Bethesda Softworks

Bethesda Softworks LLC
TypeSubsidiary
IndustryVideo games
FoundedJune 28, 1986; 37 years ago (1986-06-28) in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
FounderChristopher Weaver
Headquarters,
U.S.
Area served
Worldwide
Key people
  • Todd Vaughn
  • (VP, development)
  • Ron Seger
  • (VP, sales)
ProductsList of Bethesda Softworks video games
Parent
  • Media Technology Limited
  • (1986–1999)
  • ZeniMax Media
  • (1999–present)
DivisionsBethesda Game Studios
Websitebethesda.net Edit this at Wikidata

Bethesda Softworks LLC is an American video game publisher based in Rockville, Maryland. The company was founded by Christopher Weaver in 1986 as a division of Media Technology Limited. In 1999, it became a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media. In its first 15 years, it was a video game developer and self-published its titles. In 2001, Bethesda spun off its in-house development team into Bethesda Game Studios, leaving Bethesda Softworks to focus on publishing operations.

In March 2021, Microsoft acquired Bethesda's parent company ZeniMax Media, maintaining that the company will continue to operate as a separate business. While part of the larger Microsoft Gaming division, Bethesda Softworks retains its function as the publisher of games developed by the different studios under ZeniMax Media.

History

1980s

Bethesda Softworks' original logo, 1986

Before founding Bethesda Softworks, Christopher Weaver was a technology forecaster and a communications engineer in the television and cable industries. After finishing graduate school, he was hired by the American Broadcasting Company, where he wrote several memos about "the importance of alternative distribution systems and how satellites and broadband networks would impact network television", which landed him the position of manager of technology forecasting. After several national magazines quoted his articles on "the exciting prospects for cabled distribution systems", he was recruited by the National Cable Television Association and created its Office of Science and Technology, where he helped design high-speed data communication systems for several member companies of the association. Eventually, Weaver became the chief engineer for the United States House Energy Subcommittee on Communications and Technology, where he influenced legislation that affected the telephone, television, and cable industries.

In the meantime, Weaver also founded VideoMagic Laboratories with a friend from the Architecture Machine Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT). They authored and assembled a 400-page business plan to commercialize their prior lab work and, through the Industrial Liaison Office at MIT, came in contact with a wealthy family in the electronics industry that provided VideoMagic with venture capital. The company developed several technologies, including location-based entertainment systems, that Weaver deemed "radical and cutting-edge" but put out prematurely, causing little commercial return. The funding family, having financial issues of its own, dropped out of the venture and sold off some of VideoMagic's properties. After leaving the House Subcommittee some years later, Weaver established Media Technology Associates, Limited (renamed Media Technology Limited in March 1988) in June 1981. The company provided engineering and media consulting for private companies and government organizations. Media Technology had offices in Maryland and New York.

At Media Technology, Weaver worked with Ed Fletcher, an electrical engineer with whom he had collaborated at VideoMagic, on video games for LaserDisc-based systems until that industry crashed in 1984. While waiting for potential new contracts, the company acquired an Amiga personal computer with which the two began to experiment. Fletcher was a fan of American football and suggested that they develop a football video game for the system, which Weaver supported despite no interest in the sport. Fletcher developed the game, later named Gridiron!, out of Weaver's house in Bethesda, Maryland, in roughly nine months. His initial approach was to use lookup tables to map player inputs to predetermined outcomes. Weaver disliked this concept and, at his behest, he and Fletcher devised a more realistic, physics-based system. No artists or animators were involved in the project, which gave the game a sub-par graphical presentation for the time.

Weaver formed Bethesda Softworks "on the proverbial kitchen table" of his Bethesda home as a division of Media Technology on June 28, 1986. The formation was described as an experiment "to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games". Weaver originally named the company "Softwerke" but found that the name was taken by a company based in Virginia. Weaver and the owner of that company agreed to co-exist rather than fight over the title, and Weaver changed the name of his company to Bethesda Softworks. He had considered creating a unique name, such as one using the word "magic" after a quote from Arthur C. Clarke, but "Bethesda Softworks" ultimately stuck. Unlike VideoMagic, Bethesda Softworks was entirely self-funded, starting with roughly US$100,000, and was not attached to any business plan. Gridiron! was released as the company's first game later in 1986 for the Amiga, Atari ST, and Commodore 64 systems. The initial release of a few hundred copies distributed in plastic bags was sold out within one week, to the surprise of Bethesda Softworks.

