Well, Fallout 76 has not had an easy release. First impressions of Bethesda’s newest title were a mixed bag, and things only got progressively worse for the developer/publisher after Fallout 76 launched. Now, it would seem that a mildly known law firm is looking to step up for the little guy. That’s right, Bethesda is supposedly in the early stages of being investigated for “deceptive trade practices” and the target of a potential class-action lawsuit.
For some backstory, since Fallout 76‘s launch, it has seen an 80% drop in retail sales and already received a 33% price cut, bringing its price down to $40. While most games eventually see changes in sales and price cuts, most titles make it more than 2 weeks before these things hit, and when they do they’re not nearly as drastic.
Upon release, fans were treated to a wasteland of a game. A lack of NPCs, stale campaign, the sheer monotony of fetch quests that felt more like chores than anything enjoyable, and a clearly aging engine have been just a few reported grievances. On top of that, Fallout 76 is absolutely riddled with bugs and glitches. All of this quickly made Bethesda’s latest title the worst reviewed/selling title in 12 years. From this came the next stage of consumer backlash, a demand for refunds.
At first, Bethesda’s customer support was quick to accept fan’s pleas for their money back, with a majority receiving refunds promptly, and without question. However, when word spread that it was possible to get a refund, the overwhelming response made Bethesda change their tune, as you can see from this one concerned customer. Reddit user ZPKane posted his interaction with Bethesda’s support team, and needless to say, the post has received a lot of acknowledgment.
It would appear that for those who downloaded the title are shit out of luck. Unfortunately, according to their site “those who downloaded the game are not eligible” for refunds. Their support page reads, “Please note that once a game has been released, and its game code has been delivered, you will not be able to receive a refund for your order (except as required by applicable law).”
All of this has led many to assume that this is why Bethesda avoided releasing Fallout 76 on Steam, where they would be subject to Valve’s much more lenient return policies. Instead, the downloadable version was made available on their own digital store, and well, here we are. For comparison’s sake, Valve’s return policy is as follows.
As you can see, they’re two completely different outlooks on how refunds work.
The culmination of refused refunds have led Washington D.C. based law firm, Migliaccio & Rathod LLP to take notice of the situation. They claim that they will be investigating Bethesda for “deceptive trade practices”, and urge anyone who has received a refund refusal to contact them as soon as possible. Their statement reads:
“While minor bugs and glitches are expected with the release of most new games, Fallout 76 launched with a 56GB patch that has proven to be but a starting point for the game’s problems. Gamers who have tried to receive a refund because of the game’s myriad glitches have been unable to do so since they downloaded the game, leaving them to deal with an unplayable experience until patches bring it back to a playable state.”
While all of this seems positive, Eurogamer pointed out that this potential investigation can quite easily go nowhere. As of this writing, there has been no evidence to support that this law firm has even opened an official investigation into Bethesda. On top of that, this post is one of many similar posts the firm has made, with previous bold statements, like the aforementioned one, going nowhere. The ZeniMax Terms of Service agreement also states that American players have a 30-day window to “opt out” of a class action suit, but it must be done by post. After this allotted period, lawsuits can only be filed on a case by case basis.
The hard part is how Migliaccio & Rathod LLP plans to even approach this class action suit. Between Bethesda’s terms of service agreement(s) and the team of lawyers I’m sure they have on hand for cases just like this, it poses quite the uphill battle. A major issue is that the entire “refund” argument comes down to a state level, meaning federal law can’t force a business to issue a refund, and there’s actually no law stating a merchant must do so either.
Under Federal Law, a retailer is only required to issue a refund or accept a return if “the sold goods are defective or if they otherwise break sales contracts.” This could vaguely cover the dilemma with Fallout 76, if one could prove that these bugs and glitches are enough to render the product “defective”. However, I’m not sure if this would be enough to hold up in court.
The firm’s best bet and seemingly only route at this time would be to go after Bethesda under the Federal Trade Commission or FTC. Through this, Federal law does offer some protection for the consumer. Under the FTC, federal consumer protection laws are put in place to “prevent fraudulent, deceptive, or unfair business practices, such as false advertising.” Basically, Migliaccio & Rathod LLP can go after Bethesda for the same thing that happened to No Mans Sky developer, Hello Games.
We all remember the No Mans Sky debacle back in 2016. That launch received similar backlash from fans and saw a similar lawsuit take place. While it is yet to be determined if history will repeat itself for Bethesda, Migliaccio & Rathod LLP has already received an overwhelming number of claims regarding Fallout 76. So many claims in fact that their site crashed. M&R released the following statement, “We are thrilled with the response to our investigation but our site appears to have crashed, potentially related to the traffic generated. You can still read about our investigation and contact us from our Facebook page at www.facebook.com/classlawdc”.
While this could just be an attempt to capitalize on a “seize the moment” opportunity, it would seem as if, for now, that Migliaccio & Rathod LLP is serious about pursuing the suit. Maybe this will push Bethesda to push out consistent patches for Fallout 76 until the game is to a state where it’s enjoyable to play. Maybe Fallout 76 will be the next No Mans Sky and wow us a couple years from now. Or maybe this will just be a great way for a small D.C. firm to make a name for themselves. Only time will tell.