Random Thoughts – Randocity!

Did Toys “R” Us have to fail?

Posted in bankruptcy, botch, business, ethics, fail by commorancy on September 9, 2019

If you’ve read various articles including this Bloomberg article, you might come away thinking that all of what happened to Toys “R” Us began a decade ago (i.e., the early 00s). In fact, you would be so wrong… and so would Bloomberg. Let’s explore.

The 80s

Around 1981 or 1982, I worked at Toys “R” Us. Even at that time, Toys “R” Us ran a questionable business model. A business model that, I might add, even store managers recognized and thought was unsustainable. In fact, after having discussions with store managers at my store, I got an earful about how they thought that the chain would likely fail within a decade if they kept on using that business model. This was the early 80s.

What business model?

Toys “R” Us sowed the seeds of its own destruction at least beginning in the 80s, perhaps as early as the 70s. What questionable business model is this? The model chosen was to operate the stores in the red (otherwise known as losing money) through 80-90% of the year (aka, “90 in the red”). Then, the management hoped to recoup those losses in the final 1-2 months of the year during holiday season sales. It didn’t always work out.

While this model seemed to work to keep most Toys “R” Us stores afloat through the 80s and 90s, it served to keep the company from really turning a solid profit and, ultimately, led to the company’s massive debt load. What that model meant to the stores is fully stocked shelves every day of the year. This was readily apparent walking into any Toys “R” Us store. The stores were not only full, they were positively brimming over with the latest toys. This also meant putting itself into massive debt each year in inventory and then hoping to pay off that debt at the end of the year when most of the stores finally ran “in the black” (read, turning a profit for the year).

Keep in mind that many of the stores didn’t turn a profit, but so long as enough stores did, they could cover for the debt they had been incurred company wide, or at least so that was the idea. Even the store manager at my Toys “R” Us location could see the handwriting on the wall in the early 80s. This store’s business model was not sustainable and I was, even as an standard employee, told this by various managers. These managers didn’t hold back their thoughts.

Bloomberg, Fads and Sustainability

What Bloomberg got right was that even a decade ago, TRU’s debt load had put them underwater. What Bloomberg didn’t address was that this debt began almost 2 decades earlier of overbuying, followed by hoping that a “hit toy” would kick them over the profit line at the end of every year.

“Hit Toys” were Toys “R” Us’s hopeful thing. They needed that Tickle Me Elmo or Nintendo Wii or Lazer Tag or Cabbage Patch Kid fad toy to carry the chain into the new year with profit on the books. Throughout the 80s and 90s, there were a string of these hit toys practically every year. Fad toys which flew off the shelves and brought Toys “R” Us to profitability each year. It was a risky move for Toys “R” Us to bank on a hot fad each year, but there it is.

Unfortunately, relying on this kind of yearly toy fad to sustain a business every year was not only risky, it began to burn Toys “R” Us as these yearly fads began to die off by the late 90s. Even during mid-late 90s, these fads were much less intense than they had been just a few years earlier. By the mid-00s, these fads were practically non-existent. Sure, there were hot toys, but no where near the levels of sales that Tickle Me Elmo or the Cabbage Patch Kid fads offered to Toys “R” Us’s bottom line… particularly when Best Buy, Walmart and Amazon concurrently began diluting the toy profits of TRU.

These fading fads were responsible for killing other toy stores chains as well, such as Kay Bee Toys and even the once high flying, high end FAO Schwarz. These fading fads also left Toys “R” Us holding a huge mound of debt.

Walmart

While Walmart did usurp the title of top toy seller from Toys “R” Us, that’s primarily because Toys “R” Us prices were always on the higher side. Walmart did carry toys, but not all toys. If you wanted something you couldn’t find at Walmart, you went to Toys “R” Us and it was pretty much guaranteed they would carry it (even though it might be out of stock). Walmart didn’t even stock many of these. The toy section in Walmart was always small by comparison. Sure, you could find better deals at Walmart, but only from the toys that they chose to carry.

Walmart was also not very kind to collectors in the 90s. If a collector showed up to buy toys, Walmart would try to do everything to keep that toy item away from the collectors… sometimes even going so far as to banning them from the store simply for buying toys. Does it really matter whose dollars are buying an item? Granted, I wasn’t particularly happy that a collector had gone to Walmart to buy out all of the “good” stock leaving tons of “peg warmers” sitting around that no one wanted. But, that’s how toy collecting worked in the 90s.

The whole collector market kind of died off with the advent of places where collectors could buy case packs, like Entertainment Earth. Instead of having to rummage around Walmart at 3AM (when they stocked new merchandise), you could order a full case of figures, guaranteeing that you’ll get at least one “rare” figure. This meant that the once Walmart and Toys “R” Us shopping locations for collectors became a thing of the past. Collectors took their money online to buy cases and stopped buying at Toys “R” Us. Buying case packs is easier, more convenient and doesn’t require the hassles of dealing with surly underpaid Walmart workers.

Toys “R” Us Kids Grew Up

Kids of the 80s became collectors in the 90s and became families on the 00s. The once popular collector market throughout the 90s fell apart into the 00s because the collector market changed and Toys “R” Us failed to understand this important change. The collector market is (or at least was) also a huge market that kept Toys “R” Us afloat in addition to the end-of-year-fads. However, brands like Hasbro and Mattel didn’t grow with the collector market. Sure, Hasbro tried, but the toys they made were tiny improvements over their (sub)standard toys. Mattel also tried with its collector Barbies, but, again they failed to understand the critical quality needed for what collectors really yearned.

In essence, the toy brands themselves didn’t grow to provide what collectors wanted… which left Toys “R” Us mostly without collector money. However, collector brands did grow up for the collector market outside of Toys “R” Us, including Sideshow and Hot Toys brands. These brands are now considered the premiere collector “toy” brands for adult collectors. These “action figures” are some of the highest end, most expensive, most collectable toys out there, yet these are not sold at Walmart, Target or even Toys “R” Us (before they closed). Though, you can find them on Amazon via third party sellers. This is where Toys “R” Us failed to keep up with the kid-turned-adult collectors. Hot Toys figures cost anywhere between $150-350 per figure; a price point that collectors are more than willing to pay to get that level of craftsmanship. A price point that Toys “R” Us never carried. A quality that not Toys “R” Us nor Walmart nor Target ever carried.

While Toys “R” Us continued to sell these low-end toy products to kids, it failed to grow up and to sell high end collectibles to adults. Ironically, this runs counter to their jingle. The most prestigious type of collectibles that Toys “R” Us sold were the collector Barbies and McFarlane figures, offering price points at  $15-40. A price tag that cannot provide the levels of detail, paint jobs and overall craftsmanship that goes into a Hot Toys or Sideshow figure. Adult collectors want high end figures and Sideshow and Hot Toys fill that niche. Toys “R” Us management never recognized this growing trend.

“I don’t want to grow up, I want to be a Toys “R” Us kid”

This jingle is ultimately the rationale that appears to have led Toys “R” Us management down the wrong path. Instead of singing the praises of not growing up, the toy store should have realized that kids grow into adults; adults who still want to buy collectible toys, but who don’t want the junky, low priced Hasbro and Mattel versions. They want premiere brands like Hot Toys offering highly detailed, highly realistic, meticulously crafted and painted figures… not Hasbro’s now antiquated, poorly painted, robot-style 12 inch figures. You might give these cheap toys to your kids, but you wouldn’t display them in a display case.

