We thought the games industry had moved past the sort of opulent, decadent E3 events like the one Bethesda put on this year.
The publisher - one year on from its 2015 press conference held in the same venue as the Oscars - threw a massive event in Los Angeles this summer. It featured a number of big announcements and an after-show party containing extravagant demo booths, cocktail bars and a performance from stadium American punk actBlink 182.
I wanted to have a hands-on component for some of our stuff, and not just show games,” explains PR and marketing chief Pete Hines.
VR stuff in particular – there was not much we could do on stage to show off VR that would have meant anything.
So, it was an evolution from us wanting to show off VR, Elder Scrolls Legends, some Doom stuff, and we said: ‘If we're going to do all that, why not have a party?' We did an after party last year for employees and a few guests, and so we thought, what if this time we invited everybody and gave them stuff to do?”
At E3, Bethesda showcased two VR projects – one, Doom, was more a tech demo experience. The other was Fallout 4, which is a full game coming to HTC Vive next year.
It means Bethesda now joins a relatively small crowd of triple-A publishers that are seriously investing in the virtual reality scene.
This isn't a new thing for us,” says Hines.
Back on Doom 3: BFG, it was a thing we were working on and interested in. We don't go chasing after every new trend or idea. But when there are ones that we think will particularly resonate well with the sort of things we make, or the desire to try new things and be innovative... this felt appropriate. To take a really immersive game like Fallout 4 and create a really cool VR experience, it was something that - from a development perspective - excited people.”
However, there's no expectation for all the studios to create VR experiences.
Hines adds: We can't go to Arkane and say: ‘Do Dishonored 2 in VR.' or ‘Give us a new VR IP'. There is interest, and has been for years now, across all of our studios. These guys buy VR headsets. They are gamers, they love gadgets, they're enthusiasts. But which projects we decide to do, or not do, comes down to the people who make the games and the ideas we have and whether we think it is a good fit for the studio and the platform and all of that stuff.”
Another game unveiled at E3 was Quake Champions.
The original Quake is viewed – and indeed still played – as one of the original eSport titles. Bethesda aims to keep the IP in the pro-gaming arena with this new title, too.
I get really weary talking about eSports stuff. It's such a buzz word that everyone seems to drop it when talking about their games now,” admits Hines. Quake's DNA is eSports. QuakeCon exists because Quake was a competitive eSports title and we've been doing tournaments for decades.
We showed Champions for the first time at this year's QuakeCon, and we also had behind-closed-doors, by invitation only, play tests with Quake pro players. We wanted their feedback and involved them in the process early on. We showed them our maps, our modes, how stuff works... Then we asked: ‘how does it feel? What feedback do you have?' Because it will be an eSport thing in the way that Quake still is.”
It's been a rapid rise for Bethesda, less than a decade ago it was mostly known for The Elder Scrolls, today it has half a dozen triple-A studios putting out multiple major franchises that are worthy of a huge E3 presence.
Last year it launched its biggest game thus far in the form of Fallout 4, which has gone on to claim multiple awards (even a couple of MCV Awards) and generated $750m in its first 24 hours.
The firm then followed that up with the return of Doom in May. Initially, the game struggled. Bethesda had banked on the multiplayer to shift units, but the reception to the beta was lukewarm. But things picked up significantly once fans discovered the game's single player component.
I was surprised a little bit by just how much folks liked and got the single player,” admits Hines.
If you are at Bethesda and play the single player, you might think it's really fun and different. But you don't know if you're drinking your own kool-aid... is it really fun? Or are people going to play it and dislike the fact there's no voiced protagonist, or the fact there's no real story, and will they say: ‘Id Software hasn't got out of the 1990s. Same old, same old. 6/10'. You never know which of those two scenarios you'll end up getting.
We did the single player demo after launch. We had showed off the multiplayer, but we hadn't managed to show as much of the single player. So giving folks the chance to try it... well it turned out to be a good idea.”
After striking it big with two games back-to-back, Bethesda's next big challenge (aside from a Skyrim remake) is Dishonored 2.
"We're not saying Doom or Dishonored 2
has to do as well as Fallout 4. I think that would be
unfair to those games and studios."
Pete Hines, Bethesda
Bethesda believes the sequel has the potential to do a lot better than the much loved original game, but it's not going to be easy. This franchise is a quirky, stylised, steampunk stealth adventure series, it doesn't have the legacy of Doom or the sheer popularity of Fallout, and it's also launching in November - pitting it against the likes of Call of Duty and Watch Dogs 2.
With Dishonored 2 being the sequel to the game of the year, it is the biggest, most important thing we have,” says Hines. Even though I think Skyrim is going to do tremendously well, I don't think we need to spend a whole lot of time explaining what that is.
But with Dishonored 2, we want to spend time highlighting the fact that it is not just the same game. We want to show that the team has been really ambitious.”
He continues: Dishonored was the only new IP released in the holiday of 2012. It made it seem different and some folk even said it was like an indie game. But now we've established its credibility, we think Dishonored 2 will get much more attention and focus.”
But don't expect Fallout 4 numbers, Hines adds.
We are pretty good at looking at each game and understanding what its potential is. We're not saying that Doom or Dishonored 2 has to do as well as Fallout 4. I think that would be unfair to those games and studios. I don't think someone like yourself would ever look at Dishonored 2 and say: ‘Absolutely, that is the same as Skyrim in terms of its potential'. It is a different game from a different studio. It can still achieve enormous success and not be Skyrim.”