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, and in 1999 became a subsidiary of ZeniMax Media. In its first fifteen years, it was a video game developer and self-published its titles. In 2001, Bethesda spun off its own in-house development team into Bethesda Game Studios, and Bethesda Softworks retained only its publishing function. In 2021, Microsoft purchased ZeniMax, maintaining that the company will continue to operate as a separate business.
|Founded||June 28, 1986 in Bethesda, Maryland, US|
|Products||List of Bethesda Softworks video games|
Company name and origins
Bethesda Softworks was founded by Christopher Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1986. It started as a division of Media Technology Limited, an engineering research and development firm of which Weaver was the founder and chief executive officer. He created Bethesda "to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games". Weaver initially intended to name the company "Softworks" but found that the name was taken. Consequently, he prepended this name with that of Bethesda.
1986–1994: Gridiron!, Electronic Arts lawsuit, The Elder Scrolls
Bethesda Softworks is credited with the creation of the first physics-based sports simulation, Gridiron!, in 1986 for the Atari ST, Commodore Amiga and Commodore 64/128. 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!. The next year, 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.
It is best known for its next major project, the role-playing video game series The Elder Scrolls, based on the original programming of Julian Lefay. The first game of the series, entitled The Elder Scrolls: Arena, was released in 1994. Several sequels have been released. Bethesda Softworks also published titles based upon film franchises, including The Terminator, Star Trek and Pirates of the Caribbean.
1994–1999: Company expansion
In 1995, Bethesda Softworks acquired Noctropolis developer Flashpoint Productions, which Brent Erickson had founded in 1992. Under the name Mediatech West, the studio operated from Olympia, Washington, with Erickson as its technical division director. Games produced by Mediatech West include Burnout Championship Drag Racing and XCar: Experimental Racing.
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.
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 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.
1999–2004: ZeniMax, Christopher Weaver lawsuit
In 1999, Weaver and Robert A. Altman formed a new parent company for Bethesda Softworks known as 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."
In 2001, Bethesda Game Studios was established, changing Bethesda Softworks to being a publishing brand 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.
2004–2015: Fallout, capital increase, publishing expansions
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.
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.
2015–2020: Going mobile, Doom reboot and Fallout 76 controversy
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.
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.
2020–present: Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax
ZeniMax Media was acquired by Microsoft for US$7.5 billion in March 2021 and became part of Xbox Game Studios.
- Wayne Gretzky Hockey (1988–1992)
- Terminator series (1990–1992)
- The Elder Scrolls series (1994–present)
- The Terminator: Future Shock (1995)
- Skynet (video game) (1996)
- Symbiocom (1998)
- Zero Critical (1998)
- IHRA Drag Racing series (2000–2004)
- Pirates of the Caribbean series (2003–2006)
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth (2005)
- Star Trek series (2006)
- Fallout series (2008–present)
- Wet (2009)
- Rogue Warrior (2009)
- Rage (2010–2019)
- Brink (2011)
- Hunted: The Demon's Forge (2011)
- Dishonored series (2012–2017)
- Doom series (2012–present)
- Wolfenstein series (2014–present)
- The Evil Within series (2014–2017)
- Prey (2017)
- Deathloop (2021)
- Ghostwire: Tokyo (2022)
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 prior to 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.
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.
Bethesda came under fire in 2018 following the release of Fallout 76, which was met with generally unfavorable reviews for its numerous bugs and glitches, gameplay design, and absence of human non-player characters (NPCs). Additionally, the game's special edition received criticism from buyers for advertising the inclusion of a canvas duffel bag, for which Bethesda ultimately substituted a nylon bag. In response, Bethesda initially stated that they would not take any remedial action. After further backlash from fans and customers, Bethesda stated that the bag had been altered "due to unavailability of materials" and compensated customers by offering free in-game currency equating to $5.00. Bethesda's actions provoked negative reactions from buyers for the publisher having failed to notify them beforehand and for the amount of compensation offered. Critics also noted that Bethesda's official website had only changed the description of the bag from "canvas" to "nylon" following customer complaints, while the promotional image of the special edition continued to label the bag as "canvas". Fans were further angered when it was revealed that a different canvas bag had been given by Bethesda to online influencers.
On December 3, 2018, Bethesda revealed that they would produce canvas bags for owners of the Power Armor edition. On December 5, 2018, customers who had submitted support tickets in order to receive the canvas bag had their personal information revealed as a result of a data breach in Bethesda's support system, exposing ticket details to viewing and editing by other users. Bethesda announced that the breach occurred as a result of "an error with our customer support website" and they would investigate the incident. The publisher also explained that the only details leaked would have been those that the support site had requested, rather than any credit card numbers or passwords. Customers reported having received their canvas bags by June 2019.
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