This collectible market began with highly detailed military figures, but branched out into licenses with Marvel, DC, Star Wars, Warner Brothers and various other large movie franchise brands. Toys “R” Us failed to latch onto this market and, thus, failed to capture the once Toys “R” Us kid who had grown into an adult and now desires these highly detailed collectible toys. As kids grow into adults, tastes change and people want more sophisticated products. Hot Toys and Sideshow found that niche for sophisticated adult tastes. Yet, Toys “R” Us failed to recognize this niche.

If Toys “R” Us had realized this mistake and had added brands like Hot Toys to its shelves, it might have been able to entice the collector’s market back into its stores and pay down some of its debt. Every discount retailer has, so far, failed to realize the adult collectible toy market. However, this lack of foresight hurt Toys “R” Us the most.

Kid Tastes

Additionally, kids tastes have also changed as a result of brands like Hot Toys and products like the iPad. Kids don’t want want to buy Leap or other “toy” or “fake” tablets when they can ask their parents for the real thing. Kids also want the higher end Hot Toys than the poorly crafted Hasbro Ironman figures. While Toys “R” Us did begin carrying Apple products, the stores really thought of these more as a toy rather than treating them as something useful. Best Buy always treated their Apple section with the best possible displays. Toys “R” Us displayed its Apple tablets right next to random other tablets as though they weren’t anything special. I’m not even sure that I’d have felt comfortable buying an Apple tablet from Toys “R” Us. Not only did they have no one versed in this technology on staff, what they carried could have been 2 or even 3 generations old. Toys “R” Us just didn’t treat these products with the respect that they deserved.

As a result of kids changing tastes and higher levels of sophistication, kids really didn’t want much of what was in that toy store after a certain age. This meant that Toys “R” Us was primarily for kids of a certain age and below (probably 8-9 or younger). Even still, these ages were growing up faster.

Toys “R” Us Closure

Did Toys “R” Us have to close? Yes, it did. Without a management team capable of fully understanding the downsides of running its stores using the “90 in the red” model throughout the year (and failing to accommodate the changing tastes of adult collectors), the stores ultimately succumbed to closure. It was inevitable.

What tipped the scale, though, was 2005’s $6.6 billion leveraged buyout of Toys “R” Us by the KKR, Bain Capital, and Vornado Realty Trust; a purchase that saddled the corporation with at least $5 billion in debt, in addition to its already mounting toy inventory debt each operating year. There was simply no way Toys “R” Us could recover from and pay down that debt considering its interest each month.

In fact, it was this very same leveraged buyout that not only trashed Toys “R” Us, it also lost its original private equity investors at least $1.28 billion. Even these private equity firms were ignorant of Toys “R” Us’s “90 in the red” model. You’d think that between three different private equity firms, one would have had brain among them. I guess not. Toys “R” Us was not worth buying strictly because of that business model… and it was especially true when considering saddling an already debt overburdened company with even more debt. It was an insanely stupid buyout made more stupid because of the lack performing even the most basic of fiduciary responsibility. Those private equity firms got exactly what they deserved out of that deal. Make the wrong deal, get the wrong results.

If I had been sitting in the room when this buyout deal was being considered, I would have put the kibosh on that deal pronto. If managers of stores could recognize how badly Toys “R” Us was operating in the 80s, why couldn’t a bunch of suits at three different private equity firms see this before plopping down $6.6 billion?

Overvaluation

If anything, 2005’s TRU sale is a cautionary tale. There are way too many buyouts that are purchased at way too high a value. I’ve seen it happen time and time again. Companies worth maybe $500 million sell for $3 billion? It’s just insane the money that’s being overspent. Would you walk into Walmart and offer to pay $25 for a $5 tube of toothpaste? I don’t think so. So, why do these investors think it’s okay to spend $6.6 billion on a company worth maybe $1 billion at its best… and it was then likely actually worth much less considering the debt that it already carried. Its insane business model should have further reduced its value.

Could Toys “R” Us have been saved?

Probably not. At least, not with its status quo business model. But, it might have been saved IF Toys “R” Us had adopted a more balanced approach to its store sales and more sane merchandise ordering in combination with letting managers actually handle full store merchandising instead of relying on nice looking, but misguided corporate-standard planograms.

Only stock enough merchandise in a specific store that that store can actually sell. Let managers move stock around on shelves and place the merchandise in their store where it’s most likely to sell. Additionally, don’t send stock to a store where the buying demographic isn’t buying that type of merchandise. If Barbies aren’t popular in a particular store’s demographic region, send limited amounts of Barbies there. It’s a waste of money and effort to stock merchandise that doesn’t sell. One of Toys “R” Us’s biggest foibles was its cookie-cutter store approach. That meant it was sending the same stock to all stores regardless of popularity in that local store’s area. It also meant that it way overspent on toys that would never sell at certain stores. Eventually, they simply had to clearance out those toys. Each store’s inventory should have been customized based on buying habits of local consumers and by the local manager. Only the local store team knows what’s the “hot sellers” in their store.

Clearance merchandise is actually a red flag in the retail business. It means that, as a store, you way overspent on merchandise that you couldn’t sell. If you have excessive clearance merchandise, then your merchandise spends are way off. It also means that your buyer is overbuying stuff that isn’t selling. It means you need to rethink your buyer and it means your new buyer needs to rethink how much to spend on similar types of products.

One of Toys “R” Us’s other foibles was its inability to recognize and stock the “hottest toys” rapidly. If you send 5 of something to a store and it sells out in 10 minutes, you need to stock more of it and you need to do it pronto. Yet, it might take Toys “R” Us 30 or more days to get that merchandise back in stock. That’s 30 days of zero sales… sales that could have been had the next day and the day after that. Missed sales were one of TRU’s biggest problems. Having merchandise in stock that you can sell day after day is a huge win. Yet, if the corporate buyers don’t even know to reorder this thing again, the store is blind. This is why the next part was so important to improving TRU.

Instead, this toy chain should have let the local managers have autonomy via cutting merchandise from their store that isn’t selling and placing rush orders on the hottest toys. By letting the managers, you know, actually manage the store’s inventory properly, the stores could have cut costs and raised profits. The managers could have done this by buying more of popular hot sellers in that area, shuffling cold merchandise to other stores that can sell it and cutting non-sellers from the inventory. In fact, managers should have actually had access to every store’s inventory throughout the chain and when that item last sold there. If a particular item is selling hot in one store, but is completely dead in other stores, the hot item store manager should be able to request stock moved from the cold stores to their store. This way, managers could have directly moved inventory from store to store instead of placing orders for more stock, thus causing more debt. Only after the existing in-store inventory was exhausted should a new order need to be placed. The buyers from the chain should have endorsed this manager autonomy.

Unfortunately, that wasn’t a priority for the very rigid corporate run TRU. I could walk into a store in Texas and find specific toys always out of stock. Then walk into a TRU in St. Louis a week later and find twenty of them sitting on the shelf with dust on the top. If stores had been able to request the hottest toys moved from other stores, the chain could have saved a lot of money on new stock orders.

This change in business model could have drastically improved Toys “R” Us’s profitability throughout the year. It probably would have cut down on orders to toy sellers, but something’s got to give when you’re running a retail store chain. If the toy manufacturers had to suffer a little to let Toys “R” Us recover and be a whole lot more profitable, then so be it.

