But this story starts with a bust. Or maybe I should start it like this:
I tend to call myself a "glass half empty" type of person. I tend to be less optimistic than the average human, and I postulate that a contributing factor is due to the divorce of my parents when I was three years old. My mother gained custody, and my father was granted weekly visitation on Saturdays.
Those Saturdays became special days for me, because the rest of the week I did not get to see my father, or even talk to him on the phone. I looked forward to Saturday all week long because that was the only time during the week that I would get to see him.
Some Saturdays, when the appointed pick up time of 10 o'clock in the morning arrived, my father did not. I would wait patiently by the big picture window in the living room, watching for his car that was not going to arrive. Sometimes, my mother would get a phone call from my aunt, letting her know that my father was not going to make it. It was not until much later that I found out that he had been out drinking the night before and was in no condition to take me for our weekly visit.
I became a "glass half empty" sort of person because I found that if I anticipated that things were probably not going to go the way I wanted them to go, then I would feel less hollow, empty and utterly disappointed when things like this occurred. My favorite line in the film The Princess Bride, spoken by the Dread Pirate Roberts, has always been "Get used to disappointment," spoken to Inigo Montoya when he requests the pirate's name.
Decades later, I have learned that it's not always a good idea to anticipate failure, because the anticipation may help to create that failure. I call this a "self fulfilling prophecy", which basically means giving up on something before seeing it through because the anticipation of failure has lead to the idea that trying is pointless. I find that it is better to try and fail than to not try at all, because there have been many cases where I have been pleasantly surprised by a success I did not initially believe was possible. I do not always successfully live by these words, but life is a process of constant self-improvement and I still have much improving to do.
That brings us around full circle to Fallout 76. I (foolishly?) preordered Fallout 76 shortly after its announcement as my gift to myself for Father's Day. This was in anticipation of the opportunity to play the game before the official launch date of November 14th, 2018, which is officially known as the "B.E.T.A", also known as the "Break-It Early Test Application". No truer words were spoken, but what followed were a series of disappointments.
Having never pre-ordered a triple-A video game before, I was not familiar with how early access beta testing works. I therefore had this foolish notion that well before the game was set to launch there would be a months-long lengthy B.E.T.A. period where all sorts of testing, feedback, revisions and more would occur. I literally anticipated getting an opportunity to play Fallout 76 as early as August, but as August arrived without any additional details released by the Bethesda team, my anticipation shifted to September. That was the first (relatively minor) disappointment.
No sooner than I had reached this conclusion that Bethesda officially announced the details of the B.E.T.A., in that it would occur in October. This was the second disappointment, but I shrugged it off as best as I could, figuring at least a month of playing the game before the official release date would still be a decent amount of time.
As soon as I had acclimated to this new disappointment came the announcement of the actual B.E.T.A. test dates, which started on October 23rd for XBox One preorder customers, and October 30th for all other preorder customers. In addition, we were given the news that the B.E.T.A. would not be available every day, nor would it be available for more than eight hours at a time, and might be available for as few as four hours, with the idea that only peak times needed to be tested.
This was the third disappointment, and as such I was rudely awakened to the fact that Bethesda had (perhaps innocently) abused the preorder system as a brilliant marketing and PR strategy. In hindsight I should have seen this coming. It is exactly this stunt pulled by major video game publishers in the past that had led me to avoid preordering games like the plague. I foolishly believed that this time would be different, and allowed myself to get sucked in because I am a huge fan of the Fallout franchise. I should have known better and taken a wait and see approach.
How is this a brilliant marketing strategy? Fallout 76 is an online, multiplayer game, and historically newly launched online multiplayer games have a teething period over the first few days or weeks after launch. Players who have excitedly purchased their new game are quickly soured by the inability to install the game, sign into the servers, play for more than a few minutes before horrific crashes occur, data is lost, accounts are deleted, and various other issues that plague the new game until patches are rolled out that correct these issues. This is something I refer to (as a software developer) as "testing in production" which is generally considered to be a bad idea within the developer community. By establishing that the launch period was actually a beta test and that crashes, bugs and other bizarre behavior were bound to occur, Bethesda successfully insulated themselves from the majority of the flak created by any such issues because they can easily point to the fact that it is a beta test and that these problems should be resolved by the launch date.
