Bethesda: Next gen consoles should be all about crossplay

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At some point between nuking the Greenbrier and skinning molerats during last week’s Fallout 76 hands-on I managed to steal 10 minutes with Peter Hines, Bethesda Softworks’ long-serving vice-president of PR and marketing. The publisher has plenty of irons in the fire right now: VR spin-offs from Arkane and MachineGames, a co-op Wolfenstein starring BJ’s daughters and the cataclysmic Doom Eternal, to say nothing of the probably-next-gen Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6. In other news, the publisher has decided to drop Steam for Fallout 76’s launch in favour of its own proprietary launcher. Will other Bethesda titles follow suit, and what should we expect from the next round of console hardware? Here’s Hines.

Fallout 76 is going out via the Bethesda launcher. You’re moving away from Steam –

Pete Hines: Well, we’re doing this one in particular over Bethesda.net, because of the kind of online game-as-a-service thing it is. It remains to be seen if there’s anything else after this.

OK. So you don’t see this as the start of a trend.

Pete Hines: I don’t know whether it is or isn’t. We just said that for this one, the kind of game it is, with the things we’ve learned on other games like this, going directly to our customers was the way to go.

And are you confident in the Bethesda launcher’s technical capacity to support a game like this?

Pete Hines: Yeaaahh. I don’t – we’re definitely going to have issues for sure. They might be because of the launcher, but it’s far more likely that they’ll be because of any number of other systems that have to stand up to massive numbers of people hitting them, whether it’s social features or who the hell knows. Because we see enough games like this that do [have those problems], that we know we can’t possibly be immune to everything we see. But I don’t have any worries in particular about Bethesda.net – we use it for Legends, we use it for Quake, we use it for a lot of stuff. We wouldn’t do it on Bethesda.net exclusively if we thought the launcher was going to cause issues.

What’s the future of Bethesda Austin at this stage? Will they get the chance to go back to new IP after Fallout 76 – the kind of thing they worked on as Battlecry?

Pete Hines: I don’t know. For the foreseeable their future is Fallout 76 post-launch support, new content, new features – all of that stuff is what they’re going to be doing for I don’t know how long.

How do you see the balance of power between single and multiplayer right now?

Pete Hines: We continue to do all of the above. Bethesda’s next game after this is going to be Starfield, which is decidedly single player, our next game as a publisher is going to be Rage 2 – decidedly single player. We’re also doing DOOM Eternal which does have multiplayer, but is pretty staunchly single player in terms of the experience that it provides, so we continue to support single player experiences.

So you still don’t regard the all-in-one package of a game like Fallout 76 as the desired default.

Pete Hines: No. I also want those things to be defined by our developers and not by me, so as we’ve looked to do different things, they’re usually the result of our developers wanting to branch out and try different things. They also don’t want to be ‘will I only ever make games like this, it’s all we ever know.’ No, I want to add co-op to our game to see what it does. I want to add online – they want to expand their skillsets and try to bring different experiences to their games as well, because they’re creative and they want to push the boundaries and try new things.

When should we expect to hear more about Starfield and Elder Scrolls 6?

Pete Hines: A while from now and a really long while from now! Respectively. Actually, I should not be quite so dismissive of the question, which is to say – the timeframe for Bethesda Game Studios titles has not changed at all. What changed was our desire to lay out a roadmap of those titles, not like, hey they’re going to be putting out a game every nine months, no, it still takes them years in between projects, but because we were doing something so different on Fallout 76, taking that franchise in such a different direction, doing an online game that doesn’t look like something you’d expect from BGS, we thought it was important to say: hey, new IP, single player, sci-fi thing coming, hey we are doing TES6 after that. So that people didn’t start spinning off on, like, that’s the end of single player games from Bethesda Games Studios. Timeframe-wise, it would still be about as long as you’d expect when you look at Fallout 3 to Skyrim to Fallout 4 to Fallout 76. It’s still going to be those periods of time, that hasn’t changed. Or at least, I don’t think it will change from that based on what I know.

