I know for a fact that one of my readers in particular is rolling her eyes at me, because not only does she have to listen to my brother ramble angrily about the video games industry, now she also has to read me waxing poetic about it, too.
Sorry, Mama-Sama. I love you, and I am sorry.
Here’s the thing, though. One video game company in particular should be sued. Immediately. They have screwed over enough of their customers, in enough ways, that a massive class-action lawsuit could be easily filed against them, and won handily. The evidence is overwhelming: from possible theft, to flagrant false advertising, to compromising customer’s personal information.
I’m talking, of course, about Bethesda, and its apathetic CEO, Todd Howard. And I find the fact that they aren’t bankrupt yet, in a word, fascinating. Why them, specifically? Well, let’s go to court and find out.
When their games are full of bugs, or just lack-luster and unpolished in general, who tends to fix it? The players, who have paid for an already glitchy product, who take it upon themselves to use their own impressive know-how to improve their own experience. Shouldn’t these players be compensated in some way for this? Obviously. Have they been? No. Of course they haven’t.
(Mama-Sama, let me clarify: the company releases a half-finished product that doesn’t work half the time, and counts on the customers making patches and fixes out of sheer frustration to make it more useable. The company then figures, since the customers aren’t actual employees, they don’t have to be paid for their contributions, even if the modifications are copy written and being sold on the company’s online store.)
There’s a word for when this happens: theft. Bethesda isn’t only robbing its customers outright by charging them for an unfinished, defective product; by charging money for modifications and not sharing the profits with the creators, they rob those customers twice.
The infamous Nylon Bag Scandal of ’18. Sorry again, Ma, story time. As part of a collector’s edition for their game Fallout 76, a… certain item was advertised. Here is a quick side-by-side comparison of what was advertised, and what customers actually received:
And here’s the CEO of the company’s alleged explanation and apology to an understandably disappointed customer:
Here’s a firsthand account of how the situation was handled, from a well-known games publication. Coincidentally, it leads us nicely over to…
Bethesda’s next response was to offer to replace the item — not to refund, to replace — and still issue no apology to its customers. Not only was the complaint form evidently difficult to use (read this full thread), customer information was suddenly being leaked through its own help desk. Complete with full names, addresses, emails, and partial credit card numbers.
I mean… There isn’t even anything witty to say about that, not silly picture to illustrate with. It’s just plain negligent, and I can’t wrap my head around the carelessness of it all.
So, to sum up: Bethesda subtly tricks is customers into finishing its products for them, for no pay; they falsely advertised a premium product and gave no forewarning that it was being changed to a much cheaper substitute; and in the process of trying to correct the issue, they allowed a breach of those customers’ personal information.
Boo on them, then. It’s just video games. What’s your point, Emily?
Let’s use fidget spinners as a counter example, here. Parents take those about as seriously as video games, amiright?
Let’s say FlunkyFluke brand fidget spinners sold a batch that was shoddily made and fell apart easily, causing a choking hazard for some of the very people they were meant for. As a parent of a small child, you would want FlunkyFluke to, say, issue a recall and have the product fixed. If they sat back and did nothing about it, you would want something done about them.
If you took the time out of your day to find a way to make your kid’s badly made fidget spinner not fall apart anymore, you might feel pretty good about yourself. Not a big deal, maybe you just had the right know-how, and it was a simple fix for you. Maybe you take to a parenting forum and share your quick fix. Now all the parents are using your “modification”, and FlunkyFluke has basically heaved an audible sigh of relief and said, “Thank GOD the problem is fixed!” It publicly pats itself on the head for that product not being as broken as it was before. And you are justifiably angier.
Later that year, FlunkyFluke advertises a limited edition fidget spinner as the must-have gift of the Christmas season. Your older kid saves up allowance money and manages to get one before the supply runs out, and is sooooo excited! The thing is shown online to be solid steel and copper, and it has hot rod flames and LED lights. It looks pretty sweet.
