Question: Some of this sounds a little intimidating to me. You thought about this for 10 years. The Cuphead people talked about eight years. Horizon: Zero Dawn took seven years. It seems like the time for doing something original has really stretched out. In some ways that gets to be worrisome, about where the bar is for new IP and for new entrants into the game business. How much do you have to do?
Howard: For us, it’s by choice. We could have, instead of making Skyrim, made Starfield. We could have made Starfield instead of making Fallout 4. But we were obviously very excited to make those games. It was during Fallout 4 when we said, “We’re going to prototype this multiplayer game, Fallout 76, and see where that goes, but we’re definitely doing Starfield next.” That was when we knew, in the middle of Fallout 4.
I don’t view it as a negative. It’s okay to think about things for a long time. If you’re waiting to start and you can’t — maybe some other developers are in that situation — that can be frustrating, but there was never a point of frustration for us. Maybe there was a point of, “Let’s expand so we can do more things. When are we gonna make a multiplayer game? How old are we getting? Let’s try it. When are we going to make a new IP? Let’s try it. When are we going to make Elder Scrolls on mobile? Let’s do it.”
Question: Is mobile a nice outlet because it doesn’t take as long? You can be creative on a shorter cycle.
Howard: Partly, yes, absolutely. The other thing is, we play games on our phones all the time. We want something we think is entertaining, that all of us here can play when we’re between meetings or whatever. The development of a mobile game is initially – because it’s something you iterate on and support a lot – easier, less complicated, and in some ways more fulfilling on a weekly basis than a larger project.
Question: At some point, since it’s half the world’s game business now, it’s also potentially the biggest revenue platform.
Howard: Potentially, potentially. We do pretty well on the other games right now. We get the most players. It’s good when you know your games are going to hit audiences that you traditionally don’t hit, particularly in the developing world. There are more players on Fallout Shelter than all of my games combined. That’s a little sobering at times. It’s not a good or bad thing. It’s a good data point. “Hey, take it seriously.”
Question: You can’t really turn your nose up at mobile anymore.
Howard: Well, I never have. Since I first got my iPhone and Super Monkey Ball came out, I was like, “Oh my gosh, this is great.” I’m always searching for the nirvana of mobile gaming, whether that’s from a Game Boy or a Vita or a PSP or now the Switch.
Question: Talking about the Switch, you mentioned something in your session about Switch Skyrim having a big community that you didn’t want to be able to support the way you wanted to. Can you talk more about that?
Howard: They asked for mods. They asked for a creation club. When are we getting more stuff?
Question: What are you doing to deal with that?
Howard: Right now we’re doing nothing. People are on other things. But the point was, if we had a group, we would. Our Switch group then did Fallout Shelter. We did release it at E3 this year. That’s done really well on the Switch. We’re surprised at how well it’s done.
Question: Are you bringing mods to Skyrim, though? Is that something that’s going to happen?
Howard: We’re not actively doing that. We’d love to see it happen, but it’s not something we’re actively doing.
Question: These shared engines, I wonder what you think about that idea. EA has Frostbite shared among everyone, and sometimes they share it with people who don’t want to use it. There are other companies like Ubisoft that will empower all of the studios to make their own engines if they want to. Do you guys have strong opinions on whether shared technology makes sense?
Howard: I think the team making the game should decide. That being said, too many teams don’t want to share — too many teams want to start over. All engines have positives and negatives. When you start over and jump into new tech, you don’t know what the negatives are going to be until you go through a few cycles. We’re always changing our tech, but we don’t wholly destroy it with each game. We’re taking parts out.
Within Bethesda, corporately, there’s definitely a philosophy of, “Use whatever’s going to get you there. Use what your teams know, whether that’s id Tech, or using Unity for projects like Blades and Shelter. We used the Creation engine on our stuff. I see all sides of it.
Disclosure: The organizers of Gamelab paid my way to Barcelona. Our coverage remains objective.
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