Founded: 2006 (from a merger of various Konami studio teams)
Owned by: Konami Entertainment
Head count: 5,000+
Address: 9-7-2 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-8323, Japan
Fast Fact: 40 – the years served (so far) by Konami CEO Kagemasa Kozuki, who founded the company as a jukebox rental and repairs business in Osaka, Japan in 1969
The Pro Evolution Soccer series no longer enjoys any clear advantage in the review leagues over FIFA 09. Released in Europe in October and the US in November across all the formats, Pro Evolution Soccer 2009 on PlayStation 3 for example achieved a Metacritic rating of just 77, versus 87 for the current FIFA release. The Xbox 360 version fared even worse.
Many reviewers argue that Pro Evolution Soccer is due a bottom-up overhaul, and some have even suggested that FIFA 09 is now the deeper football sim and PES 2009 the pick-up-and-play pretender. Nevertheless Konami’s take on the beautiful game sold to its usual millions of admirers, and older titles shifted in their millions before its release, too. For now PES remains one of the very few pure sports games that can give EA a run for consumers’ money.
Pro Evolution Soccer 2010 has just been announced as in development.
12. Traveller’s Tales
Owned by: Warner Bros.
Head count: 270
Address: Canute Court, Toft Road, Knutsford, Cheshire, WA16 0NL, UK
Fast Fact: 15 million – the lifetime sales of the Traveller’s Tales developed LEGO Star Wars franchise, according to president Jon Burton
Time Warner paid an estimated $200 million for Traveller’s Tales owner TT Games in late 2007, and the payback came quick in 2008. Its two key releases over the year, LEGO Indiana Jones and LEGO Batman, were cited in Time Warner’s 2008 financials as having partially offset declines elsewhere at the entertainment behemoth.
The all-format LEGO Batman will have been particularly beneficial, with all revenues going to Warner Bros, as opposed to Indy where the spoils were shared with LucasArts.The same logic underwrites speculation that Warner-owned Harry Potter will get the LEGO treatment next, as well as another LEGO Indy title. As we go to press, the studio has announced a Harmonix partnership to make LEGO Rock Band.
Also confirmed for 2009 is a DS title, LEGO Battles. The company is also exploring children’s TV.
13. Sega Studios Japan
Owned by: Sega Sammy
Address: 1-2-12 Haneda, Otaku, Tokyo 144-8531, Japan
Fast Fact: 50 million – the total number of Sonic-branded games sold, as of 2008
Sega looked certain to become a top multiplatform developer and publisher when it withdrew from hardware, but it’s not worked out like that. Internal restructuring means we now feel it’s best to group most of Sega’s branded studios together, but the subsequent jump in position reflects scale and the success of just one title.
Released in 2007 but selling well throughout 2008, Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games is the best recent title to star Sega’s mascot. It has now shifted ten million titles worldwide. Other Sonic outings such as Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity and Sonic Unleashed scored badly with reviewers. Iron Man and Golden Axe releases by Sega’s San Francisco-based studio were poor. UK-based Sega Racing Studio was sold mid-2008.
Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Winter Games arrives later this year.
Owned by: LucasFilm Entertainment
Address: LucasArts, P.O. Box 29908, San Francisco, CA 94129-0908, USA
Fast Fact: 5.7 million – total sales of The Force Unleashed across all platforms, as of February 2009
2008’s Star Wars: The Force Unleashed was a multimedia project with ambitions worthy of the world’s most enduring brand.
LucasArts’ internal studio contributed PS3 and Xbox 360 versions; they were fairly well received, a flawed targeting system being weighed against a franchise-expanding plot that picked up a Writers Guild of America award. The Force Unleashed is now the best-selling Star Wars game ever.
Elsewhere, the developer’s new sister studio, LucasArts Singapore, debuted with Star Wars: The Clone Wars – Jedi Alliance for DS.
There was a Dark Side, though – San Francisco-based LucasArts shed some 100 jobs in summer, and rumours that internal development would cease persisted. Officially, the team has been working on DLC for The Force Unleashed, while insiders talk about another Star Wars game.
