Owned by: Electronic Arts
Contact: 2 Theatre Square, Orinda, California, 94563-3346, USA
Expectations for Maxis’ Spore were so stratospherically high it was bound to disappoint.
What publishing exec wouldn’t be happily disappointed by two million sales in three weeks, you might ask? But the reviews amount to a comparatively modest 84 rating on Metacritic, while a DRM furore compounded what fans saw as the injurious dumbing down of Will Wright’s original vision.
With Wright leaving the studio he founded 20 years ago to set up Stupid Fun Club, it’s uncertain how long the Maxis brand will survive. But extra Spore SKUs spearheaded by Spore Galactic Adventures are in development.
32. Cat Daddy Games
Owned by: Take-Two
Contact: 14715 Bel-Red Road Suite 100, Bellevue, WA 98007, USA
Carnival Games’ developer Cat Daddy Games – comprising just a handful of staff, reportedly – has been knocking out value games for the best part of decade. But none have previously come close to the astonishing four million sales racked up by the Carnival Games franchise in barely 18 months.
Cat Daddy Games is presently working on a sequel, Carnival Games 2, which studio owner 2K Games admitted it delayed because the original was still selling so well. Such humility in the face of the ‘known unknown’ nature of games publishing would be welcome elsewhere.
33. EA The Sims Studio
Founded: 2008 (as part of EA’s The Sims publishing label)
Owned by: Electronic Arts
An alien unfamiliar with EA’s corporate structure might not realise The Sims Label exists; given EA’s record of assimilating developers, you might assume it’s just a logo on a box.
Actually, the opposite is the case; now headed by industry veteran (and Brit-born) Rod Humble, The Sims Label has a distinct studio structure that served as a model for EA’s part-abandoned internal restructuring in 2007.
Sales of The Sims 2 hit 100m in April 2008 and MySims and its sequels went down well on Nintendo platforms. But 2009 will be much bigger, with SimAnimals an appetiser as up to 100 staff push to finish The Sims 3.
34. Insomniac Games
Head count: 180
Contact: 2255 North Ontario Street, Suite 550, Burbank, California 91504, USA
This Burbank, California-based studio, which came to prominence with Spyro the Dragon on PSOne, has barely hit a duff note in 15 years of business.
2008’s sci-fi FPS Resistance 2 achieved an 87 Metacritic rating and sold 400,000 copies in its first week of release. The company also developed Ratchet & Clank: Quest for Booty. Just four-hours long, it was initially distributed via PSN. Both titles were published by Sony.
As part of its 15th anniversary celebrations, Insomniac Games is treating its staff and significant others to a cruise to the Bahamas. Otherwise they’re hard at work on Ratchet & Clank Future: A Crack in Time, due late 2009.
Head count: 180
Contact: 2401 4th Ave, Suite 810
Seattle, WA 98121, USA
Casual games companies seek that elusive killer title – in Bejewelled, Peggle, Zuma and Bookworm, PopCap has already created at least four, plus a host of other popular titles that it rolled out in 2008 to everything with a digital pulse.
PopCap’s 180-odd staff go a long way: its titles have a longevity that conventional game publishers should have killed for when the market was young and they had a chance. Last August, for instance, PopCap revealed the Bejewelled franchise had sold 25m units since 2000. Latest release, Peggle Dual Shot for the Nintendo DS, continues PopCap’s overtures towards the more traditional gamer.
36. SCE London Studio
Owned by: Sony
Head count: 260
Contact: 15 Great Marlborough Street, London W1F 7HR, UK
2008 wasn’t a great year to work at SCE London Studio; two high-profile games – The Getaway 3 and Eight Days – were cancelled. Yet there was good news, too, not least the successful transfer of SingStar to PS3.
Hopping up to the console in late 2007 and since followed up with two sequels, over four million songs have already been downloaded from the associated SingStore. Game sales for the entire SingStar franchise have surpassed 16 million.
Away from karaoke, SCE London Studio is working on EyePet, which utilises the PlayStation Eye, and continues to evolve PlayStation Home.
37. Criterion Games
Owned by: Electronic Arts
Contact: Ouslow House, Onslow Street, Guildford, GU1 4TN, UK
Few developers have explored downloadable content like EA’s Criterion Games. The Guildford-based studio has delivered copious updates and add-ons to Burnout: Paradise throughout 2008 and early 2009.
But a studio of Criterion’s calibre surely isn’t living on DLC alone. Back in early 2008 Electronic Arts executives mentioned new Burnout games to analysts but there’s been no confirmation to date from the studio or publisher, nor more news on Black: Second Mission, a project which came to light via the ever-leaky route of recruitment advertising in December.
