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Bethesda Softworks co-founder, CEO Robert A. Altman dies

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Skyrim Wallpaper (Image credit: Bethesda Softworks)

What you need to know

  • Robert A. Altman has died, Bethesda shared today.
  • Altman co-founded Bethesda Softworks and ZeniMax Media, serving as CEO for the latter.
  • ZeniMax Media was one of the largest privately-held gaming publishers until recently, when the company agreed to be acquired by Microsoft.

Update, February 4 (4:11 ET): Bethesda shared a statement from Altman's son, James.

A pioneer of the gaming industry has passed away. Today, we learned that Bethesda Softworks co-founder and CEO Robert A. Altman has died. Bethesda shared the news via Twitter today, stating that "He was a true visionary, friend, and believer in the spirit of people and the power of what they could accomplish together. He was an extraordinary leader, and an even better human being."

You can see the full statement, and letter from Altman, that Bethesda shared on Twitter below:

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Together with Christopher Weaver, Altman founded Bethesda Softworks in 1986, later founding its parent company ZeniMax Media in 1999. With Altman as CEO, ZeniMax Media would grow as a major third-party publisher, founding ZeniMax Online Studios and acquiring game development studios such as Alpha Dog Games, Arkane Studios, MachineGames and Tango Gameworks.

Robert Altman

Source: Artemisboy / Wikimedia Commons (Image credit: Source: Artemisboy / Wikimedia Commons)

Over the last decade, Bethesda Softworks has published game franchises such as The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, Doom, Wolfenstein, Dishonored and Prey, while maintaining its status as a large privately held gaming company until recently. In September 2020, we learned that ZeniMax Media agreed to be acquired by Microsoft, an acquisition that is currently undergoing regulatory review.

Microsoft expects ZeniMax Media to be fully acquired sometime before end of June 2021. When it is completed, Microsoft's first-party will grow from 15 to 23 development studios with Bethesda alongside Xbox Game Studios. Some of Bethesda's major upcoming games include titles like Deathloop and the sci-fi adventure Starfield.

Update, February 4 (4:11 pm ET) — Comments from Altman's son James

James Altman has shared some words written regarding the passing of his father. James mentions his father's work ethic and his opinion on Bethesda being acquired by Microsoft.

I find it fitting that Robert's final great professional accomplishment – in a long career of professional accomplishments – was to make a deal to be acquired by Microsoft. Robert and I had strategic discussions many times, and he was always uncompromising that he would never make a deal if our developers would not support it. "I don't care how much money anyone offers. We will never be acquired unless it's a good home for our studios," he would say. I can't think of a better home than Microsoft. And all the more fitting that we will soon be working for Phil Spencer, of course, yet another of Robert's close friends and a man Robert regularly described as one of the greatest minds in our industry.

James Altman works at Bethesda Softworks as Director of Publishing Operations.

Samuel Tolbert is a freelance writer covering gaming news, previews, reviews, interviews and different aspects of the gaming industry, specifically focusing on Xbox and PC gaming on Windows Central. You can find him on Twitter @SamuelTolbert.

3 Comments
  • RIP Robert and condolences to his family and friends. Good to know that near the end he thought that Zenimax and Bethesda had a good home for his developers and a good leader under Phil Spencer. Hopefully that legacy will continue to flourish with MS.
  • RIP Robert Altman and condolences to his family and friends. It's a relief to hear that Phil Spencer was a close friend and that he felt the studios, the IPs and the more importantly the staff have gone to a good home. As we have seen time and time again - a franchise is only good as the people working on the game without hindrance.
  • The letter to the ZeniMax family is so heartfelt, hopeful and personal yet professional and encouraging.
    One would wish that all leaders had empathy like this man seemed to have. It is promising to see his son might show some of the same values. (I am not familiar with his and thus cannot judge for his reaction to the sad announcement.) It is also promising that this kind of man was a friend of Phil Spencer. My respects.