Owned by: Activision
Head count: 150
Address: 20335 Ventura Blvd, Suite 320, Woodland Hills, California, 91364, USA
Fast Fact: 40 per cent – the uplift Aerosmith saw in its back catalogue sales following the release of Guitar Hero: Aerosmith
The game that brought air guitaring out of the bedroom continues to do well not just for owner Activision, but developer Neversoft, also famed for its work on the Tony Hawk series.
2007’s Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock sold throughout 2008; by January 2009 Guitar Hero publisher Activision Blizzard announced Legends of Rock had become the first single video game to surpass $1 billion in sales.Summer 2008’s Guitar Hero: Aerosmith provided an envelope-pushing encore, selling one million copies in less than three months, and prompting Activision CEO Bobby Kotick to claim the game had made more money for the band than any album.Then in October Neversoft turned the brand’s 2008 up to 11, with Guitar Hero World Tour selling 3.4 million copies in North America alone.
Owned by: Nintendo
Address: 7-2, 2-chome, Fujimi, Chiyoda-ku, Tokyo, Japan
Fast Fact: 93 per cent – the Metacritic score achieved by Super Smash Bros. Brawl. It’s the fourth highest rated game for Wii.
Few companies enjoy the success Sora found with its debut release, the blockbusting Super Smash Bros. Brawl. Released in early 2008, the Wii title had sold over eight million copies by September.
Perhaps that’s not surprising given that company founder, Masahiro Sakurai, a former employee of the Nintendo second-party specialist HAL Laboratory, was also director of the previous two Super Smash Bros. games (and he can also claim Nintendo poster-blob Kirby on his CV).
But 2009 sees something of a twist. In January, Sora and Nintendo founded a new 30-strong company, Project Sora, with Nintendo taking a 72 per cent stake. And Sakurai-san has promised Project Sora’s first title will definitely not be a Super Smash Bros. game, but rather something wholly original. We wait with baited breath.
17. Kojima Productions
Owned by: Konami Entertainment
Head count: 200
Address: 9-7-2 Akasaka, Minato-ku, Tokyo, 107-8323, Japan
Fast Fact: 77,208 – PS3 console sales in Japan in the week of MGS4’s release, up from a more typical 10,000, according to Famitsu
Hideo Kojima reportedly received death threats when he said he might not directly lead development on Metal Gear Solid 4.
Having relented to become co-producer and designer, he clearly didn’t let his 200-strong team take any shortcuts – the result was the pinnacle of the 21 year-old series, winning nearly universal acclaim and being lauded by some as the saviour of PlayStation 3.With three million units shipped worldwide in its first few weeks on sale, total sales of MGS4 have now surpassed 4.5 million.
This success was topped off by the launch of Metal Gear Online, a distinct online offering bundled with the game in North America and Europe. The service had achieved a membership of one million before 2008 was out, and has seen the release of several relatively premium priced expansion packs.
18. Media Molecule
Head count: 30
Fast Fact: 725,000 – the number of LittleBigPlanent levels created by its community of two million players as of April 2009
Who said a start-up studio can’t debut with a blockbuster anymore? The crew behind Media Molecule are hardly industry virgins (key founders Mark Healey and Alex Evans hail from Lionhead) but they still had to win their Sony deal, and deliver on the LittleBigPlanet buzz.
Few would suggest the 30-strong developer didn’t triumph. Its PS3 game is a posterchild for user-generated content and a darling of the press, enjoying a spectacular 95 Metacritic rating, plus a BAFTA win for Artistic Achievement.
Sales haven’t been spectacular, however. Sony revealed in April that there were nearly two million unique LittleBigPlanet players in its online community, pointing to sales modestly north of that figure.
Format exclusivity is a mixed blessing; the PSP version being created in conjunction with Sony Cambridge will help.
Owned by: Nexon Corporation
Fast Fact: $30 million – the revenues generated by Nexon selling virtual goods to US gamers in 2007 across all its titles
A new name on the list and probably to some readers, but not to its 350 million subscribers worldwide, Nexon is the big beast of South Korea’s games industry, and a pioneer in free-to-play gaming games by micro-transactions.
