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Amazon’s Fallout success reveals a big problem with the video game business

The cast of Fallout.
Prime Video

April’s biggest video game isn’t a new release like Tales of Kenzera: Zau or Stellar Blade. Instead, it’s a series that hasn’t gotten a new entry in years.

Fallout is currently enjoying a wave of mainstream attention thanks to its surprisingly fun Amazon TV adaptation. Returning players and newly-won-over fans alike are returning to classics like Fallout 4 and New Vegas to scratch their post-apocalyptic itches. It’s the moment any video game publisher dreams of, but there’s just one problem: Bethesda can’t capitalize on the moment.

Because of the way big video games are developed nowadays, there’s little hope that a new Fallout title will launch any time soon. Fallout 5 currently isn’t scheduled to release until well after The Elder Scrolls 6, Bethesda’s current project. It’s very likely that Amazon’s series will have been over for years before the next mainline game releases. That should serve as an eye-opening moment to the AAA video game machine. While it may seem logical to keep growing the scale of projects and chase the “megagame,” that strategy comes at the expense of valuable flexibility. We may never see Bethesda capitalize on its biggest mainstream moment, and that’s a problem.

Losing flexibility

Here’s the situation. Amazon’s Fallout became an unexpected hit when it dropped on Prime Video earlier this month. Lots of viewers were seemingly won over by its unique tone, which balances playful comedy and pitch-black, post-apocalyptic gloom. That success led to a resurgence of interest in just about every game in the series’ history. Fallout 4 is especially benefiting from that wave, as the 2015 RPG has since broken 100,000 concurrent players on Steam. That’s great news for Bethesda.

What’s less ideal is that every Fallout game available to play is at least six years old. 2018’s Fallout 76 is the most recent game in the series, but it’s a multiplayer online game that’s not exactly a good entry point for viewers looking for a solo story adventure. Fallout 4 is the best bet there, and that game is nearly a decade old.

A man and a robot walking in the wastelands in Fallout 4.

In an older era of game making, this would likely be a moment where a publisher like Bethesda would fast track plans for a sequel or spinoff. Resources might be moved around and something would be hot and ready to serve before the Amazon show wrapped up. But that simply isn’t possible for a company like Bethesda anymore — at least not in its current workflow.

When Bethesda Game Studios makes a game, it doesn’t work quickly. It can spend close to a decade crafting ambitious open-world games packed with content. Its most recent project, 2023’s Starfield, was in development for eight years before releasing to some less than enthusiastic reactions from players. Its next project is already in the works: The Elder Scrolls 6. The Skyrim successor entered pre-production in 2018, but still isn’t slated to arrive for a few years. Fallout 5 is next on the docket after that. If that takes another eight years to make, the chances of it releasing during the height of the series are slim to none.

That’s fine on some level. Bethesda doesn’t owe anyone a new Fallout game, even if it’s enjoying newfound notoriety. The developer should make whatever it’s passionate about building rather than catering to trends. But seeing Fallout 5 is in the cards and that there’s a bigger audience than ever that’s hungry for it, the overwhelming demands of Bethesda’s unsustainable development timelines mean it’s likely to miss the mark. And it isn’t the only game studio struggling with that.

The Last of Us is currently having the same moment thanks to its well-received HBO adaptation. While the studio has tried to capitalize with double-dip remasters (and remasters of remasters) of the series’ first two games, it’s still going to be a while until it can capitalize with The Last of Us Part 3. What’s especially problematic is that the show is likely to catch up to the games before then, possibly forcing the showrunners to deliver Part 3 on TV before it can be played. TV can be produced much faster than modern games, and that’s bad news when adaptations are in fashion right now.

Ella Purnell in the Fallout TV show.

There are some ways Bethesda can fill the void. It wouldn’t be surprising to see remasters of fan favorites like Fallout 3 and New Vegas drop in the next few years. The live-service Fallout 76 is in the best position to push the momentum with show-related updates. We’re getting next-gen upgrades for Fallout 4 this week, which is great timing. Perhaps we could even get a small-scale project like Fallout Shelter as a stopgap. That’s all great, but they’re half-measures. The main attraction is a new mainline title, and that won’t be possible unless Bethesda significantly descopes the project.

And maybe it should. Perhaps there’s a lesson to be learned here about how out of control game development has become. The dream of the enormous megagame just might not be worth it anymore. Why spend eight years painstakingly developing something as big as Starfield only to have it underwhelm thanks to design compromises made to balloon its content? We’re now seeing exactly how costly a gamble that was for Bethesda. The resources it spent there could have gone into more compact projects, giving the studio more flexibility to read its audience’s interests and adapt. Without that power, it simply has to execute its long-committed plans and pray that the public is still excited years from now.

All that is to say that if you’re hungry for more Fallout, you’ll just have to wait for the show’s second season. Pray that it gets renewed for another eight more to keep you occupied until Bethesda can catch up.

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Giovanni Colantonio
Giovanni is a writer and video producer focusing on happenings in the video game industry. He has contributed stories to…
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