Early games scored respectably in the gaming press. Electronic Arts was working on the first John Madden Football, and hired Bethesda to help finish developing it, and acquired distribution rights for future versions of Gridiron!. In June 1988, after no new cross-console version of Gridiron! had been released, Bethesda stopped work on the project and sued Electronic Arts for US$7.3 million, claiming EA halted the release while incorporating many of its elements into Madden. The case was resolved out of court.

Courteney Cox, later known for her role in the sitcom Friends, worked at the publisher briefly in the 1980s.

1990s

In 1990, the company moved from Bethesda to Rockville, Maryland. By February 1993, the company employed 40 people.

The first game Bethesda published and developed, based on a popular film franchise, was The Terminator for MS-DOS. The title was released in July 1991, coinciding with the theatrical release of the film Terminator 2: Judgment Day.

In 1994, the company released its best-known project at the time, The Elder Scrolls: Arena. The game, the first in The Elder Scrolls role-playing video game series was the work of Programmer Julian Lefay, Director and Producer Vijay Lakshman as well as others. Several sequels have been released since.

Between 1994 and 1997, Bethesda was developing a space combat game titled The 10th Planet. It was a collaboration between Bethesda and Roland Emmerich's Centropolis Entertainment. During development, Centropolis chose to stop working on the game due to the company's commitments to its films. The project was never released.

In 1995, Bethesda Softworks acquired Noctropolis developer Flashpoint Productions, which Brent Erickson had founded in 1992.

In 1997, Bethesda acquired XL Translab, a Washington, D.C., graphics company that stemmed from the Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning. It was moved to Bethesda Softworks' Rockville headquarters. XL Translab had previously done work for PBS and Fortune 500 companies. By 1996, the company had become the third-biggest player in the privately held PC publishing industry after LucasArts and Interplay Entertainment with 75 employees by that year and revenues of $25 million by 1997.

In June and July 1997, Bethesda announced a partnership with CBS Enterprises to produce the first-ever true companion PC series of games for the television series Pensacola: Wings of Gold. By December 1997, the first CD-ROM game was still in production.

For The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, Bethesda developed XnGine, a 3D game engine, replacing the raycasting engine used for Arena. The engine was used in The Terminator: Future Shock, Terminator: SkyNET, Daggerfall, and XCar: Experimental Racing. In 1997 and 1998, Bethesda released two The Elder Scrolls spin-offs based on Daggerfall's code—Battlespire and Redguard—neither of which enjoyed the success of Daggerfall and Arena. The downturn in sales was not limited just to The Elder Scrolls franchise, and the company considered filing for bankruptcy as a result. Battlespire and Redguard were the last games to use XnGine.

In October 1999, Pete Hines joined Bethesda to head up its marketing department, running it as what he described as a one-man band. At the start of his tenure, the company had employed around 15 people in its Rockville headquarters.

In 1999, Weaver and Robert A. Altman formed the holding company ZeniMax Media. In an interview with Edge, he described the company as being a top-level administrative structure rather than a "parent company" for its holdings, explaining that "ZeniMax and Bethesda for all intents and purposes are one thing. Bethesda has no accounting department, we have no finance, we have no legal, our legal department [and] our financial department is ZeniMax, we all operate as one unit." According to the designer Bruce Nesmith, Altman was principally interested in Bethesda's web development business at Vir2L Studios, not the game development aspect. ZeniMax acquired Media Technology in July 1999 and Bethesda Softworks was reorganized as a division of ZeniMax. By then Bethesda employed nearly 100 people.

2000s

In 2001, Bethesda Game Studios was established as the development team, leaving Bethesda Softworks to focus on all publishing operations of ZeniMax Media.

In 2002, Weaver stopped being employed by ZeniMax. He later filed a lawsuit against ZeniMax, claiming he was ousted by his new business partners after giving them access to his brand and was owed US$1.2 million in severance pay. ZeniMax filed counterclaims and moved to dismiss the case, claiming Weaver had gone through emails of other employees to find evidence. This dismissal was later vacated on appeal, and the parties settled out of court. Weaver remained a major shareholder in the company; as of 2007, he said that he still owned 33% of ZeniMax's stock. Providence Equity bought 25% of ZeniMax's stock in late 2007, and an additional stake in 2010.

In 2007, the Fallout franchise was acquired by Bethesda Softworks from Interplay Entertainment and the development of Fallout 3 was handed over to Bethesda Game Studios. Fallout 3 was released on October 28, 2008. Five downloadable content packs for Fallout 3 were released in the year following its release—Operation: Anchorage, The Pitt, Broken Steel, Point Lookout, and Mothership Zeta. Obsidian Entertainment's new Fallout title, Fallout: New Vegas was published in 2010. Fallout 4 was released on November 10, 2015.

