Erk – Bethesda’s Masters Buy id. Bethidsda?

Shock news, everyone. Bethesda Software – or rather Bethesda’s sinister overlords Zenimax Media Group – now own id Software. As in Quake/Wolfenstein/Doom id Software. It’s a wantonly strange turn of events for a veteran PC studio that’s always been fiercely independent (well, depending on how you feel about their unending sequel-suckling upon the Activision money-teat). It is not, however, necessarily bad news, for all the fact that the internet just exploded. Below, a short statement from id’s big-haired money baron Todd Hollenshead, some quotage from Lord Carmack, and, oh yes, some rampant speculation.

Good idea/bad idea? Hard to say. The mere mention of Bethesda’s name tends to bring out insane rage in a lot of people, which will pollute the general sentiment about this, but Zenimax are arguably a little better at the creative freedom thing (as hopefully demonstrated by their publishing of Splash Damage’s upcoming Brink) than Activision-Blizzard seem to be. Would it be unwise to wonder if the ever-hungry Actard had been making a play for ownership of id themselves, and this seemed like the better deal?

Added to that is that, even if id continue to be commerically successful, their critical reputation has taken a pounding lately. Doom 3 and Quake IV (though handled by Raven, id were at the spearhead of its promotion) left a lot of old fans horribly disappointed, while the upcoming Wolfenstein sequel seems to be very much sticking to safe, uber-gloomy territory. It’s possible that’s been at least partly down to Activision’s requests; perhaps being under the Bethesda umbrella will reignite the studio’s apparently slumbering ambition. Well, bar Rage. Please be good, Rage.

Or perhaps they’ll be tasked with churning out sequel after sequel, with a heavy focus on paid DLC. Who knows?

Hollenshead offers this:

This was a unique opportunity to team with a smart, sophisticated publisher like Bethesda Softworks where the interests of the studio and the publisher will be fully aligned in the development and marketing of our titles. In addition, we will now have financial and business resources to support the future growth of id Software, a huge advantage which will result in more and even better games for our fans.”

Meanwhile, Kotaku has coaxed words from the mouth-hole of John Carmack. Telling statements include this:

“We’re really getting kind of tired competing with our own publishers in terms of how our titles will be featured. And we’ve really gotten more IPs than we’ve been able to take advantage of. And working with other companies hasn’t been working out as spectacularly as it could. So the idea of actually becoming a publisher and merging Bethesda and ZeniMax on there [is ideal.] It would be hard to imagine a more complementary relationship.”

There’s also this scintillating tidbit:

The goal, explained Carmack, is for id to handle all of its own IPs. “We can build the pipeline and have a regular pipeline of releases.”

Which means Raven’s often depressingly workmanlike hands will no longer be allowed to feel up Quake and Wolfenstein. While I’m loath to criticise a studio as a whole, Raven’s unfortunate status as bought’n’owned Activision flunkies has scarcely done great things for their recent output. So, I’m definitely putting my eggs in the this-deal-is-good-news basket. For now, at least.

In case you’re wondering, the upcoming Wolfenstein will still be published by Activision later this year (I do have some thoughts on a pre-E3 briefing of it to post, as it happens. Wasn’t hugely impressed by what I saw, but then I didn’t see much), while the more promising Rage will still be released by EA. Hopefully it’ll still benefit from Zenimax money, as it’s the first id project in years that seems to be beyond their comfort zone. Beyond that, Doom 4 will be a ZeniMax-published title. Chew over that one for a bit, see how it tastes.

Interesting times.

86 Comments

  1. Gosh says:

    Carmack may be a great technology developer, but whatever part of him that said “Story in a game is like a story in a porn movie. It’s expected to be there, but it’s not that important” is loathsome to me. That was a long time ago, I hope he’s changed his mind. But even so, I don’t like the typically brain-dead game design in id games even if it can be fun from time to time.

    Carmack used to DM their D&D sessions so I’m sure he knows the importance of story in games. Story is just irrelevant in the types of games that id does well which are fast, easy to pick up, shooty affairs.

    The result of id Software trying to do story in a game is Doom 3 (which they hired a science fiction writer for).

