Who are the best games studios in the world? Who makes the best games? Who deserves the kudos?
That last question is one we have tried to answer with every annual version of the Develop 100. Whether based on the now-narrower retail sales data or our confident judgement, the previous six editions have highlighted star performers in global games development.
Nintendo. Ubisoft Montreal. Traveller’s Tales. EA Canada. Infinity Ward. Big studios, both in-house and independent, have formed the bulk of our listings. But in an evolving market, where microstudios and bedroom coders are seeing a renaissance, a more universal metric is needed.
This year we are using Metacritic data as the backbone for the Develop 100. That means, for the first time, digital content plays a major part in this list, as do mobile games.
Half the list comprises of studios that have built a reputation for themselves and their brands through Apple’s iPhone/iPad App Store and its rivals – the rest are studios using retail releases or console-based digital distribution to grow or establish themselves.
It’s also the most geographically mixed listing we’ve ever published. 19 countries are represented from core games markets like USA, Japan, Canada and the UK to emerging markets with teams from India, Slovakia, Spain, Czech Republic and Russia.
Plus, we’ve only taken 2010 releases into account, this is not a historical ranking. So while the top developers of all time according to Metacritic include Blizzard, Nintendo, Valve and BioWare, not all of them feature in the Develop 100.
That last point exemplifies one of the wider trends in the industry that this more progressive Develop 100 speaks to. Big studios missing from the ranking this year include BioWare and Ubisoft Montreal, two of the most respected publisher-owned superstudios responsible for two big 2010 games – Mass Effect 2 and Assassin’s Creed: Brotherhood.
Unfortunately, they are also between them responsible for some sub-standard DLC, and some averagely-received licensed games. An aggregate system taking the average across the review scores for all those releases pushes them down the ranking.
That will be sad news for the hundreds of staff at those studios and their similar-sized contemporary.
In the age of the iPhone developer, the message couldn’t be clearer: the move to smaller and one-man teams has redressed the balance. Large monolithic structures are great for job security and commercial reward, but credit is shared for good or ill. You can’t hide in big faceless publisher-owned studios if you want glory. The good or bad work of your colleagues – whether they are sat next to you, on another floor, or in another state all working for the same development studio ‘brand’ – will have as much impact on the credit you can claim as your own will.
Do note that it’s not just a handful of larger studios that will have been victim of the simple if brutal aggregation of stats – other big commercial players with smaller team stature, such as Angry Birds creator Rovio Mobile, are missing from the list due to their review averages falling out of our top 100. And that pinpoints the second major gaming trend that the Develop 100 reflects – the rise of mobile gaming and the resultant fundamental widening of the market.
Metacritic didn’t add reviews of iOS products until March, but its data and results track back to releases over the last few years. The inclusion of this data with the ‘traditional’ console world here in the Develop 100 makes for sobering reading.
While iPhone reviews are still a nascent field in the criticism of games – the Touch Arcades and Pocket Gamers of the world are far younger and less established than the IGNs and GameSpots – but they are no less relevant.
Almost all the digital download games in our 100 ranking are original properties, not the over-exposed franchises we’ve seen over and over. That’s not to say well-established game series are missing from the list, but more often than not big brands and licences mean quick commercial rewards and less critical success. Here, the Develop 100 proves that good ideas are rewarded with critical kudos.
Ultimately, this industry is changing quicker than ever – and the Develop 100 reflects that.
The Develop 100 is sponsored by gamecity:Hamburg, and is published today with Develop’s June issue and selected copies of MCV. It’s also published online as a digital edition.
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