Between 2004 and 2008, ZeniMax's subsidiaries Mud Duck Productions and Vir2L Studios released 4 bowling games for various platforms, AMF Bowling 2004, AMF Xtreme Bowling 2006, AMF Bowling World Lanes and AMF Bowling Pinbusters!.

In January 2006, Bethesda acquired the rights to the Star Trek series of video games. The first game published by the company was Star Trek: Encounters, released in 2006.

In September 2009, Bethesda filed a lawsuit against Interplay Entertainment, after being unsatisfied with Interplay's development of the Fallout massively multiplayer online game project. Bethesda stopped funding the project, and Interplay was forced to abandon work on it.

Between 2007 and 2010, Bethesda raised US$450 million in new capital from Providence Equity Partners to fund expansion efforts. In February 2008, the company opened a European publishing arm in London, named ZeniMax Europe, to distribute titles throughout UK/EMEA territories under the Bethesda Softworks brand. This was followed in by opening publishing offices in Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris, Eindhoven, Hong Kong, Sydney and Moscow in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018 respectively.

On June 24, 2009, ZeniMax Media acquired id Software, whose titles, including Rage, would be published by Bethesda Softworks. Between 2009 and 2012, the company expanded publishing operations, with games from independent third-party developers such as Rebellion Developments's Rogue Warrior, Artificial Mind and Movement's Wet, Splash Damage's Brink, and inXile's Hunted: The Demon's Forge.

2010s

In 2011, Bethesda filed a lawsuit against Mojang (makers of Minecraft) for using Scrolls as the name of a new digital card game, which sounded too close to The Elder Scrolls trademarked by Bethesda.

In the early 2010s, Bethesda Softworks published games such as Dishonored, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and The Evil Within.

In the mid-2010s, Bethesda began to experiment with new kinds of games, releasing Fallout Shelter, its first mobile, free-to-play game in the summer of 2015. A year later, it released a reboot of id Software's Doom, after several years of development as a failed attempt to produce a sequel to Doom 3. Later that year, Zen Studios released virtual pinball adaptations of three games that Bethesda released during the decade thus far (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 4 and the 2016 reboot of Doom) as the Bethesda Pinball collection for its pinball games. Bethesda went on to release two more free-to-play mobile games based on The Elder Scrolls series, a card battle game titled The Elder Scrolls: Legends in 2017 and a first-person role-playing game titled The Elder Scrolls: Blades in 2019.

When Nintendo unveiled its new hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch, Bethesda expressed support for it and released ports of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Doom for that system in November 2017. A year later, it also ported Fallout Shelter, and has future plans to do the same for its two Elder Scrolls mobile games.

Games such as Prey, Dishonored: Death of the Outsider, The Evil Within 2, and Wolfenstein II have not sold as well as compared to Fallout and The Elder Scrolls according to Bethesda's Pete Hines.

In late 2018, Bethesda announced and released its first massively multiplayer online game, Fallout 76, a prequel to the Fallout series. Upon its initial release, it was given mixed reviews for its poor quality and was embroiled in several other controversies, including problems with tie-in products and a data breach.

The following year saw Bethesda announce sequels to Rage and Doom, Rage 2 and Doom Eternal. The former was released on May 14, while the latter released in early 2020 shortly after the COVID-19 pandemic reached the United States, following a series of delays for polish after the negative reception of Fallout 76's initial launch.

In November 2019, Human Head Studios shut down while Bethesda established a new studio, Roundhouse Studios, offering all Human Head employees a position within it.

In 2016, Bethesda had released its own application launcher for PC. Fallout 76 and Fallout Shelter were exclusives to the launcher before eventually released on Steam. In 2022, Bethesda shut down the launcher. The launcher was mostly met with negative reception. PC Gamer said that "Bethesda's launcher seems to be designed more as a pretty interface to purchase Bethesda's games than a way of managing them. [...] the client feels more like a store than anything."

2020s

In March 2020, Bethesda Softworks published DOOM Eternal, a sequel to the 2016 reboot for PlayStation 4, Windows, Xbox One and the Stadia games streaming service from Google. The game's release was one of many that was affected by the impact of the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic on the games industry, prompting retailers such as GameStop to begin selling physical copies a day in advance of its general release to minimize crowding of customers. As with the original game, Eternal enjoyed positive critical reception, with praise directed at the level design and combat of the main campaign, the graphical presentation, soundtrack and mechanical improvements over its predecessor, while slight criticism was drawn towards the game's larger overall emphasis on narrative and lore, as well as the repetitive platforming segments. A Nintendo Switch version of Eternal ported by Panic Button, released as a digital-only title in December 2020, while an enhancement patch for the ninth-generation consoles PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S was released free-of-charge in July 2021. To coincide with Eternal's original release, a remaster of DOOM 64 was also launched as both a standalone release, and as a pre-order bonus for the former game on the aforementioned platforms. The re-release was co-developed by id Software and Nightdive Studios, and includes a new post-campaign expansion.