  2. Sainted says:

    Guhndahb, I hope you do realize we are talking about id here, you know, the company which releases SDK’s which allow you to change virtually everything in the game? The company which releases their older engines as open source?

  3. Novotny says:

    SirKicksalot:

    ‘Real’ id fans? I suppose, like me, you’ve been around since id started up.

    What Doom 3, and then Quake 4 did that made them such poor games, given their pedigree, is that they did not advance gaming design one iota.

    They were just shiny, and arguably a step back: the AI was on the same level of their previous games, however we couldn’t have as many monsters on screen to make up for that.

    If you enjoyed them, then I’m glad for you. I was bitterly disappointed.

  4. Guhndahb says:

    @Gosh: I agree. That’s why I never complained about id doing what id did best, as long as it only affected id games. I just stopped buying their games when my personal tastes shifted from simple shooty games to other closely related by ultimately more satisfying sub-genres.

    And you are probably right about the implications of him DMing, although I’ve known more DMs that ran hack-and-slash campaigns than I have story and thinking-heavy campaigns, but perhaps that’s just been my bad luck as I prefer the latter.

    I didn’t know that about Doom 3. I’m not sure what to make of it but both seems a little sad and it also makes me chuckle.

    Anyways, we don’t know that this will affect Beth significantly, so I’m just not going to worry for now. Hopefully, this just gives id the publishing clout they want and if some of id’s tech finds its way into other dev groups, that’s probably a good thing.

  5. LionsPhil says:

    Nowt wrong with Quake IV. Nice, straightforward shooter with some appropriately beefy weapons. That scoped rifle (the first one after the pop-gun pistol, IIRC) was still useful right up to the end.

    More fun than any of the previous Quakes, thass fer shure.

  6. Robin says:

    Considering the alternative suitors may have included EA, Activision and Microsoft, I think things could have turned out much worse.

    id seem to be enormous now – doing Doom 4, Rage, Quake Live, possibly another browser game, and all the mobile and iPhone stuff. What with the dwindling marketing support Activision offered them in the wake of the Call of Duty / Modern Warfare juggernaut, it’s no wonder they’re keen to find a more supportive publishing entity.

  7. Kadayi says:

    Amalgamation and Capital.

    I’m not surprised really. ID had ‘The engine’ technology everyone wanted back in the day, but they’ve long since surrendered their crown to Epic and the unreal engine in that respect. Its probably a win for all concerned in that ID now are assured of financial stability, and Zenimax have a first rate engine team in house.

  8. Jazmeister says:

    I secretely love everything id software make, regardless of how accomplished it is. I love Doom 3. I no longer own it, but I love it.

  9. Stupoider says:

    I almost mistook the face on the pic as the guy from Limbo of the Lost.

  10. Nelson says:

    Doom with duct tape for flashlights?

    Activision product support sucks and so does Bethesda. The biggest game install headaches of my life were from these companies. So now I guess I should prepare for a massive migraine. Otherwise, who cares really? If the games are good . . . play ’em!

  11. phat_chopps says:

    Hmmm. I seem to be other way round here.

    I love Bethesda – Oblivion and Fallout 3 make me go all gooey. id, though, make me angry. True, Doom and Quake were more than just games to me back in the day, but I can’t stand their recent shooters. Their reputation can’t live off memories for me, I’m afraid.

    Sooo… I can only see this as a good thing. If Zenimax give id the freedom they seem to give Bethesda, then perhaps id can give me something other than a dark corridor with blue lights.

    Here’s hoping (although I’d also hate to see id absorbed and disappear as a developer).

  12. Eddeman says:

    This was kinda surprising to me. The bigger surprise was that I have completely missed Quake IV; I’ve never even heard of it. I have no idea how I have managed to do this.

  13. Serondal says:

    I like Bethesda AND ID. I loved Doom 3 I seriously have NO idea why people didn’t like it. I’m totally confused by that fact. I played through the entire thing as fast as I could and enjoyed every second of it. There was even a fake website you could go to on the internet related to the game (you get an e-mail that says go to this website for the password to unlock your prize box) It ends up giving you a chaingain or something and brings the whole thing together very nice for me.

