Skyrim lead designer says Todd Howard only revealed The Elder Scrolls 6 because the fans had 'pitchforks and torches' out

 Skyrim man fighting a wolf.
Skyrim man fighting a wolf.

It's been five years since Todd Howard revealed the startling news that yes, Bethesda is going to make The Elder Scrolls 6, and it will be years yet before it actually arrives. It's a virtually unprecedented gap between a game's "announcement" (such as it was) and tangible evidence that something's being done to make it happen, and Howard himself said not too long ago that he regrets handling the reveal the way he did. The obvious question then is, why announce it at all? According to longtime Bethesda designer Bruce Nesmith, the fans basically bullied him into it.

"The company took years of hits for not talking about Elder Scrolls 6," Nesmith said in a MinnMax interview. "I mean, years of hits. Because Todd's opinion—one which I share, by the way—is that the videogame industry has short memories. Those companies that start touting their games years ahead of time, actually, they screw themselves. The best time to start talking about it is six months before release.

"Only the fact that everybody was, you know, the pitchforks and torches were out, was what got Todd to say yes, we're going to do Elder Scrolls 6, I promise you, it's for real, it'll happen. But I'm betting you won't hear much in the way of details until a good six months before release."

That's exactly how Bethesda handled the release of Fallout 4 back in 2015: Bethesda officially announced the game in June 2015, and it launched in November of that same year. That brief window no doubt contributed to the expectation that when Elder Scrolls 6 was confirmed in 2018, it wouldn't be that far off—an expectation we now know was way off-base.

Nesmith left Bethesda in 2021 after a total of 20 years at the studio, during which time he earned credits on games including Daggerfall, Oblivion, Skyrim—on which he was the lead designer—and all of Bethesda's Fallout games. Prior to his departure, he also served as a systems designer on Starfield. It's fair to say he has a pretty good grasp on the studio's approach to making games, in other words, and he predicted that the runaway success of Baldur's Gate 3—which has been among Steam's top sellers since August—won't really have much influence on the Elder Scrolls 6 because Bethesda has such a distinct approach to making games.

Nesmith said Baldur's Gate 3 "is a triumph of trying to make the tabletop experience actually happen right there in the computer," in large part because just about every decision has meaningful consequences: Following one particular course of action will exclude you from pursuing others, and thus lock you out of potentially significant chunks of the game. At Bethesda, on the other hand, "the games we're making were so big, we had to take the approach of, 'Well, everybody's got to be able to do this at some point, we can't lock off content that way.'"

"You can see it in our games," Nesmith said. "You can get to be the heads of all the guilds, you can be friends with all the companions, you can go to all the places. Nothing is off limits. But when you play Baldur's Gate 3 you get the impression, rightly so, that this decision I'm about to make will close off parts of the game and open up others. It's meaningful, that means something.

"[Bethesda is] in the business of making games that people would play for hundreds of hours. And if you cut off 50% of your game, they're not going to play for hundreds of hours now, they've only got 50 hours they can play because you cut off half of it. You got benefit for that [in Baldur's Gate 3], the benefit I just talked about—every decision feels highly meaningful—whereas very few of the decisions in a Bethesda game feel highly meaningful."

The interview covers a lot of other ground, including Bethesda's growth following the Microsoft acquisition, the response to Starfield's release, the downsides of such long periods of development, and what it is that Todd Howard actually does there. If you're a Bethesda fan, it's definitely a good listen.