In addition, by failing to give explicit details about the B.E.T.A. in terms of dates, times and so forth, Bethesda allowed its preorder customers to make up an idea of what that meant exactly in their own minds. This is what happened to me, and lead to the first three disappointments. That said, I was still excited to have the opportunity to start exploring post-apocalyptic West Virginia last night, even though I had to wait even longer than I initially anticipated for this opportunity to arrive.
When the email arrived last Friday notifying me that I could pre-download the game so that it would be ready to go on October 30th, I wasted no time and downloaded it on both of my computers. I made sure to clear my schedule for the evening of the 30th. Last night, I finally sat down to play, clicked the button in the Bethesda.net launcher for Fallout 76 and waited patiently for several minutes as their logo spun over and over again in the center of the launcher application. Nothing happened. I closed the launcher and reopened it. Instead of the spinning logo, I was treated to a progress bar at the top of the launcher window with the status "Preparing" which stayed at 0% for several minutes. Then, shortly after I contacted Bethesda Support via their Twitter account with this information, the launcher began downloading the entire game again, all forty-eight gigabytes of it.
Some research online yielded multiple reports of the exact same issue. A large volume of players had noticed earlier in the afternoon that their game had been deleted by the launcher. Some had successfully re-downloaded the game and were now able to play. Others had waited to pre-download the game until a few hours before the B.E.T.A. was set to start, and they were also able to sign in. This was not reassuring to me at all.
The launcher told me it was going to take well over four hours to redownload the game, and the duration of this B.E.T.A. period was initially only two hours long. It was extended to four hours but that wasn't enough time. I gave up on the download, cancelled it (even though Bethesda's response to these reports was to allow the downloads to complete) and tried restarting the launcher, tried restarting my computer, tried recovering lost files, tried moving the folder back to it's default install location, and eventually gave up. This issue affected both of my systems. Neither one would allow me to sign in.
At the time of this writing Bethesda has yet to issue a formal explanation of what occurred, but based on the above I think it's safe to presume that the launcher initially pre-downloaded the wrong version of the game. Someone at Bethesda figured this out only a few hours before the event was set to start, corrected the download which resulted in people noticing their game had uninstalled and the launcher was downloading it again. On other systems (like mine), the launcher did not attempt this until it was interacted with at the start of the B.E.T.A. session, resulting in a large volume of simultaneous downloads, and each download being throttled by Bethesda's load balancers as a result of the demand.
This was disappointment number four. I don't remember feeling so utterly disappointed by something I was looking forward to since I was a child, waiting fruitlessly for my father to pick me up on Saturday. To Bethesda's credit, they have added additional play time on the next scheduled B.E.T.A. test session (November 1st) but that only takes away a little of the sting. I did not anticipate being blocked by the game launcher from ever seeing the game at all.
Don't get me wrong. I know it's just a video game, and I know issues like these were bound to happen. I'm aware that some people who wanted to play this game will never get the opportunity, and I should be grateful that I'm in a position to have another crack at it tomorrow. I don't think it's the failure of the game to deliver the opportunity last night that bothers me - but rather how those opportunities were initially communicated to the public by Bethesda, therefore leading to some misunderstandings on my part. In that respect, this disappointment was my own fault all along, because I forgot to be a "glass half empty" kind of person, and started feeling like a little kid again.
Also of note, at no point did I ever communicate this disappointment to Bethesda support, and in fact did what I could to encourage them through the flak that they undoubtedly took on from the rest of the PC player community. It's not their fault that the October 30th B.E.T.A. did not go smoothly, after all.
Here's hoping I'll see some of you in Appalachia soon...