Unlike the previous Fallout games, Fallout 76 is an online, multiplayer-focused game that requires an internet connection. So what happens if Bethesda has to shut off the servers at some point? That's not something Bethesda is thinking about, and least not in its conversations with the public, because the company believes Fallout 76 can last until the sun burns out.
"How long is [Fallout 76] going to be up? Forever," Hines told GameSpot, doubling down on what he's said before. "I don't know how to give an answer other than that. It's not like anybody makes a game and goes, 'Well this is going to make it for 10 years if we're lucky.' Nobody thinks that way. How long has WoW been up now? Is that game planning to sunset in a year? I seriously doubt it."
Fallout 76 requires an internet connection, and that itself requires Bethesda to pay for servers. As we've seen in other franchises with online support, there can come a time when developers understandably choose to focus on newer titles that have more active player populations. Hines suggested that Bethesda may stop operating Fallout 76 if people stop playing, but again, he stressed that Bethesda's support for Fallout 76 aims to be "never-ending."
"We're going to keep going as long as people keep playing it and it shows no sign of slowing down," he said. "Once we get to private servers or whatever happens in the years following; I don't know. Maybe there's a point where it doesn't matter. But … this is a massive franchise and a massive undertaking, and our commitment to it is it is never-ending, and that it continues on an ongoing basis."
Because Fallout 76 is an online-only game, should Bethesda ever decide to pull the plug on the servers, how does that impact the idea of ownership of the game? Hines said game ownership "isn't particularly relevant" at this juncture because, "I see a plan for this game for years and years and years. So talking about when it's not up is kind of irrelevant. I have nothing to look at that says it's not going to be up forever."
In the past, when games had little or no online functionality, they would theoretically continue to work until the end of time. But in this new era of connected experiences, that's changed, and it'll be interesting to see how that affects the idea of what it means to own a game. The topic of game preservation for historical and educational purposes is also at play here. If, say, a museum wanted to preserve Fallout 76 and allow attendees to play it in 50 or 100 years, whether or not that is possible is not a sure thing.
Fallout 76 being an online-only game doesn't mean Bethesda is finished making single-player games. Rage 2, which launches in 2019, is a purely single-player game, while Doom Eternal will also have single-player. Additionally, the next game from Bethesda Game Studios, the sci-fi title Starfield, is "entirely single-player," Hines said.
"Our statement wasn't that we were only ever going to do single-player; it's going to continue to be an important part of what we do. But a part. We're also the guys who do The Elder Scrolls Online, we're also the guys who do The Elder Scrolls Legends," Hines said.
In December 2017, Bethesda released a tongue-in-cheek video starring Wonder Woman actress Lynda Carter calling on gamers to "save" the single-player gamer. Many of Bethesda's biggest games were more focused on single-player, so it caught some in the industry by surprise when Bethesda announced the always-online Fallout 76. As Hines explains, Bethesda still believes in single-player, but it also wants to try new things on the multiplayer side as well.
Also in our interview, Hines stressed that Bethesda corporate doesn't give mandates to its development studios about what they should make next. Some people believed Fallout 76's new online direction was the result of management chasing money, but Hines says that's not true. It was entirely the developer's decision, from the onset, to make Fallout 76 an online game. And more widely, Hines talked about how Bethesda gives its teams freedom to make what they want.
"It's down to our devs and the kinds of experiences they want to create that will really drive what we make as opposed to, 'X percent of our games have to have a heavy emphasis on single-player or be only single-player.' That's silly and arbitrary. What does Arkane want to make next? What does BGS want to make next? Let's focus those things and how excited we get. And if we are, we feel like everybody else will."
Fallout 76 launches on November 14 for PS4, Xbox One, and PC. A version of the game for Nintendo Switch "wasn't doable," according to Hines.