This is going to date me, but there was a common expression on the official Fallout 2 boards that went “you’d have to be a FOOL to want FallOut OnLine” primarily because of gameplay/integrity concerns. Well, this week, a court denied Bethesda (makers of The Elder Scrolls and current owner of the Fallout IP) yet another injunction against Interplay, original owner of the IP, in their production of a Fallout MMO. The two have been in a persistent slap fight for the past few years, instigated entirely by Bethesda, and it seems that there’s very little rhyme or reason behind it aside from sheer malice. But first, a little back story…
In the late 90s, Interplay created Fallout and Fallout 2, gaining an impassioned cult audience for their incredibly-realized worlds matched with solid role-playing mechanics. Interplay began to unravel financially around the turn of the millennium, the disadvantage of making niche (or at best, mildly successful) PC games for so long, and spent some of their last dollars making Fallout: Tactics, a turn-based tactical combat game, a la Jagged Alliance or X-COM, which also failed financially. They declared bankruptcy and worked out of a small office for several years.
Bethesda, flush with cash from the success of The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind, swept in to purchase the much admired Fallout intellectual property from the ailing Interplay, licensing the IP back to them to produce an MMO. In 2008, Bethesda released Fallout 3 to critical and commercial acclaim and the following year, sued Interplay for not entering full production on their MMO and dragging the whole affair out. This was after Bethesda had been irritated that Interplay repackaged their original Fallout titles in a Trilogy pack for retail, stating that it was ‘confusing for consumers’. The court tossed the case and Interplay continued to work. Now bear in mind, these aren’t the guys behind the original Fallouts producing this MMO – that would be Bulgaria-based Masthead Studios – the creators of the Fallout games split off to form Troika Games (which went under years ago) and Obsidian Entertainment, whom Bethesda tapped to produce Fallout: New Vegas.
So what’s with this latest suit? Well, Bethesda didn’t want Interplay or Masthead to actually use any of the Fallout characters, storylines, or trademarks, again, out of a concern of the confusing consumers, despite the fact that they already knew Interplay was going to do it. The judge came to the same conclusion and tossed it. So why in the world did Bethesda set this deal up with Interplay knowing full-well what it meant? I don’t think anyone really knows except their own legal team, who seem hellbent on preventing Interplay from making the game they said they were going to make.