For years, Bethesda has been making games for mature audiences that seem diametrically opposed to the audiences for Nintendo products.
But in the past week, Nintendo announced that Bethesda’s Doom and Wolfenstein II: The New Colossus are coming to the Switch, Nintendo’s hybrid portable and home console. In addition, Bethesda previously announced that Skyrim would also release on the Switch. The Switch’s success and Nintendo’s own journey suggest that the company is expanding far beyond the kids’ market, and that means mature titles like Bethesda’s games can find new audiences where none existed before.
At a recent preview event, I played Doom on the Switch and talked with Pete Hines, the vice president of marketing and communications at Bethesda, about the willingness to experiment. Beyond Nintendo, we also talked about Bethesda’s moves into virtual reality games.
Here’s an edited transcript of our interview.
GamesBeat: The Switch games are getting close to ready, yeah?
Pete Hines: Right. We haven’t given out dates yet, but we will before long.
GamesBeat: There’s probably quite a bit of pent-up demand for something like this on a Nintendo platform.
Hines: We haven’t done anything on a Nintendo platform in forever. Breath of the Wild being the runaway colossal hit that it is, there’s certainly some belief like, “Hey, if you like open-world RPGs where you can explore and do what you want, Skyrim might be a good fit for you.” I don’t know what the exact size is, but some number of people who own Switches have never played Skyrim before. It’s a new thing for them, and for folks who have played the game, the ability to take it on the road—you’re going on a trip or commuting to work, it’s a great time.
And Doom is a completely different kind of game from what everyone else is doing. It’s a very visceral, violent, bloody, fun first-person shooter. We’re excited. They both have their place in what’s going on with that platform.
GamesBeat: Between Breath of the Wild and Skyrim, you might need only two games to fill a year with your Switch.
Hines: [Laughs] You get a lot of game for your money, that’s for sure.
GamesBeat: Was it difficult at all to get Doom to run on the Switch?
Hines: Probably no more so than any other platform. Every time you go to a new platform, there’s always going to be challenges in terms of how they do this or do that differently from the PC. But we feel like we have something that represents the game and looks really good. Some games may look as good as Doom on the Switch, but I’m not sure that anything looks better. It’s an impressive-looking game and it’s still really fun to play.
GamesBeat: When you put it on the big screen, you’re probably getting something that doesn’t look much different than elsewhere.
Hines: That’s the goal, yeah.
GamesBeat: With these games on these platforms, what are some of the expectations? Do you think these games can do just as well on Switch as the platforms they’re already launched on?
Hines: Certainly we think they can really well. What that means respective to the installed base or to other stuff—we’re not coming from the same place with Skyrim in terms of, “Everyone on this platform already knows the Elder Scrolls series.” There’s some amount of—this is new to folks. We have to introduce it to them and explain what it is. It’s the same with Doom. There is some crossover, but there’s also a new audience that isn’t sure what these games are. They haven’t played a Doom or a Skyrim. There is some education there as far as, “Here’s why these games are cool and fun.”
GamesBeat: Did you have any particular kind of conversation with Nintendo when you proposed this?
Hines: Honestly, it’s been a long series of them. They came out to see us before they unveiled the Switch to show us what the hardware was like, what they were doing with it. We’ve been in constant conversation with them, and not just about the two games we have now, but about our whole approach to the platform going forward – what we can do, best practices, what things are a good fit, what they’re excited about in what we’re doing. We’re obviously excited about these two games, but it’s not as if we’re going to just do these two games and that’s it. We want this to be the start of a relationship that we build with Nintendo and Nintendo fans.
GamesBeat: With the installed base growing at the rate it is, is it back to being as good a platform as any?
Hines: The thing we really like—a lot of us, myself and a good chunk of the folks here working this event, we all brought our Switches with us. We have them on the plane. That’s something you can do with that platform that you can’t do with others. I can play this home, but more important, I can take it with me to places I can’t take Destiny 2. I can take this on the plane, to my hotel room, on vacation. That portability, for those of us who live and breathe video games, is a pretty cool feature.
GamesBeat: What’s your thinking about the potential in your VR titles?
