Robert A. Altman, the founder, chairman and CEO of ZeniMax Media Inc., has died at age 73.
Game Publisher Bethesda, a child company of ZeniMax Media, shared the news of Altman’s passing on social media, saying 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.”
The cause of death has not been disclosed at this time.
ZeniMax owns some of the most popular franchises in gaming as well as the studios behind them, including Doom, Dishonored, Fallout and The Elder Scrolls.
He is survived by his wife, Actress Lynda Carter, who is best known for her role as Wonder Woman but also voiced several characters in The Elder Scrolls franchise.
Here’s everything you need to know.
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1. Robert Altman Got His Start as an Attorney, Was Indicted on Charges of Defrauding Regulators
Altman’s father founded the firm Krooth & Altman in Washington D.C., while Robert Altman practiced on his own with Clark Clifford, a former defense secretary under Lyndon Johnson, by his side, according to Bloomberg. According to Fortune, Altman represented companies in regulatory disputes and in Congressional hearings.
In 1992, the pair were charged with fraud, conspiracy and receiving bribes for trying to hid Bank of Credit & Commerce International’s ownership in First American Bankshares Inc., according to the Los Angeles Times. Clifford was chairman of the board of First American Bankshares while Altman was the president, but both resided the year prior under pressure from the Federal Reserve Board. The two denied the allegations. BCCI shut down the year before after being accused of laundering drug money, the financing of terrorists and arms smuggling.
Altman was acquitted in a jury trail the following year while Clifford, who was 85 years old at the time, didn’t stand trail due to his advanced age according to Bloomberg. In 1998, the pair settled charges with the Federal Reserve and forfeited $5 million.
2. He Partnered with the Founder of Bethesda Softworks to Create ZeniMax Media
Bethesda Softworks was founded in 1986 by MIT Professor Christopher Weaver when he wanted to break into the market of PC gaming, according to the company’s history. After starting with a few sports titles, the team wanted to create something in the fantasy genre. After dabbling with the idea of a gladiator combat game, they expanded the project with a story with side quests. They released The Elder Scrolls: Arena in 1994, the first in what would become one of the most popular western RPG franchises in the world.
Altman founded ZeniMax Media in 1999 with Weaver. The company acquired Media Technology which was also founded by Weaver and owned Bethesda.
Among their early investors were Robert Trump, Donald J. Trump’s brother and a long time friend of the Altmans according to Bloomberg.
Weaver left the company after his relationship with it went bad. In 2002, Weaver sued ZeniMax over allegedly ” constructively terminating” him, which refers to the practice of ousting business partners after they give access to their brands according to The Escapist. He also alleges that the company restricted him from teaching at MIT, where he teaches to this day. The case was thrown out after it was discovered that Weaver used his access of the company’s computers to comb through employee emails for information that presumably led him to file the lawsuit.
3. ZeniMax Media Owns Some of the Most Popular Franchises in Gaming
In addition to publisher Bethesda as well as Bethesda Game Studios (Fallout 3, The Elder Scrolls V: Skyrim), ZeniMax Media also owns id Software (DOOM, QUAKE, Wolfenstein 3D), Arkane Studios (Dishonored, Arx Fatalis, Prey), ZeniMax Online Studios (The Elder Scrolls Online), Machine Games (Wolfenstein: The New Order as well as an upcoming Indiana Jones game), Tango Gameworks (The Evil Within), Alpha Dog Games and Roundhouse Studios, according to their corporate website.
The company was able to afford all these acquisitions in no small part due to a $300 million investment from providence Equity Partners in 2007, according to Bloomberg. After the company bought id Software in 2009 and Arkane in 2010, Providence gave ZeniMax an additional $150 million.
On September 21, 2020, Microsoft acquired ZeniMax for $7.5 billion.
According to the company, ZeniMax is a portmanteau of Zenith and Maximum, symbolizing the company’s hope for its future and impact in the industry.
4. ZeniMax Is Infamously Litigious
While ZeniMax is famous for the companies it owns, it’s equally famous for the lawsuits it generated as summarized by Polygon.
In 2011, ZeniMax entered a legal battle with Minecraft developer Mojang alleging that their digital card game, Scrolls, infringed on the copyright of The Elder Scrolls. In 2015, ZeniMax sent a cease-and-desist letter to popular YouTuber CaptainSparklez after he and his fans came up with the name “Fortress Fallout” for his 2D mobile strategy game. They changed the name to Fortress Fury to avoid legal action. In 2017, the company forced developer No Matter Studios to change the name of their game Prey for the Gods into something that wouldn’t draw comparisons to ZeniMax’s Prey franchise.
ZeniMax accused id Software Co-founder John Carmack of providing technology from ZeniMax to Oculus when he left to become the CTO of the company. A jury in Dallas, Texas awarded half a billion dollars to ZeniMax in 2017 after finding out that Oculus Co-founder Palmer Luckey failed to compy with a non-disclosure agreement he signed. The jury also said that Oculus did not misappropriate trade secrets. Carmack then sued ZeniMax, alleging that the company owned him money from when they purchased id Software. Both cases have since ended.
5. Altman Sent Messages to his Employees During the Pandemic
According to Bethesda, Altman started sending out emails every week during the Covid-19 pandemic to keep in touch with everyone. The publisher shared one of those notes on social media.
“Last week I maintained some small pleasures I had discovered as a byproduct of the lockdown. Some of you have since written to share your own experiences and describe other quiet joys WFH brings: the growing numbers of song birds in our backyards, quieter streets, adventurous efforts backing bread and mixing cocktails, long walks, restaurant takeout, time to read. While we clearly miss treasured social interactions, something valuable has been gained too.
We know many are feeling the pressure of isolation, and the stresses related to our current circumstances. Again, I urge you to make time for yourselves daily, schedule online social gatherings, and keep your perspective, knowing this will pass.
Tomorrow I encourages everyone to take a break to toast our Company’s 21st birthday, and reflect on the long journey we have taken together. You have done something extraordinary, something few starups ever do. You have created a multinational, multi-billion dollar business, staked with talent at all levels of the company, carving out a leadership role, earning the admiration of our toughest competitors and devoted fans. And you have done it the right way, always faithful to our core principles of integrity, respect, team , quality. Don’t let the day pass without taking a moment to enjoy your remarkable creation.
Looking forward to being back together. As always, stay safe.”
Bethesda said they are proud to carry on the values and principles Altman taught them.