Unfortunately, TRU’s status quo model endured. Even if the leveraged buyout hadn’t occurred in 2005, Toys “R” Us’s fate was pretty much sealed strictly by is “90 in the red” (cookie cutter) mentality. It was only a matter of time before it succumbed to its own debt burden even if it hadn’t incurred a ton more debt after that poor sale. The 2005 unwise sale simply accelerated Toys “R” Us’s already looming demise.

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The Curious Case of Fallout 76: What went wrong?

Posted in botch, ethics, fail, video game design, video gaming by commorancy on April 16, 2019

NukaColaPA-f[Updated: May 17, 2019 for Battle Royale Mode]

I’ve already written plenty about Fallout 76. So, this one is likely to be my last about this disaster of a video game. In this article, I intend to detail all of what went wrong (and is still going wrong) with this game and why it’s such a critical failure. Let’s explore.

Fallout History

Fallout is a series about a post-apocalyptic landscape that has been ravaged by nuclear war. Because the Vault-Tec corporation (a company within this universe) saw the coming of the nuclear war, they built vaults to house the best and the brightest to bring about a new future after the devastation had cleared. We won’t get into just how Vault-Tec’s foreseeing (and building the vaults prior to the) the nuclear war makes Vault-Tec appear complicit in the nuclear war itself.

Anyway, the vaults became a safe haven for limited residents (who paid dearly to Vault-Tec, I might add) for entry into a vault. Because there were so few vaults and so few spots in a vault itself, many people did not get a coveted spot in a vault even though they had enough money to pay their way into one. There were many who were left out. I digress at this backstory and Vault-Tec’s possible collusion in the war.

Suffice it to say, the vault is the place where pretty much every Fallout game begins including Fallout 3, Fallout 4 and Fallout 76.

Once each of these games opens, you are forced to make your way out of the vault into a hostile, treacherous, dangerous, nuclear fallout-laced landscape (without a weapon, food or protection). You are forced to forage and eat irradiated foods. You must live in disease ridden conditions, at least until you can create your own clean space. You must find or build your own weapons. There’s always something or someone after you. Many creatures have even mutated into giant versions of their former tiny selves.

Once outside, you find that survivors have grouped themselves into factions for safety including such old favorite factions as the Brotherhood of Steel, the Raiders, the Enclave, the Railroad and so on. In Fallout 76, there are seven (7) factions including the Enclave, the Brotherhood of Steel, the Responders, the Raiders, the Free States, the Whitespring, and the Independents.

Unfortunately, because the factions in Fallout 76 consist entirely of stationary Protectron or MODUS robot vendors, there’s no “joining” a faction in this game. Though, you can follow in the footsteps of the former now-dead faction members and gain access to faction facilities by finishing up uncompleted quests for left-behind robot computers.

So, exactly how did Bethesda get Fallout 76 so wrong? Here we go…

Game Design

Video games are about having fun in a fantasy landscape. It’s about taking off your IRL hat and putting on a fantasy world hat to relax, play with friends and generally do things in a game you can’t do in real life. Let’s begin to understand what led to this disaster.

=> Lack of NPCs

Going into a Fallout game, you sort of expect certain things to exist. Certain things that have come to exist in every prior game in the Fallout franchise. You know, those pesky things called non-player characters or NPCs for short.

NPCs have been a staple in every Bethesda RPG up until the release of Fallout 76. Let’s add a bullet point (and this one is a major point), that one of the biggest reasons that Fallout 76 fails is due to the lack of NPCs.

NPCs are one of the primary reasons people go into the purchase of a Bethesda role playing game (RPG). Without NPCs, the game is entirely barren and lifeless. Fallout 76 proves this out. One might even say, the entire game is soulless. Part of what makes a Bethesda RPG interesting to play is that you feel something for the folks who have been put into this untimely and hazardous situation. Without people there to feel for, there’s no emotional tie to the game. Fallout 76 is as soulless of a game as has ever been made. The only other game to have this same problem is No Man’s Sky… except we knew going into the purchase of No Man’s Sky that there would be no NPCs.

With Bethesda’s past track record, we simply had no idea that Fallout 76 wouldn’t have NPCs until we cracked open the shrink wrap.

=> Short and Few Main Quests

One other thing Bethesda is known for is making lengthy games. Games that, if you work through them as intended, might take you 3-4 months to complete. Granted, that may include participating in a few side quests, but even the main quests will take you at least month or better to get through.

With Fallout 76, you can blaze through the main quests (all 22 of them) in less than a month and be stuck at endgame content.

In fact, there are more side quests in Fallout 76 than there are main quests. Even then, the main quests are far too short.

=> Multiplayer vs Solitary Quest Completion

Bethesda had hoped that its idea of having 24 players in one of its “World Servers” would be a great way to get players to interact with one another (and create story). Gamers don’t “create” story, they “consume” it. Todd Howard got this idea entirely wrong. In reality, what that ends up is just the opposite. Few players actually want to co-op with other players and instead you end up with a bunch of loners all running around the world doing their own thing (or griefing one another). After all, each player can only complete their own quests, anyway.

Because each person must complete their quests on their own, having a teammate doesn’t really do you much good. It can help in combat situations where you’re ganged up by lots of creatures, but that’s about it.

The solitary nature of quest completion runs entirely counter to the notion of getting 24 players together on a server as a whole. It just doesn’t work.

As a follow on to this problem, the lack of NPCs makes completing quests boring, repetitive and tedious. Reading computer terminals, listening to holotape recordings and reading notes is not what players want to be doing in an RPG. These are non-interactive media. It’s just lore being told to us by a long dead character. A character that we have no reason to even trust is telling us the truth. We’ve never met them and never interacted with them. We have no idea if what they want us to do is in any way necessary. Are they leading us into a trap or is what they’re directing us to do useful?

The secondary problem is that all of these holotapes and notes and so on are optimally placed so as to be found. It’s as though these dead folks were expecting us to come along and read and listen and do. It’s all too convenient and handy. It’s as though it was all planned out by something or someone in that world. Yet no “world designer” has ever come forth. It only ends up making this lore more trite and contrived.

If this is supposed to be a treacherous, dangerous environment, finding these people and their situations would be much harder than it is. Ultimately, the setups are as convenient as they are boring and repetitive.

=> No Effect on the World

At the end of completing the quest for lore, you find that nothing in the world actually changes. All of the running around. All of the collecting. All of the fetch quests. All of it is for naught. You do get lore around the Scorched, but in the end the world remains unaffected. The Scorched do not disappear. The Scorchbeasts still appear from their fissure sites. Even the Scorchbeast Queen still spawns if someone conveniently launches a nuke over Fissure Prime.

If you’re going to spend hours traipsing through the wasteland, fetching and fighting and doing and consuming, you would think that the world would be a better place in the end. In Fallout 76, the world doesn’t change. It doesn’t become a better place. It doesn’t get built.

The 24 vault dwellers released from Vault 76 were destined to rebuild Appalachia. Instead, these 24 “players” simply become loners who build their own camps, don’t bring about change and don’t in any way make Appalachia a better place. The game worlds remain entirely status quo at the end of the quests. So, what’s the point then?

=> 24 Random Players

As mentioned just above, gathering 24 random video gamers together on a server isn’t going to lead to anything useful. Real video game players don’t (and can’t) make a game. Players can only interact with the environment. The fun must be had by what the designers design, not by interacting with 23 other live players.

