The lights are on
Earlier this month at DICE in Las Vegas, Skyrim game director Todd Howard gave a peek into his studio's development process, and even showed off Skyrim projects the team worked on during a Game Jam session. We sat down to talk with Howard about the game's success, where the series might go, and all those nasty bugs they had to iron out.
Game Informer: As far as sales goes, Skyrim is the best-selling game in Bethesda history. Is there something about the game from a design standpoint that made it more popular and mainstream? The Elder Scrolls series has been typically thought of as very hardcore RPGs.Todd Howard: The short answer is "I don’t know." I can give you my guess, which is people underestimate how many core gamers there are; people who want a lot of depth and will play a game for a long time. There are a lot of them. If you give them something unique and good, you don’t have to dumb it down.There are things we changed to make the game better, but not to appeal to a wider audience. I think we always benefited in Elder Scrolls early on, the fact that it is first-person and kind of walks this action line sometimes. We’ve always benefited from that. Even our own lofty expectations for how the game would be received or sell, it’s way, way beyond that.I don’t have a way of explaining it.There a lot of platforms for developers now to create games. Skyrim lands on three of them. Are you starting to think about the larger picture to create games that can span everything? Or are you comfortable with that certain piece of the pie?We take it how it comes. If somebody announced a platform tomorrow we think would be appropriate for one of our games, well take a look at it. But we have to choose our battles because there has to be time spent making it the way it should be on each platform.There’s lots of talk now about the decline in the AAA game market and that if you make a game that doesn’t have a high Metacritic, you probably won’t make any money. Do you think about where the industry is going or do you mainly just worry about the games you make?I mostly just make our stuff and say, "Okay, this will find an audience," and we’ve been very lucky when it comes to that. I do think about the industry as a whole a lot. I think it’s a price point thing. I think it’s starting to get better with the mobile platforms and Xbox Live, for example. Developers can make games and put them out for $10 and be successful there.Right now, if you go to a store, there’s a stipulation that if it’s on a DVD or Blu-ray it has to be $59.99. Everyone knows they all aren’t created equal. I would like to see an avenue where more games can appear at multiple price points and be successful. There are sitcom shows and there are 14 hour epics.Our industry is getting way better, but people are getting comfortable spending that amount of money and it’s changing their perception. Double Fine recently started a Kickstarter project to fund an old-school adventure game. Do you see this working for big-time developers down the road?For a company like Double Fine, fans know what they want. I don’t know if that’s a model that’s going to work for lots of people. I don’t know a whole lot about it, though.
Skyrim seems to be the exception to the rule that single-player only games can’t sell. Is it just about making sure you have enough content for customers so they don’t sell them back too soon?Consumers are smart. People trade in stuff they like a lot and don’t want to keep. For things like online passes…make a better game and people won’t trade it in. I don’t know.
Well there’s the rumor that the next Xbox could lock out used games. Is that even feasible?
It’s clearly feasible. In any business, everybody wants to find a way to monetize what they’re doing so they can be successful and do more. But also, if a consumer buys something and they’re done with it and want to sell it to somebody, isn’t that the way the world works?
When you first envisioned Elder Scrolls all those years ago, was it anything like what Skyrim looks like right now or is it not even close?
Usually what I envision is colored by the current technology. Obviously there’s going to be new systems and the graphics are going to get better and better. Graphics are really important for what we do. So when there is some new system that makes graphics that much better, it will make for a better experience because we can make a more believable world.
During your DICE speech, you showed off your Game Jam where your team created new content for Skyrim.That video also isn’t everything; it’s only like 60 percent of what we did. It was nice to show how we work sometimes. I think a lot of studios do it, but not show it at an event like this. I’m not entirely sure I should have showed the video. Everyone is asking me when that stuff is coming out. [Laughs]Before Skyrim came out last November, how aware were you of the bugs that people began to run into shortly after release? Is the game just so big that trying to test it to perfection is nearly impossible and you just have to wait until millions of people begin to play it to get additional feedback?We can always do a better job. All of our internal and external data show that it’s our most solid release, including the PS3 version. But it’s also our most successful. The percentage of people that have a problem on any particular system ends up a low percentage, but the raw number ends up being larger than we would have expected.
We learned a lot about this. In particular with the PS3 version was,”Why aren’t we seeing this?” We saw some of [the bugs] that we were able to solve very quickly, but we eventually had to go to the consumer and ask for their saved game files. You’re looking at saved games where, not everybody, but certain people played for 100s of hours, and lots of different reasons it was happening. Fortunately we were able to fix it with the latest update.It’s hopefully a much smaller number now. When you put all this time into something and someone can’t play it, you feel terrible. They have every right to be pissed off. We already have more updates out for this than Fallout 3 and Oblivion in their lifetime. So we’re really committed to fixing everything. How much of a learning process was this for you? People tend to joke that while Bethesda’s games are great in the end, players come to expect the products will have bugs.
