Bethesda Game Studios was founded in 1985 by Christopher Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland, originally as Bethesda Softworks.
They had a hand in developing the first Madden NFL for EA in 1988 and developed a number of other licensed games (including Home Alone), but would not reach true success until The Elder Scrolls: Arena was released in 1994.
They went on to release several Terminator games, including one of the first fully-3D games, Terminator Future Shock (released several months before Quake), before continuing the Elder Scrolls series with Daggerfall in 1996. Daggerfall was notoriously buggy and commercially unsuccessful, and after releasing two equally unsuccessful spin-offs based on Daggerfall (An Elder Scrolls Legend: Battlespire and TES Adventures: Redguard), Bethesda was looking at bankruptcy.
In 1999, the studio formed a new parent company, ZeniMax Media, which was designed to be an operational and administrative entity (but would go on to acquire other studios, including id Software, Arkane Studios and Tango Gameworks). In 2001, Bethesda Softworks split its development and publishing arms into two separate divisions, with Bethesda Game Studios serving as a flagship studio, and Bethesda Softworks serving only as a publishing label for Bethesda Game Studios and other ZeniMax properties. In 2002, they released the third entry in the Elder Scrolls main series with Morrowind. A critical and commercial Breakthrough Hit which redefined the genre and proved that it could be successful on consoles as well as PC, Bethesda reached new heights.
In 2004, the company also acquired the Fallout franchise from Interplay Entertainment, and revamped it into a 3D first-person RPG akin to The Elder Scrolls with Fallout 3. Since then, Bethesda has grown into a titan of western gaming note , although its tendency to completely rebuild its games from the ground up with each sequel (which usually means axing old features in favor of new ones) proved to be divisive at times.
On September 21, 2020, it was announced that ZeniMax Media was to be acquired by Microsoft, adding it and its subsidiaries under the Xbox Game Studios banner. The acquisition was completed on March 9, 2021, after US and EU approval. The head of Xbox, Phil Spencer, has stated that some of Bethesda's future games will be exclusive to Xbox and PC, though only time will tell what these games could be.
Games and series developed by Bethesda Game Studios:
- The Elder Scrolls franchise:
- Main Series:
- Fallout franchise (acquired from Interplay Entertainment):
- Starfield (TBA — Planned 2023)
Games and series published by Bethesda Softworks (in addition to the Bethesda Game Studios games)
- Call of Cthulhu: Dark Corners of the Earth
- Dishonored franchise:
- Doom franchise:
- The Elder Scrolls franchise:
- The Evil Within franchise:
- Ghostwire: Tokyo
- Fallout franchise (acquired from Interplay Entertainment):
- Hunted: The Demon's Forge
- John Madden Football (1988)
- Prey (2017)
- Quake Champions
- The Rage franchise:
- The Sea Dogs franchise:
- Sea Dogs
- Pirates of the Caribbean
- Terminator Future Shock
- Wolfenstein franchise:
- XCar: Experimental Racing
Non-gaming media produced by Bethesda:
Notable Bethesda Writers/Developers/Composers:
List of tropes common in Bethesda Game Studios' RPGs:
- And the Adventure Continues: Bethesda isn't a big fan of epilogues, and they instead prefer to let the player just play past the ending.
- Anti-Villain: Several cases, but the most noteworthy examples are Dagoth Ur, Ulfric Stormcloak, General Tullius, Conrad Kellogg, Father, and Elder Arthur Maxson.
- Apocalyptic Log: Justifiably common in their Fallout games given the setting, but the Elder Scrolls games also include plenty of examples.
- Artifact Title: The company was named after the city it was originally founded in, but has since moved its HQ to Rockville, MD.
- Author Appeal: Their games are littered with references to H. P. Lovecraft, and they frequently draw inspiration from his works (such as the abundance of Eldritch Abominations found throughout their games).
- Black-and-Gray Morality: Bethesda leans on this trope quite a bit. For example, the Skyrim Civil War is rather morally ambiguous between the Empire and the Stormcloaks, but the Thalmor are universally presented in a negative light.
- Black Comedy: Numerous examples, but the S.P.E.C.I.A.L. videos for Fallout 4 probably take the cake in the "cheerfully grim" department.
- Breakout Hit:
- Morrowind was this for them, both commercially and critically. Its success even saved them from bankruptcy.
- Skyrim and Fallout 4 took them to another level as a major game studio, cementing Bethesda's status as a pillar of western gaming.
- Crapsack World: Tamriel and the North American Wasteland are not okay places to live. This serves Bethesda's style of RPG very well, as it provides players with plenty of conflicts and crises to meddle in (for better or for worse).
- Deadpan Snarker: A trademark of their work is an abundance of sarcastic characters and dialogue, with Fallout 4 even having a "Sarcastic" dialogue option in almost every dialogue tree.
- Eldritch Abomination: The Daedric Princes, dragons, and Ug-Qualtoth are just a few examples of these in their games.
- The Epic: Both of their flagship series qualify, with the protagonists being extraordinary individuals (for their settings) pulling off exceptional feats with world-altering consequences. Bethesda also used this term specifically when introducing Starfield.
