Former Starfield dev says all decisions on Bethesda RPGs "run through" Todd Howard: "He would hate, hate, hate me for saying that"

Todd Howard Starfield showcase
(Image credit: Bethesda)

A former Bethesda veteran says that all decisions at the studio “run through” director Todd Howard.

In an interview with YouTube channel MinnMax, Bruce Nesmith reminisced on his long career at the studio, where he began work on Daggerfall, graduated to become the lead designer on Skyrim, and then eventually contributed to Starfield before leaving to become a novelist. 

The success of several Bethesda-produced games meant that the team enlarged to a slightly uncomfortable size, according to Nesmith, which partially contributed to his leaving. “There were a lot of changes going on,” Nemsith says, “and the structure of the company also was such that - half because of the pandemic and half just because of the necessary changes -  you didn’t get to interact with Todd as much anymore.”

Nesmith was understanding of the change, though. “When you’re running six different studios and you've got a dozen projects going on at a time, he’s only one man,” Nesmith explains. But despite the “lines of communication” becoming “a lot more rigid,” Howard supposedly had the final say on most creative decisions.

“All decisions run through Todd,” Nesmith says, “He would hate, hate, hate me for saying that because he doesn’t believe it’s true. But unfortunately, it is true.” Nesmith recalled that when developers wanted “anything different than the Bethesda usual,” they would have to get the idea “in front of him.”

The Starfield lead was quick to point out that Howard wasn’t keen on that organizational structure either. “I will give him credit: he has tried really, really hard to not be the Last Say Guy… it’s not something he wants intellectually.” The studio supposedly molded into that shape because Howard is “somebody that has opinions and whose opinions are highly valuable.”

According to Nesmith, the longtime Bethesda director “was able to put himself in the seat of your everyday player to a far better extent than the rest of the design team.” That attribute meant he was naturally the “Last Say Guy” because “he was always able to see it from a Joe Average player’s perspective.” Whatever the studio was doing, it seems to have worked if Starfield's recent success is any indication.

Minnmax’s interview is stuffed with interesting tidbits about the “hubris” that led to Fallout 76, what could be carried over to The Elder Scrolls 6, and the main differences between Baldur’s Gate 3 and other RPGs.

Freelance contributor

Kaan freelances for various websites including Rock Paper Shotgun, Eurogamer, and this one, Gamesradar. He particularly enjoys writing about spooky indies, throwback RPGs, and anything that's vaguely silly. Also has an English Literature and Film Studies degree that he'll soon forget.