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Robert A. Altman, founder of Bethesda parent ZeniMax Media, dies at 73

Well-liked chief executive mourned by makers of The Elder Scrolls, Fallout, and Doom

Gamemaker Bethesda Holds Event At E3 Conference In Los Angeles
L-R: Jon Feltheimer, chief executive of Lions Gate Entertainment and ZeniMax Media board member; Robert A. Altman, co-founder and CEO of ZeniMax; and Lynda Carter after the Bethesda E3 Showcase in June 2019.
Photo: Christian Petersen/Getty Images
Owen S. Good is a longtime veteran of video games writing, well known for his coverage of sports and racing games.

Robert A. Altman, the co-founder and chief executive of ZeniMax Media, has died, the company announced on Thursday. As the parent of Bethesda Softworks and several other development studios, Altman’s company grew into a major video gaming publisher in the 21 years since its founding, responsible for multimillion-dollar franchises such as Doom, The Elder Scrolls, and Fallout.

A cause of death was not given in Bethesda’s announcement on social media. The company said Altman was very well liked by his employees and colleagues. “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,” Bethesda said.

Ben Jones, the creative director of ZeniMax Online (makers of The Elder Scrolls Online), called Altman’s passing a sudden loss. A Bethesda Softworks representative would not confirm Altman’s cause of death or other details.

Altman, 73, is survived by his wife, Lynda Carter, best known for her television portrayal of Wonder Woman in the late 1970s. The two married in 1984. Carter also cameoed with voice roles in five Elder Scrolls games (most notably as the deity Azura) and in Fallout 4.

Altman founded ZeniMax Media (a portmanteau of the words “Zenith” and “Maximum”) with Bethesda Softworks’ founder Christopher Weaver, as the successor to Bethesda’s then-parent company. With investment from Altman and the backing of several high-profile board members, Bethesda acquired the Fallout franchise from original publisher Interplay in 2004; id Software and its Wolfenstein, Doom, and Quake franchises, in 2009; and developers Arkane Studios and MachineGames in 2010, putting them to work on the Prey and Wolfenstein series.

Altman’s connections — as a lawyer, he had been the partner of Clark Clifford, Secretary of Defense in the Johnson administration — drew several celebrities to invest in ZeniMax and serve on its board of directors. Among them were Les Moonves, the former chief executive of CBS; Terry McAuliffe, the former Virginia governor and chairman of the Democratic National Committee; Jerry Bruckheimer, the Hollywood producer; Cal Ripken, Jr., the baseball hall-of-famer; and Robert Trump, younger brother of Donald J. Trump.

In October, ZeniMax’s directors sold the company to Microsoft for $7.5 billion. On Thursday, Microsoft chief executive Satya Nadella, and Xbox leader Phil Spencer, both extended their condolences to Altman’s family and Bethesda.

Electronic Arts and its chief executive, Andrew Wilson, also sent their sympathies to Altman’s family and Bethesda colleagues.