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Everybody knows that publisher and developer Bethesda has built its reputation as a game studio by consistently delivering incredibly deep, lengthy, and immersive RPGs -- and built a huge audience for its titles by maintaining that commitment.
But what may not be as clear is that the company has managed to keep interest for its titles alive for years after their introduction, in stark contrast to many publishers, whose titles disappear from retail after mere weeks, in many cases.
Here, Pete Hines, VP of PR and Marketing for Bethesda and product manager for Fallout 3, discusses the fate of titles like Morrowind and Oblivion, and the strategies that the company has developed for maintaining retailer and gamer interest in its titles.
As a developer of open-world games, I imagine there is some degree of creative restriction on what Bethesda can do with DLC, in that discrete content has to be integrated in some logical way. You can't just add another racetrack to the menu, or whatever. How do you approach that?
Pete Hines: It is a constraint from one standpoint, which is that if you're going to plug it into the existing world then it has to be adaptable for anybody at any level that we discern, at least for the first two [in Fallout 3]. We don't discern whether you're level 1, level 10, level 15, or level 20, so we have to allow for all of that.
But in general, no. We like building our games that way. Having the DLC exist within that world allows us to, once we're done making all the content for the game and we've finished the game from that standpoint and then spent lot of time playing it, look for areas that we'd like to do more of -- to do something different than when you're looking at the whole spectrum of content you've provided.
Bethesda's Fallout 3
In the third [Fallout 3 DLC pack, Broken Steel, out this month, which continues the game beyond its original ending], it really allows us to react to what the response was once the game came out. We were genuinely surprised how many people were disappointed or upset that the game had an ending. Because most games have an ending, but most Bethesda games don't.
I guess it was just the case where people have come to expect that our games don't end and that they can keep playing.
So we said, what would we need to do to address that? It has taken us a while because there are all these different ways that the game can end, and we needed to account for them and tell the story of what happens after that. How does that story continue on in the D.C. wasteland?
There are a lot of bases to cover there. There's a lot of things that we want to account for. We don't want to just say, "Oh, you can keep playing but the world feels exactly the same as if you had finished it." We had to go through and spend time doing that.
With Oblivion, you obviously tried a number of different things. There was some backlash with the horse armor and all of that, which at this point I guess has been discussed to death, but you also went to the other extreme in terms of volume of content. Did you learn some big lessons from that experience?
PH: Definitely, because we did the entire spectrum for the most part. We did small things and then we did the really huge thing [with The Shivering Isles]. We did what I think was the first ever full expansion on a console for download. We looked at what we liked and what we didn't, and what the people liked.
What we discovered was that we want to be able to do stuff that doesn't take a year to come out.
All these people are out there playing our game by the hundreds of thousands on a daily basis and we want to be able to bring those folks something they could do in a much shorter time frame, rather than just saying, "See you next year." That instantly ruled out doing a big expansion because those things just take so damn long to do.
So we started looking at the biggest stuff we'd done that people really liked, but that we could do in smaller, digestible chunks.
That's where we came to the Knights of the Nine model -- it's substantive and it adds multiple hours of game play and new items, but we can do it in a time frame that allows us to get it out without waiting forever. That's what we've gone for with Fallout 3.