Bethesda Softworks

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Bethesda Softworks LLC
Industry Video game industry
Founded 1986; 31 years ago (1986) in Bethesda, Maryland, U.S.
Founder Christopher Weaver
Headquarters Rockville, Maryland, U.S.
Area served
Key people
Vlatko Andonov (President)
Products List of Bethesda Softworks video games
  • Media Technology Limited (1986–1999)
  • ZeniMax Media (1999–present)
Divisions Bethesda Game Studios

Bethesda Softworks LLC is an American video game publisher based in Rockville, Maryland. The company was founded by Christopher Weaver in 1986 in Bethesda, Maryland as a division of Media Technology Limited, and nowadays is a wholly owned subsidiary of ZeniMax Media. Originally a video game developer itself, Bethesda Softworks now acts as the publisher for their in-house development team, Bethesda Game Studios, and ZeniMax Media's subsidiaries, ZeniMax Online Studios, id Software, Arkane Studios, MachineGames, Tango Gameworks and BattleCry Studios.


Company name and origins[edit]

Bethesda Softworks was founded by Christopher Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland in 1986 as a division of Media Technology Limited, an international engineering research and development firm founded by members of the Architecture Machine Group at the Massachusetts Institute of Technology (MIT), of which Weaver was founder and CEO.[1][2][3]

Christopher Weaver, company President Vlatko Andonov recalls, 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!"[4]

The company's founder, Chris Weaver, had, by Arena's release, transformed the company from a committee-run organization to one run which had to follow "a single person's vision": his. "For 18 years," Weaver stated, "from 1981 through 1999, all the money that was invested in the company was my own." Prior to creating Bethesda, Weaver had worked at MIT on "speech parsers, graphic interface and synthesized worlds - what people now call virtual reality...bleeding edge stuff." He had worked in news broadcast directing at NBC and as the Director of Technology Forecasting for ABC, eventually becoming Chief Engineer to the United States House Energy Subcommittee on Communications, Technology and the Internet.[5][6]

He had created Bethesda "to see if the PC market was a viable place to develop games". The executive command and personal investment allotted to himself allowed the company to become, in Weaver's words, "a boutique house", a house which "kept rewriting rules and inventing new things." Weaver, in the opinion of journalist Joe Blancato, was a man "used to having good ideas.[5]

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.[7]

Electronic Arts was so impressed with Gridiron! that they hired Bethesda to develop the first John Madden Football.[5] Bethesda eventually decided to sue EA in 1987 for USD$7.3 million, claiming that the company halted cross-console release of Gridiron! after incorporating many of its elements into their own Madden NFL.[8]

In 1990, the company moved to Rockville, Maryland.

The company is best known for creating The Elder Scrolls RPG series, based upon 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[edit]

In 1995, Bethesda Softworks acquired the development studio Flashpoint Productions, and its founder, Brent Erickson, became the Development Director of Media Technology' 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.[9][10]

In 1997, the company 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.[11]

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.[5]

1999–2007: ZeniMax, Christopher Weaver lawsuit, Fallout[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."[12][13][5][14]

In 2001, Bethesda Game Studios was established, relegating Bethesda Softworks to being a publishing brand of ZeniMax Media.

In 2002, Weaver filed a lawsuit against ZeniMax, claiming he was ousted by his new business partners after giving them access to his brand and was owed $1.2 million in severance pay when ZeniMax didn't renew his employment contract. In the end the case was dropped out of court, because Weaver was going through emails of the other employees to find evidence for his case. Additionally in February 2007, Weaver said that he still owned 33% of ZeniMax's Stock, even though the last game he was credited on was Morrowind.[5] It is unknown whether or not Weaver has any stock in ZeniMax today, mostly due to the fact that Providence Equity bought 25% of ZeniMax's stock in late 2007,[15] and an unknown percentage again in 2010 in exchange for their investments.[16]

In 2004, the Fallout franchise was acquired by Bethesda Softworks from Interplay Productions 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.

2007–present: Capital increase, publishing expansions[edit]

Since the influx of capital from Providence Equity Partners in 2007[17] as well as other investors the following year,[18] Bethesda Softworks and its parent company ZeniMax Media have been rapidly expanding.

In February 2008, the company opened a European publishing arm in London, ZeniMax Europe, to distribute titles throughout UK/EMEA territories under the Bethesda Softworks brand.[19] This was followed in by opening publishing offices in Tokyo, Frankfurt, Paris, Benelux, Hong Kong and Sydney in 2008, 2010, 2012 and 2013 respectively.[20][21][22][23][24]

On June 24, 2009, Bethesda's parent company, ZeniMax Media, acquired id Software, whose titles, including Rage, would be published by Bethesda Softworks.[25]

Between 2009 and 2012, the company began ramping up its publishing operations, by publishing 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.

Since 2012, Bethesda Softworks has mostly been publishing games, from studios either acquired or established by ZeniMax, such as Dishonored, Wolfenstein: The New Order, The Evil Within among many others.

