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Sign of the Hines

Bethesda's Pete Hines on release schedules, MMOs and proper business practice.

It's been a dramatic half-decade for Bethesda Softworks, having broken out from PC origins to huge console success with 2006's The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion and then 2009's Fallout 3. Now, the Washington-based publisher is making a concerted play for even bigger business, readying a portfolio of games from iD, Splash Damage and Human Head (plus the hugely-anticipated new Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim) with more to come from Arkane, Machine Games and Tango. It's also been busy with big-name acquisitions.

Here, chats to the publisher's VP of Marketing and PR, Pete Hines, about the sustainability of this growth, whether more is to come, the thin dividing line between Bethesda and its owner ZeniMax Media, why having multiplayer modes may not necessarily be in games' best interest and whether the MMO genre remains appealing. Bethesda have been working on this portfolio of big-name games for a while now, and this seems to be the year that it could finally come to fruition. How's the company feeling about things right now?
Pete Hines

The funny thing is that I've been doing this long enough now that it never feels easy... I'm always sort of worried about what else did we miss, what else is left to do, and I never get the 'haha, we did it!' once the game comes out. There's never a moment where you feel like it's out the door and it's done, but it's just constant. If there's not another title right around the door, there's DLC right around the door, there's Prey 2 and all the other stuff that we have coming out.

From my standpoint, I'm certainly very excited about the year that we're slated to have. I think we have a great line-up, but while I'm confident that's about all I can afford to be - because it's my job to worry that everything is lined-up and tucked in and ready to go. Does it feel like there's an opportunity to leapfrog some of the bigger publishers now, given a fair few of them have had hard times of late?
Pete Hines

I would say that has always been our intent, whether there are problems at other companies or not. I think we feel like we proved long ago that we have the ability to do a big launch, as big as anyone else; with what we did with Oblivion and Fallout 3 and the kinds of games that we made, and the extent to which they broke through.

We've sort of proven that we can do anything that anybody else does, and we can do it just as well if not better. And at every phase, whether that's sales or PR of pulling off events, or how we market or communicate with our fans or whatever. So we've always felt like we're on par with anybody and we didn't take a backseat, but in terms of dollars or units or whatever you might use to gauge relative size, I certainly think that there's opportunity for that this year. Are you concerned by the conditions that led to the other publishers struggling?

I think we feel like we proved long ago that we have the ability to do a big launch, as big as anyone else.

Pete Hines

No, because our philosophy and our structure, the way that we're built, we're built to be the company that we are now. I have heard a lot of other companies talking about 'well, we're going to focus on fewer triple-A titles', changing their philosophy - but they're changing it to something that we've always been structured towards, and believed in since I started at Bethesda in 1999.

Which is the answer - 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. Surely, if all of these games come off as you hope, the temptation must be there to go 'ok, let's double the number of releases, buy some more studios, get even bigger?'
Pete Hines

No. I don't think it's that big of a temptation. Again, we've always believed that we could do three or four major releases a year, that's what we said back when we acquired iD, and our philosophy hasn't changed. We may have acquired more internal capacity to reach that goal, but there's a certain point at which that no longer becomes necessary.

So I don't think there's a temptation to change what we're doing, because obviously we're planning not just towards what we're doing in 2011 and 2012, but 2013, 2014 and kind of road mapping that out. What are the guys at Machine Games doing? What are the guys at Tango doing? Arkane and iD and Bethesda game studios too... So we're having long looks down the road, not just at what they're releasing this year but what will they be doing a couple of years from now, and we feel pretty confident with where we're at.

Alec Meer avatar
Alec Meer: A 10-year veteran of scribbling about video games, Alec primarily writes for Rock, Paper, Shotgun, but given any opportunity he will escape his keyboard and mouse ghetto to write about any and all formats.
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