Fallout 76 merchandise
On November 14th 2018, Bethesda Softworks released Fallout 76 to the public. The game itself was a major disaster on all fronts, and recieved mixed to negative reviews from gamers and critics for its outdated visuals, lore contradictions, poor performance, lack of human NPC's, bugs and glitches, and near non-existent story. The game was also a commercial failure, with a SuperData estimate of 1.4 million copies by the end of 2018. The game sits between 49 and 53 on Metacritic (depending on platform) and single-handedly destroyed Bethesda's reputation seemingly overnight. While the game itself was a dumpster fire, the game was also controversial for some of its paid merchandise, some of which were clear-cut cases of false advertising.
This page will focus mainly on the game's Collector's Edition and the Nuka Dark Rum fiasco, but will touch on other merchandise subjected to controversy.
Fallout 76 "Power Armor Edition"
The "Duffel Bag Kerfuffel"
As with most AAA games nowadays, Fallout 76 came with a special collector's edition, known as the "Power Armor Edition". For a whopping $200 asking price, the collection came with the game in a tricentennial steel book case, 24 Fallout themed figurines, a glow-in-the-dark map of West Virginia, a life-sized replica of the T-51b helmet, and some in-game items. The helmet, which was the main attraction, was soon discovered to have a low quality build, being made from cheap plastic, having bad visibility, and featured a functioning but poor voice modulator.
The centre of the collection's controversy however, is the advertised West-Tek Canvas Duffel Bag, which appeared to be a high quality, sturdy looking bag made of (you guessed it, canvas), but buyers were enraged when they learned that the bag they got was made from cheap and flimsy nylon material. The issues with this is that nobody was informed about the change until after they received and opened the package, at which point they were no longer eligible for a refund.Bethesda Gear Support's responses to the backlash made the whole thing worse; claiming that a lack of available materials to make the bags (which is just laughable) prevented them from being made, and even claiming they were too expensive to make, and worst of all, they "[weren't] planning on doing anything about it". As a final middle finger to disgruntled buyers, Bethesda eventually responded with the following statement:
This response was met with pure outrage, due to how cheap it sounded. The offer of only 500 atoms, which only equates to $5.00 of microtransactions is such poor compensation for a falsely marketed $200 collector's edition, isn't enough to buy anything worthwhile in the game's Atomic Shop, including, of all things, a postman outfit that includes a digital version of the duffel bag costing 700 atoms. While the official website now discloses that the promotional image is not indicative of the final product, the damage was already done.
"We understand and respect that there is disappointment with the bag in the Power Armor Edition. We are sorry. Please contact Bethesda Support to provide proof of your CE purchase. They will assist you in granting your account 500 atoms." --The official Fallout Twitter page
Soon after, a reddit user discovered that Bethesda was handing out Fallout 76 branded canvas backpacks to influencers and journalists who attended the Fallout 76 Preview Event in October that year. Naturally, this revelation angered players upon learning that Fallout influencers and journalists (through no fault of their own, mind you) were getting the special treatment from Bethesda with these backpacks (that looked better than the advertised bag, according to some) while players who shelled out $200 for the collector's edition got the short end of the stick with a glorified garbage bag, only to be compensated with $5 of microtransactions, and a statement that could challenge EA's "sense of pride and accomplishment" response.
After threats of a possible class-action lawsuit for false advertising and calls to get the FTC involved, Bethesda eventually caved into the backlash and promised to send out replacement bags to anyone who bought the Power Armor Edition of Fallout 76 within 4-6 months of their purchases. Around May 2019, there were some concerns that Bethesda hasn't given an update about the bags, leading to some buyers to worry that Bethesda would yet again break their promise. Fortunately, some customers have reported receiving their replacement bags in mid-June 2019.
"How could this have been so difficult? They made one (canvas bag) for New Vegas!" --Internet Historian
Bethesda Support Data Breach
As noted above, Bethesda finally caved and planned to send out replacement canvas bags for those who bought the "Power Armor Edition". However, during this time, an update to Bethesda's customer support system suffered a glitch that caused the personal information of 65 people to become visible to others. Such information included real names, emails, home addresses, and credit card details. This data breach allowed people to open and close other peoples' tickets. Though the issue was resolved relatively quickly, it is still a major blunder on Bethesda's part.
Nuka Dark Rum
Aside from the blatant bait and switch, the product was of poor design, since the shell got in the way of pouring a shot of rum cleanly with half the contents being spilled everywhere. The best way to even use the product is to dismantle the shell, and pour straight from the bottle inside, which defeats the point of the rocket-shaped design altogether. For $80, the product underwhelmed many potential buyers, and according to some sources, like Youtube channel Nick Drinks, the rum itself is also of poor quality.
The kicker though is Silver Screen Bottling's response to the criticism, which was derided for its laughably over-dramatic tone, and use of artsy metaphors, and some perceived non-truths. Among those are the claims that designing the shells took 100 hours to "code", and glass would be half the cost of plastic, which itself sounds ridiculous when you think about it. But during the whole thing, Bethesda's key figure-heads like Pete Hinez and Todd Howard remained silent and never spoke out about the situation, and while Bethesda isn't entirely to blame since they had to outsource production of the bottles, they still deserve some blame for it since they signed off on the product's design.
Fallout modders even found a way to mock the Nuka Dark Rum controversy by modding incredibly detailed Nuka Dark Rum bottles into Fallout 4, both the plastic and glass versions; the former even includes fully rendered seam lines. What makes things even more ironic is that, according to the modder, it took him only 10 hours to create the mod, and 8 of those are spent on texturing the bottle.
YongYea even stated that the Nuka Dark Rum bait and switch is worse than the canvas bag, since the former is an entire product that was compromised, and the latter had only one item that was compromised.
Fallout 76 Leather Jacket
After two PR nightmares surrounding Fallout 76's premium merchandise, Bethesda decided to announce a third item: a bright blue leather jacket with gold trim, complete with a Fallout branded garment bag. While this particular item wasn't as controversial as the bag and rum bottle, it was widely mocked for it's rather shabby appearance, cheap looking garment bag, uncomfortable look (it looked ill-fitting on the model hired to show the jacket off) and outrageous $276 price tag. At least Bethesda included actual photographs of the jacket instead of a doctored promotional image, but even then the jacket lay wrinkled like crazy, which wasn't helped by the dilapidated background.
Because of how shabby the leather jacket looked in the photographs, many fans responded to the announcement with some pretty funny images of what the jacket really looks like (obviously a joke referring to the Canvas Bag debacle), and other amusing images of tarp and plastic bags representing the actual material, including one poster wearing a mock jacket that was made from IKEA bags (and a good one, too). After three marketing blunders, the reaction was more amusement than outrage.
T-51b Mold Edition Helmets
In September 2019, the United States Consumer Product Safety Commission announced the recall of 20,000 units of the T-51b Power Armor Collectible Helmet that was sold online by GameStop for about $150. The recall was issued due to a high risk of exposure to mold, which, according to the Commission, posed "a risk of respiratory or other infections in individuals with compromised immune systems, damaged lungs or an allergy to mold." GameStop claims only 32 of the recalled helmets were sold and shipped, and that all the affected individuals were contacted about the recall.