Meet the men and women who made a big impact and brought our industry forward in the last twelve months
It's been an eventful year, with new ground broken in game development and technology and records shattered by a mixture of expected and very much unexpected smash hits.
Behind every success and breakthrough, there are visionary and hard-working people dedicated to breaking new ground, whether its within games themselves or the industry and public perspective that surrounds them.
With that in mind, the Develop team has compiled a list of the 25 people that made a big impact on games in the past twelve months.
Throughout her career, Brenda Romero has made a huge impact on games, working on titles such as the Wizardry series, Ghost Recon Commander, Dungeons & Dragons and Jagged Alliance.
This year has earned her recognition with accolades including the Women in Gaming lifetime achievement award at GDC for making significant contributions to the game industry.
The Loot Drop CEO and program director for the Master's degree in games and playable media at the University of Santa Cruz also made the news for an impassioned speech about women in games and industry sexism during this year’s GDC #1ReasonToBe panel, inspired by last year’s outpouring on Twitter on the issue under the hashtag #1reasonwhy. Romero received a standing ovation during her speech, and even sparked tears from the audience.
Despite seemingly always being at the centre of a fresh new controversy, Ouya has still had an interesting impact on the game industry. Spearheaded by former IGN VP and GM of digital distribution Julie Uhrman, the new console on the market successfully raised over $8.5m in 30 days on Kickstarter last year, and in May this year raised a further $15m from new investors.
The tiny Android console, which requires a free element to each game, was released this year, in turn shaking up the console market and inspiring a wave of imitators as companies around the world look to take on the living room through their own Android-based systems.
Ouya may not have been a runaway success like the new consoles from industry stalwarts Microsoft and Sony, but it’s clear that Uhrman, who has often responded to issues from the community, is keen to play the long game as Ouya looks to build up its brand.
Arguably one of the poster boys for the UK indie sector – a term he’d no doubt hate – Mike Bithell has experienced huge successes since going indie and releasing Thomas Was Alone on PC last year.
Since then, the title has been released on PS3, Vita and Linux, and Bithell also received a Develop Award for Use of Narrative for the title. His latest in-development project, stealth action game Volume, has inspired fanfare from his loyal followers.
Bithell’s impact on the wider industry should not be underestimated either, he has often put himself at the centre of industry debates through social networks such as Twitter, and is never afraid to air his opinion. The popular indie developer has also played a key part in Sony’s PS4 and Vita campaign, and was part of a number of indies that took centre stage during the platform holder’s Gamescom conference.
Shahid Ahmad has transformed Sony from second fiddle to Microsoft in the indie stakes, to arguably the leading console platform holder for small developers to place their games on.
The SCEE business development manger has played a key part in refining Sony’s submissions process to make life easier for indies, and has played an active role in the community to attract these developers to PS4 and Vita.
Without Ahmad as a friendly and approachable figure, Sony’s platforms could arguably look a lot less indie friendly, and the firm would not be able to ride the wave of positivity surrounding its hardware offerings.
A developer himself, having worked on Marble Madness, Sonic the Hedgehog 2 and Crash Bandicoot, Mark Cerny is the brains behind Sony’s latest console, the PS4. After developers have struggled for the past seven years with the PS3’s unique cell structure, Cerny spent years travelling the world and meeting game creators to discover the most ideal, developer-friendly platform.
The result was a PC-like architecture leagues ahead of its predecessor, and a system that enables developers to flaunt their creativity without worrying whether the hardware can handle it.
But not just putting Sony back in the good books of developers, Cerny has also proven a tremendous speaker and ambassador for the PS4 with his clear talks and what developers can consumers alike can expect for Sony’s new gen hardware.
Indie developer Phil Fish has been a controversial figure in the game industry, particularly since his appearance on the critically acclaimed documentary Indie Game: The Movie, which propelled the indie to global fame.
Never shy of airing his opinion, earlier this year Fish announced he was cancelling Fez II and would be quitting games for good following what he claimed had been a tirade of abuse against him, bringing to light the vitriolic nature of a large minority of gamers dealing out abuse and threats to developers, often over game design decisions.
