For a long time, there has existed a strange anomaly in the gaming community: The unbalanced and blind perception of Bethesda / ZeniMax as being a 'good-person' developer and publisher. This perception has been held by many of the companies' fans despite all the while the company keeps doing things that contradict that perception. In many ways, Bethesda / ZeniMax have been games industry leaders in scummy, disrespectful, and exploitative lawsuit-happy practices, going back for more than a decade, showing them to be one of the most arrogant and uncontrollably greedy companies in gaming.
So, here is a sobering look at many of Bethesda / ZeniMax' unscrupulous practices and events going back to the companies' earlier years.
The company known today as Bethesda and ZeniMax was formed through some betrayal and back-stabbing.
Julian Le Fay, generally considered the creator of the Elder Scrolls series, directed the first three Elder Scrolls games, Arena, Daggerfall, and Battlespire, and expected to continue working on the series he created with the next game, TES: Morrowind. But, he was sidelined from the project and consequently left the company.
Christopher Weaver founded Bethesda in 1986 and acted as its CTO. But in 2002 he was forced out of his own company by Robert Altman, a Washington DC lawyer with a shady history, who Weaver had brought into the company in 1999 after Weaver had recently put-up lots of his own money to save the company.
Watch 23:54 - 25:30 in this video for details about those departures:
Robert Altman passed away in February 2021, shortly after selling ZeniMax to Microsoft.
$2.50 horse armour DLC for Oblivion: This is the historical origin of and precedence for all other nickle-and-diming exploitative DLC practices that have since screwed gamers over. Bethesda was the first pioneer of exploitative and greedy DLC practices. After Bethesda had then gotten public expectations for DLC, a then-new and non-established concept, set at their absolute rock-bottom, many other publishers followed and expanded upon Bethesda's lead with their own exploitative DLC practices.
Bethesda sued Mojang over the use of "Scrolls" as a game title, even after Mojang already volunteered to give up the Scrolls title, and then settled out of court because it became pretty clear that Bethesda was likely going to lose the case.
Bethesda intentionally destroyed developer of 2012's Prey 2, Human Head, by starving the studio of resources to force it into a corner where Human Head would feel like they had to sell the studio to Bethesda for a far-below-value price in order to survive. Human Head did not give in to Bethesda, and as a result of having no income from Prey 2 after having spent its resources making Prey 2, couldn't afford to make another big-title game:
It has taken from then until now for Human Head to recover enough financially to be able to make a new big-title game. Human Head's first big-title game since 2006's Prey will be Rune: Ragnarok, and I'm guessing that it will release next year.
Bethesda reportedly did the same thing to Arkane Studios
Suing Facebook and Oculus for $4 billion, trying to get ownership over Oculus technology, while outright losing their original case. The jury awarded $500 million in damages to ZeniMax over breach of NDA, copyright infringement, and false-designation, but all of ZeniMax' original and core claims against Facebook and Oculus were found to be invalid by the court.
Facebook and Oculus are appealing the $500 million verdict: Oculus Vows Appeal of $500 Million Verdict, ZeniMax Threatens Injunction
John Carmack has given a public defence of himself, while suggesting that ZeniMax are liars. He said that ‘The Internet Would Have Viciously Mocked The Analysis’ in the $500 million verdict.
Suing Samsung as an extension of their lawsuit against Facebook and Oculus.
Suing developer of Kickstarter project "Prey for the Gods" over having the word Prey in their title. The developer opted to simply modify their game's name to "Praey for the Gods" rather than to deal with Bethesda's frivolous lawsuit.
Turning community mods into a capitalist venture with paid mods and opening their own Bethesda games digital distribution storefront to continue to pursue paid mods after Valve backtracked on having them sold through Steam following public backlash.
If you criticize Bethesda too much on their forums, expect to be banned. The Bethesda forums are like a daycare-centre for toddlers because of draconian moderation. Partial lobotomy and Bethesda fanboyism is required for entrance and staying there.
In a clear violation of the law, Bethesda tried to pretend that it was the law and could stop people from reselling their own game properties and dictate whether a person could list their own unopened games as "new" when reselling them.
