Up For Debate - Is Bethesda a publisher in decline?

Written by Jon Sutton on Fri, May 17, 2019 2:00 PM
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There’s a perception, myself included, that Bethesda has let themselves go a bit lately. There have been one too many missteps and any good fortune towards even Bethesda’s mainline franchises has evaporated far quicker than the time it took Bethesda to build it up in the first place.

Fallout 4 was a bestseller but fell out of favour rapidly. Fallout 76 was a calamity for Bethesda Game Studios and the franchise brand. The Elder Scrolls: Blades, well, the less said about Blades, the better. Bethesda’s publishing arm has dished up some greats though, exemplified by Bethesda’s impressive stage presence at E3 each year these days. From being ‘that Elder Scrolls developer’, Bethesda has grown into a publishing powerhouse. And then Rage 2 arrives to mixed reviews and the knives Blades™ are out once more.

But I questioned whether this widespread sentiment had actually welled up from a truth, or just a pervading narrative. So I proceeded to note down every major title published by Bethesda Softworks in recent times, as well as the aggregated review score attributed to each game. The results have ended up quite interesting.

Bethesda Softworks - Review Scores 2011-2019



And sure enough, since Skyrim launched to almost unheard of levels of success back in 2011, the trajectory of Bethesda Softworks games has been a downward trend (indicated by the red line). The key contributors to this are the recent slump as Bethesda tried to broaden its horizons with mobile games and an attempt at the survival genre. These attempts were not met with critical success, and we can see the last three Bethesda-published games are all the lowest scoring titles they've published since Fallout Shelter in 2015, a mobile game. 

Chasing cash cows may work monetarily in the short term, but it hasn't worked out for the perception of Bethesda as a publisher of quality games.

Which ultimately led me to broaden the horizons of this analysis in an attempt to see how far Bethesda has come since it truly blew up as a publisher with the arrival of Fallout 3.

Bethesda Softworks - Review Scores 2011-2019

 

As you can see, this lends a very different perspective to Bethesda's progress as a publisher. After a rough patch in the early days, particularly with the atrocious Rogue Warrior, Bethesda settled into a rhythm of high quality. From Fallout 4 through to Wolfenstein 2, the repetition of review scores in the 80s is impressive. They're a better, more reliable publisher now, even if they don't hit the heights of Fallout 3 and Skyrim. This reliability would go some way to explain why the last three games are proving to be so disappointing for Bethesda fans.

If we were to go even further back then we head into Bethesda’s extremely early days of being a publisher, and we get a massive drop-off in quality. We’re talking landfill Wii and DS games, drag racing, bowling games, Pirates of the Caribbean, and even a dog-breeding game. They’re not really indicative of Bethesda Softworks place as a publisher at all in the modern age. No, it really all began with the widespread success of Oblivion, which eventually picked up pace with Fallout 3 and the eventual acquisition of studios such as if Software and Arkane.

But I didn't want to stop there in my quest for interesting yet ultimately pointless statistics. What about if it's Bethesda Game Studios themselves? Is Bethesda flying high as a publisher, but under-delivering as a studio? 

Bethesda Softworks - Review Scores 2011-2019 (Minus Bethesda Game Studios Titles)

Bethesda Softworks - Review Scores 2008-2019 (Minus Fallout & Elder Scrolls)

Confirmation, if it were needed, that Bethesda as a publisher is an outfit on the up. The expected review scores from non-BGS titles have crept from around 70 to about 85%. Progress. Rage 2's mixed reviews will do very little to offset this trend, and Doom Eternal will surely offset the damage.

Interestingly, the line gets even steeper when we take out the Fallout and Elder Scrolls franchises entirely. This means Bethesda's highest and lowest review scores have been plucked out, basically, and an indicator that both of these franchises have fallen on hard times lately. Bethesda has been farming out mobile versions and multiplayer spin-offs that have come back to bite them. It's brought some unneeded pressure on its in-house output. There will be Elder Scrolls VI and Starfield doubters galore, while whatever Arkane and id Software cook up will still be met with glee.

