Opinion: Bethesda comes of age with impressive E3 conference

When Bethesda’s game director Todd Howard declared E3 as ‘the best week for entertainment ever’ at the company’s press conference, the message couldn’t be clearer.

There he was, standing on stage at the Dolby Theatre – the same place where The Oscars have been held ever year since 2001 – to state that as of today, video games are the biggest and most influential entertainment medium in the world.

And the fact it was a Bethesda employee that said it – in front of packed auditorium and in front of an online audience of millions – speaks volumes for how far this publisher has come.

It’s almost unfathomable to think that at the start of the last generation, Bethesda consisted of just one (admittedly very good) games studio. It now operates seven. Its sole IP was The Elder Scrolls, and now it boasts a line-up of titles that includes Fallout, Dishonored, Wolfenstein, Quake, Doom, The Evil Within and a handful of others.

The company was growing rapidly long before The Elder Scrolls: Skyrim arrived and propelled the Zenimax-owned company into the big leagues.

Comparisons can be drawn between Bethesda and Blizzard – they both have hugely loyal (and noisy) fanbases, and Bethesda’s E3 announcements of Bethesda.net and The Elder Scrolls Legends (a strategy card game) are obvious nods to Blizzard’s work. But also Take-Two as well, who follow a similar strategy of releasing triple-A console products only when they’re ready and not before.

In fact, analysts and investors could criticise Bethesda for the same reasons Take-Two often comes under fire from its shareholders. Bethesda’s line-up is inconsistent. It has no annual franchise, and how successful it is each year largely depends on whether its flagship studio releases a Fallout or an Elder Scrolls.

But the company is right to protect its big studio (confusingly named Bethesda Game Studio), just like Take-Two are correct not to demand Rockstar release a Grand Theft Auto every few years. The talent behind these studios will take their time to make their best work, and its the role of the publisher to enable that as much as possible.

Bethesda is not Ubisoft or EA or Activision. And it shouldn’t be. There’s no need for another publisher with a line-up of annualised products. But Bethesda is – if it wasn’t before – now firmly on these companies’ radar after this year’s E3.

A flickering screen and a slightly awkward exchange from Arkane Studios aside, this was a flawless E3 conference. Bethesda was comfortable and cheeky – marketing boss Pete Hines even joked that the show was going to end on the news of a new free-to-play mobile game – but it didn’t veer into arrogance. It spoke warmly of rival games, it didn’t ignore players’ obvious concerns over freemium (Todd Howard directly insisted they wouldn’t fall into the trappings of other free-to-play titles), and for all the leaks (Dishonored remaster and Dishonored 2 were both spoiled) there was still a few surprises – particularly in the mobile game Fallout Shelter, which was made available immediately after the conference ended.

In fact, the news of two mobile properties shows a further evolution for the company, which had largely given those platforms a wide berth.

Last year, Pete Hines told MCV that Bethesda had never made an E3 announcement. Just over 12 month later, the firm has not only made a few, but it may have just the stolen the show from under the noses of Xbox, PlayStation, Nintendo, Ubisoft and EA.

What a start to E3 2015.

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