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ZeniMax Media Buys id Software, Maker of Doom

id Software, the inventor of the first person shooter genre of video games and one of the most storied studios in the gaming industry, is no longer independent.

ZeniMax Media, the parent company of Bethesda Softworks, has bought the creator of such legendary franchises as “Doom,” “Quake” and “Wolfenstein”. Financial terms of the deal were not disclosed.

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id founder John Carmack, CEO Todd Hollenshead and other principals at the company have signed long-term employment contracts and will remain active in game development. The company will continue to be based in Mesquite, TX.

id has been one of the flag-bearers of the independent developer movement in recent years, which made the announcement a shocking one in the gaming world. Hollenshead, though, says changes in the industry made the decision a logical one.

“The market dynamics have changed over the past few years,” he says. “One of the problems with being independent was we increasingly found ourselves in competition with our publishers over our own titles. … With ZeniMax, we get a publisher who will be 100 percent focused on our stuff, because it’s their stuff too.”

Activision has historically been id’s publishing partner of choice. The two companies worked together on “Doom 3,” “QuakeWars” and the upcoming “Wolfenstein”. Last year, id branched out, signing Electronic Arts as the publisher of “Rage,” the company’s latest franchise, and working with the company on games for mobile platforms.

Each company has internal teams that focus on action games, though – and a publisher makes significantly more when its internally developed titles succeed.

From a development standpoint, the two companies may seem an odd fit. Bethesda is widely respected for its “Elder Scrolls” and “Fallout 3” role-playing games, while id offers frenetic action shooters. Bethesda has been wanting to expand recently begun expanding into the action genre, though. Acquiring id gives them instant status in that field.

The acquisition should also significantly help Bethesda grow its publishing arm – making it a bigger competitor in the market. Bethesda previously used Take-Two Interactive Software as its publisher of choice, but began self-publishing games with 2008’s “Fallout 3.” At this year’s E3, it had three top-tier games on display.

“If anybody thinks they can’t compete at the same level as EA and Activision, hide and watch,” says Hollenshead. “I don’t know if they intent to immediately rival those companies in terms of scale and size, but that’s not necessarily the key to success.”

While its reputation in the industry was sealed long ago, id has found itself losing momentum for the past several years. Its titles sell well, but did not have the “wow” factor they used to command.

Hollenshead notes this was due to the necessity to license its games to other developers as it focused on one project at a time. With this acquisition, it will cease that practice.

Under the technical leadership of Carmack, id has built a series of graphics engines that have consistently moved the industry forward. The company has historically licensed its graphics engines to other developers, often at lucrative rates. Hollenshead says no decision has yet been made as to whether it will continue that practice.

Gamers were surprised by the news, but have generally seemed to applaud the news. Other developers are even more enthusiastic.

“There's no better company that could have bought id,” said George Broussard, co-founder of 3D Realms, in a message board posting at Shacknews.com. “I expect Zenimax to largely leave id alone to do what they do as they do with Bethesda. … If this were another publisher it might be cause for a wake, but in this case it's nearly cause for celebration.”