Quality control is an essential part of production, as it is the stage that guarantees that the customers receive a satisfactory product or service. It is challenging to evaluate every use case that can be created thoroughly with the limited resources of a company department. However, an inferior product can severely damage a company’s reputation and lead customers to turn to its competitors for following purchases. Therefore, the procedure should be carried out thoroughly and efficiently if a company wants to maintain its sustainability. This report investigates the influence of poor quality control on the recent product created by Bethesda Softworks, Fallout 76, and the lessons that can be learned from its failure.
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Bethesda Softworks and Fallout 76
Bethesda Softworks is a well-known videogame publisher that has released numerous critically acclaimed titles in the past. It is primarily known for two action role-playing game franchises that it owns, The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. As the newest entry in a highly popular and well-established series, Fallout 76 could have expected a high degree of success even if it did not completely match the standards set by previous entries. However, this was not the case, and as the data provided by Morgans (2018) shows, the game was a large-scale failure. While one can identify numerous issues that combined to severely damage the commercial success of the product, its poor quality, as well as that of the services surrounding it, should be considered the primary causes.
The game itself is full of issues such as bugs and performance concerns. Ramsey (2018) describes the state of the game at its launch as embarrassing, noting that the severe stuttering is the primary concern. Bethesda has somewhat improved the performance of the game with continuous patches since its release, but the developers have not been able to address all of the bugs and glitches. One of the more recent stories, as described by Dellinger (2019), is that a main feature of the game, as well as one of its most significant selling points, stopped working because the year has changed. Numerous other issues are also still present, and many of them can severely and negatively affect player experience.
However, the services that Bethesda has created to support its newest game have been the subject of numerous controversies, as well. Petite (2018) names two different stories: the fake canvas bags advertising and the personal information leak. The first involved an expensive special edition of the game, which was stated by the publisher to include a canvas bag but shipped with a thin nylon variant that did not look like the advertisement.
Bethesda initially refused to provide compensation when the issue was discovered but was forced to change its position and offer replacement bags later. This incident directly led to the second controversy, as special edition buyers were asked to enter their data and submit proof of purchase to the Bethesda website, which accidentally made the data publicly available for a long enough duration of time that the public was able to notice. The list of scandals does not end here, but these two are the primary examples of poor quality control by Bethesda.
The actions of the company’s employees have at times been ill-considered, as well. Webb (2018) describes the story of how the company had banned a considerable number of players, essentially removing their ability to utilise the product they had bought, over a potentially non-existent issue, and made the situation worse with patronising emails to those affected. Arif (2018) describes the low-quality fix that was intended to allow the game to support ultrawide monitors but resulted in a solution that was deemed inferior to a third-party alternative by the community. Overall, it appears that the teams responsible for the development and quality control for the game are not sufficiently committed to the task.
The choices of partners who produced various Fallout merchandise were associated with their scandals. Kain (2018) describes how the “Nuka Rum” bottles offered by Bethesda as a collector’s item ended up disappointing the buyers due to their low quality despite the high price. Not only was the design subpar, as the bottle was a standard variety that was hidden in a plastic shell, but the case also interfered with pouring. While the rum’s production was outsourced to another company, Bethesda should have been responsible for ensuring that the final product matches a set of standards that justifies its price. On its own, the situation would not have been particularly notable, but it shows how shallow the quality control was for Fallout 76 and everything associated with the product.
Primary Quality Control Issues
It is possible to identify three central issues related to quality control during the production of Fallout 76: a lack of time in which to conduct the procedures, insufficient quality standards and lacking employee engagement. The game was announced in May 2018 and released in October 2018, and the variety of issues described above that plagued it strongly implies that the game was rushed and did not go through all of the necessary quality control procedures. Ramsey (2018) also notes that many of the bugs observed in Fallout 76 have also been present in the company’s previous titles, which use the same fundamental engine, suggesting that Bethesda’s quality assurance negligence is a long-time trait. Some of these issues can be traced to the industry as a whole.
Shorter development times, which result in lower overall quality, have become a trait of many game publishers, particularly large ones. Von Wolfersdorf (2015) describes the reduction in game development cycle times and its negative influence on the overall quality. He notes that while achieving superior speed and quality at the same time should not be considered impossible, it is a challenging task that requires considerable research.
Modern large developers appear to be disregarding research and quality in favour of faster production and relying on brand strength to sell their product, which ultimately negatively affects their performance in the long term. It is possible that this behaviour was also the case for Bethesda and Fallout 76, and the public may perceive it in that manner.
The issue with general standards is more endemic to Bethesda, but their earlier games were able to pass the scrutiny of critics and players and become known as masterpieces despite the issues. Another factor is responsible for the general decrease in developer factors. According to Sandqvist (2015), it is the recent tendency to release games in an ‘early access’ state, where people can access and play the game as it is being developed and serve as testers while funding production by purchasing the product.
Due to this idea, early access games tend to be severely underdeveloped and attract consumers based on the strength of its concept, brand, or marketing. The approach can be a target for criticism, as it allows videogame companies to extract profits without offering a finished, complete product, and some games, even popular ones, end up never leaving the stage.
Lastly, low employee engagement may also be an industry-wide issue. According to Milner (2018), there is often not enough time to finish a game, which forces developers to work overtime and make mistakes due to overwork and exhaustion. As videogame creation is an artistic occupation already and requires passion and dedication for success, the strain tends to demand more from a person, leading to greater exhaustion and lower engagement. In light of Fallout 76’s unfavourable reception even before its release, it is possible that the employees who were working on the project were not motivated to perform to the best of their abilities, as they realised the impossibility of their task.
