The Fallout 3 PC Interview: Bethesda on DRM, Censorship and Consolification

After playing a few hours of the PC version of Fallout 3 earlier today, I sat down with Bethesda's Pete Hines to talk about serious PC business.

What kind of DRM will be included on the Fallout 3 disc? Will the PC version suffer from console interface holdovers a la Oblivion? Is the company optimistic about supporting the PC platform in the future? Read on to find out.

Shack: Is the game done?

Pete Hines: Every day we're one day closer. We're right to the end of it.

Shack: A lot of the big releases this fall are getting day-one patches to meet their deadlines. Are you considering anything like that?

Pete Hines: No. I mean you don't just assume now it's perfect and we'll never have to do anything, but we're not actively working on some fix for something.

Shack: After the Australia ratings board banned the game, you guys made some changes to the names of real-world drugs, which will now show up in all versions of the game. What did you think of the fan reaction to that?

Pete Hines: It is seriously the biggest non-issue in the history of video games. It got way more attention than it merits.

Shack: Do you think that anybody's going to even notice?

Pete Hines: Have you noticed? Does it make a big difference that it's called something other than Morphine? I mean, who gives a--

Shack: Still, does it frustrate you to have to make changes based on the ratings board?

Pete Hines: No. As I said, Australia weren't the only folks that had brought this up. It had actually been brought up in a number places. Like, "Hey, referencing real prescribed drugs is kind of a little concerning."

And we went back and looked at it and went, "It's not like it's in the original game, we just made it up. So why not just change it to another made-up name?" It's the same thing called something else. We couldn't possibly care less.

Shack: Similar question in the sense that it's an issue that can be overblown. What kind of copy protection will be included on the PC version of Fallout 3?

Pete Hines: Pretty similar to what we did for Oblivion, which was--we basically don't do any--we do the mildest form possible. I actually don't know if I even want to get into what it is that we exactly do, but we try to be really noninvasive when it comes to that stuff. [ed- Oblivion employed a simple DVD check.]

And it is a pain in the ass--it is a pain in the ass that we have to do it at all in the first place. But when you spend tens of millions of dollars, we don't think it's right to just put something out there and let everybody do whatever they want and pass it around.

And to have to support all of that--which is often the unspoken thing that nobody really wants to point to. You can argue all day whether or not somebody would have bought a copy of a game they pirated, but you can't argue, and you will never win the argument that I'm not having to provide tech support for those folks. Because I know for a fact that we are. We catch those folks all the time, where we're providing support for somebody who turns out didn't actually pay for the game and just downloaded a copy.

Shack: We've heard that as far as tech support calls go, the amount of pirates asking for support can be greater than the amount of legitimate users.

Pete Hines: We don't have any specific data on it, but we can look across platforms, and when these two platforms are like this [gestures with a hand] and this platform is like this [raises a second hand much higher] and these two platforms you can't pirate games, and this one you can, you can start to draw some inferences as to what the cause for that gigantic chasm might be.

But no, we're pretty mild about how we do it, and we try to do it in a way that prevents folks from exploiting and distributing our games that we worked very hard on, and that we feel we have a right to try and sell and not have distributed free without our okay. It's very important for us not to ruin the experience for the person who did buy a copy, so we try to be very careful.

Shack: I can't recall what Oblivion did, but will there be any install limit on Fallout 3?

Pete Hines: That's a good question. I don't actually know. [ed- Fallout 3 has no install limit.]

Shack: So you'd say you're very concerned about day-one piracy, but--

Pete Hines: Yeah, it's a huge problem. Huge.

Shack: As far as piracy solutions, there's nothing that you are looking at, even down the line, post-Fallout 3?

Pete Hines: [pause] Mm.. yeah, I don't know if I would want to get into it. We are looking at some of the stuff that folks do.. I think Valve has a good solution. They certainly took their lumps when Steam first came out, but it does seem to be a pretty widely accepted method, and certainly the easier that we can make it without it being a pain in the ass, the more likely we are to do it.

We always talk about in our games, about wanting to avoid the negative. We want to remove anything that is a hindrance or an annoyance to the player, we're trying to just get to the game and have fun. The interface, or whatever it is--we take that [attitude] all the way to our manuals, the amount of time I spent writing our manual, and trying to make sure that we cover all the bases, because I don't want that to be an annoyance to somebody. Or the DRM, and making sure that we're trying to protect something that we spent a lot of money developing, but not prohibiting somebody who bought a legitimate copy from getting into the game and having fun right away.

Shack: So what about Steam? Are you guys thinking about getting Fallout 3 on there?

Pete Hines: We're thinking about a lot of stuff. I don't actually know if any of that is set in stone yet, but hopefully there will be multiple digital distribution options for folks that want to go that route.

Shack: Did you put a lot of work into optimizing the PC version, and accounting for people with older machines?

Pete Hines: Yeah, we've been working with folks like Nvidia and having them do compat testing and optimization stuff, and looking at how the game plays on Nvidia cards. We've been doing some stuff with Alienware, specifically testing on different configurations of their machines. So we are trying to do our due diligence on the PC and make sure it runs as advertising.

But the problem on the PC, it's just not--you have a 360, you have the same thing that everyone else has. When you talk about a PC, how much RAM you have, do you have the right video card driver, the right sound card drivers, are you running all kinds of applications in the background that are eating up memory or trying to interrupt the process of the game and makes the game crash--you don't have any of those problems on the 360 or PS3.

So we try as much as we can for account for everything that we can account for, but the killer is all the variables you have no control over. I don't even know if I have the right drivers for anything on my home PC. It's something that you have to spend a bit more effort as a consumer.

Shack: Would you say the PC platform is something you plan on supporting in the long run?

Pete Hines: I think we are. We've been a PC developer for 20 some years now, more than most of the folks that are still around in this industry. That's where we got our start from, and we still think there's a market for it.

We try and take a global view. So while here in the US the consoles definitely do really, really well, globally there are still a lot of places where people still like and enjoy PC games.

Shack: Germany, and..

Pete Hines: Germany it's huge. It does very well here in the States, but you know, Russia, Poland, lots of eastern European places, tons of folks are still playing on the PC and we would never want to just shut ourselves off from those clients.

Shack: When games developed primarily for the console are brought to the PC, sometimes they can be criticized for being "console-ified." I know you guys dealt with some of that in the case of Oblivion. As far as Fallout 3, playing the PC version myself, it felt like a fairly intuitive version.

Pete Hines: I hope so.

Shack: Is that something you were focusing on with the PC version?

Pete Hines: That was the goal, to have it feel intuitive with clicking. And it actually does work with the 360 controller as well. It does both, so if you play it with the controller, it works like it does with the 360. You play it on the PC, and it's much more tactile, clicking on stuff.

And I think we did a better job--you know, with Oblivion there were some issues with the interface, the font, and the number of things you could see in your inventory wasn't scalable for PC resolutions. But I think that we've done a better job with that with Fallout. So hopefully folks will feel like we've taken care of them on the PC.

Shack: As far as the DLC goes, do you expect that to be simultaneously released on both Xbox 360 and the PC?

Pete Hines: Yeah, yeah, that's the plan. Absolutely.

Shack: Thanks Pete.