Which brings us to the conclusion and, to be honest, I'm actually a little more confused than when I started. Bethesda Softworks appears to still be a rising star, but there's perhaps some trepidation that its single-player RPGs have hit some sort of speed bump.

As ever, we'd love to hear your thoughts on this one. Do you think Bethesda Softworks is a publisher that's fading from grace? Or do you think this is but a momentary blip that will soon give way to plenty genre-defining RPGs, first-person shooters, and immersive sims? Let us know below!

Are Bethesda fading from grace?

Will Elder Scrolls VI be a return to form?

Our favourite comments:

It ain't the exact same engine, it's the third or so revision. By that logic, titanfall would run on the same engine as Half Life.

That being said their engine is a huge spaghetti mess that hasn't been nearly as well looked after as anybody would like.

TheMagicGuy

The strong point of Skyrim ( and the Fallout series ) is the modding scene. If you spend a little time you can build the (almost) perfect game to your liking.

FredyPt

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17:28 May-20-2019

Decline is a bit pre-mature considering they have one bad game on PC and one mobile game which doesn't count as a game. Rest of their library is rock solid with TES, Fallout, DOOM, Prey, Wolfenstein, Dishonored all of which are excellent games.


They do need a new PR person though IMHO.

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06:27 May-18-2019

Indeed it is! hope they recover soon!

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04:04 May-18-2019

[Oh Bethesda, trying to find that Gem again. Crawl crawl, stagger stagger, trudge trudge.] (https://www.youtube.com/watch?v=TPc4icFIo8U)

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03:43 May-18-2019

I'm pretty sure they're way past being in a decline, they hit rock bottom the moment they tried to monetize and profit off of the modding community.

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02:14 May-18-2019

in decline as a developer that put gamers first and corporate needs second? yes they are fading, however they'll still trudge along thanks to fallout 5 anf elder scrolls 6 continuing to target a more mainstream audience.

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22:49 May-17-2019

Definitely they are in decline and fading from grace. After all,they failed to deliver good games even in their better franchises.Not to mention the fiasco with paid mods, Fallout 76 debacle I could write a book about, failing their promises of not having pay to win in F76 and about delivering different mobile game,...

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22:51 May-17-2019

... TES Blades ended up using all the usual dirty tricks in the book to get your money. And so on, it just doesn't feel like who they used to be. I mean I know I complained about how they are taking RPG elements out of TES and Fallout, but nowdays, I just miss the time when that was the biggest issue.

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22:53 May-17-2019

As for TES6. I definitely could save them, if game will deliver amazing open world, return of deep dialogue trees, return of at least some RPG elements and if they will make open world interesting. Then sure. Though stubborn use of Creation Engine doesn't give me much of a hope. Feels like they didn't change at all,...

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22:55 May-17-2019

... which gives me feeling like they will aim even more towards action adventure, how they will water down RPG mechanics even more, how dialogues will also be far less interesting. How they might try to force paid mods, so no free unoffical patch, and how they might decide to do obligatory microtransactions.

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22:56 May-17-2019

However as always, I do hope I am wrong, because if I am we all win in the end. I just don't have much faith into them. And beside that, we really know too little to even say anything about it anyway.

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20:11 May-17-2019

Bethesda have turned into a big publisher, and with that comes investors and shareholders demanding more and more money from them, which is why they keep trying to make online survival and mobile games.

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19:27 May-17-2019

Every big publisher is a publisher in decline now. It's just a matter of time until they reach the ledge after which comes one unceremonious fall.
I hope that doesn't happen and they change their ways but they're really gunning for it like there's no tomorrow.
I probably sound way too preachy but I have definitely lost a lot of respect for the AAA big budget gaming industry in the last half a decade and it feels like they're not trying to earn that respect back.