This was a total miscalculation by Todd Howard. Any video game designer thinking you can rely on other video gamers to help make your game work, think again. Fallout 76 is the prime example of how this thinking entirely fails you.

As a designer, you must take the time to build fun and interactive activities for each and every person who joins your game world. Again, you can’t rely on other players for this “fun”. Player versus player (PVP) activities only go so far and even then many folks don’t want to participate in PVP. You can’t rely solely on PVP to carry an RPG game.

If you’re trying to carry a game using PVP activities, then you need to design a Brawlhalla, Apex Legends or Fortnite kind of game and skip the RPG portions. Just keep it simple and straightforward for PVP and leave out the RPG elements that simply get in the way of that design. If your game is PVP, then make it PVP. If your game is an RPG, make it an RPG. Don’t try to try to marry an RPG into some PVP thing or you’ll end up with something like Fallout 76 which just doesn’t quite work.

=> Bugs and Code Management

Bethesda has unofficially become known as Bugthesda. After Fallout 76, this moniker is given for good reason. Fallout 76 is exactly the poster child of everything wrong with Bethesda’s ability to code games. For Fallout 76, each update has taken one step forward and made at least two steps back, many times reintroducing old bugs.

There’s a serious problem at Bugthesda with their ability to code this game. I’ve personally witnessed bugs that were squashed two releases ago reintroduced to a later release. In the coding profession, this is called a ‘regression’. Regressions are typically frowned upon heavily. No one wants to see old bugs reintroduced into new versions. If you squash a bug once, it should stay squashed and gone.

Good code management practices should see to that. This means that using industry standard code management practices should prevent regressions. If you check in code to a repository which fixes a bug, that code fix should eventually make its way back into the “main” branch. Once in the “main” branch, that bug should never see the light of day again. This clearly means that Bethesda is likely not using standard code management practices.

For teams not using standard team code management and storage practices, like Git, then it’s easy to grab old code and reintroduce bugs because there’s not a single place to store that code. That’s the worst of all disasters. Not having a standard code management system in place is nearly always the death of a project (and product). Your product can’t sustain heavy regressions and expect people to come back for second helpings. Eventually, people walk away because they know they can’t trust your code to work.

When bugs appear, disappear and reappear over and over, trust in your ability to code a functional product disappears. Trust is the most important thing you have as a software engineer. Once you blow that trust, it’s all over.

=> Limited World Events

With a game so heavily entrenched in a 24 multiplayer world, you would have thought Bethesda would have given us many intriguing world events for multiple players to gather around, combat and defeat. You might think that, but you’d be wrong.

Out of the gate, Bethesda offers exactly one big world event in Fallout 76. That event being the Scorchbeast Queen event.

The problem with this event is that it entirely relies on other players to spend a significant portion of time traversing through a silo site fighting tons of robots and dealing with broken computers to launch a nuke into the world. Even worse, it requires the player to have not only fought their way through a silo site, but they must have also caught and fought a Cargobot to get a missile launch keycard. They also must have gone through the Enclave quest line to become a General in the Enclave, which requires killing at least 10 Scorchbeasts. It’s an involved and grindy quest line just to get to point where you can even launch a nuke.

Instead of these largest world events simply spawning on a timer, you have to wait until a player decides to launch a nuke on their own. Lately, this has been few and far between because with each release, Bethesda makes it more and more difficult to launch a nuke. This ultimately means that the biggest world event in Fallout 76 almost never happens.

That’s not to say there aren’t other world events. There are, but they are no where as big as the Scorchbeast Queen event. Events like “Path to Enlightenment”, “The Messenger” and “Feed the People”. However, these events are small potatoes by comparison. The Scorchbeast Queen event requires multiple people all doing as much damage as possible to bring down the queen in 20 minutes. With “Feed the People”, one person can easily do this quest and, subsequently, the loot drop at the end is piddly and low-level garbage. The queen’s loot drops are nearly always worth the time and are typically high level drops.

If you’re promising an engaging multiplayer world, you need to deliver on that promise. Relying on other players to trigger the biggest world events, now that’s a huge mistake. Instead, the biggest world events should trigger randomly without player involvement. Let the small events be triggered by players. Let the biggest world events be triggered by timer. It’s fine if a player can trigger a big world event, but don’t rely on that method for the largest events to be triggered. If no player triggers the event within a specified period of time, then trigger it on a timer. But, don’t leave the game barren of these large world events simply because players aren’t interested in spending the time to launch a nuke at that exact location.

=> Even more Grindy

One of the the things that Bethesda doesn’t seem to get is grinding. No one wants to spend the majority of their time online fighting the same creatures over and over simply to level up. Worse, when you do level up in Fallout 76, it’s all for naught. The creatures cap out at about level 68. Yet, even if you get to level 180, that level 68 creature can still kick your level 180 butt.

This is is not how level systems are supposed to work. The game arbitrarily caps your SPECIAL stats at level 50. Effectively after level 50, you’re still level 50 even if your level indicator says your level is 142. This means that you can’t even level up past the highest leveled creatures in the game.

At level 142, I should be able to one shot nearly any creature in the game that’s level 68 or below. Unfortunately, creatures have two levels in this game. There’s the level number (i.e., 68) and then there’s the HP bar. The HP bar is actually the creature’s real level. Some creatures might have 200 HP, where a Scorchbeast Queen might have between 3000 and 50000 HP (even though its level is labeled 50 or 63 or 68). Worse, when you approach this creature, you won’t know how much HP it has until you begin firing on it. Even then, it’s only a guess based on how fast its health is dropping.

This means to beat some creatures in the game, you can easily spend hours grinding and grinding and more grinding. Fallout 76 is, in fact, one big ugly grinding mess. With all of the fiddling and nerfing (aka “balancing”) that Bethesda has been recently performing, grinding is getting even worse, forcing you to spend even more time at it. Bethesda is going to nerf themselves out of a game.

=> Collision Detection, Guns and Bullets

The weapons in Fallout 76 are probably some of the worst in a Fallout game I’ve experienced. Worst yes, but not in the way you might be thinking. It’s worst in a way that makes you cringe. The guns regularly miss enemies even when aiming directly at them using a scope. This is strictly bad collision detection. The game simply can’t seem to recognize when a shot has connected with an enemy.

Bad collision detection is ultimately the death of a shooter. If your game is intended to be a shooter, the one thing it better be able to do is shoot and connect. If it can’t even do this most basic thing, the game is lost. Games with guns need to “just work”. Failing to accomplish this most basic thing should have left this game in development. You can’t release a shooter and not actually have the gun mechanisms work.

But, here we are. The game barely even functions as a workable shooter. There are even times where guns fail to fire even when the trigger is pulled and released. Indeed, there are times when button presses aren’t even registered in the game… requiring the gamer to press twice and three times consecutively to get the game to recognize the press… and wasting precious time. If you had the perfect shot, but the game ignored your press, you’ve lost that opportunity and you have to wait for it to come around again.

This is one of, if not THE, most frustrating thing(s) about Fallout 76. When guns don’t work,  your shooter is broken. This means you should focus on fixing the fundamentals in the game before branching out to downloadable content (DLC).

=> DLC too early

Instead of fixing the never ending array of existing bugs from when the game was launched, Bethesda has mistakenly pushed their teams to create new DLC and add-on quests.

While I won’t get into these half-baked, half-designed DLC add-ons, suffice it to say that the developer team’s time would have been better spent fixing the existing fundamental flaws than releasing under-designed unfun DLC.

