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Bethesda Game Studios and Bethesda Softworks are the primary developers and publishers of the Elder Scrolls series of action role-playing video games. In a complex open environment, the series focuses on free-form gameplay. Morrowind, Oblivion, and Skyrim have all been named Game of the Year by various publications. The series has sold over 58 million copies throughout the world.
Each game takes set on the continent of Tamriel in the series’ fictional realm. The setting blends pre-medieval real-world features, such as a mighty Roman-like Empire, with high fantasy medieval clichés, such as restricted technology, extensive magic, and the presence of numerous legendary creatures. The continent is divided into provinces that are home to humans as well as popular humanoid fantasy species like elves, orcs, and anthropomorphic animals. The rising of a chosen hero to confront an approaching threat, either a malicious creature or an opposing army, is a recurrent subject throughout the lore.
Since its inception with Arena in 1994, the series has spawned five core games (the last three of which had two or three expansions apiece), as well as a slew of spin-offs. The Elder Scrolls Online, a massively multiplayer online role-playing game developed by Bethesda’s connected ZeniMax subsidiary ZeniMax Online Studios, was published in 2014.
Julian Lefay, who, according to Peterson, “really spearheaded the original conception of the series,” joined Peterson and Lakshman. Peterson, Lakshman, and LeFay were longstanding fans of pen-and-paper role-playing games, which had a significant effect on the construction of Tamriel’s environment. They were also admirers of the Ultima Underworld series by Looking Glass Studios, which served as the idea for Arena. Arena was never intended to be a role-playing game. The player would traverse the world with a team of warriors, defeating other teams in various arenas until the player was crowned “grand champion” in the Imperial City, the world’s capital. Side missions of a more role-playing sort might be undertaken along the journey. However, as the game continued, the competitions grew less essential and the side tasks got more vital. As the game developed to incorporate cities outside of the arenas and dungeons beyond the cities, role-playing game features were introduced. Eventually, it was decided to abandon the tournament concept entirely in favor of missions and dungeons, transforming the game into a “full-fledged ” experience. Despite the fact that the team had removed all arena fighting from the game, the title had already been printed on all of the materials, therefore the game was released as The Elder Scrolls: Arena. “I believe Vijay was the man who tacked on the surtitle “The Elder Scrolls,” according to Peterson. I don’t believe he knew what it meant, any more than we did, but the opening voice-over was “Tamriel’s mystical tomes of knowledge that spoke of its history, present, and future,” and the words gradually came to signify “Tamriel’s mystical tomes of knowledge that told of its past, present, and future.” In response, the game’s original voice-over was modified to begin, “It has been predicted in the Elder Scrolls…”
Bethesda missed their deadline for Christmas 1993. In the first quarter of 1994, Bethesda Softworks launched the game, which was “very serious for a tiny developer/publisher like Bethesda Softworks.” The box featured a scantily dressed female warrior, which added to distributor concerns, resulting in just 20,000 copies being distributed initially. The development team was anxious that they had “screwed up the firm” by missing the Christmas sales season. Despite this, sales continued to rise month after month as word of mouth spread about the game. Despite some initial bugs and the game’s high demands on players’ computers, it became a cult favorite. The game’s success was rated anywhere from “moderate” to “crazy.” Despite this, the game’s fanbase remained engaged. “The game set a new benchmark for this sort of role-playing video game, and revealed just how much opportunity was left for invention,” said game historian Matt Barton.