Bethesda is quietly becoming a top-tier third-party publisher
In the South Hall of the Los Angeles Convention Center was a booth littered with awards. For those that are unaware, the South Hall houses the third-party publishers, so such a sight wasn’t uncommon. Yet there was something particular about this booth: It was quiet and unassuming. It lacked the noise of Electronic Arts. It wasn’t as giant as the coliseum Activision/Blizzard set up. Instead of attempting to draw in gamers with sights and sounds, Bethesda let their games do the talking.
This is the second year in a row Bethesda has approached E3 in this manner. Last year, they impressed attendees with The Elder Scrolls Online, Dishonored, and Doom 3: BFG Edition. This year, we saw Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Evil Within, and got our hands on The Elder Scrolls Online. That makes two years in a row publisher Bethesda has had an impressive E3 lineup. Let us also not forget 2011 when they released The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, a game that’s consumed far too many lives.
What I’m trying to say is that Bethesda is becoming one of the premiere third-party publishers in the industry. Remarkably, they’re doing this without anyone noticing. When we think of the elite third-party publishers, many people look at Electronic Arts, Activision/Blizzard, or Ubisoft. There’s good reason for this: Those three companies have been pumping out plenty of games for a long time. Bethesda’s trend of publishing quality games is only recent. Before that, they were primarily known as the guys who did Elder Scrolls with a brief dip into the Fallout franchise.
One in the key differences regarding Bethesda’s publishing practices is the quality of the games they’ve produced. While there’s no denying the sheer amount of games Activision/Blizzard or Electronic Arts publish, how many of them are worth remembering? Yes, the past twelve months have been particularly kind to Activision/Blizzard, but let’s remember that the impossible happened in those twelve months: Blizzard had three of their games release. The last time Blizzard had two of their games release in a single year, with the exception of World of Warcraft: Cataclysm and StarCraft II: Wings of Liberty in 2010, was 1998.
As for Electronic Arts, well, I’m sure they’d rather forget about their past twelve months. Even though the Mass Effect 3 controversy behind them, EA’s release lineup was nothing to write home about. While Fifa 13 was met with critical acclaim, anticipated games such as Dead Space 3, Crysis 3, and SimCity failed to meet their potential. Medal of Honor: Warfighter’s dismal performance led to the shutdown of developer Danger Close. Army of Two: The Devil’s Cartel developer EA Montreal was closed before the game even shipped.
Bethesda has published some “losers” as well, so don’t think they're immune to this criticism. Brink never lived up to its potential and RAGE never met expectations. Personally, I thought RAGE was fantastic, but to each their own.
But it's as if Bethesda has learned from these missteps, focusing on quality over quantity. This approach is shown even in the troubled developments of DOOM 4 and Prey 2. While the public is itching for any type of footage concerning either game, Bethesda has shown that they’re not afraid to take as long they’d like with a game. Granted, DOOM 4 may be more of an id Software problem, but the recent comments from Pete Hines, Bethesda’s Vice President of PR and marketing, concerning Prey 2 shows why the publisher’s future is so bright. Essentially, Hines said that Prey 2 isn’t good enough for the public to see. He also stated that simply continuing to fund the project under the belief that it will eventually work isn’t feasible. That type of discipline isn’t used enough by publishers. Take SimCity, for example. If the game had been delayed outside the end of the fiscal year, it would have been far more polished.
The most remarkable thing concerning Bethesda’s rise to prominence as a third-party publisher is the fact that their internal development team, Bethesda Game Works, hasn’t released a title since 2011’s Skyrim. While ZeniMax Online Studios is handling work on The Elder Scrolls Online, outside developers are working Wolfenstein and The Evil Within, just as an outside developer worked on Dishonored. Any publisher can have their internal development team work on a game. It’s a bigger risk to find someone entirely new to release a brand new IP at the end of a console cycle. It’s also a big risk to have a development team’s first project to take place in a beloved FPS franchise. But if anyone can pull it off, it’s Bethesda. They have the recent track record to prove it.
Quality over quantity.