    The idea of a possible open ended doom game with RPG elements is awesome or possible a Hexen game (Didn’t ID make Hexen and Heretic?)

    Here is a question I have for you peeps. If these guys started pumping out games like Doom again that worked well on modern PCs would you buy them if they were 10 dollars or so? For example if they made a doom 3 that was just like doom 2 but with new art and weapons and story line would you buy it and enjoy it? Maybe they could update it a bit to allow you to aim up and down and have true 3d movement in the game and update the graphics enough so that, though they’re still hand drawn they’re not so pixelated? Say really sexy hand drawn 2d characters in a really sexy hand drawn texture 3d world with really nice 2d weapons and an funny little face in the middle of the hud that mades faces when it gets hurt and gets bloody when you’re about to die?

  14. Serondal says:

    Don’t feel bad Eddeman I totally missed Quake 4 too (up until today) Just read the story line on wikipedia, looks like it might actually be worth playing.

  15. DigitalSignalX says:

    With Beth’s recent forays into “games everyone can enjoy” albeit everyone who owns a PS3 or Xbox, absorbing a company famous for FPS titles seems natural.

  16. sbs says:

    Interesting news.

    By the way, that header image is so bad it’s good again, Alec.

  17. Aftershock says:

    Raven are still working on Singularity aren’t they?

    Can’t wait for that.

  18. Richard Clayton says:

    As long as id (and Bethesda) are still able to make games for PC’s rather than be forced down the line of consoles, I’m happy with this.

    Also there’s no need to suddenly view this as an artistic merger, as it isn’t: we are not going to see hybrid Elder Quake titles, one hopes… like a cut-and-shut 1990 Vauxhall Astra…

  19. autogunner says:

    how much stuff is exclusive to the consoles that you want to play? very little I can think of, unless you actually like metal gear for anything above the novelty value.

  20. Doctor Doc says:

    Bethesda and id is two of the best PC game companies. I can’t see anything bad coming out of this. Besides, id probably needed the money.

  21. lumpi says:

    The result of id Software trying to do story in a game is Doom 3 (which they hired a science fiction writer for).

    And it worked. Seriously, in some fucked up way, Doom 3 felt better then the I-wanna-be-a-science-fiction-movie-but-am-not approach of HL2 (which I love). Gordon shouldn’t be a traditional “hero”, but they made him one. The space marine shouldn’t be one, and they knew it, turning the focus on the background story instead while letting the player just play.

    About “ZeniMax”… I can’t get out of my head that a company I never heard of now owns one of the most iconic game studios in the world. “ZeniMax”… the name alone. Sounds like a Ukrainian entertainment company focused on television game-shows. Not the new rulers of badass-central, “id” (named after the term Sigmund Freud used to describe our most animalistic instincts).

    Alright, I understand their legal position, but does anyone know whether they now have (or want) any creative or business-related power over id? Especially regarding which projects, platforms and target groups they will focus on in the future?

  22. Biz says:

    “Alright, I understand their legal position, but does anyone know whether they now have (or want) any creative or business-related power over id? Especially regarding which projects, platforms and target groups they will focus on in the future?”

    they pretty much own them and the rights to doom/quake/rage/wolfenstein/commander keen/etc., so they can do whatever they want. you probably won’t see stuff immediately, but years from now who knows.

    but if they want carmack to stick around and not go off with a couple programmers and start his own engine company or decide to be a rocket scientist full time (instead of part time), my guess is they’d have to be reasonable

  23. M.P. says:

    Kind of sad that the last big independent studio from the 90s has disappeared, especially coming the same day as the news that Bioware will effectively cease to exist.

    I guess Valve are still going, and they’re probably safe. Does anyone own Epic or are they still independent too?

  24. Diogo Ribeiro says:

    I :heart: mouth-holes.

    Also, vat ze hell? Only good thing I can think of at this moment is that ID can crank out awesome game engines. So there’s a chance Bethesda an ID will share inhouse tech, and future Elder Scrolls/Fallout titles won’t have terrible engines.

