The Official Bethesda Softworks Wiki
Advertisement

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, purchased ZeniMax, maintaining that the company will continue to operate as a separate business.


Company name and origins[edit][]

Bethesda Softworks' original logo, circa 1986. Bethesda Softworks was founded by Christopher Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1986. It started as a division of Media Technology Limited, an engineering research and development firm of which Weaver was the founder and chief executive officer. He created Bethesda "to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games". Weaver initially intended to name the company "Softworks" but found that the name was taken. Consequently, he prepended this name with that of Bethesda.

1986–1994: Gridiron!, Electronic Arts lawsuit, The Elder Scrolls[edit][]

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, and hired Bethesda to help finish developing it, and 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. The case was resolved out of court.

In 1990, the company moved from Bethesda to Rockville, Maryland.

It is best known for its next major project, the role-playing video game series The Elder Scrolls, based on the original programming of Julian Lefay. The first game of the series, entitled The Elder Scrolls: Arena, was released in 1994. Several sequels have been released. Bethesda Softworks also published titles based upon film franchises, including The Terminator, Star Trek and Pirates of the Caribbean.

1994–1999: Company expansion[edit][]

In 1995, Bethesda Softworks acquired Noctropolis developer Flashpoint Productions, which Brent Erickson had founded in 1992. Under the name Mediatech West, the studio operated from Olympia, Washington, with Erickson as its technical division director. Games produced by Mediatech West include Burnout Championship Drag Racing and XCar: Experimental Racing.

In 1997, Bethesda acquired XL Translab, a Washington, D.C., graphics company that stemmed from the Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning. It was moved to Bethesda Softworks' Rockville headquarters. XL Translab had previously done work for PBS and Fortune 500 companies. By 1996, the company had become the third-biggest player in the privately held PC publishing industry after LucasArts and Interplay Entertainment with 75 employees by that year and revenues of $25 million by 1997.

For The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, Bethesda developed XnGine, a 3D game engine, replacing the raycasting engine used for Arena. The engine was used in The Terminator: Future Shock, Terminator: SkyNET, Daggerfall, and XCar: Experimental Racing. In 1997 and 1998, Bethesda released two The Elder Scrolls spin-offs 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. Battlespire and Redguard were the last games to use XnGine. In 1999, Pete Hines joined Bethesda to head up its marketing department, running it as what he described as a one-man band. At the start of his tenure, the company had employed around 15 people in its Rockville headquarters.

1999–2004: ZeniMax, Christopher Weaver lawsuit[edit][]

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. Providence Equity bought 25% of ZeniMax's stock in late 2007, and an additional stake in 2010.

2004–2015: Fallout, capital increase, publishing expansions[edit][]

In 2007, 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.

In September 2009, Bethesda filed a lawsuit against Interplay Entertainment, after being unsatisfied with Interplay's development of the Fallout massively multiplayer online game project. Bethesda stopped funding the project, and Interplay was forced to abandon work on it.

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, Eindhoven, Hong Kong, Sydney and Moscow in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018 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.

In 2011, Bethesda filed a lawsuit against Mojang (makers of Minecraft) for using Scrolls as the name of a new digital card game, which sounded too close to The Elder Scrolls copyrighted by Bethesda.

In the early 2010s, Bethesda Softworks published games such as Dishonored, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and The Evil Within.

2015–2020: Going mobile, Doom reboot and Fallout 76 controversy[edit][]

In the mid-2010s, Bethesda began to experiment with new kinds of games, releasing Fallout Shelter, its first mobile, free-to-play game in the summer of 2015. A year later, it released a reboot of id Software's Doom, after several years of development as a failed attempt to produce a sequel to Doom 3. Later that year, Zen Studios released virtual pinball adaptations of three games that Bethesda released during the decade thus far (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 4 and the 2016 reboot of Doom) as the Bethesda Pinball collection for its pinball games. Bethesda went on to release two more free-to-play mobile games based on The Elder Scrolls series, a card battle game titled The Elder Scrolls: Legends in 2017 and a first-person role-playing game titled The Elder Scrolls: Blades in 2019.

When Nintendo unveiled its new hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch, Bethesda expressed support for it and released ports of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Doom for that system in November 2017. A year later, it also ported Fallout Shelter, and has future plans to do the same for its two Elder Scrolls mobile games.

In late 2018, Bethesda announced and released its first massively multiplayer online game, Fallout 76, a prequel to the Fallout series. Upon its initial release, it was given mixed reviews for its poor quality and was embroiled in several other controversies, including problems with tie-in products and a data breach.

The following year saw Bethesda announce sequels to Rage and Doom, Rage 2 and Doom Eternal. The former was released on May 14.

In November 2019, Human Head Studios shut down while Bethesda established a new studio, Roundhouse Studios, offering all Human Head employees a position within it.

2020–present: Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax[edit][]

ZeniMax Media was acquired by Microsoft for US$7.5 billion in March 2021 and became part of Xbox Game Studios.