In September 2020, Microsoft entered an agreement to acquire Bethesda's parent company ZeniMax Media for $7.5 billion, gaining ownership over all of Bethesda's associated development teams, now as part of Microsoft Gaming. The agreement stipulated that Bethesda continued to finance and self-publish their games and that titles on other platforms would be decided on a "case-by-case" basis, but that the merger would also allow Bethesda's existing back-catalog of titles to become available on Microsoft's Xbox Game Pass service for console, PC and cloud, and that select future games from the publisher would become exclusives for Windows and the Xbox Series X/S consoles, which simultaneously launched that November. The acquisition of ZeniMax Media was formally completed on March 9, 2021. Following the merger's completion, Xbox CEO Phil Spencer clarified that future titles from Bethesda would primarily ship on any platforms hosting Xbox Game Pass.

In September 2021, Bethesda published Deathloop, a first-person shooter with time-warping mechanics from Arkane Lyon. The following March, Bethesda released Ghostwire: Tokyo, a first-person horror-themed action-adventure game developed by Tango Gameworks. Both games were announced as being timed console exclusives for PlayStation 5 before Microsoft purchased ZeniMax Media, an existing contractual obligation that would be honored by Microsoft despite the amended terms. Both titles were eventually released on Xbox Series X/S a year following their respective PlayStation 5 versions. During that year's QuakeCon@Home digital event, Bethesda announced and launched an enhanced remaster of the original Quake again co-developed by Nightdive Studios and id Software, for Windows, PlayStation 4, Xbox One and Nintendo Switch. The remaster supported improved rendering to accommodate modern gaming hardware and bundled together all previously released expansions for the original game, including two new campaign episodes developed by Bethesda sister studio MachineGames, as well as the entirety of the Nintendo 64 port of the original game as an optional add-on. An upgrade patch for PlayStation 5 and Xbox Series X/S was released that October.

In January 2023, Bethesda announced and released Hi-Fi Rush from Tango Gameworks exclusively for Windows and Xbox Series X/S during the Xbox & Bethesda Developer Direct video presentation. the publisher purposely kept the game's development secret by due to possible skepticism and uncertainty regarding audience feedback, due to the game's pivot away from the tone and gameplay of titles such as The Evi Within and towards a brighter presentation and atmosphere. Microsoft's marketing department additionally suggested to Bethesda that Game Pass would increase the title's visibility given its ability to lower the barrier of entry for audiences and by generating interest through word-of-mouth. Hi-Fi Rush received favorable reception for its vibrant presentation and combat system, with many applauding the stylistic departure from prior games developed by Tango Gameworks, while some criticism was directed towards the level design, repetition of action sequences, and the arguably dated usage of licensed music. As of August 2023, the game has reached 3 million players between digital sales on Xbox and PC, as well as Xbox Game Pass subscribers.

In May 2023, Bethesda launched Redfall for Windows and Xbox Series X/S from Arkane Austin. The game similarly represented a stylistic and gameplay departure from the usually single-player focused games associated with the developer, as the title differentiated itself by emphasizing cooperative multiplayer with its four, distinctly powered protagonists, as well as a prominent looting and crafting system for weapons retrieved across the game's titular open world sandbox, the fictional town of Redfall, Massachusetts. The game received a largely mixed to negative reception, with scrutiny directed towards the uninspired narrative, the overall repetitiveness in objectives during the campaign, and consistent technical problems. Particular controversy stemmed from the game's performance on Xbox consoles being limited to 30 frames-per-second (FPS) despite pre-release promotional material advertising higher performance metrics. In August 2023 during that year's QuakeCon, an enhanced port of Quake II again co-developed by id Software and Nightdive Studios, was announced and released for Nintendo Switch, PlayStation 4, PlayStation 5, Xbox One and Xbox Series X/S, in addition to being a free update for existing owners of the original Windows version. The remaster bundles every previously released single-player expansion and multiplayer map, in addition to supporting the highest resolution and performance metrics on each compatible platform, while also including an 8-player split-screen mode exclusive to the Windows and Xbox Series X/S versions of the game. The re-release also introduces a new single-player expansion developed by MachineGames and again includes the Nintendo 64 port of Quake II as an optional add-on.