38. Sports Interactive
Owned by: Sega
Contact: PO Box 60255, London, EC1P 1GG, UK
November 2008 saw the launch of the long-awaited Football Manager Live, one of the more ambitious game IP extensions of recent years. It now has around 25,000 subscribers, distributed across 26 gameworlds and contributing to revenues generated by the initial full price retail purchase with recurring monthly subscription fees of around £5-8. For a developer with a famously dedicated fanbase, the attraction is obvious. Non-UK language versions are set to come later this year.
Besides Football Manager Live, Sports Interactive’s 50 full-time staff continue to work on ongoing standalone titles.
39. Ubisoft France
Owned by: Ubisoft
Contact: 28 rue Armand Carrel, 93 108 Montreuil Cedex, France
With a global spread of studios that reads like Phileas Fogg’s travel itinerary, Ubisoft’s home developers must feel the equivalent of pipe and comfortable slippers.
In 2008 the Paris and Montpelier studios largely contented themselves with the Nintendo exclusive Rayman Rabbids TV Party. It only popped up in November, but it had shifted 1.5 million by January, and like all Rayman games will sell for months to come.
2007’s Rayman Raving Rabbids 2 continued to shift in 2008, for instance; Rayman remains the 25 million-selling franchise the industry always forgets.
40. Rockstar San Diego
Founded: 1984 (as Angel Studios)
Owned by: Rockstar Games
Head count: 180
Contact: 2200 Faraday Ave, Suite 200, Carlsbad, California, 92008, USA
Knuckling down after the off-beam larks of 2006’s engine test drive turned top game, Rockstar Games Presents Table Tennis, 2008 saw Rockstar San Diego deliver the well-received Midnight Club: Los Angeles for Xbox 360 and PS3, which parent Take Two cited as contributing to a ‘better than expected’ performance in its first fiscal quarter for 2009.
Rockstar San Diego is currently developing Red Dead Redemption. While it will always struggle to grab the limelight from Rockstar North, the 180 staff enjoy certain compensations, such as working five minutes from the Californian surf.
41. Krome Studios
Head count: 350
Contact: PO Box 1639, Fortitude Valley, QLD 4006, Australia
Founded 10 years ago by CEO Robert Walsh and creative director Steve Stamatiadis, Krome Studios has continued to grow while other Australian developers have languished. The company now employs 350 people, including the staff at Krome Studious Melbourne – better known before its 2006 acquisition by Krome as the 8-bit pioneer Melbourne House.
2008 was a big year for Krome, with two LucasArts titles – Star Wars: The Force Unleashed for Wii, PS2, and PSP and The Clone Wars: Lightsaber Duels for Wii – seeing retail release alongside Scene-it: Box Office Smash, which it produced for Microsoft.
Head count: 3,000+
Contact: 14 rue Auber, 75009, Paris, France
Only the low per-unit pricing of mobile games keeps Gameloft from appearing far higher up this list.
Big licences like Spiderman help, but the company says 61 per cent of downloads are of its own brand games. Rivalled only by EA on the operators’ portals, with 3,300 development staff, the top mobile publisher also has an unrivalled ability to respond quickly to ever-changing mobile technology.
For instance, Gameloft released more than two dozen games for Apple’s iPhone and iPod Touch in 2008, selling two million games via the App Store and hogging the paid game charts.
43. Crystal Dynamics
Owned by: Eidos/Square Enix
Contact: 64 Willow Place, Menlo Park, 94025, California, USA
With the once emblematic Britsoft creation Tomb Raider now firmly established at Californian developer Crystal Dynamics, the latter continues to deliver big revenues to parent Eidos thanks to its broadly successful annual updates of the IP.
The latest, Tomb Raider: Underworld, had sold 2.6m copies as of February on the back of respectable reviews, outselling the previous two games in the series. Eidos professed disappointment though, and it wasn’t enough to save 30 staff shed by Crystal Dynamics in January, including Eric Lindstrom, Underworld’s creative director.
44. Square Enix
Owned by: Square Enix
Head count: 1,700
Contact: Shinjuku Bunka Quint Bldg., 3-22-7 Yoyogi, Shibuya-ku, Tokyo 151-8544, Japan
Consider that Square Enix is yet to develop and release a game on PS3, and it’s less surprising to find it at position 44. 2007’s PSP prequel Crisis Core: Final Fantasy VII got a release outside of Japan in 2008, selling very well, but Song Summoner for iPod and WiiWare release Final Fantasy Crystal Chronicles: My Life As A King were undeniably niche products.
