Eli5: Video game companies being publishing companies but also making their own titles?

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Are video game companies like Bethesda, Rockstar etc companies that just publish other companies games? Or is Bethesda over there grinding to make ES6 and Fallout.

I’m confused because I know a different company made doom eternal but Bethesda has its name on it.

In: Technology
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Publishing companies tend to be different companies to developers, but publishers can sometimes own development studios (which often get the publisher’s name attached to them). Publishers are basically a middleman – they buy distribution rights off the studio (often in the form of funding the game’s development) and then they sell the game on at a higher price than they paid to get the right to do that. Some publishers keep their own development studios so that when they think they find a money-making opportunity, they can shove a bunch of money into one of them and say “go make this”. However, doing this doesn’t stop them looking for other development studios to enter business with. Why only make money off your own in-house development when you can also make money off development studios you don’t own?

Also should be noted that these corporations aren’t really solid blobs of capitalism like we can sometimes think of them as. They’ve got all sorts of different employees in them, so while the developers in Bethesda are working the crunch time on ES6, the executives are out figuring out new games to make and studios to fund.

Bethesa and Rockstar both publish and develop games. They’re different parts of the same company, but all under the same management.

E.g. Skyrim was developed and published by Bethesda. Doom was published by Bethesda but developed by id.

Bethesda and Rockstar both began solely as developers but started publishing as they got bigger and more successful.

This can get complicated because publishers can own developers that aren’t technically part of the same company. Bioware is not part of EA but it’s owned by EA.

Bethesda (the developer) and id software are both owned by Zenimax, which also owns Bethesda (the publisher). All Zenimax games are published by Bethesda, but not all of them are developed by Bethesda.

If it sounds complicated, it is because it is.

There are small groups who develop (ie. conceive the game and code it) and decide to release it on their own (marketing, sales) and use channels like Steam.

There are groups that develop and sign deals with a larger company for marketing and agree to share the revenue – ie they share in success or failure

There are groups that develop games and sell it to the bigger company for more or less a lump sum, so the risk of success or failure goes to the bigger company.

There are groups that are paid by the big companies to develop a game, so they are essentially contractors. The groups don’t own the final product.

There are groups that are part of the big companies, ie in house developers.

A big company might start developing a game but they agree to spin it off into another company or sell it off to another company if they feel the game doesn’t “fit” their business.

There are many variations of business deals and no company is obliged to operate ONLY one type. A company might do any or all of the above.

It just depends on the game. Bethesda absolutely does make games like Fallout and Elder Scrolls, but they also publish games for other smaller studios like Ghostwire: Tokyo (Tango Gameworks) and Rogue Warrior (Rebellion Developments).

Most major publishers do make their flagship games in-house.

Some studios are just large enough to self publish, and have smaller divisions inside the company making the actual games.

For example.

*Bethesda* is a publisher, but the company making Elder Scrolls and Fallout is *Bethesda Game Studios*.