Bethesda tried to pull this stunt despite the US Supreme Court and the Court of Justice of the EU both having definitively ruled that people may resell their copyrighted goods without needing any permission from the copyright holder. Bethesda purporting to prohibit people from listing their unopened games a "new" condition would be an instance of the copyright-holder denying the game owner permission to resell that game-owner's own game, and would therefore be a violation of the US Supreme Court and the EU's Court of Justice rulings:
US Supreme Court Rules People May Resell Copyrighted Goods Without Copyright-Holder's Permission - US Software Association Has a Fit
A whole lot about Fallout '76, which is a dated asset-flip game too buggy for some people to even play:
- promising that all future Fallout '76 content would be free and there would be no season passes - and then making pretty much all new Fallout '76 content not only need to be paid for, but also cost insane prices.
- The $200 USD Power Armour edition that screwed buyers of it over when Bethesda pulled a bait-and-switch with the advertised canvas bag that was replaced in the actual released product with what basically looks like a crumpled-up garbage bag with no resemblance to the advertised bag.
- The blunt brush-off from Bethesda support admitting that they did pull a bait-and-switch with the canvas bag, and further stated they simply aren't going to do anything about it. Bethesda later apologized for the curtness of the earlier Bethesda support's reply, yet didn't apologize for and didn't offer to fixe what the actual issue was, which is the bait-and-switch of the advertised canvas bag.
- The crap design of the game, which MSRP'd at $60 USD yet plays like a $20 early-access title at its release.
- Refusing to refund the game for people who couldn't play it because it was too broken.
- Completely ludicrous and offensive micro-transaction fees such as charging $18 USD for a single power armour skin just to add some blue-coloured paint to it. Coming from the inventor of nickle-and-diming exploitative and egregiously-priced DLC, though, perhaps nobody should be surprised by this - though they certainly ought to be outraged.
- Insulting upset Power Armour edition purchasers further by offering them a pathetic 500 Atoms ($5 USD) in-game currency for micro-transactions, when that can basically only buy one hairdo model, or two facial tattoos.
- Turning previously-free character customization content from Fallout 4 into nickle-and-diming paid content in Fallout '76
- Adding a $100 USD per year Fallout 76 subscription
Because of all the scandals surrounding Fallout '76, Bethesda has come under investigation for bad business practices.
Seemingly driven by jealousy, fear of competition, and a will to spite, Bethesda tried to undermine the launch of Obsidian's The Outer Worlds. Obsidian includes / included some of the original creators of the Fallout series and developed Fallout New Vegas, which is the only 3D Fallout game which actually resembles a Fallout game.
All-around really bad, just completely mindless game-design, met with low production quality values including what perhaps bugs me the most about Bethesda games: the pisspoor, unintentionally-cringy loopy writing, and the banal quest design - which, in some cases, is also combined with mishandling of lore such as for the Fallout series which Bethesda acquired from Interplay in 2007. And then there is the notorious dumbing-down of their games which I find has resulted in there being hardly anything meaningful left to do in them anymore.
I think it's a reasonable argument to make, to say that Bethesda Games Studios games have traditionally often displayed the lowest production quality values out of the whole AAA games business - in writing, animations, voice-acting, quest design, character models...
Some final thoughts
There might some additional information about other ZeniMax / Bethesda lawsuits in this article: A brief history of Bethesda’s many legal tangles
So, when talking scummy and greedy publishers, I think both history and the present show that ZeniMax / Bethesda is not only ranked up there at the top along with all the worst of publishers in the history of the games industry (whether people think of EA, ActiVision, Ubisoft, Nintendo, or any other publisher), but that Bethesda has even done and is still doing a lot of stuff that's worse than stuff we think of other big publishers as evil for doing. People just haven't been tuning into it.
Bethesda is basically the software developer equivalent of a patent troll: They acquire big idea game IPs from non-Bethesda talent (including TES, since the series creator was separated from it and then left the compnay), and then milk them while progressively squeezing the life out of them as they're dumbed-down closer to oblivion with each successive release.
For all these reasons, I think it's important and very long overdue that people start practising serious cautiousness and discretion when thinking about what Bethesda represents. Through so many years of unbalanced and blind-eye-turning praise, Bethesda fans have enabled and encouraged Bethesda to think of themselves as a lot better and more entitled than they really are by letting everything all go to Bethesda's heads despite Bethesda not really having done things to deserve their historically-positive reputation. And now, Bethesda no longer even cares to simply try to appear be reasonable and decent for the sake of their own reputation.