Xbox 360 RPG The Last Remnant was the only substantial release of the year. Arriving in late November, reviews were very inconsistent. An outlying 38/40 from the influential Famitsu will have helped its 100,000 first week sales at home, however.
45. Namco Bandai
Owned by: Bandai Namco
Head count: 2,000
Contact: Mirai-Kenkyusho 4-5-15, Higashi-shinagawa, Shinagawa-ku, Tokyo, 140-8590
Sprawling Namco Bandai remains a serious force in games publishing in its native Japan. However many of its most popular titles, such as the Dragon Ball Z series, are developed externally.
The core studio’s most significant self-created release in 2008 by far was Soul Calibur IV, which had shipped over two million units by the end of 2008. It rather bizarrely enabled players to choose to fight as guest characters from Star Wars, and it also brought internet battling to the venerable series. Reviews were very positive.
Another notable release was We Ski, which utilises the Wii Balance Board.
46. Black Rock Studio
Founded: 1988 (as part of Climax; sold to Disney and rebranded in 2006)
Owned by: Disney Interactive Studios
Head count: 142
Contact: 15 West Street, Brighton, BN1 2RE, UK
The former Climax Racing studio has enjoyed a successful first full year under the ownership of Disney, thanks to the release of the well-received Pure. Achieving 9/10 from Official Xbox Magazine, Pure saw the developer return to the quad bike territory it had previously explored with the latter games in Sony’s ATV Off-Road Fury series.
Black Rock is now working on Split/Second, a city-based racing game due for release in 2010 for Xbox 360, PlayStation 3 and PC. Themed around a reality TV show, competitors will be able to trigger explosive events that change the race dynamics by re-routing the course in real-time.
47. Relentless Software
Head count: 80
Contact: One Air Street, Brighton, BN1 3FB, UK
2008 was a big year for Brighton-based Relentless. After shipping two PS2 games in early 2008 (Buzz!: The Schools Quiz and Buzz!: The Pop Quiz) the studio knuckled down to deliver Buzz!: Quiz TV, the series’ PS3 debut, featuring wireless controllers and online play, and new user-generated quizzes and other community features. It also worked with London’s Curve Studios to bring Buzz! to PSP (subsequent titles have been Curve and Sony’s work alone).
The company’s 80 staff are currently working on various versions of the Buzz! franchise, and also on an unannounced self-published PSN title.
48. Pandemic Studios
Owned by: Electronic Arts
Head count: 200
Contact: 1100 Glendon Avenue, 19th Floor, Los Angeles, California 90024-3503, USA
The difference between Pandemic’s games as an independent and its output since joining with Bioware and subsequently EA is striking.
Whereas Pandemic’s first generation IPs such as Mercenaries, Full Spectrum Warrior and Star Wars Battlefront were critically acclaimed hits, last year’s Mercenaries 2 received only fair-to-poor reviews, and was deemed Most Disappointing Game by Gamespot.
Fans must hope the long silence surrounding The Saboteur, one of three big titles in production, indicates Pandemic’s 200 LA-based staff have had their heads down redressing matters.
Head count: 280
Contact: Eurocom House, Ashbourne Road, Derby, Derbyshire, DE22 4NB, UK
Employing 280 staff, Eurocom continues to be a bastion of British development, 21 years after it arrived on the scene with Magician for the NES.
2008 saw the Derby-based company deliver four titles, led by the multi-format Beijing 2008. Licensed game duties continued with two movie tie-ins – Wii and PS2 versions of The Mummy: Tomb of the Dragon Emperor, and the critically well-received PS2 version of Quantum of Solace.
Eurocom is currently working on Dead Space Extraction, a Wii prequel for EA’s high-profile sci-fi IP, and on PC, Xbox 360 and PS3 versions of Vancouver 2010 for Sega.
50. EA Los Angeles
Owned by: Electronic Arts
Contact: 5510 Lincoln Blvd, Playa Vista, CA 90094, USA
A new C&C game? A game designed by Steven Spielberg? Ten years ago these bullet points would have placed EA LA far higher in the Develop 100.
That’s not to say 2008 was a bad year. C&C: Red Alert 3 on PC and Xbox 360 achieved decent enough scores, especially for its high production values and the expansion of its multiplayer and cooperative options. And Spielberg’s puzzle game Boom Blox won genuinely rave reviews.
Initial sales of Boom Blox were weak, however, although EA put that down to the longer lifecycle of a casual title, and it recently confirmed a sequel.