His impact on games is still being realised however, and as of this month his isometric platformer Fez has sold one million copies across all platforms. This is one developer that will be sorely missed from the industry, and in the words of Cliff Bleszinski: Come back, Phil Fish. We miss you already.
At just the age of 21, Palmer Luckey has already revolutionised the game industry as a pioneer of the virtual reality space.
His VR tech Oculus has excited developers and consumers with its vast possibilities for gaming, offering the potential for a new era of immersion. The idea has been so popular and well received that last year the tech garnered $2.4 million from 9,522 backers on Kickstarter, smashing its target of $250,000.
In fact, just last week the company received $75 million in funding from numerous investors. With such vast amounts of money and acclaim being poured in to the virtual reality headset, Luckey has already become a key figure in the game industry, and could be set to leave a permanent mark in the sector as the man who made VR possible.
Earlier this year, Electronic Arts CEO John Riccitiello left his post at the publishing giant, leaving a hole at the top of the company. After months of searching, EA looked inwards and appointed EA Sports EVP Andrew Wilson to head up the company.
Wilson is the first studio exec to serve as CEO of the company, a refreshing move for the publisher, as Wilson can offer a keen insight into the inner workings of EA’s vast network of development houses.
Wilson’s impact may not quite have been felt publicly, but behind the scenes he will be laying the groundwork for EA’s future, no easy task, and one that seems hell-bent on success in console, mobile and digital.
Abertay graduate and Swallowtail chair Sophia George is a rising star on the UK game development scene, leading design on the BAFTA award winning title Tick Tock Toys.
In May, George was appointed as the Victoria and Albert museum’s first ever game designer in residence, which officially began in October. George has been tasked with researching the history of British design shown in the Britain 1500-to-1900 galleries, and is holding a number of public activities and events to bring people in on the game design process. The appointment has sparked national interest amongst not just those in the game industry, but the wider public too.
George was also recently named in MCV’s Top 100 Women in Games and Develop’s own 30 under 30, cementing her place as a top emerging talent in games.
Ilkka Pannanen is the co-founder and CEO of one of Europe’s hottest start-ups, Finland-based developer Supercell.
Under his stewardship the studio took a gamble and cancelled its first game, Facebook MMO Gunshine, after 14 months of development, to focus on mobile. This is a decision the recent Develop cover star described as “the best we have ever made”.
The company subsequently went to work on a number of new titles, resulting in the releases of Clash of Clans and Hay Day, two of mobile’s most popular ever games and constantly starring at the top of the App Store charts.
Paananen also negotiated the sale of a 51 per cent stake in the company to Japanese telecoms giant Softbank for $1.5 billion, valuing the studio at $3bn. Not bad for a studio he formed in 2010.
Having taken years out of the game industry following the release of space sim Freelancer, Chris Roberts returned to the sector last year by announcing a new ambitious space game, Star Citizen.
Since then, the project has smashed all expectations, and continues to rack up the millions through crowdfunding, showing an evident gap in the space sim genre that consumers are yearning to be filled. In fact, to date, the game has amassed a mind boggling $34 million and is edging ever closer to $35m.
Roberts has proven that crowdfunding can be utilised not just for small projects, but for ambitious triple-A titles, showing a potential new way forward for developers and publishers looking to finance their games.
Another former Develop cover star, Jade Raymond has been spearheading Ubisoft’s Toronto studio since its inception in 2009. Ubisoft is known for building large studios, such as its giant Montreal base, and Raymond has steadily grown the studio to around 300 staff, and previously revealed to Develop her ambitions to bring in up to 800 staff over ten years.
Having overseen the studio’s development, Ubisoft Toronto’s first major triple-A game was released this year, Splinter Cell: Blacklist. One of the publisher’s most prized IPs, the game was met with a positive reception by critics.
While Raymond was obviously not alone in developing such a large title, building one of the world’s biggest studios and successfully releasing a game in a key franchise for Ubisoft is no easy task, and one Raymond has clearly excelled in.