Consequences and Challenges
Fallout 76 is most likely a failure in terms of sales due to its poor publicity, as the data mentioned above show. Bethesda Softworks is privately owned, so information about the company’s financial state is not available, but it is highly unlikely that the company was able to make a significant profit. However, it is also possible that Fallout 76 did not cost much to make, as according to Strickland (2018), it may have reused assets from previous Bethesda Softworks games.
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Nevertheless, it is possible that the company is going to have to accelerate the release of its next game to maintain its financial position. The increased speed is likely to reduce the quality of the following product, potentially pulling the company into a loop of rushed games that keep failing.
The more important consequence of the low quality of Fallout 76 is the poor reception of the game by consumers, both those loyal to Bethesda and new ones. Both categories of customers participated in the backlash against the game as well as Bethesda itself (Asarch 2018), and the negativity only grew throughout the controversies that followed the release. For a company like Bethesda, which maintains its success based on a devoted base of fans that are willing to forgive some missteps, this reaction may mean that the publisher may have lost a considerable part of that trust. Now, it is going to have to apply significant effort to regain the positive image it has held up until the release of Fallout 76.
The failure of Fallout 76 has been caused by a combination of different factors, the most prominent of which is the poor quality control by Bethesda Softworks. The lack of assurance measures is also a composite concern, as the company’s culture is responsible for a significant part of it. However, the particular failure of Fallout 76 can also be linked to Bethesda’s attempt to follow industry trends such as shorter development cycles and early access releases. Both practices tend to considerably lower the quality of the product as a result, a fact that the publisher was able to experience first-hand. Due to the underwhelming sales and the lost customer trust that resulted from the Fallout 76 release, Bethesda Softworks now has to release its next game faster to recoup the losses, but cannot risk making a subpar product, as that would ruin its reputation.
As described above, it is likely that Bethesda Softworks has largely sacrificed quality control in favour of increased production speed and lowered costs while creating Fallout 76. A complete overhaul of the system may be necessary, one that would return the creation of superior products to the forefront. Bethesda Softworks does not have any stakeholders, as it is privately owned, but in more general cases, video game company stakeholders tend to distance themselves from the process and require economic growth. As the specifics of Bethesda’s quality control procedures are unknown, and the only information the report can work with are its results from the company’s games, the recommendations will include a complete overhaul on the system based on scholarly research into its most effective models. Furthermore, the suggestions will be limited to the topic of this report and only cover quality control improvements.
The general approach to the creation of new products for a company should incorporate attention to every detail and level of production with the intent to maximise quality. Mandava and Bach (2015) call this method ‘total quality management’ and separate it into a set of factors: employee empowerment, management commitment, customer satisfaction and employee training. All four should be taken into account and addressed during changes, and if the idea is implemented correctly, the company’s culture should change.
The new approach would involve the commitment of every employee, including the managers, to delivering the best possible product to consumers, allowing the production team itself to carry out a part of the quality control team’s duties during its work and simplifying the process by reducing the number of significant redesigns.
While the approach described above is somewhat idealistic, frameworks that attempt to put it into action can be implemented. Androniceanu (2017) describes a three-dimensional method that separates total quality management into three dimensions: technical, social and economic. In turn, each of the aspects is defined by three primary factors. Quality is present in each of the groups, and the other two are standards and technical characteristics, price and terms and product parameters and costs for the technical, social and economic spheres respectively. Improving the two other metrics in a group will consequently upgrade the overall quality of the product, allowing a company to evaluate which contributing factors are lacking and respond with appropriate changes.
Maintaining the level of quality that is expected of the company is essential to its sustainability, but it can lead to stagnation if continuous improvement is not present. A company should keep improving itself to keep up with the evolution of the market and remain competitive. According to Jammal, Khoja and Aziz (2015), Six Sigma methods may be appropriate for the purpose in the current framework, as they are compatible with total quality management guidelines. The core concepts of Six Sigma include factual management, rational leadership, continuous improvement and employee partnership. The approach is generally employed in other industries, but its nature makes it broadly applicable, and implementing it in a video game company would most likely result in significant benefits.
While Six Sigma approaches are not commonly employed in the video game industry, one can inspect the broader software creation field for examples and ideas. Roy and Samaddar (2015) provide an example of significant reductions in the numbers of software defects such as bugs after a successful implementation of the policies and note the contrast with prior disorganised quality improvements initiatives, which did not have a considerable effect. This utility is particularly relevant for a company like Bethesda, whose products are known for their tendency to have large numbers of bugs. The rarity of the approach in the industry serves as an additional incentive, as the company would gain a competitive edge.
It is impossible to manufacture a product that fulfils the expectation of the consumers and guarantees a high level of quality in a reasonable time frame if the team sets unrealistic goals. According to Gach (2018), Bethesda Softworks’s Todd Howard made a number of unrealistic promises, which mostly went unfulfilled, during the game’s initial presentation. Quality control initiatives cannot introduce features that are not already present in some form, but its role is also to ensure that the product matches the expectations set by the marketing team. As such, it is vital to set realistic goals and to take the abilities of the employees and the remaining time and resources into consideration.
However, estimating the difficulty and resource requirements of different projects and approaches, especially ones that arise suddenly during the development process, is a challenging task. According to Politowski et al. (2016), delays, unrealistic scope and a lack of documentation are the primary problems in game development. One way to solve the issue would be to adopt a rigidly structured approach that would allow a company to accurately evaluate the time and resources necessary to implement a feature or fix an issue. The establishment of such a system would require significant effort, as the capabilities of the company would have to be documented in detail, but the benefits would be considerable and immediately noticeable.
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