Bethesda Director Todd Howard Is Open to Film, TV Adaptations of Studio's Games

Todd Howard, Director and Executive Producer at Bethesda Game Studios-Getty-H 2019
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The head of the Maryland-based studio also gave his thoughts on streaming services, unionization and provided an update on the company's new game, 'Starfield.'

On Sunday, Bethesda held its annual E3 press conference at the Shrine Auditorium in Los Angeles where it debuted gameplay from upcoming releases such as Doom: Eternal and Wolfenstein Youngblood.

While both the Doom and Wolfenstein franchises have endured the test of time (both have been around for over 25 years), they don't have quite the same cache as the Maryland-based video game company's marquee series Fallout and Elder Scrolls

Fallout 76, 2018's online multiplayer entry in the long-running post-apocalyptic series, was a disappointment for the studio, both critically and financially, but new content for the game featured large in Sunday's conference. Meanwhile, a new Elder Scrolls game — Elder Scrolls VI, announced at last year's E3 — was absent, minus a brief nod from studio director Todd Howard. Instead, new content for the mobile version of the franchise, Blades, and the massively-multiplayer online game Elsewyr were shown off. 

Also missing this year was an update on the company's new IP Starfield, announced last year at E3. 

Howard caught up with The Hollywood Reporter to discuss his studio's presence at this year's convention, provide an update on Starfield's development and the importance of a new IP, whether Hollywood adaptations of Bethesda's extensive catalog is appealing and the trending topics of unionization and streaming services that have dominated gaming in 2019.

How do you balance the importance of maintaining existing IP and creating new IP?

There are two parts to this answer. The first is that the basic worlds of, say, Elder Scrolls and Fallout are so good that it’s really about presenting it again with new technology and fresh eyes. We’re only doing big games every three or four years. As the time goes on, it does keep it fresh. We have been working on a new IP, Starfield, and that’s our first new one in 25 years, so our balance on that is not very good, right? That was something we thought about for a while and we take it very seriously in terms of what would make a great IP and new universe to play in. Our hope is that Starfield stands up to Elder Scrolls and Fallout.

What made you decide to create a new IP after so long?

We kept thinking about it and thinking about it, but it was more about timing because the audience loves Elder Scrolls and Fallout and they want more of those franchises. At some point, you have to say when are we going to do this other new thing, and this was the time.

Any updates on Starfield’s development?

It’s been going on for a while now and that starts with a small group. It’s going to be a while yet, that’s all I’m going to say. People should be patient.

How important is mobile to you?

The first one we did, Fallout Shelter, was done because we love mobile games and playing on our phones. We were stunned by how that took off, now with 150 million players. That’s more than all the other games I’ve played combined. You realize then that a lot of people want to experience these things, so we said we’re going to do Blades while still being something that people would enjoy and expect from us. Overall, on a month-to-month basis, half our players are on mobile.

Is there a danger with that large of a mobile player base of focusing too much on that area?

No. Look, I didn’t say how much money it makes. For us, our bread and butter is still console and PC games and that’s where the bulk of our development resources go. The mobile stuff is a lot of fun for me. I love working on it because it’s smaller projects and you know you’re touching a large number of people.

Fallout 76 had an underwhelming launch last year. How do you decide to keep supporting a title that didn’t quite get to where you wanted it to?

Yeah, and that one didn’t. We were caught off-guard with a lot of the issues and how many people it affected. We deserved a lot of the criticism we got, but the good thing is we have an incredible community and fans that support us. To answer your question, it’s just making it better every week. That’s really rewarding when you see that have results and you’re having that dialog with your fans.

We’ve seen Sony and Ubisoft and other game companies branch into film and television. You have a deep library of titles. Have you ever thought of making that move?

It’s come up a lot of times, particularly over the last decade as our stuff has gotten very popular, but nothing has really come of it. I’ve taken a lot of meetings. I can’t say never, but there hasn’t been one up to this point where we say, yeah, that’s it.

Would you be open to it if the right opportunity came along?

I would, yes.

Ever thought of developing your own film or TV projects?

No. (Laughs) I’ll let the people who are good at that do that.

Bethesda debuted game-streaming software tech, Orion, at its press conference on Sunday. What is it?

That’s from the tech staff at id Software, who are world class. They were the first ones to get Doom running on streaming stuff that Google and others were doing. They had some unique ways of doing it. We’re believers that streaming is coming. I can’t say when it will become a dominant way that people play, but it’s great that it can democratize game for everyone.

Do you think game streaming is the future?

Yes and no. I think it will become extremely popular, but I see people watching Game of Thrones on their phone and I would never do that. I’d put it on a big screen. It will eventually get to the point where you can’t tell the difference, but some people still will.

Could you launch your own streaming service?

We could, but they’re great partners of ours so we want to put our games everywhere they could be. Our technology works on all of them and it’s more about how it affects the game engine itself.

What are your thoughts on the growing conversation surrounding unionization for game developers?

I don’t know enough about it to be honest. I see the topic come up, but I think I’m uninformed there with the plusses and minuses with other industries for unions. I do think it is good where developers have a voice and can find it together.

Has there been more talk of unionizing this year than in years past?

No, it’s about the same.