Few game makers get recognised by the mainstream media, and even fewer are women. So it was no small feat that Media Molecule’s studio director made it into the BBC Women’s Hour Power 100 list for 2013, a ranking of the 100 most powerful women in the UK.
The founder of the LittleBigPlanet studio later spoke out on BBC Radio 4, insisting that more women are needed in games development to change the public perception of the industry.
Away from her media appearances, she continues to oversee Media Molecule, concentrating this year on last month’s hit Vita release Tearaway, a critically acclaimed title that has made itself a must-have for owners of the handheld, and a potential system seller.
Before founding Media Molecule, Reddy worked at Perfect Entertainment and Criterion Games.
Pew Die Pie
You might not know who PewDiePie is, but over 18 million gaming fans do. The online alias of Swedish gamer Felix Arvid Ulf Kjellberg, PewDiePie is the owner of YouTube’s most subscribed channel of all time. That’s not most subscribed gaming channel, but most subscribed across all categories.
Kjellberg’s videos are all entirely dedicated to video games and range from Let’s Play walkthroughs of horror titles to extremely random, gaming-themed comedy montages.
He claimed his YouTube crown in August 2013, and is one of many users that is redefining how games are covered online. He has built up a loyal audience and a hefty three-year collection of videos – until Content ID pulls them down, of course.
CEO and co-founder of King, Riccardo Zacconi and his team have had a massive impact on the social games scene this year, thanks primarily to the world-conquering Candy Crush Saga.
The match-three puzzler was one of the most played game of the year, has been downloaded over 500m times and at one point was said to be bringing in £400,000 per day just through Facebook – not bad for a game that is only just over a year old.
Zacconi’s leadership helped the firm topple the once unstoppable Zynga and brought King to a point where it could file for IPO in the US, although reports claim it has since decided to postpone this.
The developers at Valve could comfortably never develop a game again. The firm’s market-leading digital store Steam draws in enough revenue that Half-Life 3 might forever remain a pipe dream, but that hasn’t stopped boss Gabe Newell and his team from experimenting with the business.
Perhaps the most significant announcement this year from the house of Newell is the creation of SteamOS and accompanying hardware, the Steam Box. The Linux-based operating system signals Newell’s intention to establish a stronger foothold in gamers’ living rooms, which for decades have been dominated by the likes of PlayStation, Nintendo and Xbox.
Newell also picked up the Fellowship award at this year’s video game BAFTAs.
Hardware engineer Jeri Ellsworth made the headlines early on this year when she was one of roughly 25 Valve employees that were made redundant early in the year. She had been working for the Steam firm for less than a year, and after being let go offered a new and fascinating perspective on how firm operates with its famous flat-management structure.
After a few months of silence, Ellsworth re-emerged when she set up a new company, Techinal Illusions, with fellow ex-Valve employee Rick Johnson and announced their new project: CastAR, glasses that incorporate both augmented and virtual reality.
The duo launched a Kickstarter in October with a target of $400,00, which it reached within a matter of days. The campaign finished in November, having raised an impressive total of over $1m. While not quite heralded like the Oculus, Ellsworth's tech could have a major impact on the augmented reality market for years to come, and should not be underestimated.
It’s a tall order reinventing an iconic character like Lara Crofot, one that has attracted as much criticism as praise, but Pratchett succeeded with this year’s Tomb Raider reboot.
As lead writer for the Crystal Dynamics blockbuster, her story of survival and the characterisation that it provokes transformed Lara Croft from a treasure hunter wielding guns and breasts into a compelling female protagonist – something that is still too much of a rarity in our industry.
Critics praised the new Tomb Raider’s blend of narrative and modern gameplay, as well as how a previously dating character had been reinvented for today’s market, and Pratchett’s work was central to this.
She was also an additional writer on another of 2013’s most discussed games, BioShock Infinite, the creation of Ken Levine and his talented team at Irrational.
Better known as Femfreq on Twitter, media critic Sarkeesian runs the website Feminist Frequency, which discusses the portrayal of women in pop culture and all forms of entertainment.
Last year, she turned to Kickstarter to fund Tropes vs Women, a series that would explore the stereotypes personified by many female games characters. The target was $6,000; she received $158,000.
