So, first off, I have a background in both game design, software development, and data analysis.
The TLDR is that because the Atomic shop is so expensive and geared to so few people, players are buying the utility items instead of indulging into cosmetic shops. But the details are a bit more interesting.
Bias disclosure: I don't like PvPers. I just haven't had any good experiences with them. I don't own FO1st, but my reaction has been fairly warm, mostly because I've enjoyed playing on private servers with others. I'm part of a Clan, so a lot of my experiences have been skewed towards that experience.
It's been my observation Bethesda have been seeing the right thing the wrong way for the wrong reasons.
I had a thought when Bethesda said that they saw the community wanting more utility items, and everyone went "What are you talking about?"
I think they actually thought that, because they looked at what the most popular Atomic shop items were: Useful utility items.
Before I begin, I just want to point out that the game's main problem is a lack of content.
If you have $8, will you spend it on a cosmetic that consumes CAMP space, are you going to buy a hay bale that does nothing, or a fridge that has at least some usage? Or a robot that augments your scavenging and tells dumb jokes?
So, yeah, people's first purchase is likely going to be something useful, over something that's purely cosmetic, when the price is similar and relatively high.
So when you look at the numbers that Bethesda is getting, especially because there's actual money associated with those numbers, they're looking at what people are buying and saying "Yeah this is what's selling so that's what we'll sell them."
However there's a problem with this: The atomic shop is expensive.
$8 is a ludicrous amount of money for relatively minor items. I wouldn't spend $8 on a stuffed animal at a mall floor kiosk, much less an outfit for my character in an electronic game (unless it was like a Pinkie Pie or a really cute Cthulhu doll. Maybe a Jason Vorhees plushie. It's Halloween, what do you want from me?)
The Atomic Shop has 3 problems: First, the prices are too high. Second, the items tend to be tacky. Third, paradoxically, they're mostly cosmetic.
Before I get into detail, I want to define 4 types of players I've observed in Fallout 76, and remind you that the main problem with the game is a lack of content:
- Adventurers. Everyone is this in some way because you need scrap, guns, plans, level up for new areas, and so on. It's the core mechanic of the game. Those who are dedicated adventurers want to play the game like Fallout 3, NV, and 4, killing enemies and finding cool loot.
- Builders. These people player Fallout 76 like Minecraft, making awesome builds and they like showing off their neat houses. They have a concept and probably multiple characters for multiple builds.
- Roleplayers. They have to RP Fallout because Fallout. Whether it's declaring themselves the End Game boss, building murder hotels, or setting up clinics, these people want to go beyond the loot and shoot mechanics and be able to tell their own stories.
- PvPers. They want to shoot other people. I don't have much to say about these guys, and what I do have to say isn't polite. Not because they grief me, but because they complain when other people don't play the way they play. /rant But they're in the game, and they should have tools ad opportunities to play that they can enjoy.
Now onto my 3 points:
- With the prices being so high, players will be stingier with their purchases. They're going to hesitate to buy stuff that isn't going to be used. So, they're going to prioritize stuff they can use before they go for stuff that merely looks good. Sure, they'll probably buy some cosmetic stuff later, but it's gotta be good stuff.
This is a problem that's fairly common with microtransaction economies: They have a false feeder problem. They're fed by who pays them, and the people who pay them are "Whales" (people who stay loyal to a game and buy EVERYTHING, often to an extreme) and they represent a TINY group of players, who often don't play the same way as the bulk of players. As a result, the rest of the players feel alienated from the store because it's not built for them. They don't feel engaged with it, and as development continues, it usually remains skewed towards getting money from whales, so later content continues to feed Whales, which further alienates the majority of players, until the game is…Just Whales.
It's a negative feedback loop that kills games with microtransaction economies. Ironic, since these games are Games-as-a-service model, which are intended to be supported over a long period of time, but history has shown they have rather short lifecycles. The Division, Ghost Recon Wildlands, Anthem, and Battle of Duty Front are examples of games-as-a-service models that die quickly because they're feeding whales, leaving the rest of us to starve.
This is why Bethesda was so desperate to get a subscription option out: Microtransaction games are lucrative, but they burn a lot faster; if a game that can get a viable subscription base can last for decades, and that's what Bethesda wants out of 76. But they forgot why those games have lasted: They have content. Mountains of it.
What have FO76 players been asking for again? Scrap robots? FO76 players love scrap, don't they? I know! Let's sell a subscription with a scrap box! /sarcasm but only kind of.
2) The people who get the most value of a variety of items in the Atomic shop are Builders and Roleplayers. For these players, looks matter. They want as much stuff to work with their projects as they can. I roleplay an ex-secret service member who's going about fixing prewar mistakes, for example. It seems to me that the Atomic Shop has a lot of stuff for Builders, and most of the outfits are just so tacky. So tacky that they have niche uses.
