better, they were destabilizing the already shaky base and introducing new bugs in the process (Nielsen, 2018). In other words, the “Fallout 76” launch was a disaster.
Through my personal experience and research, I have come to understand that one of the primary jobs of game developers is to design a space that is interactive and malleable for those using it. With this understanding, I see “Fallout 76” as an inherent failure in the gaming community, considering this game was created from an established organization that is encompassed in a massive 20 year franchise. This is a clear signal that the online environment and service is not meeting users’ wants or needs.
Although many game developers release games with bugs or minor issues in their first launch, Bethesda did more than that. The organization became their own demise through attempting to develop a game with a scope too large and a team too small on a tight timeline, alluding to feature creep. Additionally, ignoring the needs and feedback of the community (Gerken, 2018; Tassi, 2018). When the completed game does not suit the user’s needs, there will be a backlash, and that is what happened. As feature creep ran rampant through the corporation’s culture, it led to not only a fall in sales of the game, but also caused mistrust in its consumers and game communities.
Human Factors and Organizational Factor
To avoid failure in game development, it is important to look at human factors that may affect the organizational structure, creators, and players. As defined by the National Academies Press, NAP (2011) the role of human factors is concerned with “applying what is known about human behavior, abilities, limitations, and other characteristics to the design of systems, tasks/activities, environments, and equipment/ technologies. It is also concerned with the design of training programs and instructional materials that support the performance of tasks or the use of technology/equipment” (pg. 61). The NAP elaborates further, stating that the focus should be on how people interact with tasks, with equipment, technologies, and with their environment. Additionally, the overall goals of human factors are to optimize human and system efficiency, effectiveness and environments, safety, comfort, as well as their quality of life (National Academies Press, 2011).
Vicente (2004) discusses five levels of human factors to consider: physical, psychological, team, organizational, and political (p. 53). Arguments can be made that Bethesda and “Fallout 76” can be categorized as a failure in human factors at nearly all levels, I will focus on the organizational factor, fourth level. The organizational human factor addresses “Vision and leadership, incentives and disincentives, and the way information flows are among the factors that have an impact on organizational behaviour and provide a fourth level for establishing affinity with people” (Vicente, 2004, p. 57).
Human-Tech Ladder explains that the organizational human factor is key to understanding corporate structure and culture, as well as business to customer relations, and that the products or services that account for the organizational conditions of its users build a strong leader in the corporate realm in which consumers and employees are content, while the business grows.
Corporate culture and relationships with consumers are critical components of the organizational human factor as it relates to the topic of feature creep within the parameters of “Fallout 76”. Lim (2019) defines corporate culture as “the beliefs and behaviors that determine how a company’s employees and management interact and handle outside business transactions,”more often than not, corporate culture is implied, not expressly defined, and is developed organically over time from the cumulative traits of the people the company hires. Corporate culture will be reflected in its business hours, dress code, office layout, treatment of clients, consumer satisfaction, benefits, employee turnover as well as every other aspect of operations (Lim, 2019). An organizational relationship is a one-to-one relationship between businesses, employees, and/or consumers. This is a factor that is directly affected by corporate cultures that may be shaped by the core of a company’s ideology, behaviours, and practice. Both corporate culture and relationships occur at the organizational level as they explain the business processes and methods a person undergoes in order to navigate the gaming industry.
In these definitions, corporate culture and relationships are tied to how a company decides on the scope of projects and interrelations through their understanding of it. On an organizational level, a person’s culture will frame the way they understand and interact in society, and it can play an important role in the ability to process knowledge and information content and structure. Corporate culture and relationships are not static. They are products of organizational factors, and are continuously adapting and interacting with an ever-changing society.
Failures of “Fallout 76”
“Fallout 76” and Bethesda are a clear example of a human factor failure in the gaming community. However, Bethesda had a perfectly suitable template for successful games and a base of happy consumers, where did they go wrong?
