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Bethesda: We'll survive if a big title flops

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

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."

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Dan Pearson