Turn back the clock two years and a few days. Bethesda had just finished their first ever full E3 press conference, BE3 2015. They’d live streamed shows before, sure, but nothing quite like that. They announced some of their most anticipated games of the last two years: Dishonored 2. Doom. The Elder Scrolls Online going to consoles. Finally, the latest mainstream offering of one of their flagship IPs: Fallout 4.
Debut of the settlement system at BE3 2015
Even before they had full press conferences, Bethesda had an understanding of how to drop game announcements. At the 2010 VGAs, they seemingly hired two dozen shady-looking men to wear black robes and chant when they officially announced Skyrim. Fallout 3 at E3 saw Todd Howard go hands-on with the game and show some first-hand gameplay. The year after Fallout 4 got announced, at E3 2016, what did Bethesda show us? Fallout 4 DLC. Doom DLC. ESO DLC. Dishonored 2, which had already been announced. The only new game was Prey, admittedly very enjoyable, but the release cycle from all subsidiaries of Bethesda — or Zenimax, whichever way the corporation flows — brought us a handful of new games in 2015, and only one the following year.
Aforementioned men in black robes and Todd Howard, prince of Bethsoft
Consequently, this year at E3, many fans were hoping for, at the very least, a progress update on some of the developers’ high-flying IPs. Whether it would be The Elder Scrolls VI, another Fallout game, or something entirely new, like the almost mythical Starfield which has been rumoured across the internet. While it’s likely that these are all still in the works, Bethesda and their two showcase frontrunners, Todd Howard and Pete Hines, are very good at playing their cards close to the chest with regards to press.
I understand that hype can ruin games. We’ve seen it happen time and time again. Reveal trailers that aren’t fully representative build games up to unrealistic expectations and developers can’t fully live up to them. Perhaps that’s why the Bethesda press tactics are now limited to giving fans an inch rather than a mile at any major convention. However, two facts must be considered: in spite of hype, Bethesda games — especially Bethesda Softworks games — almost always come out to overwhelmingly positive responses, individual opinions aside. Secondly; anticipation ahead of AAA game release is not a black or white binary measure. It’s not having all or nothing. All games need some attention by the press and the media.
Todd, please. Please, Todd.
But before I get ahead of myself, let’s have a look at the timelines of some earlier Bethesda Softworks games. Oblivion was announced in September 2004, and released in March 2006. That’s eighteen months. Fallout 3 begun work officially in July 2004, and wasn’t released for another four years. Skyrim was announced in December 2010, and release came November of the following year. Eleven months. Fallout 4, finally, was announced in June 2015, and released only five months later, in the November of that year.
It’s close, but Fallout 4 is generally the least favourable of those four games. I know it’s the one that I personally enjoyed the least. My theory is that if I’d have been given twice the time to think about it, maybe I would have enjoyed it more. Five months between announcement and release is the shortest time period of that kind of any Bethesda Softworks game in existence.
This was Bethesda’s creative mainstay for 2017
I imagine everybody who enjoys their games thinks Bethesda — as a publisher and a developer — needs to give us more at next year’s E3. This isn’t what I’m here to dispute. I think that’s a statement of fact, that we want more, but when you begin to examine the Softworks franchises, they’re starting to become enigmatic. We know that unless Bethesda doesn’t actually want to make any money, there are plans for an Elder Scrolls VI and a Fallout 5. Common consensus is that they exist, they’re in the pipelines, and they’re probably both going to be universally adored.
I understand that an announcement-release cycle is a fragile thing, especially considering the gaming community’s expectations and their tendency to expand like a forest fire. I can understand the necessity not to show off pre-alpha footage or the innards of the game engine until it’s ready. What I can’t understand is giving the public less and less time to get excited about a game you want them to buy. My best friend and I counted down the 50 days leading up to Skyrim‘s launch when we were fourteen. Eleven months felt like forever, but it made the game so much more worthwhile. It’s not an exact science, but I only felt as excited about Fallout 4 within a week or two of its release.
If only this was real
I can’t imagine anything I say or do is going to affect the finely-oiled machine that is the Bethesda Softworks marketing department, or their concrete plans for, likely, the next 10 years of E3s, VGAs, and Gamescoms. Still, I would implore them to start giving us a little more year by year, but, if anything, not to release their next gargantuan AAA release within six months of announcing it. Make it a year. Bethesda Softworks games are one of a very select number of franchises which benefit more than than they suffer from hype. They should make use of it.