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19:21 May-17-2019

modders have covered their ass for years. still make decent games though to build from.

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18:56 May-17-2019

I hope they will revive Gothic series

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17:04 May-17-2019

I believe Bethesda in its current state is definitely on the decline. I am hoping with all of my gamer's heart that ESVI will be their return to greatness, not only for the sake of the company, but also for the sake of my love for the Elder Scrolls series.

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16:14 May-17-2019

bethesda's greed making them kill themselves

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15:47 May-17-2019

Personally never was a big fan of TES, but I did like FO:3, which is one of the few games I 100%ed. I also liked FO:4, but not seeing the downgrade would be delusional. FO:76? never played, REALLY not planning to either.
So, yes, they are going downhill from my POV... am unsure if it's only a slump or a deeper problem, though... personally hope the former.

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15:42 May-17-2019

more like a fat kid in denial

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15:37 May-17-2019

One thing is certain: their main games (Fallout series/ TES) are having worse and worse writing/ RPG mechanics as the time goes on.
Still fun games, but no longer the masterpieces they were once regarded as, from the (hardcore) gaming community. Fallout 4 lost the "award" war to Witcher 3 in 2015, very badly. Skyrim's biggest lead point was its sandbox mechanics rather than the intricate plot and remarkable characters, even the RPG leveling was considered poor compared to previous games.


This, combined with bad business practices (paid mods, Creation Club, the atrocious monetization of FO76, using an ancient game engine) allows us to see just how much Bethesda is relying on their past achievements. They likely have almost no idea what they are doing nowadays, only chasing for money.

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15:36 May-17-2019

They desperately need to put out a new Elder Scrolls and Fallout game with a fresh engine. Go back to your roots! Cherish the mods and dump the s*hit DLC, man up - I want to see DLC on par with The Shivering Isles! It's been way too long since the last TES game. How long will the wait be, 9 or 10 years this time?

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15:38 May-17-2019

I fully agree with you. This being said, I quite enjoyed Fallout's 4 Far Harbor . I think they hired an actual writer for that one. Shows they are still capable of delivering good, immersive experiences. In contrast, I couldn't even finish Nuka World...

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15:11 May-17-2019

I've never liked their games personally the only one i "got into" was skyrim and i put 100 hours into it but i can't remember a single thing i did in that time. Where as if you ask me about witcher 3 i could probably recite the entire game.

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15:20 May-17-2019

The strong point of Skyrim ( and the Fallout series ) is the modding scene. If you spend a little time you can build the (almost) perfect game to your liking.

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19:30 May-17-2019

I definitely agree. As a base game, Skyrim to me was never anything special. I liked what I played of it but I wouldn't rate it that far from mediocre. The reason why I actually really love Skyrim is because of the modding scene that brought so much flavor and life to that game. I have an extremely big respect towards any modding community and I personally believe that's by far the best aspect of PC gaming and gaming in general.

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20:27 May-17-2019

Today I understand how vanilla Skyrim really is but when it came out on ps3 I clocked in so many hours. That level of freedom and
medieval/fantasy feel on an open world was something amazing for me at the time.

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15:30 May-17-2019

That always gets brought up but modding can't save the story/characters and quest design.I played through New Vegas without mods a few times and it's great.

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15:38 May-17-2019

Why couldn't it?

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17:54 May-17-2019

In some ways it can, to an extent. But where mods shine is not editing things, but adding them. One of my absolute favorites, Legacy of the Dragonborn, it's a must have for people who like to hoard unique items. It's really on a different scale compared to all the other mods out there.

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14:05 May-17-2019

F:76 used the same engine as Morrowind, and has the same bugs... That's pure laziness. They've been in decline for a long time.

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14:24 May-17-2019

It ain't the exact same engine, it's the third or so revision. By that logic, titanfall would run on the same engine as Half Life.


That being said their engine is a huge spaghetti mess that hasn't been nearly as well looked after as anybody would like.

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