I'm super psyched for the David S Pumpkins suit the Halloween event has, but in the shop we have…American flag under clothing. A Vaul-Tek business suit that looks like it was worn by Matthew Lesko IV. Edgelord Johnny's Four Horsemen Power Armor skins. And I don't care about RPing the Free States 'cuz, uh, they're all dead. Maybe some content about their return would change things up.
But a Brotherhood of Steel wall decal? An Enclave poster? Hell, I kind of just want a good looking tuxedo or prewar business suit, something to make me look like James Bond's grandma. (Did I mention my character is a 60 year old lady?) Yes, a lot of the basic stuff should be in game loot, but there's nothing wrong with some lore-friendly indulgence for fancy ass Brotherhood armor. Basically, we want more content.
With the atomic shop stuff being either niche (only a few players will need billboards) or tacky (that Vaul-Tek armor skin is a lovely shade of blue), there isn't as much activity.
3) It's all superficial in the Atomic Shop, which means it has little value to anyone who aren't interested in the aesthetic. For PvPers and Adventurers, the most they think about, cosmetic wise, is which outfit looks coolest, and it's usually just some vague military or special forces thing, or a Brotherhood of Steel outfit because, hey, who doesn't like the Brotherhood of Steel? Or be a fireman! Yeah! You can be a fireman! Go wee-woo-wee-woo-wee-woo!
What was I talking about? Uh. The game needs more content.
For adventurers and PvP, their CAMP is just sort of a place to keep their stuff, rather than an art project. So, what are they gonna spend their Atoms on? Repair kits to fix their expensive gun. A fridge to prevent their perishables from perishing.
Maybe a tent they can put down wherever they happen to be adventuring. /shotsfiredmostlyatmeforthatone
If EVERYONE is an adventurer in Fallout 76, then the Atomic Shop isn't servicing (phrasing) the entire playerbase. But utility items do, so just out of numbers, all players are going to buy things that are useful to adventurers.
So, if the majority of items being bought in the Atomic shop are utility items, because they're useful to everyone…Bethesda is going to see that "everyone wants utility items." And because money is involved, they hear it loud and clear, even if the devs want to make cool #content.
But the people who want to buy the cosmetic stuff, the builders and roleplayers, get left behind, and they're the ones driving the cosmetic-only business model-which is outshined by the utility items.
Now, I want this game to succeed. I want more content-did I mention that? I feel I should have mentioned that earlier-and I want more players. FO1st's offerings are…Mediocre. "Pay to Win" doesn't really mean anything here because it's not a competitive game. World of Warcraft literally sells level-up tokens that send you to endgame, and people thought that was brilliant.
But I do understand that Bethesda wants this game to last for years, and they want to be able to sustain it for years, especially because of the long development cycles for main entries into their franchises. I don't care about lining some investor's pocket, but I do care about the devs that also want this game to succeed, and I want more content-I really feel I should have mentioned that-from Fallout 76.
And the game, uh, wasn't well received
because of a lack of content so I understand (as in comprehend, not as in accept and support) if they're scrambling to tell higher-ups they have a way of getting money from the game. FO1st really feels like it was meant to be paired with Wastelanders, but because Wastelanders got pushed, FO1 didn't, we got a, uh, mixed bag we'll say because it wasn't paired with new content. Seriously, release some enemies early so we have something new to shoot at.
Some things that they could do (aside from adding new content) is fix the social tools. We want a chat box, we want it easier to organize with our friends, and we want to make it easier, and more lucrative, to quest together. Right now the game feels like "I'm playing Fallout and oh yeah there's other there too I guess idk lol". Despite this being a multiplayer game, questing with another person feels like a disruption, where I have to make time and space for this other person, when I could be going faster at my own pace. This game should be social as hell. We should have every reason to team up with friends, and strangers, and it should be easy to discover, share, and communicate.
I think area quests would be an excellent trick, a sort of mini-raid where you're tasked with clearing out an area, ending with some tough legendaries. Quests to clear out Defiance or Wes-Tek. It's not a solution, but it's a good way to get more play beyond grinding dailies, dealing with Vault raids, or nuke farming. How many times can you kill the Queen Fart Bat before going "Ugh again?"
More content overall is best.
Those are more immediate fixes. The FO76 players have been remarkably patient, and FO1st was definitely an end to that patience. But I remember, just days before FO1st, when Wastelanders' delay was announced, everyone's reaction was "Good, take time and get it right." I was pretty impressed with the community's reaction to that.
So these changes don't need to be perfect, just so long as we get new stuff and so long as it improves.
I have ideas on how many of FO76's problems could be fixed, or the game pulled into a different, more fulfilling direction, but that's for another thread, I think. I mean, the real answer is more content, but who cares what I think, right?
Edit: Woo! Silver! Thank you stranger!
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