Games published[edit]

1980s and 1990s[edit]




  • In 2001, Bethesda Softworks published Echelon in the United States, a video game developed by Russian developers Madia. The developers stated that Bethesda didn't 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.[26][27]
  • Chris Avellone, former lead creative designer at Fallout: New Vegas developer Obsidian Entertainment, has claimed that the company did not receive an unspecified bonus payment for its work on New Vegas from Bethesda because it did not garner a Metacritic score above 85% - the game got 84% on Metacritic.[28]
  • 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.[29] According to a report from IGN, Bethesda's parent company 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. ZeniMax have been accused of doing the same thing with Arkane Studios, although in Arkane's case they allegedly gave in and allowed themselves to be bought.[30] The failed hostile acquisition of Human Head Studios is what 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.[31]


  • In September 2009, Bethesda Softworks sued Interplay Entertainment over Fallout trademark infringement.[32] After a lengthy legal battle the lawsuit was settled in January 2012, with Interplay receiving $2 million USD while Bethesda Softworks gaining the right to develop a Fallout MMO as well as the rights to Fallout Tactics, Fallout and Fallout 2 after December 31, 2013.[33]
  • 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.[34] On October 18, Markus Persson announced that Mojang had won the interim injunction, but that Bethesda still had the option to file an appeal.[35] 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.[36]


  1. ^ Crowe, Greg. "Out of the hype, but still in the money is a way of life". Archived from the original on May 9, 2006. Retrieved August 24, 2016. 
  2. ^ "Bethesda Softworks Unveils Racing Enthusiasts' Dream Site". July 14, 1997. Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  3. ^ Adams, Ernest (2010). Fundamentals of Game Design. New Riders Press. Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  4. ^ Keefer, John (March 31, 2006). "GameSpy Retro: Developer Origins". GameSpy. Archived from the original on May 30, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  5. ^ a b c d e f "Bethesda:The Right Direction". The Escapist. February 6, 2007. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  6. ^ "Visiting Scholars and Postdocs". Massachusetts Institute of Technology. Archived from the original on July 18, 2012. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  7. ^ "Watch the graphics puck up". Amiga Computing, Volume 2, number 4, September 1989, p.p.18-19. September 1989. Archived from the original on March 4, 2016. Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  8. ^ "LATE NEWS FLASHES". September 1988. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  9. ^ Böke, Ingmar (October 14, 2015). "Brent Erickson Noctropolis Interview". Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  10. ^ Brady, Scott (November 12, 1998). "Noctropolis Interview with Shaun Mitchell". Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  11. ^ "ThunderWave makes a big splash at Getty Center". Washington Business Journal. December 22, 1997. Retrieved July 24, 2016. 
  12. ^ "Christopher Weaver vs ZeniMax Media" (PDF). Retrieved July 26, 2016. 
  13. ^ "Gamers at Work: Stories Behind the Games People Play". Morgan Ramsay. Retrieved August 13, 2016. 
  14. ^ "Pete Hines on Bethesda's past, present and future". Edge. July 19, 2011. Archived from the original on July 22, 2011. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  15. ^ "ZeniMax Media Buys DOOM Maker | peHUBpeHUB". June 25, 2009. Retrieved July 26, 2016. 
  16. ^ "Oculus, Facebook Face Challenge to Rights Over 'Rift". The Wall Street Journal. May 1, 2014. Retrieved July 26, 2016. 
  17. ^ "ZeniMax Media Receives $300 Million Investment from Providence Equity Partners" (PDF). Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  18. ^ "ZeniMax Media raises $9.9 million from some big names". VentureBeat. May 30, 2008. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  19. ^ "ZeniMax Media Opens London Office". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  20. ^ "ZeniMax Media Opens Tokyo office". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  21. ^ "Bethesda Opens New Offices In Germany And France". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  22. ^ "Bethesda in Benelux". September 7, 2010. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  23. ^ "ZeniMax Asia Pacific Limited". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  24. ^ "Bethesda opens Australian office". CNET. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  25. ^ "ZeniMax Media Acquires id Software". June 24, 2009. Retrieved July 17, 2016. 
  26. ^ "Open Letter to Bethesda Softworks". November 18, 2001. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  27. ^ "Bethesda Open Letter Follow-up". November 20, 2001. 
  28. ^ "Obsidian Fallout New Vegas deal with Bethesda meant bonus payment only with 85+ Metacritic". Eurogamer. March 15, 2012. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  29. ^ "Bethesda may be planning Prey 2 reveal at E3". May 25, 2016. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  30. ^ "What Went Wrong with Human Heads Prey 2". IGN. June 5, 2013. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  31. ^ "Bethesda Explains Prey 2 Silence". IGN. June 18, 2013. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  32. ^ "Bethesda Sues Interplay Over Fallout Trademark Infringement". Kotaku. September 11, 2009. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  33. ^ "Fallout MMO Rights Officially Restored to Bethesda". Retrieved July 25, 2016. 
  34. ^ Chalk, Andy (September 27, 2011). "Mojang and Bethesda Are Going to Court". Escapist Magazine. Retrieved July 25, 2011. 
  35. ^ Goldfarb, Andrew (October 27, 2011). "Notch Wins First Round Against Bethesda". IGN. Retrieved September 18, 2011. 
  36. ^ Graft, Kris (March 11, 2012). "Bethesda, Mojang settle 'Scrolls' trademark lawsuit". Gamasutra. Retrieved July 25, 2016. 

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