A large part of this failure is due to feature creep. Constantly adding, emphasizing, and manipulating features is a quick way to differentiate a product and increase market sales (Lee, 2015). However, in game development “the inclusion of a large number of features through feature creep is not always beneficial for everyone. Related to the negative aspects of feature creep, many researchers have indicated that a high number of features tends to increase product complexity, which can decrease usability (Nielsen, 1993) and negatively affect user experience” (Lee, 2015). Why does this happen?
The reason that feature creep happens is that while a game is in the ideation and production process it is often difficult to imagine how the final game will feel, look, and play like. Therefore, out of anxiety or a lack of confidence, leaders and developers start to suggest more and more features to add on the game (Bethke, 2003). However, in Bethesda’s case, there was a limited budget and strict timeline. Although the scope of the project continued to increase, the restrictions continued to tighten. This is where Feature Walking comes into play. Feature walking is where a single instance (panic before the release of Fallout 76) of feature creep sprawls into a new series of feature requests and bugs to be fixed (Bethke, 2003). Instead of creating a new, good multiplayer shooting game, it resulted in a glitchy game, with over 200 bugs and no storyline. The build up to the release of “Fallout 76” was massive, people were ecstatic over the statement released stating;
“We all know the scale of our games, and the systems we let you use, that unforeseen bugs and issues always come up. Given what we’re doing with 76, we know we’re opening everyone up to all new spectacular issues none of us have ever encountered. Some we’re aware of such as areas where performance needs to improve with lots of players. Others, we surely don’t. We need your help finding them, and advice on what’s important to fix. We’ll address all of it, now and after the launch.” (Bethesda, 2018)
There are a number of flaws with this statement. Bethesda recognized that there were issues, however, failed to recognize when the issues were too much and the game release should have been delayed to fix these problems. Additionally, Bethesda mentions that “We’ll address all of it, now and after the launch.” (2018) although they failed to do this for their consumers time and time again. Disregarding their consumers questions and commentary, even though they stated they would listen and assist. This act deteriorated the trust and relationship that Bethesda built with its consumers.
In addition to Fallout 76’s issues in programming, a direct result of feature creep was the creation and implementation of bundles for the game. Players who ordered the $200.00 (USD) “Fallout 76 Power Armor Edition” reported that the gift bundle was not shipped as originally advertised. The special-edition package was supposed to contain a “West-Tek” canvas bag as well as various trinkets and supplies from the game. However, Bethesda substituted the “West-Tek” canvas bag for a cheaper nylon bag. Customers who complained received the same response, they were told that the company decided to change the bag because of a lack of supplies, and Bethesda had no further plans to address the issue or compensate people for the sudden change (Webb, 2018). This was one case of multiple various bundle packages that were manipulated and changed without notifying customers.
The organization failed to stay within their scope and further collapsed with their communications to the public. While game developers aren’t solely to blame for this, “Publishers hold a great majority of power in the developer-game. Publisher relationships due to being the source of capital as well as access to the market” allows for an unseen and unspoken type of power (Bethke, 2003). This often makes it difficult for developers to work freely from publishers and their feature suggestions. Game developers and publishers need to understand why on an organizational level, consumers are willing to revolt, steal, and sue in order to receive their expected result.
“Fallout 76” was a new kind of disaster in the gaming community.
Bethesda’s demise was their ignorance of the organization’s internal expectations as well as their failed interactions with its consumers. The organization’s human factor added to the demise, as it stems from the organizations decisions residing in feature creep, thus, enabling and creating a destructive culture leading to the games failure. If these factors — corporate culture, relationship building, and the organizational human factor were understood as a tool and were applied to better understand human limitations game developers could incorporate the potential feedback provided by “Fallout 76” into their future designs. Additionally, supervisors, publishers, could incorporate the leadership structure and allow game developers to lead projects. By applying this to the process, organizations such as Bethesda could harness the underlying organizational factors that lead to better games and business to customer relationships as a whole.
“Fallout 76” was not just a failure of the gaming industry, but can also be seen as a tool to assist in the learning process of creating better games.
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