ZeniMax Goes Virtual With New Game Studio

By Mike Musgrove
Washington Post Staff Writer
Thursday, August 2, 2007

ZeniMax Media of Rockville said yesterday that it was opening a new game-design studio with the aim of tapping into the booming market for computer games that are played in online virtual worlds.

The new operation, ZeniMax Online Studios, will be in Hunt Valley, Md., outside Baltimore, and develop "massively multiplayer" games in which players pay monthly subscription fees to manage the virtual lives of their characters and interact with other players. The most successful example of the genre, World of Warcraft, has 9 million subscribers worldwide.

ZeniMax, by contrast, is best known for the single-player games produced by its Bethesda Softworks studio that do not feature online interactivity. Bethesda Softworks produced the blockbuster hit Oblivion, which was released for Xbox 360 video consoles last year. The studio's next game, set in a radioactive and bombed-out version of the District, is scheduled for release next year.

Michael Pachter, a game industry analyst with investment firm Wedbush Morgan Securities, said it was a logical move for ZeniMax to pursue the online market. "If you do it right, it's a lot more profitable," he said. "It's a never-ending revenue stream, as opposed to a one-time packaged-goods sale."

The new studio is to be headed by Matt Firor, an industry veteran who was one of the founders of Mythic Entertainment of Fairfax, known for the online subscription game Dark Age of Camelot. He left Mythic Entertainment last year after the game studio was acquired by Electronic Arts, the world's largest publisher of computer and video games. With the acquisition, Electronic Arts sought to bolster its presence in the multiplayer market, which ZeniMax is pursuing with its new studio.

ZeniMax's board of directors includes movie producer Jerry Bruckheimer; Leslie Moonves, president and chief executive of CBS; and Cal Ripken Jr., who was inducted Sunday into the National Baseball Hall of Fame. The company's chairman is Robert A. Altman, who is married to actress Lynda Carter, best known for her role in the 1970s TV series "Wonder Woman."

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