In September 2023, Bethesda published Starfield for Windows and Xbox Series X/S. Developed by Bethesda Game Studios, the game marked the studio's first wholly original intellectual property in over 25 years, culminating several attempts the developer had made to create a space-based role-playing video game dating back to 1994. The game's aesthetic was described as "NASA-punk" by lead artist Istvan Pely, referring to the meshing of the analog technology reminiscent of what is used in present-day space travel, to more traditional elements of other science fiction works that reflected the game's setting in the far future of humanity. The game launched in early access for owners of the title's Premium Edition on September 1, 2023, before being released to the wider public on September 6. The game received largely positive reviews, with critics highlighting the immersive open world, setting and the musical score composed by Inon Zur, reprising his duties from Bethesda's Fallout titles, while the story and elements of exploration drew more divisive reactions. Upon the early access launch, the game reached a peak of 230,000 concurrent players on Steam within two hours. Xbox CEO Phil Spencer announced on launch day that the game subsequently became the most played Xbox Series X/S-exclusive game since the console's launch, as well as the most wish-listed game on Steam for either Xbox or Bethesda in their respective histories. Starfield reached ten million players across Xbox and PC by September 19, making it the biggest launch period in Bethesda's history as a publisher.

In October 2023, Bethesda's head of publishing Pete Hines announced he would be retiring. Later that month, a corporate restructuring of the newly formed Microsoft Gaming subsidiary took place following Microsoft's acquisition of Activision-Blizzard, that saw the promotion of executive Matt Booty from president of Xbox to overseeing their entire Game Content and Studios business, with Jamie Leder still retaining supervision over ZeniMax Media as a "limited integration entity" that would now report to Matt. In December 2023, Jill Braff was appointed to the role as head of Bethesda and ZeniMax Media's development teams, while simultaneously retaining her existing duties as the General Manager of Integrations and Casual Games for Xbox Game Studios.

Games published

Controversies

Conflicts with other developers

In 2001, Bethesda Softworks published Echelon in the United States, a video game developed by the Russian development studio Madia. Madia stated that Bethesda did not pay for boxed sales of the game, as was allegedly specified in the contract. The developers at Madia wrote an open letter to Bethesda in which they have detailed the affair, but Bethesda refused to pay. In the end Madia decided not to take it to court. Pete Hines, VP of PR at Bethesda, stated that Madia presented misleading allegations about Bethesda's role as publisher of Echelon in North America and that Bethesda had no contractual obligations to Madia.

Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax Media have been accused of attempting a hostile acquisition of Human Head Studios, as well as a successful hostile acquisition of Arkane Studios before that. According to a report from IGN, ZeniMax started purposefully failing Human Head's project milestones so that they would not get paid, allowing ZeniMax to buy the company at a reduced rate. They were accused of doing the same thing with Arkane Studios, although in Arkane's case, the studio gave in and allowed themselves to be bought. The failed hostile acquisition of Human Head Studios led to cancellation of Human Head's Prey 2, according to the report.

Bethesda also pressured developer No Matter Games to change the name of their game Prey for the Gods to Praey for the Gods, as Bethesda felt the initial title infringed upon the trademark of their own game, Prey. Pete Hines, who serves as Bethesda's VP of marketing, said Bethesda would have risked losing their Prey trademark if they had not requested the title change.

Lawsuits

In September 2009, Bethesda Softworks sued Interplay Entertainment over Fallout trademark infringement. After a lengthy legal battle the lawsuit was settled in January 2012, with Interplay receiving US$2 million while Bethesda Softworks gained the right to develop a Fallout massively multiplayer online game, as well as the rights to Fallout, Fallout 2 and Fallout Tactics after December 31, 2013.

In September 2011, Bethesda's parent company, ZeniMax Media, filed a lawsuit against Mojang, claiming that Mojang's planned trademark of the title Scrolls infringed upon Bethesda's trademark of The Elder Scrolls series. On October 18, Markus Persson announced that Mojang had won the interim injunction, but that Bethesda still had the option to file an appeal. In March 2012, Mojang and Bethesda reached a settlement, in which Mojang would not trademark Scrolls, but Bethesda would not contest Mojang's naming of Scrolls, so long as it would not be a direct competitor against The Elder Scrolls.

In 2018, Bethesda Softworks sued Behaviour Interactive, the company responsible for developing Fallout Shelter, for appearing to copy the game's design onto a tie-in mobile game for the Westworld franchise. The issue was settled with undisclosed terms, allowing Bethesda to drop the lawsuit.


This page was last updated at 2024-01-18 12:50 UTC. Update now. View original page.

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