  25. Subject 706 says:

    Since both ID and Bethesdas newer games have mediocrity incarnate, I don’t see how things could get worse. I mean, how can you dumb down Doom?

  26. Crispy says:

    This must have been in the works for a while. Bethesda publishing Splash Damage’s id-tech game Brink doesn’t seem so strange now.

  27. Hmm-Hmm. says:

    It’ll be interesting to see what this changes (other than the financial picture) for id. And for Bethesda, perhaps.

  28. pkt-zer0 says:

    So, 10$ map packs are going to be standard for Doom 4, now? Hurrgh.

  29. The Sombrero Kid says:

    yeah, it’s more proof if more were needed that the industry’s heading down that generic mass appeal every game the same route, with the identity being taken out of the teams making the games, however i reckon it’s a positive thing zenimax seem to be very cool about their developers, bearing in mind they were happy to plod along with all those medicorely successful elder scrolls games

  30. Chis says:

    @Patrick:

    “This coincides pretty well with all of the talent leaving Bethesda like Ken Rolson and Chris Weaver, who created Arena, Daggerfall, and the whole TES universe, and replacing with Todd Howard and his ilk, who are adept at fucking up the IP of others (but making it pretty!).”

    Now, I do enjoy Morrowind – since then Beth have seemed content to release uninspired banality – but I DID find Daggerfall even more inspiring, inspired and FUN than Morrowind and Oblivion. It cries out for a high-resolution hack of some sort, but it’s still quite playable.

    But yes, is this why Beth games have become so bland? Where did those guys end up?

  31. Whiskey Jak says:

    Pretty good news IMO. One respectable company getting financial support from another respectable company, I have absolutely no problem with that.

    And for the Oblivion/Fallout3 haters, I highly doubt that Howard and co will have any kind of input in id games if Hollenshead and Carmak don’t want to have it.

    And what if Beth actually has something to say about id’s games? Well I actually had more fun with Beth’s games than id’s games lately so you won’t see me complaining.

  32. dsmart says:

    Well, I think we can all agree that given the direction of the industry, more consolidation was immiment and expected. That the next target would be iD, kinda threw me though and I almost picked up the phone to call John, then I saw his comments on Kotaku.

    But he is in fact quite right; it is concerning to have to compete with your own publisher (Activision, EA) in terms of resources, attention etc. e.g. Activision is out trumping up MW2 as the next best thing since sliced bread, while hardly doing much buzz about the upcoming Wolfenstein.

    Since ZM have pretty much left Bethesda alone since acquiring them, this is business as usual and I don’t expect them to meddle with iD at all. Why tinker with what works?

    All this fanboy chomping is just pure rubbish. But hey, whats another week without meds required dialog among friends?

    My prediction is that outside of WoW, Activision is going to go the way of THQ et al in the next few years. Mark my words.

  33. BooleanBob says:

    Carmack’s reasoning seems straightforward enough. To be honest I would be more concerned if it was Valve that this was happening to; id’s recent titles have left been, as Alec said, mediocre at best. If you want to make a symbolic, sentimentalist reading of it I guess it’s a shame that another of the great shareware giants has lost trouser-wearing rights in the bedroom. First 3DR, now id… at least Epic are still going strong, the ever-looming, shadowy hand of Microsoft aside.

    Although I’d much rather see them make Jazz Jackrabbit 3 then Gears of Homoerotica 3 at this point.

    @Dsmart: A bold predicition. Care to elaborate on the reasoning behind it?

  34. gryffinp says:

    I feel I should point out that for Zenimax to have purchased Valve would require Valve to want to sell itself. That would require it to not be making money. Considering that Valve owns Steam, that state of affairs seems unlikely.

    [/offtopic]

  35. Biz says:

    new interview here:
    link to venturebeat.com

    “We started talking about this before they rolled out Fallout 3.”
    id has 105 employees (want to ramp up from that)
    want a 3rd big team (1. RAGE, 2. DOOM, 3. ???)
    quake live guys will work on multiplayer for RAGE and DOOM

  36. Mr. Brand says:

    Does that imp on the right look like Derek Smart to anyone else?