Hines: Obviously it’s something we’ve been investigating and working on for a while. With the titles we have announced, we’re taking two approaches. Two titles are, “Here are these big open world games that don’t really exist in VR.” There aren’t games that offer hundreds of hours of gameplay. But the way we build our games, doing the whole thing makes the most sense. We can’t just take a piece of it and carve it off and say, “Here’s three or four hours of experience.” Our games just aren’t built that way. The ability to take those and directly move them over, as folks may or may not know them, onto VR as a new platform was important.
In the case of Doom, that game was just too fast and aggressive. It doesn’t translate to VR. You can’t run around that fast and double jump and not throw up. It doesn’t work. So, how do we take the spirit and tone of that game and translate it to VR in a way that’s more controllable and manageable? That was where we landed on using teleporting and this whole idea of telefragging. Running up to demons nonstop and doing glory kills isn’t going to work, but you can replicate that experience of feeling fast and aggressive by using the teleporter and combining it with demons that have been damaged to slow the gameplay around, so it feels like you’re moving faster than them.
It’s pretty cool to be standing in a hallway with demons coming from both directions, and you’re looking this way to see what just roared over there, but you’re still firing in the other direction. That’s not an experience any other video game platform can offer. You’re always looking and shooting at the center of the screen. It brings a new element to experiencing the game.
GamesBeat: VR still feels a little fragmented as far as the different platforms. Does that give you any pause as to where you go from here? With the Switch, you figure you have a lot of games on that platform ahead of you, but with VR, it’s harder to tell what’s going to win.
Hines: Truth be told, it’s not all that different from developing for consoles. I remember working on a Dreamcast game that passed certification the day Sega announced they were cancelling the Dreamcast. It’s not like there hasn’t been risk in developing games for platforms like this. They can cease to exist. It’s happened before and it can happen again.
We’re going to continue to look at it much like we did with Fallout Shelter on mobile. We like to look at different things, whether it’s VR or mobile or whatever it is, as things the dev teams can consider as they think about what they want to do, what kind of experiences they want to make, and what platforms those are a good fit for, as opposed to, “Hey, now on top of these platforms you have to support VR with everything you do.” It’s more like, “If it seems like a good fit, that’s cool. If it’s not, that’s also cool.”
What shakes out amongst those different VR platforms is kind of out of our control. But we’re doing Skyrim for PSVR. We’re doing Fallout for HTC. We’re doing Doom across multiple platforms. We’ll see how things do on different platforms. Where is the audience? Do they gravitate toward certain games? We can learn a bit with what we’re doing and use that to inform the stuff we think about going forward.
GamesBeat: You guys are doing well enough that you can experiment more, it seems like.
Hines: That’s something that—at least we like to think we’re known for that at Bethesda. We try stuff and maybe do things that other folks don’t. Not that long ago—okay, maybe pretty long ago. But I remember working on Morrowind for Xbox and people repeatedly telling me, “That kind of game will never work on a console. That’s not what console gamers are used to. They don’t want games with too much choice. They like simpler stuff. They like action games. They won’t get into this.”
Trying stuff and not being afraid to do things that break apart from what everyone else is doing is part of what I feel like Bethesda is, in all the years I’ve been here. Obviously we won’t be wildly guessing for experimentation’s sake, but we want to try to place smart bets and do the kinds of things we’re excited about, and that we think other people will be excited about.
GamesBeat: Are you feeling good about the industry as a whole right now?
Hines: It certainly seems like we continue to grow across every platform. Digital being more and more of a thing is going to be interesting to watch. We all saw this coming years ago, the shift to going much more digital.
It’s funny how the smallest, stupidest thing highlights it. I took a week’s vacation about a month ago, just to stay home and catch up on games. I went into my Xbox dashboard with all this games I have to play. I’d play a little Doom, and then want to switch to something else, and it says, “Insert the disc.” I’m like, “Oh, are you kidding me? I have to get up and put the disc in?” I just want to play whatever I want without ever having to figure out where I put that case. A long time ago I bought one of those giant external hard drives, the best purchase I ever made. Never had a minute of trouble with it, never had to wonder about how much space I’ve got. I got this cheap Seagate 2TB thing and it’s never let me down.
GamesBeat: You guys seem like you’ve done well managing all your fan communities. They still seem to be growing.
Hines: We definitely try. There are bumps along the way. I like to think we’re going to continue to keep trying stuff and doing things differently. People don’t always react well to that. If you’re not doing what they expect or what they want, you’re going to hear from them. They’re going to let you know. But that’s always been the case. It’s just how and how much is maybe a little different.