I’ve been enjoying Arkane’s spin-offs, like Death of the Outsider. Do you think the kinds of game they make are more at home at a mid-range pricepoint?

Pete Hines: One of the things that is important to note is that it is, I don’t want to say impossible, but close to impossible to take a full team, have them ship a full product and then move all of them onto another full product. Dev teams need a time where they’ve got a small group of people working on tech, and figuring out systems and changes before they start throwing a bunch of level designers and artists at them. So you have a bunch of artists who are standing around going, ooh, what should I make, what should I draw – like, hold on a second, we haven’t even figured out where the game is set, what kind of enemies we’re looking for.

So things like Mooncrash or Death of the Outsider, whether they’re DLC for an existing game – we view Death of the Outsider as DLC that just happens to be standalone. But in both cases, you can’t just take a full team and immediately move onto their next thing, so it does offer an opportunity for them to do those kinds of things, where maybe you’re not making as big changes in terms of programming or systems, but you are doing lots of content. You can put content people much more quickly on something like Death of the Outsider, where it’s more Dishonored but with a different character.

It really is about helping to solve development cycles – you can’t take a team of 50 people, 100 people and say everybody’s 100% on this, now immediately move them onto this. It helps to not have the artists anywhere near that – you need a senior artist working on the look of the world, the characters, and then bringing everybody else in to go “OK, now I know what I should be building in terms of art pieces or creatures or levels” or whatever.

You’ve released a fair number of VR games recently. Where do you see that technology, that platform, going at present?

Pete Hines: I mean obviously we continue to believe in it and support it. We have Titan Hunter coming out for Prey this holiday, which uses VR, we have Cyberpilot for Wolfenstein, so it’s something we continue to support, but much like mobile and Switch or anything else, we leave it to the devs in terms of what experiences they’re looking to offer and which platforms fit.

What do you think the next generation of console hardware will bring?

Pete Hines: I think we’re going to continue to see streaming be a big thing among both console manufacturers and content providers of a wide variety. The ability to deliver games to people in a variety of different ways, easier and more quickly, on a wider variety of devices. I think it’ll be a theme.

I’m most heartened by Sony’s news last week about crossplay, because it seems that they’re going to open up and embrace not just crossplay, but crossplatform progression – those are two very different things. I don’t just want to able to play against people on other platforms. I also want to be able to take my progress with me from device to device. What I’ve unlocked, what my character can do, I want to be able to go from platform to platform. And both of those things I think are equally important, and I very much am hopeful that with the next gen platforms, we’ll see even more of that, in terms of treating our fanbase as a whole, as opposed to “here’s the Xbox folks, here’s the PS4 folks, here’s the Switch folks and PC” – everybody segmented and walled off from each other. We can just say, “you’re all playing Game X” and we can treat you all the same because your experiences are all the same, you’re playing against each other.

I think it just makes for a much better community, that we don’t have these arbitrary walls. I’m reminded of something Todd Howard said in an interview some years ago now, I’m paraphrasing him – I would like to see games get to the point that we view them like movies on DVD, which is to say if you want to go rent or buy Deadpool, you’re not buying it specifically for Sony players or Panasonic, you have a DVD and whatever plays DVDs plays DVDs. As a game creator, you just want to make a game and have it work the same everywhere, as opposed to these guys have these rules about how friends lists works, or whatever, while over here it’s completely different. So the more that we get to this [principle]that it’s just a game on whatever platform, we’re not siloing people, I think will be positive. So that, games as a service, and like you guys, I’m interested to see where they go with the hardware choices, the technologies and giving our devs more tools and horsepower to work with.

The manufacturers obviously do well out of brand loyalty and the idea of joining a team – I think you could trace a significant proportion of sales in this and previous generations to the notion of a “console war”.

Pete Hines: Yeah, but again it’s a problem other industries seem to have figured out. And I think at some point all of us are going to have to recognise it and embrace it in the same way that televisions do, or DVD and Blu-ray players do. You don’t go to plug your TV into cable and think “oh shit, this LGTV isn’t compatible with my Comcast box”. It all just works. You build brand loyalty in other ways.

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