Why Has Bethesda not Made an Announcement?
Posted on Thursday, December 4 2014 @ 15:04:04 Eastern
The following post will be mostly speculation and guesswork pulled together from interviews, modmakers' notes, newsposts, discussion boards, twitter exchanges with relevant personnel and so on. It isn't journalism or even anything close to it. Take it with a heaping bowl of salt and then call poison control because you just ate a heaping bowl of salt.
Bethesda Game Studios hasn't had anything officially in development since the release of Dragonborn. Cursory research shows they've never gone this long without announcing a project or finishing one. While going by previous development and announcement schedules we would have expected something to have come along at the beginning of this year or even earlier (the last DLC for Fallout 3 shipped 14 months prior to Skyrim's announcement) there has been no information about Bethesda's next project the source of which was not revealed to be a hoax. Rather than worry about 'what' it is more important to consider 'when' and 'why'.
Whatever Bethesda is developing (the general assumption is a new Fallout game in Bethesda's modified Gamebryo engine but that's all it is; an assumption) started in November 2011. The question is why three years of work have received no exposure. Bethesda making more Fallout and Elder Scrolls games is all but certain. What is in doubt is the lack of announcement. Now for the fun part: baseless speculation from someone who has no idea what he's talking about!
A TL;DR guide to the following - the only two I consider seriously credible are the first two.
1 - They Want to Reproduce Skyrim's PR Cycle
Skyrim's pre-launch cycle was shorter than previous games. The project was announced just eleven months prior to launch with a firm date and a steady rollout of new materials leading to that date. While one could go on at length about the harm caused by committing to that date, some enterprising journalist should thoroughly investigate and do a detailed report, there is no denying how it helped boost the game's profile. It did good business and it never fell out of the limelight. A shorter PR cycle is also cheaper - it isn't as hard to keep attention on it when you don't have to keep it there for as long. If Skyrim were the precedent and it were announced tomorrow we would see a release date for October. The past two Fallout games also released in October so it makes a certain amount of sense.
2 - They are About to Announce It but are Lying About It
It's very simple; Bethesda lies about their games more often than they crash at launch. If Hines is lying about not announcing at VGA this year it would not be the first time. On the spectrum of Bethesda lies it's on the 'white lie' side in that it does not hurt anyone unlike their numerous lies about Skyrim's playability on the Playstation 3.
3 - An Engine Overhaul is Planned
While Skyrim was prettier than Oblivion, 3 or New Vegas it often used resources inefficiently and getting more bang out of it would require improving the engine. This would push much of the game's development back - almost everything the player actually looks at would await the completion of the new tools. While a smart decision it's unlikely - it would be very expensive and it would implicitly admit that the overhaul for Skyrim was partially a waste of money.
4 - The Game is in Serious Developmental Trouble
I don't like to speculate about this but I figured I'd give it a go. It's possible the reason there's been no media blitz is because the game is simply not ready even after three years of full or near full-clip development. Possible reasons why elaborated below:
4a - Abandoned Cross-Gen Support
The 8th gen dev kits were apparently first available sometime after Skyrim completed development. The earliest confirmation of the dev kits' existence came in May 2012 so being generous about what that indicates If cross-gen support was in the works and later abandoned there would be a hefty price tag attached for many man-hours of work which went nowhere. This should not affect the actual timetable for release much; if anything dropping a feature which isn't working out shortens things and it shouldn't make much difference to the team building the guts-and-bolts of the game.
4b - Turnover
There's no evidence for it, of course, but things of this nature are never known about until after it's no longer important and even then only if someone close to or involved in the story wants it known and has access to a member of the media.
4c - Unforeseen Technical Hurdles
This one is extremely unlikely. While whatever they are working on will more than likely be multiplatform from launch day the three platforms are very similar. A problem on one would likely be a problem for all three and so would a solution. It's not as though last gen's exotic hardware needs to be accounted for anymore.
4d - Bad Management
Whether feature creep, executive meddling, over-ambition, or something like Bioshock Infinite in which half the systems were yanked and 'five or six games worth of content' was ripped out over the game's long and difficult development it could drag them down but I think it unlikely as all available evidence of that sort of thing suggests overly conservative production management, if anything. The problems with Skyrim were of the 'get it out the door by November 11 no matter what' variety. Fallout's formula is well established at this point and Todd Howard is not Ken Levine. On the other hand if any major part of the project is under the oversight of that former Obsidian staffer who cut and run after nearly running Neverwinter Nights 2 into the ground then it is still possible.
4e - They're Stuck
The reason for this might be a bit surprising at first. The problem may not have anything to do with Bethesda themselves. If they're actually stuck the real culprit may be that Kotaku 'leak'. Similar to Mass Effect 3's incompetent bait-and-switch ending the leak may have forced the team to rework material in view of the reaction to it. That requires giving Kotaku credit which is dumber than lending money to that family member who always has a hand out, an excuse why they can't pay back the last loan and a sob story for the current loan.
4f - Intractable Disagreements Between BGS and BSW
Looking over the culled elements of Skyrim, if the rumor mill is trustworthy, one sees a rather long slate of features which not only didn't make it in but were fairly far along in development. Arbitrary cutting of that kind does not happen without disagreement. Still, BGS is staffed by professionals.
4g - Zenimax's Several Colossal Screw-Ups Have Somehow Put This Game in Jeopardy
Thinking on it now this is the only 'development trouble' which makes any real sense. When Mount Tesuvius erupted it needed to cough up something North of half a billion dollars in cold hard cash to be a success. It...hasn't done that. At all. The obvious thing would have been to instead build multiplayer DLC for Skyrim at a fraction of the cost and dev time, with far higher profits (DLC for a game with an install base of over 10 million has the habit of being profitable) and future proofing Skyrim with technical improvements and releasing DLC which included all of Vvardenfell and Cyrodiil as playable areas, tarting the graphics up and porting that bastard to the new consoles pronto. These would all have made Zenimax tankers full of money but they decided to make a WoWlike with a scratchy thin coat of TES paint on top and flush three hundred million dollars and seven years of development time down the rat hole. This was a terrible idea. On the other hand the present author has no actual knowledge of Zenimax's operating methods so the next game's budget could have been earmarked out of Skyrim's profits such that TESO isn't even relevant to whatever they plan to do next.
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