Before you turn back to Activision Blizzard, know that Nexon’s 2007 revenues (the last full year’s figures available) were $300m, and that 16 million South Koreans have subscribed to its racing game Kart Rider. That’s one third of the population!Nexon has been spreading its tentacles further; MMO MapleStory is doing well in North America on the back of pre-paid vouchers, for instance.
Many of Nexon’s games are developed externally – including MapleStory and the increasingly popular first-person shooter Combat Arms – but Mabinogi, launched in the US in March 2008, is like Kart Rider, a Nexon production.
20. EA Black Box
Owned by: Electronic Arts
Fast Fact: 50 million – the number of EA Black Box developed games sold in the past five years, according to the company’s website
Staff at EA Black Box must have grown uncomfortably used to the gaze of the spotlight – well, those that are left.
The summer of 2008 saw EA CEO John Riccitiello admitting the publisher had ‘tortured’ the Need for Speed developer in the past with a 12 month treadmill of releases, and said future games in the franchise would be better for a two-track, 18 month development cycle.Commercially the next one out, Need for Speed: Undercover, was a huge hit. Helped by being available on everything bar your toaster, Undercover has now sold over five million copies. But reviews were poor, and 2009 saw big redundancies at Black Box.
Having shipped the excellent Skate 2 in January, Black Box’s remaining staff are working on free-to-play Need for Speed: Online (with EA Singapore) and an unnamed futuristic Need for Speed title.
Head count: 160
Contact: 10500 NE 8th Street, Suite 1000, Bellevue, MA 98009, USA
2008 saw Valve successfully add the zombie-themed irony-fest Left 4 Dead to its treasure chest of intellectual properties that includes Half-Life, Counterstrike, Portal and Team Fortress.
Left 4 Dead picked up a slew of awards and sold over 2.5m copies in just four months as of March 2009. Yet it’s incredible to think that Valve could yet be remembered more for its pioneering digital distribution technology, Steam, than for its stellar games line-up.
With 20 million users currently enjoying access to more than 600 games via Steam – Valve is at the forefront of video gaming’s shift away from bricks-and-mortar retail.
22. Lionhead Studios
Owned by: Microsoft
Contact: 1 Occam Court, Surrey Research Park, Guildford, Surrey
GU2 7HJ, UK
After a couple of troubled years, Fable 2 propelled Lionhead Studios and its founder Peter Molyneux back to the front rank of game developers.
The wholly-owned Microsoft studio delivered the sequel to widespread press acclaim while also incorporating new gameplay features, including a breadcrumb navigation system and the removal of player death as a ‘game over’ moment, not to mention a dog companion that morphs according to your alignment. As of March, Fable 2 had sold 2.6 million copies.
Lionhead is working on downloadable content for Fable 2, as well as new games.
23. Level 5
Head count: 205
Contact: 1-20-3 Kamiyo Yakuin Building, Chuo-ku, Fukuoka-shi, Fukuoka-ken, 810-0012, Japan
Since debuting in 2000 with PlayStation RPG Dark Cloud, Japanese developer and latterly publisher Level 5 has barely paused, producing multiple RPGs for Sony, Microsoft and Square Enix.
But it was the self-published Professor Layton and The Curious Village that transformed the company. The DS game arrived in Japan in 2007, going global in 2008 to huge acclaim.
A new Layton trilogy is now in production at the 200-strong developer, as well as a Layton movie and Square Enix’s Dragon Quest IX, Japan’s most eagerly anticipated game according to January’s Famitsu.
24. EA Tiburon
Owned by: Electronic Arts
Contact: 1950 Summit Park Drive, Orlando, FL 32810, USA
If EA’s Redwood Shores and DICE studios represent EA’s refocusing on in-house IP, then EA Tiburon’s Florida offices might be the last bastion of ‘old EA’.
The powerhouse outfit has delivered annual updates of EA Sports’ platinum-plated Madden NFL series since the late 1990s, as well the likes of NCAA Football, Tiger Woods PGA Tour (as of the 2008 edition), and NASCAR (until the series concluded last year).
