Bethesda Softworks has been a developer and publisher of interactive entertainment content for over two decades. Founded in 1985 by Christopher Weaver in Bethesda, Maryland; they moved to Rockville, Maryland in 1990, and have a long history of PC and console games. 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!" Bethesda was acquired by Zenimax Media, Inc., co-founded by Weaver, in 1999.
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 House Subcommittee on Communications. 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." The first employee after Weaver, Edward Fletcher, was trained as an electrical engineer, had worked as a debugger, computer equipment designer and programmer. Fletcher's vision for the company was humbler than Weaver's, hoping only to design a game for the Amiga at a low cost.
The rewritten rules of Bethesda's first title, Gridiron! were essentially produced by happenstance. Fletcher wanted to produce a American football game that relied on what most sports games of the 1980s had before it: lookup tables of player statistics. Weaver, though he knew little of the sport, found lookup tables boring, and believed that there must be a better way to make a football game. Weaver thus theorized for the game what was essentially the world's first real-time physics engine, which took into account "momentum, mass, direction, deflection, gravity and other “uninteresting” (physics) things". Electronic Arts was so impressed with Gridiron! that they hired Bethesda to develop the first John Madden Football. 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 John Madden Football. Bethesda's early games scored respectably in the gaming press, earning such accolades as "the most accurate and enjoyable simulation of a sport I have ever had the pleasure to play", "the best ice hockey sim yet", for Wayne Gretzky Hockey, and a note that Gridiron! "demands a look".
With a broad panoply of games in role-playing, racing, simulation, and sports, Bethesda Softworks major franchises are distributed worldwide.
Bethesda 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, which led to Bethesda's creation of the first John Madden Football game for Electronic Arts. Despite their long history of development in many genres, they are perhaps best known for creating The Elder Scrolls RPG series which Weaver initiated in 1992, 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. The latest chapter, The Elder Scrolls: Oblivion, was released in March 2006.
Bethesda is also the publisher for three new Star Trek games, Star Trek - Legacy (For PC/Xbox 360), Star Trek - Tactical Assault (for Nintendo DS/PlayStation Portable), and Star Trek - Encounters (PS2)
In 2004, Bethesda acquired the Fallout franchise from Interplay Entertainment, however Interplay still retains the MMO rights to said franchise. Todd Howard said in January 2007 that "We started work [on Fallout 3] in late 2004 with a few people. We only had about 10 people on it until Oblivion wrapped, but most of our staff is on it now.". Fallout 3 was released on October 28, 2008 to positive reviews.
Bethesda uses two logos. "Bethesda Game Studios" is often used to designate games developed "in house" by its own team. This may occasionally be seen on games published in foreign countries by outside publishers that were originally developed by Bethesda.
"Bethesda Softworks" is often used to designate games "published" by Bethesda, but not always developed by them. This usage has not always been consistent from game to game.
The Elder Scrolls series
- 1994 – The Elder Scrolls: Arena
- 1996 – The Elder Scrolls II: Daggerfall
- 1997 – The Elder Scrolls Legends: Battlespire
- 1998 – The Elder Scrolls Adventures: Redguard
- 2002 – The Elder Scrolls III: Morrowind
- 2002 – The Elder Scrolls III: Tribunal
- 2003 – The Elder Scrolls III: Bloodmoon
- 2003 – The Elder Scrolls Travels: Stormhold
- 2004 – The Elder Scrolls Travels: Shadowkey
- 2004 – The Elder Scrolls Travels: Dawnstar
- 2006 – The Elder Scrolls Travels: Oblivion
- 2006 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Oblivion
- 2006 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Knights of the Nine
- 2007 – The Elder Scrolls IV: Shivering Isles
The Elder Scrolls Travel Series: Shadowkey, Stormhold, and Dawnstar were co-developed by sister studio Vir2L, a ZeniMax Media company.