I ask you, if the game can’t even get the basics down as a shooter, how can it possibly be good with new DLC? The answer is, it can’t. And, this is why Fallout 76 continues to fail.

=> Players Find the Fun

Because Fallout 76’s quests ended up more grindy than fun, many gamers had to resort to finding their fun using alternative means. What ended up happening was that players went looking for (and found) loopholes in the software. When code is poorly written and released untested, it’s going to be chock full of bugs… and that’s Fallout 76 in a nutshell.

Gamers found ways to dupe and sell their duped items. This was one of the primary ways gamers found their own fun. Not in the quests. Not in the combat. Not in the nukes. They found their fun working around the bugs and making, selling and trading loot. Another way was breaking into closed off dungeons like Vault 94, Vault 96 and even the now-legendary “Dev Room”. Players found their fun outside of Bethesda’s design. Fun that couldn’t be had through the mediocre quests, the crappy storytelling system, the horrible combat system and the problematic collision detection.

This whole activity seems to have come to the surprise of Bethesda. It was as if they couldn’t have foreseen this problem. It happened early on in The Elder Scrolls Online, too. Why wouldn’t it happen to a half-baked game like Fallout 76? It did.

=> Half-Baked Patching

Because every Fallout 76 release Bethesda has sent out has only marginally improved tiny parts of the overall game, the game is still very much of the hot mess that it was when it was released at the tail end of November 2018. It’s now the middle of April 2019 when this article is being written and very little has actually changed.

Sure, they added a distillery as a DLC that produces some of the most useless liquor in the game. The Pre-War liquor is still the best free liquor in the game (and offers the best benefits) and you don’t even need to use a distillery or waste precious crops to get it. The new liquors not only are not covered by the existing perk card system, each of those liquors have heavy downsides. The distiller also doesn’t support the Super Duper perk card to create extra dupes when crafting liquor, unlike every other crafting table. As an example of how bad the new liquors are, Hard Lemonade gives a huge boost to AP regeneration, but at the cost of 1 minute of negative AP regeneration as the “Hangover”. Rad Ant Lager gives +50 carry weight (yay) at the cost of -50 carry weight during the 1 minute hangover (boo). Extremely sub-optimal when in combat situations.

Nukashine fares even worse. Not only is the effect of this liquor pointless (increases unarmed damage), during the “Hangover” you black out and end up in some random place on the map. Making a Nukashine is simply a waste of a Nuka-Cola nuka quantumQuantum (which these drinks can be difficult to find in the world even at the best of times). On top of the pointlessness of this liquor, selling Nukashine to a vendor yields basically no caps (the currency in Fallout). In fact, making a Nuka-Cola grenade is a much better use of a Nuka-Cola Quantum than Nukashine will ever be. I wasn’t really going to talk about the added DLC much, but I felt the sheer crappiness of this one need to be discussed to show how pointless it all really is. The rest of the DLC doesn’t fare much better than the distiller.

If you’re going to give us a distiller, then at least set it up so that the stuff we make has some value to vendors, gives us much better perks than what’s already in the game and is covered by our existing perk cards. If you’re not going to do this, then why bother creating it? That’s why I consider this DLC half-baked. No perk card coverage. No outstanding new liquors. No value to the new liquors. So tell us, exactly why we should find this fun?

=> Player Bans

While Bethesda calls them a “suspension”, it’s actually a ban. A suspension lasts 1-7 days at most. A ban last months. So far, because gamers ended up using the bugs in the game to find their own fun, Bethesda has penalized many of these gamers by suspending them for sometimes unproveable reasons. What that means is that Bethesda did some digging and found that some gamers had accrued “too many” items in their inventory.

Let’s understand that the original release of the game allowed infinite carrying capacity. You simply became overencumbered when you went over your natural carry limit. This meant that you had to use AP to walk around. When AP ran out, you had to stop and wait for the AP to regenerate or you walked even more slowly. This was the original design BY Bethesda.

After the whole duping scandal erupted, Bethesda blamed the gamers and not themselves for the problems in Fallout 76. The bugs are entirely there by Bethesda. That gamers exploited the bugs, bad on you Bethesda. You should have better tested the quality of your game. Testing is on you, Bethesda… not the gamers. If you failed to test your product, then it’s on you when bad things happen.

If you didn’t want gamers to carry infinite items, then you should have released the game with a carry limit cap. That you didn’t do this initially was a miss on your part. Anyone could see that was a vector for abuse. Waiting for it to be abused, then blaming the abuse on the gamer is entirely disingenuous and insincere. Blame yourself for the bugs, not the gamers.

=> Most Recent Update

As of the latest “Wild Appalachia” update, the game is still very much of a mess. It still crashes regularly, sometimes the entire client crashes back to the dashboard. Sometimes the game won’t load in. Sometimes the character load-in is extremely laggy, stuttery and problematic. If you do manage to get your character loaded in, the shooter basics still don’t work. You can manually aim dead onto enemies and the gun will entirely miss (several times in a row). So, you resort to VATS. VATS sometimes works, sometimes doesn’t. You can be literally inches from an enemy and VATS will show a 0% chance of hitting. Yes, it’s STILL that bad.

Nuking on servers can make them highly unstable, particularly in the nuked region. If you enter a nuked region, you can expect the game’s frame rate to drop to about 10-15 frames per second… and I’m not joking. There are other places in the game where this frame rate issue is a problem. For example, when you’re in camp and trying to construct in the workshop menu.

There are many spots in the game where the frame rate can drop to practically nothing. These problems should have been worked out months ago. Yet, instead of fixing these absolute game engine basics, Bethesda has its devs off creating half-baked DLC to try to rake in new revenue.

Unfortunately, with every patch, Bethesda’s devs add back in regressions removed two or three patches ago. It’s been a never ending cycle of one step forward and two (sometimes three) steps backward. The world never gets better.

=> End Game

Every game has a problem with end game fun. Unfortunately, Fallout 76’s end game starts the moment you first login. The whole game is end game. There’s not a beginning to this game, so how can there be an end? Even once you do complete all of the main and side quests, there’s even less to continue doing in this world.

I do understand the reason for the DLC… to try and bring back old players. But, that’s going to be difficult considering you banned a very large number of them from the game. The few that weren’t banned aren’t going to come back simply because you put a crappy distiller in the game or that you created a 7 day long festival and forgot to actually give out the most desirable masks. They’re certainly not going to come back to grind for Atom to buy the useless (and expensive) Atom Shop items.

Ongoing Disaster (Battle Royale)

Here’s the part where I talk about DLC. As Bethesda continues to add questionable new game modes to Fallout 76, I have to wonder what’s going on over there. First, Bethesda adds the ‘Survival Mode’ server to its list of game play engines. This server basically enables PVP right from your character’s load-in. When you join ‘Survival Mode’, if you encounter another player, your character is pretty much dead. I’m uncertain the impetus behind adding this game mode other than to segregate PVP from the ‘Adventure Mode’ servers and put it into a different server. Yet, this segregation is not yet over.

Because Bethesda has been feeling the pinch from Battle Royale games like Fortnite and Apex Legends, Bethesda seems to feel left out. After introducing ‘Survival Mode’, Bethesda next introduces a new ‘Battle Royale’ game mode. Instead of trying to design a new Battle Royale game using an engine actually designed for that kind of game play, which would actually make the most sense, they instead grab the source code for Fallout 76‘s server and they wedge a Battle Royale mode into Fallout’s less than stellar game and combat engine.