The thing that arrives in the mail is cheap plastic with paint already flaking off, and the wiring for the lights has already been busted in transit. Your kid wants the money back. You want your kids money back. You send in a complaint… Only to see your name and home address, along with that of others, plastered all over FlunkyFluke’s poorly designed customer support page where anyone from pedophiles to Russian spies could see it.
Do you hear that? It’s the sound of my mother rolling her eyes, because all of that is ridiculous. No one would allow this circus to go so far. Most would have shrugged off my fictitious fidget spinner company when their crap product broke. Most would have thrown that piece of trash into the trash before their kid could choke on the wreckage, and never bought from that brand again. Not even worth filing a complaint about, really, because anything that cheap and broken quickly builds a reputation that runs way ahead of it. People see it coming, know not to buy it, and let the company die, impaled on its own terrible standards.
It happens with poorly built companies all the time, which is one of the glories of capitalism. The ability of the people to choose with their dollars what serves us, and what should fade into obscurity. The best sell enough to afford to expand, to grown and change with the times, and stay relevant for ages. The worst stumble, fall, and get left behind pretty quickly.
So, wait… What’s up with Bethesda…?
Its customers have plenty of cause to file a class-action lawsuit right now. If their mods are being bought and sold by the company, they can sue for theft, and possibly plagiarism if they have the right documentation. The issue with the nylon bags dings every requirement for a false advertising suit; these suckers can hit companies hard, too, even if their products didn’t cause bodily harm. Much of the same can be said for the customer data breach, and increasingly common issue which can also cost companies millions in damages.
As of this past November, a possible lawsuit against the company was being hinted at; but this was when Fallout 76 had only just been released as the unfinished, glitchy mess it remains to this day, and the company was refusing to issue refunds to angry customers. The false advertising and data breach wouldn’t happen until December. As of January 28, the law offices of Migliaccio and Rathod LLP had determined that Bethesda had used arbitration clauses in their fine print to prevent consumers from filing a class-action suit against them; but the lawyers had also found that these clauses did not apply to residents of California, and enthusiastically announced to attempt to seek justice for those customers, at least.
How does the story end, then? Were the lawyers successful in their lawsuit? Did the gamers of the great state of California get their day in court? Were they able to sue Bethesda down to their shorts for so much negligence? Was a meaningful dialogue finally opened concerning the corruption and laziness running the most lucrative sector of America’s entertainment industry?
I can’t answer those questions. As of January 28, 2019, there is absolutely no new information on it that I can access. I can tell you that Todd Howard has been made into the Disney villain you didn’t know you wanted so very badly.
Why is this happening to us???
My personal guess is that it goes back to what I discussed a while back: the age of the internet gives us all a soapbox to scream, shout, and let it all out from, but we lose ourselves in the noise we’re making and forget to actually do something about the problem. In fact, by the time we’ve finished taking to Twitter, Facebook, Reddit, or wherever, gotten in a forum war with online strangers, and feel like we’ve given our two cents, we’ve calmed down considerably. We feel like we’ve been heard, like we have done something, like we’ve made progress.
When, really, no one of consequence has heard your noise over everyone else’s noise. No one made the right noise to the right people. They all just stood around on their soapboxes and yelled their frustrations at each other.
Many of these customers are Americans, and they didn’t chase after the justice they deserve. It seemed like they were, but all they got was angry. And the company that did them so much wrong not only got off the hook, as far as the public can see, but continues to skate by on the same old tactics.
Bethesda’s customers are still dissatisfied. But they continue to buy the games, mod the games on their own time and dollar, and console themselves by grumbling about it on every forum under the sun. They’ve been tricked into thinking that’s the limit to what they can do about it. And the monster continues to run around unchecked, stealing from people, like a spoiled toddler going through people’s purses.
To which end, why shouldn’t Todd Howard hide his apathy and negligence anymore? His attitude clearly isn’t a secret, and consumers have made it abundantly clear that they don’t care quite enough to take him to task. The gloves are off. If we, the consumers, won’t vote with our dollars or our voices, why should any CEO step up their game?
Short answer, they still should. But they won’t.