Fallout 76: Bethesda Under Investigative Lawsuit for “Deceptive Trade Practices”

Fallout 76: Bethesda Under Investigative Lawsuit for “Deceptive Trade Practices”

Bethesda Game Studios, the video game creators behind franchises such as Fallout and The Elder Scrolls, are currently under investigation after a lawsuit accusing the company of “deceptive trade practices” for denying customers the right to refund their latest title that’s currently an “unplayable experience.” 

“Fallout 76,” one of the year’s most anticipated triple-A installments, has faced ruthless public backlash after players endured a wide array of server crashes, annoying and game-breaking bugs, cheats, hacking and privacy leaks as a result of their unencrypted software, disorganized lore, falsely advertised graphics and special effects downgrades and key multiplayer features which were misrepresented in the entire marketing campaign. Reviews from Bethesda fans such as Angry Joe have showcased these faults in detail:

In an attempt to fix these persisting issues, Bethesda released a 56GB patch upon launch— which is larger than the game’s entire download — though the servers remain in an unstable state after less than two weeks on the market. Suffice to say, millions of players rightfully feel exploited and are demanding their right to return their broken product. Earlier this week, the company was eagerly receptive to granting dissatisfied players their money-back guarantee. 

“Thank you for contacting the Bethesda Customer Support Team,” reads the message users received. “Unfortunately, we do not have the ability to begin processing that refund for you right at this moment. There is nothing to worry about though. We’ll begin processing the refund as soon as we can and we’ll reach back out to you via email to let you know once we’ve started that process. Thank you for your continued interest and support! Warm Regards!”

Within a day, the return was approved. 

“I was able to get a refund for my copy of Fallout 76, this is after 24 hours total playtime,” wrote Fernando, the refundee in question. “All I said was I wasn’t happy with the bugs and poor performance, and they approved it pretty quickly. Just letting people know.” Though his statement doesn’t elaborate on the specifics of the approval process, the increasingly similar posts across Reddit must have forced the hand of Bethesda to reverse their decision. 

“Customers who have downloaded the game are not eligible for a refund,” the anonymous service representative wrote to another customer, citing the company’s newly updated policies. “We apologize for the inconvenience. If there is anything else we can assist you with please reply to this email for further assistance. Thank you for your patience.” It should go without say these particular users were unimpressed by the sudden double standards. 

Now the lawyers are circling.

“Migliaccio & Rathod LLP is currently investigating Bethesda Game Studios for releasing a heavily-glitched game, Fallout 76, and refusing to issue refunds for PC purchasers of the game who found it to be unplayable because of its technical problems,” said M&G’s Bruno Ortega-Toledo in a statement. “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.”

“Almost every state has a statute (law) that broadly prohibits ‘unfair and deceptive trade practices.’ The wording is deliberately broad to make sure that all forms of such conduct can be policed — both by the government and by individuals who fall victim to such practices. Some typical forms of unfair and deceptive trade practices include the omission of a material fact in connection with a sale such as failing to disclose that a product suffers from a debilitating defect or promising something (like a refund) and not delivering on that promise. Those examples should probably resonate with Fallout 76 users.”

For customers who felt exploited by Bethesda’s trade practices, the D.C. law firm is requesting users fill out these legal forms to add their name among those damaged within the pending civil lawsuit, claiming to have “years of experience in class action litigation against large corporations, including in cases involving unfair and deceptive trade practices.” The plaintiffs’ argument also hinges on how Bethesda are selling customers digital versions of the game when users were led to believe they were buying physical copies. While this sounds like an impossible mix-up to orchestrate, the company’s methods, which appear intentionally deceptive, were literally simple genius. 

PC and console players who ordered physical disk copies of the game, which are eligible for refunds depending on your store of purchase, were never given physical copies at all. Sure, users were given their disk case, a booklet, a box, maybe some extra collectables, all the standards of physical copies… except the disk itself. Instead, these users were greeted with a cardboard disk with a downloadable code on the surface (as shown below), which technically makes every single version of the Fallout 76 title “downloaded,” thus making it “ineligible” for refunds according to the company policies.

Fallout 76 cardboard disk

(Image courtesy of AllGamers.com.)

The words “clever girl” spring to mind. 

As aforementioned Reddit posts and Fallout forums revealing the scandals have gained several thousands of upvotes and comments, Bethesda remained silent until their statement yesterday. “We’re sorry and understand this was not the right approach,” the company’s representative apologized, “and we’ll work to make a better bridge between you and the dev team at BGS. We didn’t want you to think the silence meant nothing was happening.” 

“In addition,” they continue, “we’re aiming to get you the patch notes for these updates quicker and will have them available for December 4th’s update later this week. We’d like to make these articles weekly to make sure you know what the studio is working on as it relates to issues you may be experiencing, quality of life requests you have, or new features they’re excited to share. Please don’t stop letting us know how we can improve our communication and what else needs to be addressed in the game.”

For some customers, improvements are too little, too late when the core product is broken. They want out and they want their money back. The law firm’s goal is to ensure these refund rights, entitled to physical copy purchasers, is maintained despite their receiving of digital copies, whether these double standards of refunds have validity and could lead to the reveal of documents showing refund exchanges were inconsistent. 

“Assuming what they say is true,” said M&R attorney Jason Rathod, “that is classic consumer fraud. We are stunned by the overwhelming response that our Fallout 76 investigation has received, and intend to move forward with a class action lawsuit to hold Bethesda Games accountable.”