Both of these game modes are questionable in and of themselves. For example, how do either of these game modes progress the Fallout story in any way? They don’t. The ‘Survival Mode’ server is designed to simply make the game more difficult. Instead, what it makes the game is pointless. You can’t quest, you can’t follow quest lines, you can’t even play normally…. for fear of losing not only all of your junk, but part of your aid.

With Battle Royale, there’s no point for its existence in the Fallout franchise. There’s not even a story basis for it to exist. Worse, it’s not even close to competing with games like Apex Legends or Fortnite. In fact, a battle royale mode would make a whole lot more sense to exist in The Elder Scrolls than in Fallout. Sure, Fallout is about gun fights, but it’s not about this silly and unnecessary concept being forced into the Fallout universe… a universe where battle royale actually makes no sense at all. The Elder Scrolls at least had an ‘Arena’ where a battle royale could feasibly take place within the story’s narrative… and make sense in the context of the larger Elder Scrolls story arc. Fallout has never had such a “battle” concept in its franchise. Adding this in now simply makes zero Fallout story sense, but makes sense only if Bethesda is trying to “cash in”.

Sure, Fallout survivors might need to do things to amuse themselves in a toxic nuclear wasteland… but, would they actually play in a Battle Royale themselves? No, I don’t think so. Bethesda is now adding stuff that’s so out entirely of character for the Fallout universe, they’re just adding stuff to “keep up with the Jones’s” instead of because it makes sense for Fallout. If you want to trash your franchise, this is a good way to go about it.

Let me also say that the implementation of Fallout 76’s Battle Royale mode is entirely trash and illogical to boot. You’re trapped in an ever condensing ring of fire. A ring of fire that actually makes no sense when you’re supposed to be tasked with rebuilding Appalachia. As contestants continue to kill one another (and the ring condenses to a tiny circle around them), the last man standing is the person who “wins”. In fact, the “winner” actually loses, because the condensing ring of fire would actually end up killing everybody. This is how logically stupid this concept really is. Effectively, it’s not really even Battle Royale, it’s a “Last Man Standing” game. I’ve also seen much better “Last Man Standing” multiplayer games.

If Bethesda wants to create DLC that’s in keeping within the Fallout universe, then they should tie these new game modes in with the existing lore that they spent all of that time creating. For example, how about implementing multiplayer dog fights? Or, how about actually using the ‘Animal Friend’ and/or ‘Wasteland Whisperer’ perk cards to tame beasts that can be used in a multiplayer arena? This would require the player to spend the time to locate and tame a beast (and level it up and equip it) for use in the arena. That kind of mode makes a lot of story sense… and makes sense to wrap new lore around all of this.

Since the world is dangerous and treacherous, use the existing lore as the basis for creating unique new multiplayer challenges. Don’t just grab the first unoriginal idea to come along (e.g., Fortnite) and slap it into a world server. You know, spend time actually putting some amount of thought and effort into tying the existing lore into the new multiplayer game modes. Give them a basis to exist in the universe. Don’t add game modes because you CAN… do it because it both makes actual sense, is logical and is entirely in keeping with the Fallout universe lore.

Overall

The game is STILL a very hot beta mess offering a poorly written, badly conceived and boring storytelling system utilizing no NPCs. The combat system is the worst system I’ve encountered in a top tier game developer’s title. No joke. It is the absolute worst. Even the patching hasn’t improved it. If anything, it’s actually gotten worse.

There are times where button presses are entirely unresponsive. You might have to press the button two or three times rapidly to get the game to register even one press. You might be trying to pick up something, trying to fire your weapon, trying to search a container or it might manifest in any other number of ways. Unreliable button presses are the death of a game that so heavily relies on real time play value.

No amount of patching or DLC will solve these basic fundamental engine problems. To solve the storytelling problem, you need to add NPCs to the game.. which would require redesigning the game from scratch. To solve the combat problem, you need to redesign the combat system from the ground up using a practical engine actually designed for real-time online use.

You can’t take a 20 year old offline game engine and attempt to patch it for an online use. Doing so will produce exactly the problems found in Fallout 76. Fallout 76 needed a game engine designed entirely for online play. Designed for real-time combat. Designed for real-time activities. Designed for responsive button presses.

Unfortunately, what we got was a crapfest of epic proportions that Bethesda will neither acknowledge nor comment on. If this is Bethesda’s new game development norm, I won’t be investing in any more Bethesda games. It’s just not worth paying $60 (or more) to be an alpha tester for a game written on old technology that isn’t up to the task.

In short, Fallout 76 is STILL an immense hot mess that has not at all improved since its November launch.

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Rant Time: Fallout 76

Posted in botch, business, fail by commorancy on January 30, 2019

12-9-2018_10-41-26_PM-qybv0b53I’ve been playing Fallout 76 on and off since its release. However, Bethesda has not only miscalculated the quality of the game itself, Bethesda’s devs have repeatedly introduced more bugs than they have fixed. So far, the patches have been a strategy of one step forward and three steps back. This game has all of the signs of code outsourcing and illustrates all of the dangers of this practice. Let’s explore.

Game Development

Having worked at many different high tech companies that write code for their business to succeed, I have seen many different code writing practices… some good, many more that are bad.

Typically, when code is written “in-house” (meaning, by developers on site at the headquarters), the quality control remains at a “standard bar” set by the development manager. This doesn’t mean that every piece of code written is great, but it does mean that the bad code likely won’t make it into production after “code review”. The “code review” process is a process by which all code is peer reviewed by other developers to make sure the code is up to formatting standards, that it doesn’t make any egregious mistakes and that such things as math calculations make sense. Comments in the code are usually optional and up to the development team to set how code gets documented.

I’ve worked at many companies where code is not documented at all. Instead, the documentation is written in a Wiki or similar internal web site describing the design goals of the code. I don’t particularly like this practice when working on the production side of the house, but it’s generally not a practice we can win a fight against. Reading documentation in the code is sometimes the only defense when code acts up in production. If they choose not to write inline documentation, that’s on the development team. Though, I will say that this practice leads to technical debt and is not recommended.

Without diving too deeply into code development practices, let’s apply all of what I’ve said to Bethesda’s Fallout 76.

Bad Coding Practices

I don’t even know where to begin with how Bethesda is managing this product. Let’s just say that having worked in several large Software-as-a-Service (SaaS) organizations, how Bethesda is handling Fallout 76 is so behind the times, it’s not even funny.

Today, the current practice is to use the following code development cycle otherwise known as Systems Development Life Cycle (SDLC). This cycle has the following phases:

  1. Planning
  2. Analysis and Requirements
  3. Design
  4. Development
  5. Integration and Testing
  6. Implementation / Release
  7. Operational Maintenance

These 7 phases are a never ending cycle in a continuing software product. In fact, there could be several releases all running in concert each at different phases. Meaning, the current release is at phase 7, the next release is at phase 4 and two or three future releases are at at any of the phases prior to release.

The SDLC process has grown out of bad coding practices used during the 90s and has been adopted to counter those bad coding and release practices. This life cycle is a way to ensure quality of code when it is finally released. It’s also a way to ensure that the end user has the highest quality experience possible with the end product. Quality assurance is the name of the game. As a development company, the key to success is to minimize disruptions via bad code and maximize user experience with high quality features. No code is ever perfect, but you can reduce problems by following best coding practices and implementing solid SDLC processes.