The first episode of Tropes vs Women aired in March 2013, a two-parter that dissected the role of damsel in distress, one of the more common archetypes in classic video games.
Last month, she aired a second episode exploring the idea of Ms. Male Character, changing the gender of a male protagonist like Pac-Man to appeal to women.
Each episode has been watched more than 750,000 times, with the first part of Damsel in Distress racking up over one million views, helping shed light to the industry and public on how women are treated in games, and why this can and should change.
Rockstar’s Benzies and Garbut
The Houser brothers are often given the credit for the hard work that goes into the Grand Theft Auto games, as well as the praise that follows. But just as important to the process are Rockstar North president Leslie Benzies and art lead Aaron Garbut.
This duo was instrumental in defining the vision of what would become the record-breaking Grand Theft Auto V. The impact and success of GTA V is well documented, but perhaps not the contributions of these two individuals.
Garbut, who has been responsible for creating every Rockstar North game world since GTA III, has said Los Santos is the biggest and most technologically impressive environment he has ever created, while Benzies is most proud of the level of polish and perfection his team managed to achieve in the final build.
It was in the closing weeks of 2012 that TV presenter Jonathan Ross announced that not only was he opening a new game development studio, but that it was also ready to release its first game Catcha Catcha Aliens.
At a BAFTA event shortly after launch, Ross said he had opened the studio because he “really wanted to know what it was like making games”. With that curiosity now satisfied, you would have thought he would return his attentions to his TV career.
But in October 2013, Microsoft announced Ross has been hired as an executive producer at its Xbox gaming division. He has been tasked with helping Microsoft “change its thinking” and “blur the distinctions” between games, TV and other media.
He is currently working with Microsoft’s Lift London studio and no doubt we’ll learn more about his project in 2014. Jonathan Ross is fast becoming yet another huge personality for the game industry.
PlayStation has been vocal from an early stage about the opportunities for indie developers on PS4, but it wasn’t until Gamescom in August that Microsoft announced its own indie games scheme in the form of ID@Xbox, headed by Chris Charla.
An independent developer himself before joining Microsoft, Charla was previously responsible for Xbox Live Arcade’s portfolio of games and is now focused solely on finding new indies to create games for Xbox One.
He has been the figurehead for everything Microsoft is doing to help these studios bring their titles to the next-gen console, and has helped secure the likes of Vlambeer, Double Fine, Capy and Halfbrick to ready titles for early 2014.
He has also been travelling with Microsoft’s ID@ events, including last week’s ID@London, which educate indies about the possibilities of developing for Xbox One.
Game developers have long been striving to create emotionally engaging stories that surpass their title’s noisy gun battles and meticulously animated set pieces for many years now.
But arguably none have achieved this as well as Naughty Dog with its critically acclaimed 2013 release The Last Of Us. While the atmospheric ruins of New York and action-packed gameplay were big talking points, perhaps the title’s most praised aspect is its storyline and characterisation.
Creative director Druckmann was instrumental in this, not only overseeing the writing but also casting and directing – he even took up acting lessons in order to work more efficiently with the cast.
He worked hand in hand with game director Bruce Straley, but with such an emphasis on the narrative and engaging characters, it is safe to say Druckmann’s impact on The Last Of Us is keenly felt.
Few indie games have had the same impact as Papers, Please this year. Lucas Pope’s PC title puts players in the role of an immigration officer in a corrupt fictitious Eastern European nation, charging them with screening anyone who wishes to enter the country.
It was championed by the global games media for its thoughtful design and the emotional responses it evokes with its moral quandaries, balancing the needs of the immigrants versus the needs of your fictional family. These dilemmas covered a range of sensitive fugitives such as suicide bombers, sex traders and fugitives from totalitarian states.
Pope specialises in making games that are not based on traditional genres – perfectly evidenced by Papers, Please’s retro-styled virtual desktop interface – and will no doubt continue to produce more unique titles in the years to come. This is one developer that shows games don't have to be mindless fun, but can take on a serious subject matter and be thought-provoking, too.