EA Tiburon also managed to staff a seven-man strong team to develop the quirky and rather lovely DS puzzle adventure game Harry Hatsworth, released this year.
Head count: 160
Contact: 4-45-1 Ebisujima, Sakai, Osaka 590-0985, Japan
2008 was a return to form for the venerable wrestling series Yuke’s develops for THQ. An externally developed DS version aside, WWE Smackdown vs Raw 09 garnered good reviews and THQ had shipped four million copies as of its third fiscal quarter. Yuke’s has also released downloadable content for the game via Xbox Live and PS3’s PSN.
Elsewhere, the Osaka studio took a rare detour into the arcades with D1 Grand Prix Arcade, a driving game made for Taito that hit the streets in September 2008.
Meanwhile, Yuke’s has just finished WWE Legends of Wrestlemania.
Owned by: MTV
Contact: 625 Massachusetts Avenue, 2nd Floor, Cambridge, MA 02139, USA
Judged on its ability to buy up half the others, you could argue Harmonix is among the most powerful developers on this list. Certainly no other wholly-owned studio’s founders received $150 million in bonus payments in 2008, with the promise of the same in 2009.
However the payments to founders Alex Rigopoulos and Eran Egoz relate to the studio’s acquisition by Viacom in 2006, and more than seven million sales of Rock Band since then. 2008’s Rock Band 2 has won commercial and critical success, but with 1.7 million sales across all formats as of the end of 2008, it has a way to go.
Head count: 500
Contact: 416 Maisonneuve West, Suite 600, Montreal, Quebec H3A1L2, Canada
Canada’s largest independent game developer has bemused us before, and 2008 saw little reason to revise our opinion. A2M games are rarely burdened by high scores, but the Official Nintendo Magazine’s 15 per cent rating for A2M’s Wii version of Iron Man surely represents a new low.
Kung Fu Panda was slightly better received, at least on DS, but it’s fair to say the High School Musical skus sold on the back of achievement elsewhere, while the less said about Mercenaries 2 on PS2 the better.
Yet the Quebec-based company has grown to 500 staff, and recently acquired South America’s DLC specialist, Wanako Games.
28. EA Redwood Shores
Owned by: Electronic Arts
Contact: 209 Redwood Shores Parkway, Redwood City, CA 94065, USA
Electronic Arts under John Riccitiello is doing the right thing for – so far – the wrong results.
The publisher’s focus on original IP over external licences is exemplified by EA Redwood Shores’ record in the Develop 100. Debuting in 2005 at number four thanks to Bond and Tolkien blockbusters, the studio has steadily slipped to 28th this year.
Still, Riccitiello noted recently that “games with a 2 on them sell better”, and a Wii Dead Space is also in development, while the studio’s The Godfather II has just gone on sale. It is also working on another new IP, Dante’s Inferno.
Head count: 400
Contact: St. John’s Innovation Centre, Cowley Road, Cambridge, CB4 0WS, UK
The days of Jagex being UK game development’s best kept secret are long gone. The company behind the Java-based RuneScape, the world’s most popular free MMORPG, has featured in The Sunday Times 100 Best Companies To Work For list for the past two years and its founders are now a fixture in the same newspaper’s Rich List.
CEO Mark Gerhard, appointed in January, finds himself at the helm of a major operation: Jagex has 400 staff working across three UK studios, an expanding ‘deep casual’ portal, FunOrb, and a still-growing RuneScape, which now boasts over six million active players.
30. Game Freak
Owned by: Nintendo
Head count: 57
Contact: 22F, Carrot Tower, Taishidou, Setagaya-ku, Tokyo 154-0004, Japan
Game Freak continues to turn what seemed a 1990s fad into enormous sales via new Pokémon games.
The latest, Pokémon Platinum for the Nintendo DS, was essentially a remake of DS titles Pokémon Diamond and Pearl, but it still became the best-selling DS game of 2008 in Japan, shifting over two million copies in just four months to December.
Pokémon Platinum went on sale in the US at the end of March, and arrives in Europe in May. For as long as Nintendo continues to make new consoles, it seems Game Freak and its founder and Pokémon creator Satoshi Tajiri are assured a place in the Develop 100.