Uncover the tragic history of Fallout Online: The MMO that could have been

Originally published at: https://boingboing.net/2018/08/10/uncover-the-tragic-history-of.html


I would have probably lost my job, girlfriend, house, etc. So it’s probably just as well this didn’t see the light of day. But yes, if it had shown up… I’d be right there with you.


I dunno…I think that if this had been a success, we’d never have seen another single player fallout afterwards.


internal politics at Interplay, the fine print of the details of a contract the company signed off on with Bethesda Softworks, and financial mismanagement…

I think Aeschylus used a somewhat different definition of “tragedy.”

1 Like


I’m pretty bearish on MMOs in general. 38 studios is a big part of that

Basically, they’re incredibly difficult to make, and generally quite expensive. Like, it’s honestly pretty surprising to me when any MMO sees the light of day


So, is Interplay still some kind of independent corporate entity at this point? Wikipedia’s not entirely clear on the matter.

I did see a bunch of their older stuff turn up in a bundle on Groupees.com recently; it was the first time I’d thought of them in a while.

Huh, I was unaware they were thinking about an MMO back in the '90s. Not very seriously though, obviously - it was a non-starter, given the costs (something like 20 times what they spent making the single-player games), money they didn’t have.

Calling this the “MMO that could have been” is wildly optimistic, though. It was never going to be. The '90s effort was a non-starter and Interplay was a dead, zombie company when they actually started V13 in 2007. They were basically what they are now - a holding company for the few IPs they hadn’t sold off, restarting after having been completely shut down (more recently they have like six employees). It seems like their strategy for making this was not dissimilar to their strategy for the games they currently “publish” - they get someone else to finance and make the game in its entirety, and get a cut of the game revenue (and bogus publishing credit) in return for the studio getting to use the IP Interplay own. For the MMO, it sounds like they managed to raise a bit of money and had an in-house skeleton crew overseeing the project, though not remotely enough to make the game, so they needed to find more funding. Except that Bethesda set up the agreement such that this was in violation of their terms. They knew that Interplay, as a skeleton company, couldn’t possibly raise the money they needed to make the MMO themselves and staff up to make it in the timeframe they agreed upon. The deal was very obviously set up so that it would never happen.
Given what they - very carefully - described as already “in the game,” and given that they started with a working game engine (that had already made a very similar game), they had some concept art, a few textured models (though no mention of animation), a test-bed that they could stick some models into, and had roughly blocked out some regions. I worked on an MMO that got that much done in a matter of months with a tiny team (and an unfamiliar engine). Basically, they had nothing.

Yeah, which is why Bethesda, who weren’t planning on making an MMO and didn’t want to spend the money buying those rights outright as well, set up the deal, where they licensed the rights back to Interplay, in such a way that Interplay could never actually make a game. From the initial, impossible conditions (raising full funds in two years, making it in four), to having veto powers on the content, Bethesda torpedoed any possibility that the game could happen. Even without that, it almost certainly wasn’t going to get made, but they weren’t taking any chances.

I mean, basically Interplay didn’t have the team, didn’t have the money, and thanks to the deal it made, didn’t have the rights. Every group that wishes it could make a game (and doesn’t) has at least one of those things getting in the way. So much tragedy!

These days, they don’t, so much. There was a period of time, after World of Warcraft started to get crazy subscriber numbers compared to anything before it, that people started throwing money at MMO development. It was all insane, there was no market for it (WoW was the market), no way to make the money back on the insane outlay of resources (hundred+ millions). But it takes so long to make an MMO that tons of studios got the money to make them before the first wave of MMOs trying to steal WoW’s crown came out - and failed utterly. I was working on MMOs when 38 Studios announced their project and all I could do was laugh ruefully, knowing they were headed for disaster.
Now it’s even harder to get funding, as the subscription model has lost favor among players. Free-to-play can bring in good revenues, but it’s risky, so no one wants to gamble the money required to build a proper MMO on that model. Smaller multiplayer games are what’s hot now - they can potentially be made for less than the cost of a singleplayer game, rather than twenty times the cost.

At this point it’s just a holding company that licenses out their IPs to actual studios that make games, basically like Atari. I believe they both call themselves publishers, but it’s bullshit. They don’t do any of the work involved in funding, developing or distributing the games.


Interplay weren’t neccisarily “responsible” for Fallout. Interplay was initial the name of the dev company. But it was rapidly split off into a publisher. With actual content coming out of various developers. The group at Interplay that developed the game became Black Isle. The same people responsible for Baldur’s Gate, Planescape Torment. And nearly every other significant isometric RPG of the 90’s

The key people in that group. Feargus Urquhart, Chris Avelone, Tim Cain, Leonard Boyarsky, Brian Fargo, and Jason Anderson among others had already begun exiting Interplay/Black Isle by the time Interplay started tinkering with the idea of a Fallout RPG. Key members left in 1997 to form Troika Games. Others would follow. And while some remained, working on things like Van Buren. Black Isle itself was dissolved in 2003 as Interplay collapsed. Brian Fargo who founded Interplay left at that point. Around the same time Troika collapsed. Those core guys basically reshuffled themselves into Obsidian Entertainment in 2004 and In-Exile in 2003.

Any work Interplay was doing on a Fallout MMO never involved any of the people responsible for creating Fallout. And by the time they got to it seriously Interplay was already a sketchy shell of what it had been. The MMO they eventually started working on in some format never would have seen the light of day to begin with. And it wouldn’t have been much good if it did. Rumor, pitches and leaks at the time were insanely varied. And at times it seemed like Interplay wasn’t actually developing an MMO. Just acting like they were to keep the license alive and juice their stock price.

You might not ever see a single player fallout game again anyway.
76 is going a complete new direction.
They are implementing some interesting ideas, but they are no longer making a single player formula they have built success upon.

1 Like

There was also a good version of Fallout 3 in the works.

Man Fallout 4 is a fun game but it’s a terrible Fallout game.

I wonder if this could’ve given me the incentive to set up a vault-like dwelling, become a prepper, and hone my survival skills for the coming apocalypse.

1 Like

This topic was automatically closed after 5 days. New replies are no longer allowed.