Bethesda’s Coding Practices

Unfortunately, Bethesda has chosen a poor coding cycle for Fallout 76. Instead of treating Fallout 76 like a professionally produced product using SLDC practices, they are simply slinging code as fast as possible without actually performing any sanity checks or, indeed, performing any quality assurance on the end product.

In fact, with each new Fallout 76 release, the product has become increasingly worse, less reliable, less performant and increasingly more unstable. By “worse”, I mean that they’re introducing not only regression bugs that break previously and correctly working features, they’re introducing new bugs and not even fixing the bugs they claimed to have fixed. Indeed, the product is actually getting worse.

While I realize that coding a game like Fallout 76 is probably reasonably complex, the difficulty I have with this game is why a developer is touching code in portions of the game where bugs did not exist. What were they doing touching that part of the code? And yet, here we are, this newly broken code is being rolled out to their production servers?

Clearly, Bethesda performs absolutely zero testing. These bugs are so basic, anyone spending 5 minutes using the game would spot them instantly. It’s crystal clear that Bethesda is NOT following an SDLC process. They’re just releasing code by the seat of their pants and hoping it does “something positive”.

Outsourcing

Because Fallout 76 gets worse with each successive release, this has all of the telltale signs of Bethesda outsourcing their software development efforts to an off-shore team (possibly in India). Having worked with outsourced developers in India in the past, you MUST micromanage these outsourced companies at every tiny step. You also need to be extremely explicit with how you want the implementation and you need to 100% test every piece of delivered code.

Failing to micromanage an outsourced software development company leads to the exact problems seen in Fallout 76. While I can’t be 100% certain that Bethesda is outsourcing, their release practices certainly have all of the earmarks of using this practice for Fallout 76. There’s absolutely no reason why previously working features in the game should inexplicably become broken in the next release.

And believe me, I’ve become exceedingly tired and irritated of fighting these compounding stupid bugs in this game. Not only does it show Bethesda as a low quality developer, it says they have no quality standards of any kind. You don’t intentionally roll out broken features in a formerly working product… you just don’t do this.

Chasing Abusers

Bethesda has clearly bitten off more than they can chew. They certainly have no one on their team who understands SaaS product scaling. If one gamer on the server crafting boiled water can bring the server to its knees, there’s a major problem with this product. In a properly designed multi-user product, no single user should be able to overload the server with any “standard” user interface activity. By “standard”, I mean features that the product is supposed to properly support.

There are many instances where a single user can craft foods at a crafting table which causes “Server Not Responding” or incurs major lag for other users on the server. These are sanctioned activities intended to be used by the users, yet they can break the server?

Abusers, on the other hand, find loopholes to allow them to perform activities that the software was not designed to do. For example, duplicating items by logging on and off in very unusual ways… ways in which the developer didn’t test or consider during the design phase.

Right now, Bethesda is chasing down these unintentional holes at all costs… and by that I mean, by introducing game breaking bugs that affect standard users who are not abusing. And, they’re attempting to fix these holes at the cost of ignoring the design failings of the game that also need to be addressed. Many of these design failings were introduced at release and are still waiting in the queue to be addressed by Bethesda. Yet, instead of taking care of these long standing bugs, the devs are flying by the seat of their pants fixing the holes… which honestly don’t need to be fixed as a fire drill.

Penalizing Players

Bethesda doesn’t understand the dangers of reduction. Removing or degrading product features is always a negative for the end user, never a positive. For example, the Two Shot Explosive weapons are what players long to find. These rarely dropped highly powerful weapons are, in fact, one of the sole reasons players come back to the Fallout franchise.

Sure, the questing is fun, but it’s the Legendary dropped loot from these difficult bosses that is the actual Win. It’s the trophy that says, “Hey look what I got after spending all that time defeating the Scorchbeast Queen”. By degrading, limiting and/or removing these highly sought after items from the game, this removes a substantial reason to even play Fallout 76.

If you spend an hour defeating a boss only to see it drop a 12 damage Pipe Pistol (the same as a Level 1 enemy kill), what have you really accomplished? How does that make the gamer feel? Does it make the gamer feel good about what they’ve just done? No. Does it make the gamer want to come back and do it again? No.

On the Wrong Track

Bethesda is entirely on the wrong track. If you have abusers in the game, chase them down and ban them… no holds barred. If you find a player who is carrying 300,000 weight in duplicated items, ban them. Remove them from the game. Find them all and remove them. Logic dictates that anyone carrying 25,000 Stimpaks along with 25,000 guns stacked didn’t create them through legitimate means.

You ban the abusers. You don’t code around them. You don’t hobble your universe to make the duplicated guns worthless. Instead of spending precious time alienating your intended gaming audience, you focus on making the game better for legitimate users willing to stay within the game’s design framework. For those who stray and choose to test the coding boundaries of the game, you ban them… permanently. You also make a warning statement that any persons intending to cause harm to or disrupt the services will be banned without warning. In-game abuse can only be dealt with one way, the ban hammer.

Yes, you can fix the bugs along the way that enabled that abuse, but you don’t make that your sole and entire means of existing. You focus on fixing the bugs that are getting in the way of your legitimate paying gamers who are willing to stay on the game’s “golden path”. By “golden path”, this is a software development phrase that means the track designed by the developers for end users of the software product to follow. Anyone who strays from the “golden path” may encounter bugs, unexpected consequences or crash the software system. Though, your developers should have coded proper error handling so that crashing is nearly impossible.

Yes, some users can unintentionally stray from the “golden path” occasionally. These users are not the target. It’s the users who intentionally stray from the “golden path” to exploit holes in the software to gain access, privilege or items which are unintended. Speaking of gaining access….

Dev Room

There’s been much controversy over this room. Personally, I don’t care if it exists or not. However, that this room made it into Bethesda’s Fallout 76 production servers is entirely a design miss. Such dev environments should never make it onto production servers. That this room rolled out onto the production network is a problem Bethesda needs to address internally. Users who stray from the golden path into this room isn’t the fault of the gamer. Bethesda, you left the room in the game. It was your responsibility to ensure such rooms don’t exist on the production servers. That users ended up in there, that’s your mistake, Bethesda.

Sure, you can drop the ban hammer on these users, but that’s not good public relations. In fact, dropping the ban hammer on users for entry into this room is severe. If they didn’t cause damage to the game or take anything from the room, there’s no damage done. Those users who took items from the dev room and duplicated them should be banned… not necessarily for entering the room, but for exploiting the duplication bug which disrupts a server for other players.

Again, it comes back to disruption. Any gamer intentionally causing disruption to the game outside of the “golden path” should be perma-banned. This act of disruption should be spelled out as abuse in the terms and conditions for the game.

Fallout 76 is SaaS

Even though Fallout 76 is a game, it’s also a Software-as-a-Service product and it should be treated in the same way as any SaaS product. Yet, Bethesda hasn’t the first clue of how to build or operate a SaaS product. That’s crystal clear.

Bethesda’s SDLC seems non-existent. Without any kind of software quality assurance team, there’s no way to ensure the product lives up to any kind of quality standard. Right now, this game is a piss poor attempt by a game studio at a SaaS product. A product that is on the verge of being a spectacular failure. I might even argue, it’s already reached the failure point.