GamesBeat: I’m not sure what to call it, but I’ve been talking about this idea of a leisure economy, where more and more people are getting paid to play games. You have virtual goods exchanges, user-generated content, streamers, esports players. People are creating jobs that never existed before. I wonder how far it’s going to go.
Hines: I don’t know either. Some of it seems a bit more direct or obvious than other cases. My parents don’t get streamers at all. They don’t understand. “Why would you watch somebody play a game when you could just play it yourself?” I have to explain it. I have two boys that watch a ton of streamers. “Why are you doing that when you can play?” Some people watch it because it’s entertainment. You like to watch BBC dramas because you find that entertaining. These guys find it entertaining to watch certain people play.
Or they’re trying to learn and get better. I watch streamers for games I like to play because I want to learn. What am I doing wrong? Or you take my oldest son, who just made his college Counter-Strike team. He watches the pros play to figure out better strategies and better ways to handle certain maps. That kind of stuff is easier for me to wrap my head around in terms of longevity.
Some of the other stuff isn’t as obvious. I don’t quite get cosplay. I don’t understand how you plan to do that full time. Which is not to say anybody couldn’t or shouldn’t, but that’s not as obvious to me as, “You’re entertaining when you play games, so people want to pay you to watch that.” I get that. Micro-content or user-generated DLC—I think any time people who are really talented have an avenue for getting rewarded and encouraged for that, it’s only going to help our industry. It’s another way to discover and find folks who have a talent.
People ask me all the time, “How do I get a job in the game industry?” Generally speaking I say, “Well, first of all you need to understand that everyone else wants to get in too. You’re not special. The fact that you want to work in this industry makes you just the same as all of these millions of kids who feel the same way.”
So now what? How do you distinguish yourself and set yourself apart? Go to college and get a degree? You still look like all of these people who like video games and went to college. Again, what do you do to be different? You have to spend time working on the things you love. If you can do that, if you can prove you’re good and people want to pay you for it, that’s a win. You benefit. They benefit. You get yourself in front of companies—trust me, we notice. We notice the people who are good at stuff. Sometimes they get hired by us or by another company that sees what you made for our game.
That makes our industry better, because it’s another way to identify—it’s not enough to be a good programmer. You need to be a programmer or designer or artist that can show companies, “Not only can I do this, but I can do what you need. I can make art in a game in a way that matters to you.” As opposed to, “I can paint a beautiful painting, but if you need that in the game, I don’t know how to texture a 3D model.” If you can make content – “Here, I made this cool weapon skin.” “Great, can you make more?” – that’s a good thing. It’ll be interesting to see how it trends.
GamesBeat: As an aside, are you finding that colleges are succeeding in training new game developers?
Hines: Sure. We hire a healthy number of folks that have gone through the Fullsails and the schools that have dedicated programs. But it depends studio by studio. If you’re Bethesda Game Studios, you don’t have a whole lot of stuff that’s entry level. At this point, you’re looking for really experienced folks to come in – people who’ve not only gone through school, but shipped games. They’ve designed a system in a game that you know. They can bring that learning immediately over to being part of your team. It’s different from needing more worker bees.
GamesBeat: It seems like the Fallout creator community could be a place to find people.
Hines: Sure. That’s one of the things we’re doing with Creation Club. People were doing user mods, and they seem to be really upset that we won’t call them user mods. No, if we wanted to turn on user mods, we actually could. But user mods is, all of you out there decide whether or not you want to charge for something that you can make. Creation Club is a vetting process to find folks we want to work with, and not compensate them like modders. At this point, once you’re in, you’re getting paid and treated like a developer.
You don’t just get paid once your thing is done and if it makes money. We’ll sign up to do a thing you proposed and you’re getting paid all along the way. You’re going to work with our own internal teams and go through the QA process and localization. You’re no longer a modder. You’re getting treated like an external contractor, a developer like our studio works with all the time. You get a very different view into game development. “Oh, I have to regress bugs and respond to notes in a bug database and work with other people on the team.”
It’s a different way, going from just working on mods, and we want to continue doing that because it’s very good at what it does. It’s free, open, make stuff, share, do what you want, and then do this other thing where this is actually a job. You’re getting paid. You have deliverables. You’re good enough that that could be your job. You could get paid to be a Creation Club member who puts out stuff and that’s your living.