In the world of video games right now, there are few franchises as big as Fallout and The Elder Scrolls. Both come from the same developer, Bethesda Game Studios, which is based in Maryland. The latest mainline Elder Scrolls game, Skyrim, has sold well over 22 million copies to date.
Now, that landmark studio is expanding to Dallas, as announced Friday during the large gaming event QuakeCon at the Gaylord Texan Convention Center. They are transforming an existing Dallas-based video game developer, Escalation Studios, into a new satellite office for BGS. As a result, Escalation's team of about 60 developers is about to get larger.
"We spent the last 12 years in the minor leagues, and now we're getting called up to play in the World Series," says Escalation co-founder Marc Tardif. "It's a huge level up for our studio and the kinds of projects we're going to make."
You may not recognize the name Escalation Studios, but if you play a lot of video games, you might be familiar with the company's work. For more than a decade, this small developer has been involved behind-the-scenes in the creation of major releases such as the 2016 reboot of Doom, developed primarily by Richardson-based id Software. Id, which is also known for Quake (the namesake of QuakeCon), is also owned by Bethesda's parent company, Zenimax.
Texas (especially the Dallas-Fort Worth area) has a rich history of marquee game development. In addition to Doom, blockbuster hits like Borderlands, Age of Empires and Duke Nukem were all created in North Texas.
Most of today's D-FW game development, however, happens outside of Dallas city limits, which is something Tardif laments. He is proud that his studio has a Dallas address. "This is the start of the next chapter of game development in Dallas," he says. "Dallas is going to have one of the premier game studios in the world."
The Escalation name is going away — the sign on the door will simply say Bethesda Game Studios — but the team there will be working on some of the most highly anticipated video games in the industry right now, including Fallout 76, which is set to release in November. The Dallas arm of Bethesda will also be playing a "decent-sized" role in the creation of Starfield, an epic science fiction game that was building a considerable amount of hype before it had even yet been officially announced at the Electronic Entertainment Expo in June. It will be the first original Bethesda Game Studios property in more than two decades.
"We're really excited about just the name recognition," Tardif says. "We're super proud of what we created as Escalation, but that BGS name, man. There is less than a handful of studios in the world that have that level of recognition, that level of respect and that track record of quality products that are blockbusters. I can't imagine a better scenario."
The transformation into Bethesda Game Studios should come naturally, as the team at Escalation has already been working with their new colleagues in Maryland for awhile, even before Zenimax bought Escalation in 2017 (but kept them intact as their own entity).
"We've been able to work with Bethesda over the last couple of years to build things with them, and culturally and from a development perspective, we just hit on all the same beats," says Tom Mustaine, Escalation's other co-founder. "It just became a situation where everything we built together was working beautifully, and the things we're working toward in the future have been really, really positive. So I couldn't be more excited about this change."
He adds, "Something Todd [Howard, director at Bethesda Game Studios] said is, 'We've been talking for a long time, and now we're putting the ring on it.'"
Reached via e-mail, Bethesda's Todd Howard confirms that sentiment. "It's all about the individual people," he says about the decision to bring the team at Escalation into the fold, rather than try to start a new studio. "We've worked together for a while already, and see things the same in how we go about things. Tom and Marc are fantastic collaborators, have built a fantastic team, and we didn't want to stop making games together."
Tardif and Mustaine note that having the Bethesda name on their door is sure to attract fresh talent to Dallas' video game development scene. "We love bringing people to the city because everyone has their own preconceived notions about what to expect from Dallas, and it surprises everybody," Mustaine says. "That's something we really love. ... We hope to see the game scene grow and expand the same way that Dallas is growing and expanding. I think it's going to mirror that growth."
"And we're going to lead the way," Tardif says.