Bethesda's hotly anticipated Fallout 76 won't be coming to Steam — at least not when the game launches, on Nov. 14.
Bethesda has worded its decree vaguely enough that the game could come to the service at a later date, a hypothetical that the company's very own Pete Hines said is possible. But for now, the intent is to keep Fallout 76 exclusively on the Bethesda.net launcher (in case you didn't have enough game-client launchers cluttering up your desktop).
Hines, on Bethesda's behalf, explained in an interview with IGN that the company was avoiding Steam because Fallout 76 is an online experience and Bethesda wants to work on it directly with fans. That way, the company's ability to address bugs and problems won't get lost in the Steam shuffle.
While this is a nice PR sentiment, it certainly seems like there's more going on here than what Hines and Bethesda are sharing. Let's unpack the mystery of why Bethesda's going AWOL from Steam and why it might not be as consumer-friendly a move as the publisher purports.
What Fallout 76 Skipping Steam Could Mean
First, and most obviously, Bethesda's announcement will likely mean no racy mods. As you can see on Bethesda's own website, the company is not a fan of people injecting modern-day politics, explicit sexual content or a bevy of other sensitive subjects into its games (but, of course, the internet is doing that). Bethesda does not approve of having the 45th president of the United States in Fallout 4 or Aela the Huntress and your Dragonborn going at it on screen in Skyrim thanks to modified code, but you can make all of that happen.
Bethesda's got a whole subsection of mods it doesn't want. No mods featuring third-party content, no mods that illegally distribute downloadable content (DLC) — the list goes on and on.
Up until now, though, Bethesda hasn't had a way to prevent users from giving these rules the bird and just going wild. However, if Fallout 76 runs through Bethesda's own client, wherein the company can impose whatever rules it wants, Bethesda will have a much easier time cracking down on miscreants.
And given that the game is online-only, modding activity could be that much easier to monitor. Let's pray this doesn't turn into a Grand Theft Auto V mod situation, wherein people who were only modding single-player content received bans from the online portion of the game, because Rockstar got overzealous with its anti-mod banhammer.
Perhaps Bethesda isn't just seeking control over what doesn't get into the game, though. Maybe the publisher is gunning for control over what does get in. Yes, I'm talking about Creation Club, Bethesda's "we swear they're not paid mods (but they are)" program.
MORE: The 10 Most Addicting Multiplayer Games
Because there'll be no Steam Workshop and the always-online game will be handled exclusively through Bethesda.net, it sure would be easy for Bethesda to turn off the switch that lets mods in — with the exception of paid Creation Club mods, of course.
We haven't heard anything definitive about Creation Club's role in Fallout 76 yet. But it's not a stretch to assume that Bethesda — the company that tried to make paid mods happen, twice — would hope that the third time's the charm. That's especially likely given that this is the first AAA PC release from the publisher that it'll have complete control over.
I asked a few of my colleagues for their thoughts on Fallout 76's not-so-steamy debut plans. They were generally opposed to the move, though they gave different reasons.
Tom's Guide Editor Sherri Smith said, "I already have so many game clients — why are they making me use another? What if my friends don't feel like going through the hassle of setting up another client. I don't want to play with strangers. And Bethesda runs the risk of alienating the millions of Steam users out there."
Managing Editor Michael Andronico agreed that Bethesda's move was scary, though he brought a whole new concern to the table.
"I think it's actually a little surprising from Bethesda, a publisher that seems to embrace open platforms with tons of mod support," he said. "I really hope it doesn't lead to a split player base if and when the game comes to Steam later on, considering this is the first multiplayer Fallout."
Imagine if this game eventually releases on Steam and ends up like Call of Duty: Infinite Warfare on the Windows Store — also known as the version of the game with only two players online because it couldn't connect to Steam's player base.
And lastly, there was Editor Marshall Honorof, who didn't feel as strongly about the situation, or the series:
"It seems like one of those things people pitch a huge fit about on the internet beforehand and then is a nonissue once the game comes out."
That could end up being the case, but it's important to remember Bethesda's history of unsavory interactions with fans, and the consequences of said tangos, over the past few years.
Bethesda's true intentions won't reveal themselves for some time, but for now, we can do what any prudent gamer should do: hope for the best and expect the worst. Bethesda's been known to deliver a bit of both, so it's anyone's guess as to whether the publisher will empower Fallout 76 players with Bethesda.net or throttle their creativity with it.
If it's any indication of the company's long-term intentions, Fallout Shelter's PC port was originally available only on Bethesda.net, but it eventually reached Steam once all the hype had died down. We have no reason to believe Bethesda won't pull the same stunt with Fallout 76, hence Hines' deliberate ambiguity when questioned on the subject. In light of that, it's very possible that the modding and player freedom that Fallout is known for will still be present in Fallout 76, even if they're not there right out of the gate.
Credit: Bethesda Softworks