It’s been another eventful year in games, and though not always for the right reasons, there have still been numerous shining lights.
From standing up against online bullies, to those developing new types of gaming and paving the way for others to succeed, there are plenty worthy mentions.
To compile our list, we asked people in the game industry who they felt were the most influential people in the industry in 2014, as well as adding a few of our own picks too.
Anita Sarkeesian’s Tropes vs Women in Video Games videos have continued to cause a stir in the game industry and amongst its consumers, as they continue to highlight how women are treated and portrayed in the games we play.
Her videos and opinions have made her one of the lead targets of a hate campaign that has marred the industry this year. Sarkeesian was forced to leave her home due to threats, GDC organisers revealed they had received a number of bomb threats over its decision to hand her the Ambassador Award earlier this year, and if that wasn’t enough, she was forced to cancel a talk at the Utah State University’s Center for Women and Gender over security fears following a threat promising “the deadliest school shooting in American history”.
But through all of this, Sarkeesian has come out fighting and continues to create her videos, attend talks and appear on mainstream television to help change how women are treated in games.
Markus ‘Notch’ Persson
The mastermind behind global sensation Minecraft, Markus Persson, continued to see the world building game break new milestones this year. In fact in February, the PC version was said to have amassed more than 100 million registered players. That’s tens of millions more than the UK’s entire population.
Following years of success, Persson sold developer Mojang to Microsoft for some $2.5 billion in September, showing just how influential a one-time indie studio can be in the game industry.
As Radiant Worlds’ Andrew Oliver says: “He showed that with a good ‘original’ idea and community on board, you can take on all the massive publishers and games and be the real big winner.”
Three Fields Entertainment co-founder and former Criterion boss Alex Ward writes:
"How do you solve a problem like Xbox One?" – Would YOU want that job? He steered some genuinely great games this year. From the original Sunset Overdrive to the brilliant Forza Horizon 2. The stage is set for the return of Crackdown in 2015!”
It’s been a tough time for Xbox One in comparison to Sony’s PS4. But Microsoft’s once troubled console is quickly catching up with its renewed focus on games, and a lot of that is thanks to Phil Spencer, who was named as the new head of Xbox in March.
There’s still a way to go, of course, but the vibe surrounding the Xbox One is much more positive than this time last year, that’s for sure.
Led by Sean Murray, the small Guildford studio Hello Games has shown that you don’t need to work at a superstudio to build a hugely ambitious and highly anticipated game.
In a show of just how vast its upcoming procedurally generated space exploration game No Man’s Sky is, Murray said earlier this year if a player was to visit a planet every second in the title, it would take them some five billion years to find them all.
A year on from its reveal, it’s a game that still delights viewers with each new trailer, promising to offer a unique gameplay experience. The game is a testament to Murray and his talent team’s vision and ambition, and has so far proven that anyone can take on the big publishers with the right idea and execution.
SCEE’s Shahid Ahmad says: "Sean Murray of Hello Games humbly shared an outrageously bold vision of what can still be achieved in games development, even by a small team and had people enraptured by a game that stirs deeply held emotions with its focus on a beautiful vision of the universe. Just about every developer I’ve spoken to was inspired by the ambition and scope of No Man’s Sky, as am I."
You may not know her, in fact she intentionnaly keeps a low public profile, but Lynne Kilpatrick was one of the most influential people in ensuring the UK received tax breaks, finally enacted after years of campaigning earlier this year.
Working for the Department for Culture, Media and Sport, Kilpatrick has been a key figure in promoting the game industry in government and what benefits it can offer the UK, helping make the country once again become a serious competitive player on the global stage.
Her work won her a special Develop Award this year for Services to Video Games, and Kilpatrick’s achievements for the UK game sector will be felt for years to come.
This time last year, YouTube star Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, otherwise known as PewDiePie, had more than 18 million subscribers. Today, he has over 33 million, and is said to be making in the region of $4m per year. He is also said to have raised $1m for charity.
His rapid growth has seen his influence increase such that he has helped numerous indie games receive enormous publicity, and he even helped four-year old title Skate 3 boost sales by 32.9 per cent earlier this year.
As Bossa co-founder Imre Jele states: “Like it or not, Let’s Players became a huge influence on our industry, and more importantly a fantastic source of gaming entertainment for hundreds of millions of people. The unofficial king of gaming YouTubers have a lot of things to be proud of this year beyond becoming the biggest individual YouTuber.”
The game industry has become so accessible to aspiring developers that unknown Vietnam-based game creator Dong Nguyen’s Flappy Bird for iOS was able to quickly become the most talked about game in the world this year.
The free game, making money from ad revenue, shot to the top of the App Store charts thanks to its simple yet challenging and unforgiving gameplay.
The game sparked an array of clones such was its success, though it was eventually pulled from the App Store after his claim that Flappy Bird was too addictive. The developer later returned however with Swing Copters, another popular game for mobile, and will no doubt offer players more fun and challenging games in the coming years.
Thatgamecompany’s Sunni Pavlovic says: “Dong Nguyen proved to be 2014’s dark horse in games, shaking up the establishment and proving the impact a single developer can have in this industry. Flappy Bird’s nostalgic art style and easy gameplay made games, and game development, instantly accessible for a change. Imagine the countless developers who felt empowered enough to make their first foray into indie development because of Flappy Bird."
Palmer Luckey and Brendan Iribe
Palmer Luckey was in our list of 25 people that changed games last year, and he and Oculus CEO Brendan Iribe continue to make a significant impact on the industry with the development of virtual reality headset the Oculus Rift.
Its fate for a mainstream future was seemingly sealed earlier this year when Facebook bought the start-up for $2bn, showing just how far the technology has come since the firm’s crowdfunding campaign on Kickstarter that raised $2.4m.
An early look at what the Rift is capable of was seen with its technology in Samsung’s Gear VR for mobile, and we may see the first release of the consumer version of the Oculus Rift in 2015.
“The emergence of VR is going to give the industry and gamers an experience like no other,” says Unity co-founder David Helgason.
It shouldn’t be underestimated just how influential Ian Livingstone has been not only to the game industry, but to the education system that forms its foundations. This year, computer science finally made its way onto the curriculum as the fourth science (You can view the curriculum outline here), and it’s largely thanks to Livingstone.
The Next Gen Skills campaigner has been a staunch supporter of introducing compuster science to schools to replace traditional ICT for years, often calling it the “the new Latin”.
He’s also formally submitted an application for The Livingstone School in London, which if approved, will focus on the core STEAM subjects: science, technology, engineering, art and mathematics, as well as games-based learning.
During this year Livingstone also joined the Creative England board and has been appointed ambassasor to the creative industries for the Department of Business, Innovation and Skills. Not a bad year by any means.
Modern Dreams’ Helana Santos writes: “His Next Gen Skills campaign to get coding onto the schools curriculum has meant that a whole new generation will have a vital skill for the 21st century. I think we will look back on this as the movement that empowered another generation.”