Ever since that bit of news about the physical PC editions of Fallout 4 came out I was worried as to what would actually come in the box. According to multiple people who have that box now, it’s even worse than I imagined, a pretty surprising move by Bethesda Game Studios, and a sloppy attempt at blocking piracy that once again only hurts the legitimate customer.
Through twitter, a few weeks ago Bethesda noted that Fallout 4 on PC would require users to download at least some amount of data from Steam even if they bought the retail version, as an extra precaution against piracy. The problem is if you look at all the stories reporting on this and the tweets themselves, they’re really vague about the fine details. Bethesda never said how much of the game would be in the box and how much was essentially digital-only. I had to wait until several people on reddit and the Steam forums confirmed Fallout 4 only comes on one DVD-ROM containing about five gigs of the game, requiring you to download the remaining 19 GB. This is almost as bad as when the physical PC version of Metal Gear Solid V: The Phantom Pain came with only a Steam install file printed on a disc. I’ve seen a lot of comments from people confused about how physical PC games are usually packaged these days and how measures like this inconvenience people, so let me explain for a bit.
If a game uses “Steamworks” DRM, that means every copy unlocks on and installs through Steam, even the physical disc. The only difference with retail copies is after you input the CD key Steam installs the game straight off the disc, which could be one or multiple. Every physical Steamworks game I’ve bought has contained the entire launch version of the game. That makes a huge difference if you have a data cap or internet so slow it can take hours or days to download a game like Fallout 4 (or games twice as big like Call of Duty Black Ops III). This is the real reason some people still buy PC games on discs, because everyone who plays PC games doesn’t have access to Gigabit internet, or even 100Mbps internet.
What further clouded the discussion with Bethesda on Twitter concerning Fallout 4’s partial disc install is how PR Marketing Vice President Pete Hines said “Well we’ve been doing it this way more or less for 10+ years. Seems to be doing ok. Lots of people bought Skyrim, [Wolfenstein], etc.” Maybe the PR guys aren’t in total sync with the guys who print the discs, but Bethesda hasn’t ever handled a physical PC version the way it’s handling Fallout 4.
Skyrim, Fallout New Vegas, and Dishonored are each small enough to ship on one DVD — a dual-layer DVD that should hold just under nine gigs. That’s a the real kicker to me — Bethesda didn’t even use a dual-layer DVD to package eight gigs of Fallout 4 in the box. More importantly though, RAGE, which is about the same file size as Fallout 4, shipped on three DVDs. Wolfenstein: The New Order and The Evil Within each shipped on four.
And I still don’t get how changing things up with Fallout 4 this makes piracy harder. I’m not an expert on the inner workings of piracy, but I’m aware that torrents for the game are already out, effectively rendering the effort moot. Is there something about physical PC games that makes piracy easier? I don’t see how making 80 percent of Fallout 4 digital-only on PC as opposed to the whole game complicates things for pirates. This might even convince a few people to download repacks — pirate copies of PC games that have been further compressed to smaller download sizes.
In the case of Konami with Phantom Pain I could actually understand if it was pure ignorance. The way I hear it a lot of Japanese game companies still don’t really know what Steam is, or only just recently became aware. Perhaps Konami thinks Steam is a digital-only platform and wasn’t aware you can put a game on multiple discs and still have it install through Steam. Bethesda on the other hand I think just wanted to save money on printing the discs. Did saving that extra money really mean that much, even as Fallout 4 broke a million copies on PC alone by day one? I could perhaps understand a smaller developer doing this, but this game is coming off the mega successes of Fallout 3 and Skyrim. Similarly massive games still have complete physical PC versions. Grand Theft Auto V comes with six DVDs in a really nice case, I think Call of Duty: Advanced Warfare is also on six DVDs.
Bethesda could have at least done this for the Pip-Boy edition. They’re already spending a lot on those right? What’s another couple DVDs per case? I know there’s probably some smart economical reason why, but why don’t special editions of big PC games start shipping on custom USB drives?
I know in the end the real people we should be mad at are ISPs who won’t make modern internet more widely available and affordable. Even given that though, what Bethesda has done with Fallout 4 is atypical of AAA publishers and even atypical of Bethesda. It’s honestly baffling.
- It looks just like news: http://www.baltimoresun.com/news/language-blog/bal-it-looks-just-like-news-20151111-story.html
- Kickstarter update on the 0.6 release of Exanima: https://www.kickstarter.com/projects/1473965863/sui-generis/posts/1410549
- A Gamasutra interview with Paul Neuarth: http://www.gamasutra.com/blogs/PierreAlexandreGarneau/20151109/258897/Interview_Paul_Neurath_on_Getting_Design_from_Good_to_Great.php