Update: A representative from Bethesda commented on the Fallout: New California mod. Here's the full statement:
"The great thing about modding is that people can build mods about whatever they want. We don’t foresee an issue with this team’s work, and we wish them well in their development."
Fallout: New California is a Fallout: New Vegas mega-mod that introduces a totally new storyline complete with 12 possible endings and some 16,000 lines of voiced dialogue. It's been in development for over five years, and last month the mod team behind it announced (opens in new tab) it'll officially release later this year on October 23. However, as the mod team explained in a recent Facebook post (opens in new tab), New California's production is shifting into overdrive now that Fantasy Flight Games has announced an expansion to Fallout: The Board Game (opens in new tab), also called New California, the existence of which could threaten the mod's release.
"They have every legal right to [send a cease and desist order] without hesitation," the Facebook post reads. "It would be effortless on their part to wipe us out with a single email, erasing 7 years of work. We have a Wikipedia page, we have the first 19 pages on Google search results, the top results are about us, there are news interviews and lets plays and single videos WITH MORE VIEWS THAN THEIR ENTIRE COMPANY YOUTUBE CHANNEL -- and they still named their board game Fallout: New California. So they either never googled the words New California or they knew and just didn't care, because they have the bought and paid for license and we don't."
In a comment, the group conceded that it wouldn't be unfair of Bethesda to shut down the mod. "If I were them, I would," the comment reads. "Because if I had a for-profit board game that was running on a very slim profit margin, and then there was the gigantic UN-licensed mod out there that dwarfs my publicity at the same time, I would C&D them."
The post also elaborated on the work the mod still needs under the new "accelerated plans." The bulk of it is audio work: scenario-specific dialogue, as well as dialogue and miscellaneous audio for several new characters, and some in-game videos to flesh out some of the mod's alternative endings. "I HAD planned on all this being spread out between now and October, but I'm going to slam it all into the next couple weeks," the Facebook post reads, adding that those next couple of weeks are "gonna hurt."
"I may go a little quiet on Facebook and ModDB for the month of July. We have some good people playtesting right now finding bugs, but it's still JUST Rick and I fixing them, and I'll be useless making these last videos and voices. So bare with me."
The new plan is to finish up those last "few" additions and "release early since we needed a BETA test group that was more open anyway." From there, the mod will officially release in October as planned, then ideally exit beta in December.
Of course, those plans may be altered further if Bethesda or Fantasy Flight Games does go after the mod. And historically, Bethesda has been fiercely protective of its copyrights. In 2017, for instance, the studio went after (opens in new tab) Prey for the Gods developer No Matter Studios on the grounds that the game's name infringed on Bethesda's Prey. To avoid a prolonged legal battle, No Matter Studios promptly changed the name of its game to Praey for the Gods.
Similarly, in 2011, Bethesda took Scrolls developer Mojang to court (opens in new tab) arguing that the card game's name infringed on its Elder Scrolls trademark. It took a while, but Mojang also changed the name of its game: Scrolls was re-released (opens in new tab) as a free-to-play, player-run game under the name Caller's Bane last month.
Granted, this situation is a bit different since we're talking about a mod, and because it's Fantasy Flight Games, not Bethesda, that's making the New California board game expansion. Even so, it's possible the Fallout: New California mod will have to change its name as well. The thing is, it already did: The mod used to go by Fallout: Project Brazil.
In another Facebook comment, one of the modders explained that going back to the name Project Brazil is a "fallback option," adding that the team still has the art assets to do so, meaning "it wouldn't be impossible, just a HUGE waste of time."
I've reached out to Bethesda and Fantasy Flight Games for more information and will update this story if I receive a reply.