Company name and origins[edit][]

Bethesda Softworks' original logo, circa 1986. Bethesda Softworks was founded by Christopher Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland, in 1986. It started as a division of Media Technology Limited, an engineering research and development firm of which Weaver was the founder and chief executive officer. He created Bethesda "to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games". Weaver initially intended to name the company "Softworks" but found that the name was taken. Consequently, he prepended this name with that of Bethesda.

1986–1994: Gridiron!, Electronic Arts lawsuit, The Elder Scrolls[edit][]

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, and hired Bethesda to help finish developing it, and 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. The case was resolved out of court.

In 1990, the company moved from Bethesda to Rockville, Maryland. g

It is best known for its next major project, the role-playing video game series The Elder Scrolls, based on the original programming of Julian Lefay. The first game of the series, entitled The Elder Scrolls: Arena, was released in 1994. Several sequels have been released. Bethesda Softworks also published titles based upon film franchises, including The Terminator, Star Trek and Pirates of the Caribbean.

1994–1999: Company expansion[edit][]

In 1995, Bethesda Softworks acquired Noctropolis developer Flashpoint Productions, which Brent Erickson had founded in 1992. Under the name Mediatech West, the studio operated from Olympia, Washington, with Erickson as its technical division director. Games produced by Mediatech West include Burnout Championship Drag Racing and XCar: Experimental Racing.

In 1997, Bethesda acquired XL Translab, a Washington, D.C., graphics company that stemmed from the Catholic University School of Architecture and Planning. It was moved to Bethesda Softworks' Rockville headquarters. XL Translab had previously done work for PBS and Fortune 500 companies. By 1996, the company had become the third-biggest player in the privately held PC publishing industry after LucasArts and Interplay Entertainment with 75 employees by that year and revenues of $25 million by 1997.

For The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall, Bethesda developed XnGine, a 3D game engine, replacing the raycasting engine used for Arena. The engine was used in The Terminator: Future Shock, Terminator: SkyNET, Daggerfall, and XCar: Experimental Racing. In 1997 and 1998, Bethesda released two The Elder Scrolls spin-offs 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. Battlespire and Redguard were the last games to use XnGine. In 1999, Pete Hines joined Bethesda to head up its marketing department, running it as what he described as a one-man band. At the start of his tenure, the company had employed around 15 people in its Rockville headquarters.

1999–2004: ZeniMax, Christopher Weaver lawsuit[edit][]

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. Providence Equity bought 25% of ZeniMax's stock in late 2007, and an additional stake in 2010.

2004–2015: Fallout, capital increase, publishing expansions[edit][]

In 2007, 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.

In September 2009, Bethesda filed a lawsuit against Interplay Entertainment, after being unsatisfied with Interplay's development of the Fallout massively multiplayer online game project. Bethesda stopped funding the project, and Interplay was forced to abandon work on it.

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, Eindhoven, Hong Kong, Sydney and Moscow in 2008, 2010, 2012, 2013 and 2018 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.

In 2011, Bethesda filed a lawsuit against Mojang (makers of Minecraft) for using Scrolls as the name of a new digital card game, which sounded too close to The Elder Scrolls copyrighted by Bethesda.

In the early 2010s, Bethesda Softworks published games such as Dishonored, Wolfenstein: The New Order, and The Evil Within.

2015–2020: Going mobile, Doom reboot and Fallout 76 controversy[edit][]

In the mid-2010s, Bethesda began to experiment with new kinds of games, releasing Fallout Shelter, its first mobile, free-to-play game in the summer of 2015. A year later, it released a reboot of id Software's Doom, after several years of development as a failed attempt to produce a sequel to Doom 3. Later that year, Zen Studios released virtual pinball adaptations of three games that Bethesda released during the decade thus far (The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim, Fallout 4 and the 2016 reboot of Doom) as the Bethesda Pinball collection for its pinball games. Bethesda went on to release two more free-to-play mobile games based on The Elder Scrolls series, a card battle game titled The Elder Scrolls: Legends in 2017 and a first-person role-playing game titled The Elder Scrolls: Blades in 2019.

When Nintendo unveiled its new hybrid console, the Nintendo Switch, Bethesda expressed support for it and released ports of The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim and Doom for that system in November 2017. A year later, it also ported Fallout Shelter, and has future plans to do the same for its two Elder Scrolls mobile games.

In late 2018, Bethesda announced and released its first massively multiplayer online game, Fallout 76, a prequel to the Fallout series. Upon its initial release, it was given mixed reviews for its poor quality and was embroiled in several other controversies, including problems with tie-in products and a data breach.

The following year saw Bethesda announce sequels to Rage and Doom, Rage 2 and Doom Eternal. The former was released on May 14.

In November 2019, Human Head Studios shut down while Bethesda established a new studio, Roundhouse Studios, offering all Human Head employees a position within it.

2020–present: Microsoft's acquisition of ZeniMax[edit][]

ZeniMax Media was acquired by Microsoft for US$7.5 billion in March 2021 and became part of Xbox Game Studios.

Advertisement