If someone said a year ago that E3 2019 would make or break things for Bethesda with their fans, it would have sounded insane.
An industry darling for years now, Bethesda has enjoyed a reputation for being a company that could do no wrong. They’re responsible for industry staples like The Elder Scrolls and recent Fallout titles, and they always tried to do right by their fans.
And yet, in the past few months, they’ve seen this reputation diminished.
Fallout 76, their first foray into a massive multiplayer online experience for the Fallout property, proved to be a buggy, disjointed critical flop and one of the company’s biggest failures in over a decade.
It lost heaps of goodwill with fans in the following weeks, with response to the issues being slow and, in the fans’ eyes, non-existent for a time.
This was made worse by controversies surrounding the game’s collector’s edition. Promising fans a canvas bag as an incentive for the more expensive version, it instead included a cheap nylon alternative.
Fans called them out on this, to which Bethesda relented and offered to replace them. In trying to fix the problem though, they accidentally exposed the personal information of those trying to register for a replacement.
Needless to say, fans’ faith in them plummeted further.
It’s been a mess to say the least, and going into E3 2019, Bethesda finds itself in an unfamiliar situation; that being one where they can’t just assume they are going to get rousing support for whatever they reveal.
Sure, they’ve made the theme of their show “Be Together” and are aiming to make it about the fans, with the company even running a contest to allow a select few to attend their conference in person.
But given the current climate in the fandom, most are more interested in Bethesda putting their money where their mouth is.
They need Bethesda to prove that they’re still a company who can deliver quality titles, and that they’re there for and listening to the fans who will engage in these experiences.
So can they do it? Can they make an about face and reclaim their standing?
Fortunately, the answer is yes they definitely can, but only if they can take some key actions capitalize on certain opportunities at this year’s conference.
For starters, they can’t sweep Fallout 76 under the rug. The company has made their longterm support for the title clear with recent updates, but it’s still far from the experience fans wanted or even expected from Bethesda.
Making it clear that they’re still putting noticeable work into fixing the title, and listening to fans on what works and what doesn’t, is the best way to do this.
It can alleviate the anger still bubbling under the surface from their slow response after the game’s launch and, more importantly, keep the title from fading into irrelevancy for all but those scorned by it.
It’s by no means asking for the impossible either. The Elders Scrolls Online, once a black eye for the franchise, is now in arguably its best state ever and is one of the most popular MMORPGs around, thanks in no small part to Bethesda’s continued updates.
Past that, they’ll also need to show they’re working on new experiences that can recapture what they do best: single player titles that drop players into engaging, gameplay driven worlds and experiences.
With so much time and resources put into Fallout 76, many fans were and are scared that it could represent Bethesda’s new development approach for their properties.
It’s for this reason many fans viewed the reveal of The Outer Worlds as a posterizing of Bethesda following the poor reception to the multiplayer experience of Fallout 76.
It could be as simple as having new trailers on display for each or as complex as providing gameplay demos, but they need to have something to show they’re moving forward in a way that their hardcore fans are going to get excited about.
Granted, this is a lot to fit into one conference. Fortunately, Sony’s absence from this year’s Expo leaves a sizable vacuum for other companies to fill, offering Bethesda that much more room to make a splash and do what they need to do.
If Bethesda can capitalize on this, they’ll have all the time and exposure they need to grasp fans attention and renew their faith.
Which leads to the final, and arguably most important, point they need to focus on: Bethesda needs to show that they are truly sorry for everything that’s happened.
The past few months were well and truly a PR disaster for the company, and they’ve taken the steps to fix it.
To the company’s credit, they’ve issued apologies for certain aspects of the game, namely in a large and detailed apology from the community team regarding communication with fans back in November.
Longterm though, it’s still unclear whether Bethesda will keep this mistake in mind or wait for fans to be distracted by their new projects.
It’s understandable from a business perspective, but to the fandom, it’s left a bad taste in their mouths. Bethesda is supposed to care about their fans, and be better than other companies that only treat them as a source of revenue.
A continued acknowledgement of what went wrong – wherein they show they understand why everything around Fallout 76 has frustrated fans so much– could dispel these worries and set them back on the right track toward the fans’ good graces.
Bethesda will make it through this rough patch. Their hype over the years hasn’t been for nothing, and they’re a staple of the industry’s heavy hitters for a reason.
Whether they make it through in a year or a decade, though, depends on how long it takes to regain their standing with fans, and it’ll become clear which it will be after the dust settles from their E3 2019 conference.