Thursday, June 20, 2024

Making a fashion boutique in Fallout 76

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Emma’s Adventures was a monthly column created for Eurogamer Supporters that ran throughout 2023. In it, Emma Kent explored online virtual worlds in a way that’s become uniquely her own; usually involving an obscure pursuit in a very hostile environment. She’s been a crab delivery driver in Elden Ring, a painter in Rust, and a poet in Minecraft, to name a few, and there are always unexpected twists in her tales. Some of these articles are now a year old, so rather than have them gather dust in an archive, we thought we’d open them up. We’ll open a new one each month, starting today with Emma’s topical-again adventures in Fallout 76. Can she make a go of running a fashion boutique in an irradiated warzone? Let’s find out.

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Tattered jackets, leather coats and hazmat suits? So hot right now. Or at least, they are in the world of Fallout 76, where parts of the landscape are literally on fire. And though high fashion may not immediately spring to mind when you think of the post-apocalypse, for the past few weeks it’s been the main source of my adventures in Appalachia. My desire to collect clothing has now superseded any other mission in the game, and I’ve even neglected the main storyline in my personal mission to stock the shop. I think the poor overseer is still sitting in her house somewhere, waiting for me to pay her a visit.

Establishing a fashion store in Fallout 76 was, obviously, never the main goal when I returned to Fallout 76 this year. In the middle of my investigations into whether the game had improved since launch (the answer: sorta), I realised that I had accidentally dressed my character as a rugged version of Anna Wintour – the global editor-in-chief of Vogue, and the inspiration behind The Devil Wears Prada’s Miranda Priestly. It seemed only right, then, that I should fully lean into this role, and create my very own fashion boutique in the middle of the wasteland.

Come in, take a look around, maybe you’ll find something you like.Watch on YouTube

You might be surprised to hear that there was actually some logic behind this endeavour. According to the collective wisdom of Reddit, if you want a successful business in Fallout 76, it’s better to focus your shop on a couple of item categories, like clothes or medicine. This makes it less confusing for any potential customers, who can spot your camp on the map, and head there with specific items in mind. I also realised that as a low-level player, there were few items of real value that I could offer to high-level players. In-demand items such as legendary weapons and rare plans were out of reach for me. But the convenience of hundreds of apparel items, all in one place, with a fun camp design to entice players inside? That, I could do.

I started by completely scrapping my first camp (a hideous, Blair Witch-style shack), and creating a brand new, hideous shed. In the early stages of Fallout 76, the game doesn’t really give you much to work with. Wooden walls and recycled metal vending machines are the best it gets. I must have been fairly embarrassed by Shop Version 1.0, as I have absolutely no record of it in my screenshot folder. Let’s all pretend that one never existed.

Gradually, however, my adventures through Appalachia began to produce results. I found plans for fancy lighting and sturdy tables, and purchased brick walls from a player. I scraped together the 800 atoms required to buy mannequins from the Fallout 76 Atomic Shop. I even managed to find enough concrete to build an entire catwalk, giving customers the opportunity to parade around in their new purchases. And to my surprise, I found that high-level players would readily help out: some dropped aid items, plans, or even apparel items to assist with the building of the store. In one particularly alarming incident, a high-level player gunned down an entire squad of Brotherhood of Steel soldiers in front of me, picked over their corpses for loot, then deposited a suspicious orange jumpsuit at my feet. I guess I can’t say that all my clothes are ethically sourced.

There are no doors on my storefront, which allows players to simply stroll in and make a purchase. The mannequins are perched on tables, with spotlights hidden underneath to illuminate their outfits. | Image credit: Bethesda / Eurogamer

With the shop now renovated and a hefty stockpile of clothes in my inventory, I began to wonder: where were all the customers? For a good few hours, I couldn’t figure out why nobody was turning up. That was, until, a good samaritan stopped by to tell me that I needed to enable my camp so it could be seen on the map. Oh. Along with complimenting the shop, this helpful player gave me some sage advice about how to run a Fallout 76 player vendor: keep your prices low, your vending machines in an accessible place, and sell colourful hazmat suits. These are the ‘in’ thing, apparently.

Four wildly different looks modelled next to each other in Fallout 76. One is a bathing suit, another is a Donnie Darko rabbit, the next is a leather chaps and waistcoat look, and the third is rubbery black bodysuit.
The Fall/Nuclear Winter collection. | Image credit: Bethesda / Eurogamer

With this advice in mind, I started to work on my business plan, and discovered that there’s a whole bag of tricks to getting players to visit your shop. Camp placement is key, with players more willing to visit those located near free fast-travel points. I learned that joining public teams would help bring in customers, as this allows team members to fast travel to your camp for free. Handily, this also meant I could easily visit player camps to buy more apparel items, then simply resell them in my own shop for a mark-up price. Intelligence +1.

Rather than simply dumping every item of clothing I had into the shop, I then began to list each item individually. The reason for this: artificial scarcity. If a player feels that an item is common, they are less likely to spend their hard-earned caps on it. I did, however, follow my new friend’s advice to lower all my prices. Selling grubby ski hats for a ridiculous mark-up might be an amusing commentary on high fashion, but equally, there’s no fun in a shop that doesn’t sell anything.

