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Bethesda: We'll survive if a big title flops

Mon 18 Apr 2011 2:00pm GMT / 10:00am EDT / 7:00am PDT
BusinessPeople

Pete Hines says proper business practice means not "mortgaging future" on one game

Bethesda Softworks

The Bethesda Softworks division, founded in 1986, has a long history of success as a developer and publisher...

bethsoft.com

Bethesda's Pete Hines has spoken about the business practices and plans at the up and coming publisher, pointing out that over-reliance on the success of a single title or franchise is "bad management", but also how important it is to focus on what you do best.

Speaking as part of an interview with GamesIndustry.biz, published today, Hines discussed what he sees as proper business strategy for the publisher, arguing that Bethesda's steady progression is a much more workable model than boom and bust tactics.

"It would be wholly irresponsible for us to build towards a company that released three or four big games a year and then have our well being fall apart if any one of those doesn't do well," explained Hines.

"That would be poor management on our part. So obviously we expect big things and we're planning big things, but we haven't mortgaged our future such that the next game that comes out has to hit certain numbers or else we're in big trouble. We've been built smarter and better than that."

However, striking the right balance, and not spreading company assets and talent too thin, is key to this strategy's success, Hines believes.

"The answer is not churning out 30,40, 50 games a year; the answer is not trying to be in every genre. Not 'oh no, now it's the casual, now it's social gaming!' We don't go running after the latest, hottest trend. We tend to pay attention to what we're doing, we the make that kind of games that we want to play, because we think there's an audience for those and we try as best we can to execute them to the highest level possible - whether that's development, PR, marketing or sales.

"That's how we're structured. We're not structured to put out 50 games a year and now suddenly we're only going ten, now we're laying people off left and right. We've been hiring and hiring non-stop for years, while other folks are laying off and downsizing.

"I certainly hate to see those kinds of things, but I think when you see it, it relates to them and their business, and doesn't really have anything to do with us because we're built to do what it is we're doing now - which is a couple of big games a year. We have that this year, we have that next year - obviously we've only announced one of those [Prey 2] but we're now hitting the spot that we have been growing towards for years and years."

Parent company Zenimax's gradual process of high-quality acquisitions and strategic partnerships has served the publisher in good stead so far, netting it studios such as Human Head, Splash Damage and the venerable iD Software. That process will continue, says Hines, but only if the opportunities offered by future deals make it worthwhile.

"I think we continue to look for opportunities," Hines continues. "We don't think 'we're looking to acquire X.' Like the iD thing, it was just 'we want to work with you guys - we like your games, we like what you do, how can we work together?'

"It sort of evolved over time to the point where both sides were saying 'maybe it makes better sense for us to just forces?' So whether it plays out one way or another down the road, and we work together like we're doing with Human Head or we acquire them like we did Arkane, who in the world knows? We continue to look for smart developers that make cool games that we respect, or are smart people that we want to work with. If we acquire them because that makes the best business sense, okay."

Hines also makes reference to the current rash of closures affecting the industry - something he claims Bethesda has distanced itself from.

"Again, it's having seen other publishers acquire so many studios then start closing them down just a few years later - it can often seem like there's a terrible cycle out there.

"I think, again, the way we have gone about it and approached it is very different than those other folks, all of whom tend to be publicly-traded companies, which is just a whole different kettle of fish."

18 Comments

Andrew Goodchild Studying development, Train2Game

1,254 421 0.3
I think he may have hit the nail on the head with the last statement about publicly traded companies. They can take their time to grow slowly without worrying about impressing shareholders, and their project roster seems all the more interesting for it, much like Valve.

Posted:3 years ago

#1

Andrew Clayton QA Weapons Tester, Electronic Arts

150 7 0.0
Finally, gaming management with some logic. Hines is my hero.

Posted:3 years ago

#2
Glad to see this type of sustainable model described buy what looks like the next BIG publisher. Here is too Bethesda and ZeniMax!

keep the top quality games coming!

Posted:3 years ago

#3

Farhang Namdar Lead Game Designer

75 47 0.6
How about you guys swing by Larian Studios ;) We dig your flow and we make RPGs

Posted:3 years ago

#4

Daniel Harty Audio Capture Specialist, Electronic Arts

18 0 0.0
What a great company to work for too. Really heartening to see a great publisher thriving and with some amazing titles on the way.

I could move to Texas....

Posted:3 years ago

#5

Luke Salvoni Co-Founder & iOS Developer, Officially Made Ltd

65 4 0.1
This article needs a like button!