We don't think that's funny, and we know sometimes people give us a pass on things, and that's nice.
The main thing we did learn, now that we have the beta program on Steam, because we realized that no matter what we do internally, we have 10 million people playing the game and their saves are in all sorts of states, even if we test something to the nth degree, we’re still looking at this microcosm of everybody’s current live game. So that was new for us. Our fans have been awesome. They have been great with us and they’re helping us do that. What we do in the future I don’t know yet. It’s something we’re going to look into.Do you ever think about exploring the rest of Skyrim’s world through other forms of media?I’d like to keep the content itself in the games. For example, if people like the dragon priests and what they do, then let’s maybe get that in some downloadable content. But I’d rather it be that avenue than a comic or something like that.
Skyrim is simply amazing, thanks Bethesda for making the best games out there
Love Bethesda or hate them, Todd Howard in every gamer's best friend if they care anything about the industry. He is the only developer out there who is ACTUALLY in touch with the consumer. While bugs and glitches frustrate me as much as everyone else, Bethesda delivers for the most part. The rest of the industry just pushes out the same old garbage or makes a bunch of empty promises that they never deliver on...I'M TALKING TO YOU, MOLYNEUX.
There is no such thing as a better game developer than Todd Howard.
If your rading this todd howard, im impressed. I love skyrim, and all that ccame with it. I had played oblivion, but that was nothing comparitively. I am glad to hear how hard you guys worked to fix the in-game bugs. I've noticed less invisible water and floating pots[=)],and glad to hear your views on the banning of used games, making total sense. But i'd like to mention your views on the other forms of media of the games. I see where your coming from, and why your saying to keep it to the gamers, but I recall watching a while back, a live action trailer for skyrim. I saw the version with the dragonborn bard song put to it. I almost died of epic-ness. Two other forms of media(music and video) showed off the greatness of the game. It was exillerating! Understand that I'm not asking you to go make "Elder Scrolls: the movie", but to be allow other media into the works, have more ideas of cutscenes, music, definetly more and longer live-action trailers(with a dragon shour or two...), and all other forms as well. Don't fully plunge into one version of course, that will ruin the franchise, but allow enough of it inside to let it grow, and let all of your games become better(though perfection is difficult to best...). I even started writing short stories on a blog, for new ideas of adventures. I hope you understand, and by you, Im trying to pertain to todd, but hes probably not gonna read this, unless somebody forwards this to him for me or something, so to the gamers who actually stayed here to read this for so long, thank you. If todd IS reading this, cool!! =) check my blog and info at tamrieltales.blogspot.com, thanks for readin'!
"...People tend to joke that while Bethesda’s games are great in the end, players come to expect the products will have bugs.
We don't think that's funny..."
Too late Todd Howard. Bethesda is known as the developer with great but buggy games. You guys are stuck with that label now.
He's definitely alluding to the notion that not all retail releases should cost $60, which I agree with. Skyrim is easily worth $60, but it's really difficult to justify that price with a 10-12 hour game these days.
I love playing this game!
Skyrim is an amazing GOTY caliber game......when it works properly. I love Bethesda and I love The Elder Scrolls but Skyrim really made me angry due to the numerous bugs I encountered. I knew going into Skyrim that there was going to be bugs but I didn't realize the staggering effect the bugs I encountered would have on my game. My first file I put 70+ hours into and when I decided to play the main quest line I found out that I had a main quest breaking bug. Now I know that not everyone has come across the bugs I have and may have had great experiences with Skyrim, for me that was not the case. I think Bethesda really dropped the ball on this one and it baffles me that there are people out there who will simply right off the sheer number of bugs that Skyrim has like it never happened. I will admit that bugs aside Skyrim is GOTY hands down but that's not the case and because of the numerous bugs I don't see how it can be considered.
The industry as a whole is too reliant on patches after release. It's not fair to the consumer when you release a game like Skyrim with the multitude of bugs that it has, and then take months to actually fix the game. Hopefully Bethesda learns from this and actually fixes it for their next release. Unfortunately I no longer have the same blind faith to Bethesda that I had before. I can no longer justify buying their games on day one after my experiences with Skyrim. I'll just wait to buy their games until all the bugs get worked out. That way I can enjoy the excellent games they make without having the gnawing feeling in my head that the next corner or the next loading screen could screw up my game and my experience with it.
I wonder why the interviwer said that it's a rule that a game has to have multiplayer to sell.All Bethesda games sold well and are single player.I also bought Crysis for its single player,Bishock was single player,Mass Effect series are single player...
The article is "Todd Howard On What Makes A Success", but most of the answers are "I don't know." You are the greatest Todd HOward.
I like Todd Howard. He sounds like a smart nice guy.