MCV asks Bethesda’s PR and marketing VP asks if the smash hit RPG has changed the publisher’s ambitions...
Were you expecting the numbers you saw with Skyrim?
Not at all. We expected it to do really well, but none of us expected it to explode like it did. Although I will say that everything we did was to put it in a position where it could do that. You just set the right environment so that if everyone loves the game, it could go crazy.
Has Skyrim elevated Bethesda’s perception in the market now?
It would be pretty difficult for people to view the success of Skyrim and not think that we’ve moved up a bit from where we were. How could anyone not think that when you have the No.2 selling game for the year in the US? But for me, it doesn’t change anything. This is what we do. We make big, ‘stand-up and take notice games’. We are not about: ‘Here are our 20 games for the year, with five shooters and six sports games’. Everything that we do we want it to be an event.
Has the success you enjoyed with Skyrim raised the bar for what you expect from all of your titles?
No. Comparing Skyrim to Dishonored would be wholly and completely unfair. Skyrim wouldn’t have done what it did without the success of Oblivion, which built on the success of Morrowind, which built on Daggerfall, which built on Arena.
For Dishonored, we think it is a game that is fresh and will resonate with fans. Obviously we’re doing a lot of paid media – online, print, TV, cinema, the whole mix. But it is also a title that has the ability to break through with the viral buzz which comes from word of mouth. I think it will be a very strong game in terms of what fans and media will think, and so it will have the ability to grow. Will it do Skyrim numbers? I can tell you now absolutely not. But it wasn’t made to do that. It was made to appeal to an audience and to start what could be a longer-term franchise.
Now you have a super-brand on your hands, is there a temptation to make it an annual franchise?
We don’t believe that you can take any given franchise and just stick one out every year and hope to achieve the same success time after time. There are certain titles that can do that and I don’t think that Elder Scrolls is one of them. Call of Duty has done that very well, and has continued to grow its audience year over year. But it is a different kind of game. It isn’t a do what you want go where you want, 200-hours single player game. You don’t just create those in nine to ten months.
How is the Skyrim DLC performing?
It’s crazy. We have done a lot of DLC that has sold very well, but Dawnguard is performing ridiculously compared to previous content. We’ve done the full spectrum of DLC. We have done the easy small stuff, we have done the more expansive $10 stuff that we did for Fallout 3, and we’ve done the really big stuff, like Shivering Isles for Oblivion, which was this $30 massive expansion. For Skyrim we wanted to do something in between the $10 and $30 in terms of the amount of content we’re providing, how long we took to make it and how much it costs to make. And the big thing for us is to make sure that whatever we are doing it has an appropriate price.
There was a lot of in-store promotion for the Skyrim DLC. Does retail play a big role in promoting digital content?
Certainly. We recognise that there is a role for retail to play in digital. It is also something that retailers are keenly interested in participating in. They recognise that some people don’t want to put in their credit card onto an online service, but are willing to come into store and buy a code with cash. If you want to go into a store, if maybe you’ve traded-in games or you want to pay with cash, then we want to make it available to folks wherever.
Dishonored is one of few new IPs out this Q4. Why is Bethesda able to try new concepts when your rivals are more cautious?
We think it’s part of what we’re about. We’re not ignorant of the value of brands. Skyrim doesn’t do what it just did if it wasn’t for its past games. But. we make games that we want to play ourselves. Dishonored is one of them.
You saw the result at Gamescom where a lot of folk said that it’s nice to see something different. If you do a really good game, it has the ability to get attention and create a following.
You’ve got a number of well-known voice actors in Dishonored. Why do this? Is it a marketing ploy?
It certainly doesn’t hurt as a marketing thing. But the real reason for doing it is the impact on the product. Susan Sarandon really knows how to act and she brings that talent to the game.
Those folks are also a lot more willing to do it than they used to be because video games have become such a big form of entertainment. Ten years ago when we were trying to get voice actors for Oblivion, it was more difficult because games were still ‘toys’. Now they are viewed as a serious form of entertainment that people get in front of.
What made you want to do Doom 3: BFG Edition as a boxed release rather than a download game?
On the PC side, you’re only talking about some additional content but on the console side, it’s been remastered and updated for HD gaming. Also, in some places, like Germany, it’s never been out at all and then on some of the consoles, like on PlayStation 3, there’s never been an original Doom or a Doom 2, so I just thought doing it all together as one big thing and doing it at a value price was a pretty attractive option. And it’s a giant thing, so we couldn’t just put it out as a PSN release.
You’re entering the MMO space with Elder Scrolls Online. How have things like The Old Republic going free-to-play impacted your plans in this space?
It is a genre unlike any other and we are not ignorant to what is going on. Whether it’s Rift, Star Wars, Secret World or Warcraft.
Part of the reason Elder Scrolls Online was not at Gamescom is because we felt it was important that when we show it next, that the game itself answers a lot of the questions that people have, as opposed to us talking about what we are going to do. And that is a reaction to things that have happened with other MMOs when fans said: “You said you were going to do this and you didn’t.” “You said this was going to be a game changer, and it’s not.” That impacts us. It doesn’t matter if we didn’t develop the game, that audience has been promised things that haven’t been delivered. So we need to do more proof in the pudding.
The level of violence in video games has been a big talking point in recent months. Do you feel it’s become excessive?
I watch plenty of movies that have a lot of violence and plenty of movies that have none, and I go in knowing what the level of violence is. And if I’m taking my kids to movies, I make sure I understand what the amount of violence is and whether it’s suitable. Video games are no different. Sometimes it gets a little gratuitous in the PR and marketing, where the amount that’s shown for title X can be out of whack with what the game experience is because they are trying to shock or excite somebody. A game like Dishonored has violence to the extent that you want it. If you want to play through the game and not kill anybody and not stab anyone in the neck, then you can.
Some of the trailers we’ve seen recently make games look a lot more violent than they are.
What else other than violence would you show for Dead Rising? That’s what the game is. Hilarious ways to kill zombies. But if you are showing that level of violence and it isn’t what the game is, then you’re selling something that isn’t the game you are making.
Does the games industry need new consoles?
I don’t think the current generation of consoles are holding us back. There is still plenty that we are able to do visually, technically and from a story-telling standpoint. And there’s this huge built-in audience now.
For me the problems with new consoles are two-fold. The developers are trying to hit a moving technical target, because the platforms are being built. A new console doesn’t just show up a year before launch and is exactly what it will be when it comes out. It moves and iterates along the way. And introducing something like that to games that are in development is always a bit tricky. And that is obviously an element of risk.
The second point is that your install base always starts at zero. Then it comes out and suddenly a certain number of people buy it but it won’t be the same number as the current gen. So you have divided your audience. It’s then a case of: Are we just making it for the next gen? Or next gen and current gen? And how many people from the current gen that I’m targeting have moved over to the next gen? It does complicate things a little bit. Obviously the changes they are going to make technologically, in terms of the things we will be able to do, are exciting. But it comes at a price.
Any plans For Wii U?
We could put Skyrim on a handheld as long as we make some sacrafices, but we don’t want to do that. Our approach has been to put our games out on all of the platforms that will support them. So far the Wii hasn't fitted into that. Whether Wii U does down the road is TBD.