Bethesda under fire for Fallout 76 refund policy

There is no legal reason for Bethesda and ZeniMax to offer refunds.

When Fallout 76 launched earlier this month, it was to almost universal criticism of its glitch-filled open world. From IGN to GameSpot, Bethesda’s NPC-less online experiment has been panned as being an incomplete and dull experience. In the wake of this negative reception, many consumers are seeking refunds on the grounds that Fallout 76 is unplayable, but some have met with difficulties parsing Bethesda’s refund policy.

Now, a Washington DC-based law firm is investigating Bethesda and its method of obliging refund requests. The legal basis on which Bethesda would be forced to offer refunds is a confusing mess of jargon and varies from country to country. In an effort to clear things up, GameDaily reached out to Richard Hoeg of Hoeg Law in Northville, Michigan to find out if consumers are within their legal rights to demand a refund.

In short, Hoeg said that due to the online agreement accepted by Fallout 76 players, Bethesda and its owner ZeniMax Media are under no obligation to offer refunds. “In general, software is not sold to users, it is licensed,” he said. “Because of that, use of any software is subject to the terms of the licensing contract.” These terms are usually dubbed the “Terms of Service,” or an “End User License Agreement” (EULA).

“Licensees are deemed to have accepted the terms of the license contract when they ‘click through’ or otherwise acknowledge such application,” said Hoeg. “It would be very difficult for any given user to force a refund, if the company does not wish to give it.”

Hoeg made it clear that his responses here are not legal advice, but merely his observations given his understanding of US consumer law and the wording of ZeniMax’s EULA.  

Hoeg was quick to point out that different countries are subject to different consumer protection laws. “It’s worth noting, that while the US is generally protective of a commercial party’s ability to set the terms of such a license, many other jurisdictions are not.” Countries like Switzerland, Russia, and Japan tend to lean more towards the consumer in such disputes, and the ZeniMax EULA acknowledges this, but an agreement is an agreement. Once you click through a EULA, Hoeg said, you’re subject to that agreement’s terms.

While ZeniMax is under no legal obligation to issue Fallout 76 refunds, Hoeg said that doing so is good PR. “The contracts only set the boundaries of operations. ZeniMax doesn’t have to do something, but they might want to, if the din gets loud enough.” Certainly, Bethesda could use all the good PR it can muster given the rocky reception of Fallout 76.

Sam has been freelancing since 2016, and has bylines at IGN, PCGamesN, PCGamer, and Unwinnable. When not writing about games, he is most likely taking care of his two dogs or pretending to know a lot about artisan coffee. Get in touch with Sam by emailing him at sdesatoff@gmail.com, or follow him on Twitter.