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Growing Your Long Tail: Hines On Bethesda's Keen Focus
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Growing Your Long Tail: Hines On Bethesda's Keen Focus

April 10, 2009 Article Start Previous Page 2 of 3 Next

It's an interesting evolution, because as Bethesda Game Studios specifically, you've traditionally operated with what some see as a more antiquated development model -- spend three or four years developing a game, ship that big thing, get started on something else. How much have you had to adapt your methods to adjust the way you think about development?

PH: It doesn't change how we think about it. We have always been really good at what you're talking about, which is managing the game's life cycle -- what are you doing with the game three months out, six months out, one year out, two years out?

I think it's actually something we do better than most publishers, if not all publishers. I say that because -- well, what does your average big publisher put out a year? Thirty games? Forty games? Whatever the hell the number is.

They're doing that every year. They have these large number of titles and they just don't think about them like we do, whereas we do something like Oblivion or Morrowind. We're still selling Morrowind on a monthly basis. We still have it out there. Oblivion is still doing terrific for us.

We don't give up on our stuff, ever. There is always a market and a niche and people out there who are willing to buy it. DLC is just another component of that. We make games that have legs and that stick around and that people will continue to be vested in and play for a long time.

This is just another way to reach out to those folks to say, "If you really like this, here are some more things that you might like." It's the lifecycle of the product as a thing you sell, as well as the game as a thing you play. It allows people to keep coming back to it.

I have people who ping me about this -- I was just talking to a press guy who said, "I just had a friend start playing Oblivion. He had never played it and now he's really into it." That guy's going to go out and start buying downloadable content. He's probably going to go buy the much-maligned horse armor.

There are people who are coming into our products years and years after folks like you or your readers have moved past them. There are people who are experiencing it for the first time.

That DLC stuff is great because it's still there and available and working with them, and for them that content is still a new experience, both from a product standpoint as well as within the game itself.

Particularly lately, Valve has spoken a great deal about that model -- the idea of a game as a living service. It's probably not a coincidence that you and Valve are among the more successful independent developers, while sharing that mentality.

PH: Well, honestly, those guys are masters of it. I wouldn't ever try and compare us and them. What they've done with Steam is just wholly remarkable. And when Steam first came out, they took what was the equivalent of their horse armor lumps and then some. [laughter]

I remember just how much shit they got over it. But they stuck to it and it's great. It's now the gold standard of delivery online of new games and previously released ones -- it is fantastic. That's just owing to those guys having a vision. This is what the industry wants and this is how it needs to work. They refined it and made it better.

We released Fallout 3 on Steam and it's done terrific for us. It's really easy to work with and it reaches a core audience. Guys who are really into Steam are really into games in general and like them and buy them and play them. They've gotten it 100% right in terms of how to use that kind of delivery mechanism to extend their product.

When you describe the idea of a game selling for even up to six years in the case of Morrowind, that reminds me very much of the '90s-era PC model, with huge, intricate games that would have an active scene for years and years, even before there was much web coverage -- and obviously, that's exactly the time and place The Elder Scrolls was born. Now you're doing that in a multiplatform environment, even though that isn't actually how most multiplatform games are sold these days. Did you just keep operating that way because that's what you do?

PH: Absolutely. More than anything, it's just focus. When you've got 50 titles in a year, you just don't focus on those 50. When you're going to a retailer, just one of the 50 you released last year is not what you're talking to that guy.

We don't have those 50, and it's by choice. We could find a bunch of crap to put out if we just wanted to fill a pipeline or hit a number, but we just have a very different approach strategically.

When you have that approach, one of the benefits is focus. You go back into a retailer in 2009 and you're still able to say, "Hey, by the way, this game is still selling great. Have you looked at our inventory levels lately? You're selling it well enough that you guys need to think about reordering, and we have some ideas to keep selling it, because there are people out there who still want it."

We're getting ready to do something else with Oblivion this year, because it is still selling and retailers still like it. If we weren't talking about that game, they'd only be focused on the [newer] things. But we stay on top it. I think that owes to our sales guys who stay on top of it and don't want to let it just die.

It's not, "Oh, it's two years old, it's not going to sell any more." That's not true. It will. If you pay attention to it and keep taking care of it, it's still got a home, it can still do something.

When you say you're thinking about doing something with Oblivion, what does that mean?

PH: Oh, I'll let you know. [laughter]

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