Posted:3 years ago

#6

Gustav Nisser Project Manager, Exertis Ztorm

12 4 0.3
Definitely needs a like button!

Posted:3 years ago

#7
Love the work on Rage. most polished product to date

Posted:3 years ago

#8

Terence Gage Freelance writer

1,288 120 0.1
I agree; it's encouraging to hear these positive sustainability comments from a quality publisher, and I was incredibly surprised to find that ZeniMax are a privately-owned company. Good on them, and with this business strategy I can only see them continue to grow over the years.

Posted:3 years ago

#9

Kingman Cheng Illustrator and Animator

954 182 0.2
Quality over quantity, and sustainability.

Posted:3 years ago

#10
Agreed Dr, Rage looks amazing, can't wait to get my hands on it, and good on ZeniMax/Bethesda for a sensible business approach. Far to many closures and redundancies again this year.

Posted:3 years ago

#11

Alan Wilson Vice President, Tripwire Interactive

29 30 1.0
Very good piece - and some sensible views being expressed, for once!

Posted:3 years ago

#12

Rob Homewood Game Designer, Unity Programmer & Producer

16 4 0.3
Top hole!

Posted:3 years ago

#13
Sensible words and actually really refreshing. Quality will out, always. Just ask Valve.

Posted:3 years ago

#14

Bonnie Patterson Freelance Narrative Designer

159 432 2.7
Definitely needs a like button.

And an "I could move to Texas" button. :D

Posted:3 years ago

#15

Kirill Yarovoy Game designer / Narrative designer / Writer

41 5 0.1
Well you see guys, i llike how it sounds like. But ID was ID long before Bethesha joined the party. And while ID always polished their games and patched nearly perfect games up to perfection, Bethesda pushed out unfinished and unpolished buggy products all the tim, and latest Fallout New Vegas proves that Bethesda not changed since the TES BUGgerfall times.
So the speech about ID sounds more like attempts of Beth to give itself someone else's rewards and fame.

We aint yet seen the Rage and Doom 4, and judging by pressure of Bethesda im not sure that old "When its done" model will work for ID, and i predict a bit earlier not very polished release and less money spent of post release support.

I hope im wrong, but bethesda isnt ID, and im afraid ID is not that ID anymore.

How about the fact that Bethesda restricted access to ID tech 5, (we dreamed about many years) only to Bethesda published game?
Thats not very good move, they just ruined dreams of many developers and ruined plans of competition between ID and EPIC, so after that i dont trust Bethesda so much and very afraid that final days of ID is nearby... just look how many wonderful game we had based on ID tech!
Half life and even all that source games are partially based on fine ID tech 2, Call od Duty (entire series still uses Quake 3 aka id tech 3 engine), Medal of Honor and much more. Restriction of Bethesda-exclusive use of engine is disrespect to entire industry and John Carkmack himself. Reminds me how EA restricted access to renderware only for internal usage, after they bough criterion.

So call me skeptic, but this is not very sincere speech from Bethesda representatives.

Posted:3 years ago

#16
I'd worry about any move to US currently.

There are far too many debts, and unless a European style value addedduty is added, the USD will be facing a downgrade to AA

Posted:3 years ago

#17

Adam Jordan Community Management/Moderation

113 65 0.6
Sorry Kirill but I think you have a few wires crossed regarding your information. Beth Soft hasn't restricted the ID tech 5 engine. In fact it's your man John Carmack that made that decision and has been publicly spoken about since RAGE was announced. Carmack has stated many times that the ID tech 5 engine will not even be used for Beth Soft games but currently only for ID games, I know that one for a fact because when Todd Howard was questioned about the game engine for Elder Scrolls V, he stated a new engine was being made and it was not ID tech 5.

As to New Vegas, I normally do not like to point fingers but I believe Obsidian Entertainment were the ones to work upon New Vegas. Granted the engine was the same used within Fallout 3, Oblivion and even Morrowind but not everything can be finger pointed towards Beth Soft.

As to "Bugs" themselves. I am a long time fan and player of the Elder Scrolls games, I actually count myself lucky that I haven't ran into many bugs but not every bug can be found or fixed. Sure can be blamed upon poor QA testing but I would love for you to name any game that hasn't had its own issues within the bug/crash section of gaming, however one thing that is great about the Elder Scrolls and Fallout games is the community, they simply pick up where the devs left off.

So in a round-about way, while those bugs are a pain and do show bad and negative things about a company, they also make a community, so while there is ever a modding community within those games, Beth Soft will be just fine.

Either way, just give me Skyrim finished, unfinished, polished or unpolished and I will be a happy bunny

Posted:3 years ago

#18

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