- Fantastic Racism: Their games often feature this trope. What's interesting is that Bethesda often more analyzes some of the real-world reasons behind racism - cultural imperialism, class divides, slavery, and lingering tensions over wars/invasions - rather than just trying to create "Racism is bad!" Aesops.
- In Skyrim, the three ideologies of nationalism, imperialism and fascism, which might get confused as being the same in simpler Aesops, are represented with three different factions at mortals odds with each other, and the fascist faction is the only one presented as completely evil.
- Grey-and-Gray Morality: It varies per game, but Skyrim's Civil War subplot over Talos worship and Fallout 4's main questline concerning the Commonwealth & Synths both feature it most prominently.
- Guide Dang It!: Given the sheer scale and content density of their games, this comes up quite often. It has actually become less common over time - Though of course, per the Broken Base, many longtime fans see this as a bad thing, and feel that their favorite series are being "dumbed down" for more casual gamers.
- Hidden Depths: Bethesda likes to make fascinating and flawed characters that usually reveal these over the course of the story just as much as they like making Bit Characters.
- Humongous Mecha: The Numidium and Liberty Prime.
- Loads and Loads of Characters:
- Given the sheer scale of the games they create, creating enough characters to fill them out naturally leads to this. Even the Fallout games, which take place in a sparsely populated post-apocalyptic wasteland, usually require multiple character sub-pages to list them all out.
- From a technical perspective, modern Bethesda games take this trope to the extreme in a way no other developer does. Instead of filling their world with non-character NPCS that act as window dressing to make the world seem bustling and alive, Bethesda chooses to use a smaller number of more "intelligent" characters that all have at least one line of dialogue, a bed to sleep in, and a schedule they adhere to. While every NPC being an individual is pretty cool and quite the ambitious concept, this approach does have its own drawbacks.
- Mythology Gag: To other games they develop. For example, there's Porter Gage in Fallout 4: Nuka-World referring to Mirelurks as "Mudcrabs," animals found only in the Elder Scrolls.
- Obvious Beta: They make wondrous games...that are also infamous for their many technical issues, especially upon release. Daggerfall was so infamously buggy that it was impossible to complete the main quest when released (this was later patched). They had been getting better about this over time...then the Fallout 76 debacle happened and set the company's reputation well back in this regard.
- Promoted Fanboy:
- On a meta level - Most of Bethesda Game Studios are fans of the original Fallout games, and so they were thrilled when they eventually acquired the series.
- They have also gone on to hire some of the more talented game modders as developers for later games in the series.
- Running Gag: Sweet rolls, which originally started out in The Elder Scrolls and has since spread to Fallout.
- Scenery Porn: At the very least, for the time they're released, each of Bethesda's games have showcased absolutely gorgeous landscapes and worlds to explore.
- Shout-Out: They absolutely love to make references to H.P. Lovecraft and the Cthulhu Mythos, with at least one reference showing up in every game they've developed.
- Sliding Scale of Idealism Versus Cynicism: Each game merrily hops back and forth along this line. Generally, the Elder Scrolls leans towards the cynical end while Fallout leans harder towards the idealistic end of the spectrum, despite how they look.
- Sliding Scale Of Linearity Versus Openness: They're pretty firmly on the latter end of the scale.
- Small Reference Pools:
- To the majority of people, Bethesda has two franchises: The Elder Scrolls and Fallout. Fewer still realize that Fallout didn't originate with Bethesda.
- Within their flagship series, each new game tends to cause this effect, especially among younger audiences. It isn't uncommon for someone to have played Skyrim or Fallout 4 without having even touched another game in their respective series.
- Space Compression: To an extreme degree due to the sheer size of the worlds portrayed in Bethesda's games. Large cities become small hamlets and small or medium-sized settlements turn into one or two buildings or disappear entirely.
- Story Breadcrumbs: Bethesda prefers to supply Worldbuilding through delivering stories via background environmental details, readable notes and books, and (in the Fallout series) audio logs.
- Talking the Monster to Death: Not always, but their RPGs still tend to have many examples of these in each game.
- Video Game Caring/Cruelty Potential: Given their tendency to make their games as open as possible, there are plenty of opportunities for each.
- Welcome to Corneria: While their games don't necessarily suffer from more of this, it's arguably more noticeable due to the huge scale they always shoot for in their games. Get used to their approach towards NPCs, and it's all the more jarring once you hear everything they have to say.
- Well-Intentioned Extremist: A common trait of their Big Bads as well as other lesser villains. Their end goal is often something that one can see as noble, though the methods they choose to get there are often morally repugnant. For example, there's Dagoth Ur seeking to drive the Empire out of Morrowind, which is something even the honorable Great House Redoran desires. However, his method of doing so involves creating a Humongous Mecha powered by the heart of a dead god to spread The Corruption around the world.
- Western RPG: Every game they've made is one, often overlapping significantly with elements of the Action RPG genre.
- Wide-Open Sandbox: One of the main sources of appeal in Bethesda's games is the ability to do practically anything the player wants to do in a massive open-world.
- What Could Have Been: Each game they make is full of cut content, much of which is often (at least attempted to be) filled back in by modders.
- What Measure Is a Mook?: It varies per game, but many games will at least try and help humanize the rank-and-file members of each faction (no matter their morality).
- What Measure Is a Non-Human?: This is more evident in Fallout, but this theme is rather obviously present in all of their games.