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 became a publisher only. It currently also publishes games by ZeniMax Online Studios, id Software, Arkane Studios, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks and Bethesda Game Studios Austin.
|Industry||Video game industry|
|Founded||June 28, 1986Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.in|
|Products||List of Bethesda Softworks video games|
|Divisions||Bethesda Game Studios|
Company name and origins
Bethesda Softworks was founded by Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland in 1986 as a division of Media Technology Limited, an engineering research and development firm of which Weaver was founder and CEO. He created Bethesda "to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games".
Vlatko Andonov, who serves as President of Bethesda, recalls that Weaver had originally wanted to call the company "Softworks", but found the name taken. "So, our founder, sitting at his kitchen table in Bethesda decided after laborious thought to add Bethesda to Softworks and there you have it!"
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 at the time, and hired Bethesda to help finish developing it. At the same time, they 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.
In 1990, the company moved from Bethesda to Rockville, Maryland.
It is best known for its next major project, The Elder Scrolls RPG series, based on the original programming of Julian Lefay. The first chapter of the series, entitled The Elder Scrolls: Arena, was released in 1994. Since that time, numerous other chapters have been released. Bethesda Softworks is also known for publishing titles based upon popular movie franchises, including The Terminator, Star Trek and Pirates of the Caribbean.
1994–1999: Company expansion
In 1995, Bethesda Softworks acquired the development studio Flashpoint Productions, and its founder, Brent Erickson, became the Development Director of Media Technology's West Coast division, MediaTech West. The division produced several titles including Golf Magazine: 36 Great Holes Starring Fred Couples, Noctropolis and later the Burnout Championship Drag Racing series.
In 1997, Bethesda acquired XL Translab, a graphics firm that got its start in Catholic University's School of Architecture. XL eventually moved into a new center in Bethesda Softworks' Rockville headquarters. XL Translab has previously done work for PBS as well as television commercials for Fortune 500 companies.
In 1997 and 1998, Bethesda released two The Elder Scrolls expansions 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.
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. It is unknown how much stock Weaver has in ZeniMax today, as Providence Equity bought 25% of ZeniMax's stock in late 2007, and an additional stake in 2010.
2004–present: Fallout, Capital increase, publishing expansions
In 2004, 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.
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, Benelux, Hong Kong and Sydney in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 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.
1980s and 1990s
- Wayne Gretzky Hockey (1988–1992)
- Terminator series (1990–1992)
- The Elder Scrolls series (1994–present)
- Symbiocom (1998)
- Zero Critical (1999)
- 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 (2008–2018)
- Wet (2009)
- Rogue Warrior (2009)
In 2001, Bethesda Softworks published Echelon in the United States, a video game developed by Russian developers Madia. The developers stated that Bethesda did not pay a single cent from boxed sales of the game, as was specified in the contract according to Madia. The developers wrote an open letter to Bethesda in which they have detailed the whole affair but Bethesda still refused to pay. In the end Madia decided not to take it to court. Pete Hines VP of PR at Bethesda later stated that Madia presented misleading allegations about Bethesda's role as publisher of Echelon in North America and that Bethesda has 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 wouldn't 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's Pete Hines replied to the accusations by saying the following:
I think all of the stuff that you've heard at this point has been from one side of this, and it's been somebody putting spin on it, like, 'here's what happened.' No, that's your version of what you think happened. I haven't heard from anybody yet that actually sat in the room. There are quite a few folks at Human Head that I really like. Chris Rhinehart is one of the nicest guys I have ever met in this industry. He's somebody I would consider a friend. I love hanging out with him. This isn't anything to do with anything personal. I love that guy. I like a lot of the folks up there. It just has to do more with what the product looks like and if it's good enough. As we said in our last update, it's not good enough. It's not where it needs to be. When we have more info than that, we'll let you know.
Bethesda came under fire in 2018 following the release of their anticipated title, Fallout 76, which was met with generally mixed reviews for its numerous bugs and glitches, gameplay design, and absence of non-player characters (NPCs). Additionally, the game's Power Armor special edition received widespread criticism from buyers for being advertised as featuring a canvas duffel bag, but which ultimately had been substituted for a nylon bag. In response, 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 from the publisher having failed to notify them beforehand, and additionally contested 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 only angered further when it was revealed that a different canvas bag had been given by Bethesda to online influencers. However, 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 owing to 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.
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 MMO as well as the rights to Fallout Tactics, Fallout and Fallout 2 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.
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