“In this world nothing can be said to be certain, except death and taxes,” wrote Benjamin Franklin in 1789 letter. Fallout 76 players have long been acquainted with the first, but following the addition of a new vending machine mechanic, they are being forced to come to terms with the second.
Yesterday’s patch added a number of things to the game, including backpacks and a new set of mini-quests inspired by the great outdoors. The most anticipated new piece of content was player vending machines. Players have been allowed to trade items with one another since the game was released, but the new vending machines allow them to set up little automated stores at their campsites that anyone can use while they’re away. Players simply stock the shelves with the items they want to sell, set the prices, and then go back to exploring the wasteland. But there’s a catch. Every sale comes with a 10% tax.
“You will receive a notification whenever a player buys one of your items. 90% of the sale price will be added to your Cap balance,” read the latest patch notes. “This 10% fee has been designed to help maintain the health of the game’s economy and mitigate inflation.”
Note that caps are not Fallout 76’s premium currency. They are only found in-game and can only be earned by killing monsters, selling stuff to robot vendors, and trading with other players. This apocalyptic cash is hard-earned, in other words. So, naturally, some players aren’t happy about the prospect of Bethesda dipping its invisible hands into their purses like some sort of Sheriff of Appalachia.
“How does taking 10 per cent of our caps in player vending ‘help support a healthy game economy?’ wrote user Panickedsoul on the game’s subreddit. “You know what this will actually do? It will make us charge more than we actually want for the items in order to make up the difference. I would love to know how this helps players at all.”
Players charging more to make up the difference is indeed one of the things that’s been happening. Reddit user femiwhat posted a quick refresh on how percentages work to make sure that people who were inflating their prices to make up for the tax didn’t undercut themselves. And then there’s the fact that Bethesda already theoretically taxes players for fast travelling. While the few dozens of caps it takes to get from Vault 76 to Whitesprings is a drop in the bucket for most high-level players, it can still be a pain for those just starting out. A flat sales tax is regressive, and those with the fewest possessions to sell feel it the most accurately.
Other players are more onboard with Bethesda’s explanation for the tax. “Having multiple ways to get caps out of servers (out of players pockets and not into another’s) helps to reduce the overall amount of caps floating around in players pockets,” wrote Reddit user aburple. “Having a fast travel cost caps and implementing a tax in these new vending machines help to accomplish that goal. Personally I think we need even more ways to get rid of our caps.”
The game currently limits how many caps a character can hold to 25,000. In addition, the amount a character can earn in a given time period is limited by the number of public events that occur and the daily refresh of robot inventories. Some people who have been playing from the beginning already have multiple characters at the cap limit, which is why they’d like to see more of the currency taken out of circulation so it can actually be worth something for them again.
This gets at one of the hardest parts of regulating an economy like Fallout 76’s, let alone keeping it healthy. Because the game operates across an invisible list of servers that players randomly get dropped into, there are wide disparities at any given time between the people playing together. You might be surrounded by players who have everything or those with nothing, grinding any sort of organic commerce to a halt.
Since the 10 per cent tax doesn’t hit wealthier players harder, or redistribute to the poorer ones, it doesn’t change the underlying economic balance, or lack thereof, in the game. Still, the addition of a tax is another interesting evolution of Fallout 76’s world. It could be just the beginning of other interventions in the game’s economy. One of the most popular proposals currently is for the tax revenue to go toward building a permanent residence for the game’s travelling, friendly mutant Grahm.