Fallout: The nuclear-powered gaming brand capturing new audiences

By John Mercury April 27, 2024

A new update has been released for the nine-year-old video game Fallout 4, the first of its kind for the hit title since 2017.

It follows the roaring success of the Fallout TV show, which this month became the most-watched programme on Amazon Prime Video, overtaking both The Grand Tour and Clarkson’s Farm.

Game publisher Bethesda issued free next-generation iterations for the PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series consoles, to boost graphics, frame rates and fix bugs.

PlayStation players are the biggest winners from the update, as the Xbox Series X already upscales graphics and framerates of older titles, while PC gaming giant AMD’s FidelityFX Super Resolution product achieves the same effect.

The release of the TV show has propelled Fallout game titles back into the Top Sellers category on the PC game platform Steam, with two Fallout games in the top 10 most-sold, with Fallout New Vegas even beating Call of Duty Warzone (which is free), at time of writing.

HBO’s smash hit, The Last Of Us, based on Sony Interactive Entertainment’s platinum intellectual property raised the bar for future game adaptations, but producers breathed a sigh of relief when pre-release reviews were universally positive.

The franchise is a jewel in the crown of publisher Bethesda, which was purchased by Xbox in a $7.5bn (£6bn) acquisition in 2021. Other popular titles include The Elder Scrolls and their latest release Starfield.

The Fallout story begins in 1997 when the first iteration was released by a North American publisher, Interplay, on Windows MS-DOS to critical acclaim and successful sales.

Fallout 2 followed just a year later (developed in a third of the time of its predecessor) to an equally positive reception and was deemed to be a worthy successor.

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Walton Goggins plays The Ghoul in the Fallout show. Pic: Amazon/Everett/Shutterstock
Walton Goggins plays The Ghoul in the Fallout show. Pic: Amazon/Everett/Shutterstock

The award-winning move to 3D

The first-ever 3D version came in 2008 following the partial sale of the Fallout IP to Bethesda, in the form of Fallout 3.

It beat the sales records of both its predecessors in the first week alone, and received outstanding reviews across the board.

By the end of the following year, Fallout 3 had won multiple awards, and in 2012, was displayed in The Art of Video Games exhibition at the Smithsonian American Art Museum, earning the franchise a permanent place in the public’s cultural consciousness.

The notable spin-off Fallout: New Vegas was released swiftly afterwards, quickly cementing itself as a fan favourite. Following the release of the TV programme, New Vegas is currently out-selling Diablo IV, Elden Ring and Grand Theft Auto V on Steam.

Fallout 4 was released in 2015 to a mixed but largely positive reception, introducing some new features such as base-building and managed to please a majority of players.

The Brotherhood of Steel in the Fallout show. Pic: Amazon/Everett/Shutterstock
The Brotherhood of Steel in the Fallout show. Pic: Amazon/Everett/Shutterstock

‘Historically bad’ and ‘pointless’ release

Then Bethesda published Fallout 76.

The first 3D multiplayer outing for Fallout ever released also turned out to be the most controversial.

It drew criticism from the press and players alike. Game-breaking bugs, an initial lack of content and poor design – coupled with a fanbase who were more accustomed to the single-player format, made it a victim to ‘”review-bombing”. Forbes called it a “historically bad launch”, while the Guardian branded it “pointless”.

Imperfect game launches can badly damage reputations, as exemplified by titles such as No Man’s Sky, Star Wars Battlefront II and Cyberpunk 2077. All three games have since largely rehabilitated themselves, though a stigmatic miasma remains.

A revival

Thanks to Prime Video’s TV adaptation the very same has now happened to Fallout 76.

The TV series has spurred players on to try it one more time, leading them to discover the updates, bug fixes and content releases that have greatly elevated Fallout 76 in the opinion of many fans, and led to positive recent player reviews.

At the time of writing, Fallout 76 occupies Steam’s eighth most-sold position, beating the award-winning Baldur’s Gate 3, EA Sports FC 24, and Call Of Duty: Modern Warfare III. At its peak this week the game boasted a million active players across all platforms, the highest number since its release.

It may come as a surprise to some to learn Fallout 5 is slated for seven to 10 years’ time, though some industry voices theorise Microsoft may use the series’ success to justify commissioning an intermediary instalment in the meantime to capitalise on the unexpectedly high levels of public interest.

Fallout show is proof of concept

Fallout’s TV success is proof of concept that companies can capitalise on (and sometimes rehabilitate), the public familiarity of their franchises – the box-office-hit Barbie movie being another example.

Games, like toys, will likely continue to spawn more cinematic adaptations, with The Last Of Us and Fallout receiving second seasons, while Bob the Builder, Polly Pocket and Barney The Dinosaur will all be immortalised in film.

Video games are arguably even easier to adapt for television given the narratives and universes are conveniently pre-existing, as opposed to the arduous job of inventing completely original storylines for Bob and his fellow construction workers.

Which game franchise gets the TV treatment next, however, remains to be seen, by players and non-gamers alike.


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