A male-looking character in some kind of mankini, inside a a shop, vacuuming the floor. I'm not sure what's going on here either.

An interior shot of Emma's lovely fashion boutique in Fallout 76. It's an open-planned central area with a wooden steepled roof, and some plush furniture. It's all very organised and spacey, with a few display cabinets around.

I can’t quite recall… does Fallout have some sort of message about the dangers of unchecked capitalism? Oh well. | Image credit: Bethesda / Eurogamer

And sure enough, this all worked: I soon found that players were purchasing items from my store, and I was able to reinvest the funds into more items of clothing. Concerned that players would feel a little pressured by my presence in the shop, I would often watch them from a distance. (To my delight, I noticed that many would stop to admire the decorations.) Sometimes I would hide down in my bunker, with the sound of the cash register ringing above my head.

Making a sale is a great feeling, but I’ll admit that running a fashion boutique probably isn’t the most profitable business model in Appalachia. As each item of clothing only needs to be bought once, you can never earn as much as someone who’s selling ammunition, which is always in demand and can be sold infinitely. My noble decision to keep most items under 200 caps also meant I couldn’t make a great deal of profit. Yet making caps wasn’t really the point of all this, as my main aims were roleplaying and offering players an easy way to purchase cosmetic items. And the quest to build a shop really did enhance my Fallout 76 experience: rifling through piles of junk suddenly became an exciting lottery, and I soon found myself heading out on adventures to find specific items of clothing. My search for clothes meant that I visited player camps more frequently, and would be rewarded with some true architectural wonders; such as a camp built vertically on a giant concrete pole, and a gorgeous stone patio built into a cliff edge.

A cafe/diner someone has built in Fallout 76.

A large house on the very edge of a cliff, in Fallout 76.

It’s often surprising to see what players are capable of making, given the significant limitations of the Fallout 76 building system. | Image credit: Bethesda / Eurogamer

I can see that there’s potential here, too, to get really sucked into the search for rare items of clothing. Players have compiled spreadsheets of all the apparel items, including their locations and rarity, and there are certain methods you can use to acquire the most desired items of clothing in the game. One of these involves running back and forth over a bridge near a train station, which could spawn a rare trader who might be selling some of the rare items you’re looking for. This requires a great deal of server hopping, however, and I think this might be a step too far for me. I just can’t envision myself opening and closing the main menu hundreds of times while hoping to get lucky for an item – it just doesn’t sound fun.

While the fashion shop brought me a great deal of joy, the process of building it did eventually lay bare some of Fallout 76’s major weaknesses. For one thing, it’s incredibly hard to make your camp look good. In fact, I’d say about 70 per cent of all Fallout camps look downright ugly. This is partly due to the restrictive building system, which makes everything look like a block, but also the strange selection of furniture items that are available to build. As everything is flashy or weird-looking – like walking robots and mutants in tubes – it can be quite hard to make a camp look like a home. Camps often end up looking like a billionaire’s house that’s filled with expensive, functionless tat… except the billionaire is also stuck in the post-apocalypse. For this reason, I found it difficult to follow an ‘elevated’ shop theme, and also couldn’t find any normal-looking objects, such as clothes, to place on my tables – the best I could find were some dirty rugs. (Interestingly, some players have found a building trick to place junk items on tables, but this is only temporary.)

A window in a brick wall, behind which two clothed mannequins stand. One is in a pink suit, one is in white. They are very well lit.
Don’t even get me started on the camp mannequin limit. Only five allowed? Gah! | Image credit: Bethesda / Eurogamer

The other key frustration is that – perhaps inevitably for an online game – some of the best furniture plans and clothing items can only be found in the premium-currency Atomic Shop. For one thing, it’s hard for my in-game clothes store to compete with the Atomic Shop’s fancy threads, but the presence of the Atomic Shop also makes the building process more difficult. Many wallpaper and floor designs are only available with premium currency, and when certain Atomic Shop items are only on sale for a limited time, there is often no way to access them until they return to the shop. I’m looking at you, glass walls. Fallout 76 does give away some Atomic Shop items for free, and you can earn some atoms through gameplay, but the rate at which you earn these tails off once you complete the easiest tasks.

A character in skis and a, um, diving helmet, I think, jumps up in the air, legs akimbo, for a photograph in front of what looks like the Grand Canyon. As you do.

A large painted backdrop lit by floodlights at twilight. It's an open-air photography studio in Fallout 76.

Now there’s a happy camper. | Image credit: Bethesda / Eurogamer

For these reasons, I can’t see myself spending too much time on the shop in future: I’m a little tired of fighting the RNG gods for clothes, and disheartened by the reduced rate of progress towards finding new decorative items. I do, at least, now have a giant western mural that I’m slowly turning into a photography studio – and even in its unfinished state, it’s proving popular with customers. I recently had a visit from a level-5000 player, who along with buying dozens of items for thousands of caps, spent a good five minutes jumping around and posing in front of the mural. Maybe in the future I’ll arrange a group fashion show with other players.

As a closing thought, if you still think all this post-apocalyptic fashion is unrealistic, be warned: dystopian fashion is actually coming into vogue this year, due to the turbulent state of the world in recent times. So you might want to start stocking up on grimdark fashion looks. Anyone need a sheepsquatch outfit?

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