Bethesda, you have a hard choice to make. If you continue to chase the abusers at the cost of fixing the REAL problems with this game, your game WILL DIE. The choice you need to make is whether to stay on this insane path of chasing abuse bugs or stop this insanity and begin fixing the real reliability and stability problems with this game. Such real problems include severe frame rate drops, enemies can spawn in unkillable states, invisibility problems (enemies and players alike), the problem with quests that can’t be completed, the problem where Legendary enemies drop without any loot at all.

Game Economy and Systems Design

Bethesda continually argues that the abusers caused disruption to the economy in the game. What economy? There is none. If you call vendors with 200 caps an economy, that’s not an economy. An economy is players buying, selling and trading with one another. You know, the whole reason you designed the game with 24 players in each “World”. Yet, when players actually tried to create an economy, you shut them down with patches and then released many of the rare items to the vendors to make them “less rare”.

Part of the reason items were rare was entirely due to incidence of spawn rates. Spawn rates, I might add, that you designed into the game intentionally. Spawn rates intended to force players to hunt for stuff. Yet now you’re all butthurt over the fact that players actually created an economy around this.

What exactly are you wanting the players to do in this game then? Aren’t the players supposed to “rebuild” the wasteland? Setting up trading shops and whatnot is exactly what players would do in a world like this. In fact, in the ruthless wild-west of the wasteland, players would likewise be ruthless in obtaining anything and everything they could. That players used duplication exploits comes with the ruthlessness of wasteland territory. The problem with the duplication exploit isn’t the duplication. It’s the disruption it causes to other player’s games. That’s the abuse vector. That’s the reason to ban-hammer the player. The server disruption is the abuse, not the duplication.

Still, you should have been warning players all along the way when their weight got too high. That you didn’t have anything in place to monitor this part of the game is a design miss. A miss that wouldn’t have been missed if you had had a proper Systems Engineer reviewing the design all along the way. Yet, you chose to rush the game to market unfinished and now you have to redesign it along the way… a redesign that is causing player unrest and player abandonment.

Patch Upsides vs Downsides

The last several patches have been attempts at thwarting the abusers by fixing the exploit vectors at the cost of not fixing long standing disrupting bugs… bugs that have existed since the game’s release (i.e., getting stuck in power armor, unkillable enemies, invisible enemies, loading screen problems, etc). This strategy has been to the entire detriment of the Fallout 76 gaming community. Not only have you alienated so many users from the game, you continue to alienate more and more with each new patch.

If you’re planning on releasing a patch, you need to focus on the upsides of patching. You know, like fixing bugs that players NEED to have fixed… like frame rate issues, like audio glitching, like server lags, like a bigger stash, like improved features. Sure, you can throw in fixes like nerfing the Two Shot and Explosive weapons, but you also need to offset these heavily negative gaming experiences by adding positive new things to the game to entice gamers back… like adding new weapons to the game to take the place of those heavily nerfed Two Shot Explosive weapons.

There’s no reason for gamers to play Fallout 76 if the Legendary dropped loot is now no better than standard dropped loot. Focusing entirely on downside patches isn’t going to win you new players. It’s simply a quick way to the death of Fallout 76… as if the game needed any more help in this department.

Overall

Bethesda, you need to rethink your strategy for Fallout 76 and future MMO endeavors. The current strategy you are taking to address the issues in this game will not bring more players to this game. In fact, you’re likely to turn this game into a wasteland with only a handful of players ever playing.

If you stay on this path, I predict that you will end up shutting down your servers for this game by the end of 2019. Gamers won’t continue to play in an environment where the loot is not worth their time.

And what the hell? Serum recipes cost 19,000+ caps? Considering you can only hold 24,000 caps in the game, this is insane. Even 6,000 caps would be excessive.

Bethesda, figure it out quick or the game ends.

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Rant Time: Polaroid Zip and App

Posted in botch, business, california, fail by commorancy on January 5, 2019

polaroid-zip-printerI haven’t ranted in quite a while and it’s time, especially considering this is the new year. Polaroid is the target of my tirade today. Let’s explore.

Polaroid Zip

The Polaroid Zip is a small pocket photo printer priced around $99. You can sometimes find it on sale. But, don’t go out and buy it before you read this article!

There are a number of these small pocket Zink paper photo printers available such as the Polaroid Zip, the HP Sprocket, the Canon IVY, the LifePrint, the Kodak Mini2 and even the not-so-pocket-sized zInk Happy photo printer. Every one of these printers depends entirely on an app designed by the company selling the printer. In fact, without this app, the printer device is an entirely useless brick… they don’t support Airprint!

Useless is exactly what Polaroid Zip has become when Polaroid updated its software with a major update in mid 2018. The formerly working app, which was a just a slight bit rough around the edges, worked to produce high quality prints. This latest 2018 app version is a piece of trash the size of Mount Everest, once you toss all of these now useless Polaroid Zip printers into a mound at the landfill.

The updated app is entirely junk!

The Dangers of Portable Devices with Apps

I have no idea what compelled Polaroid (C&A Marketing) to toss out the older, completely working app and replace it with a broken piece of junk. However, it completely spells out the danger of buying into these app enabled devices.

In yesteryear, we used to buy printers which had standard printer drivers that would simply just print from any app capable of printing. On iOS, these are known as Airprint printers. With the introduction of the Polaroid Zip and similar devices, this is no longer a concept in the printer industry. Now, you must using a single proprietary app to funnel and print your images. If the app breaks, you can’t print.

I’m not sure WHY this standardization change made its way out of the printer industry, but I don’t like it one bit. It makes the devices far less flexible than their distant printer brethren and it makes printing images far more complicated than it needs to be. I don’t want to have to always use your stupid little app just to print an image. I want to be able to print from any app on my phone. Being tied to and dependent on your stupid little app is not only an asinine requirement, it’s insanely stupid. Please, just open your printer up to iOS as an Airprint device. Let us use whatever app we want to use. I don’t want to be dependent on your stupid app that you can hack up and break at the drop of a hat.

Polaroid as a Poster Child

I’m sorry that I have to rail so hard against Polaroid, but they made their bed and now they must lie in it. It’s their app and they ruined a perfectly good printing device by producing such a crap app to go with it.

The older app was at least functional, had semi-intuitive tools and simply just worked. This new app requires jumping between multiple screens, has tools buried in several different places, is more complicated to use, they removed “magic” enhancements designed to print images correctly on Zink paper and overall hobbled the printer.

Worse, now you have to waste tons of paper because you have to tweak and retweak the image OUTSIDE of the app to get a decent print out of the printer. The Zink paper is expensive and wasting sheet after sheet just to get a print is stupid and costly! With the old app, I never wasted one sheet. What I saw on screen was what I got out of the printer (pretty much). This new app provides no such predictable output. What you see on the screen is definitely not what you’ll get out of the printer… and this is why this newest 2018 update is such a #FAIL on Polaroid’s part.

Get With The Program, Polaroid

Polaroid, do the right thing! Pull that crap of an app from the store and revert to the older app version. Let your new developer update that crap app to the point where it is at the same level as the older app. That might take 6 months to 1 year. Whatever it takes, just do it.

For now, remove that app from the store and put the old one back. This new one sucks hard and doesn’t work. Right now, my printer is a useless $99 brick. Polaroid, do you want to reimburse me my money?

Class action lawsuit anyone?


If you’ve had a similar experience with your pocket photo printer from another brand, please leave a comment below and let me know.

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