For the next part in our special focus on the big names listed in the 2008 Develop 100, we're presenting here key profiles from the top 50, from Ubisoft France (#11) to Game Freak (#30)â?¦[Note: Revenue amounts refer to the total revenues generated by that studio's games at UK retail in 2007. Further details of our methodology can be found at the end of this feature.
The Develop 100 in full, from 1 to 100, can be found at www.develop100.com. Topline trends and facts can be found here, while you can read profiles of the first ten studios here. Profiles of numbers 11 to 30 can be found here, while profiles of numbers 31 to 50 here. Alternatively, click here to read a digital version of the print book.]
11. Ubisoft France – £25.37m
Best-selling game of 2007: Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 (£8.73m)
With Tom Clancy’s Ghost Recon: Advanced Warfighter 2 selling almost as many copies as it has syllables in its name, 2007 was another banner year for Ubisoft’s French development arm. Sure the multi-site division has shuffled down from seventh place, but minor volatility is inevitable in a hit-driven industry.
Ubisoft France is a powerhouse, even in the context of the vast Ubi empire, but it’s not perfect: witness the Tiwak studio’s lacklustre Beowulf, released in November. Ubisoft is making such movie tie-ins a speciality – most recently securing James Cameron’s Avatar, which it placed with Ubisoft Montreal – so the pressures of working with a licence can’t be an excuse. And with Ubisoft expanding in Singapore, Japan, China and Quebec, the French outfits can’t rest on their laurels. The recent acquisition of the Tom Clancy name in perpetuity might therefore play well at home. GRAW3, anyone?
12. Yuke’s - £24.5m
Best-selling game of 2007: WWE Smackdown vs. Raw 2008 (£17.45m)
People wonder why sequels and licences dominate thinking in the video games industry, but just look at the performance of Yuke’s.
Slightly down from eighth position in last year’s Develop 100 (despite an increase in total UK revenue), Yuke’s is to wrestling what spandex is to wrestlers. It’s an intimate relationship that predates the Japanese company’s high-tempo debut in 2000 for THQ, WWF Smackdown! – Yuke’s was previously responsible for a popular line of wrestling games in Japan. There’s no likelihood of it loosening its sweaty grip on the genre, either, with the Smackdown! franchise last year pushing past 25 million copies in total lifetime sales.
Here comes the pain, if you’re a rival: all this from just 137 staff. Indeed, Yuke’s Future Media Creators even found time to diversify with Dogs and Catz skus for Ubisoft, and a couple of Japanese-only releases.
13. Amaze Entertainment - £24.07m
Best-selling game of 2007: The Simpsons Game (£5.03m)
One of several studios to ride EA’s The Simpsons Game to a high ranking in the Develop 100, Amaze’s focus on the handheld formats is clear from its other best-selling titles, too.
While its games might not always receive ecstatic reviews from the specialist press, developers who work primarily with licensed properties will point to different challenges, priorities and measures of success compared to traditional studios. Certainly, publishers’ faith in Amaze as a safe pair of hands for their brands is clear – the company shipped its 100th title in 2007.
Acquired at the end of 2006 by Foundation 9, Amaze employs about 150 people, split between Kirkland, Washington, and Austin, Texas. If you can’t recall playing its games, it’s worth noting the studios further breakdown into Griptonite, KnowWonder, Monsoon (all Kirkland based) and Fizz Factor (Austin).
14. EA LA - £22.49m
Best-selling game of 2007: Command & Conquer 3: Tiberium Wars (£9.45m)
When John Riccitiello told Wall Street analysts recently his company needed to improve its products’ rankings on review aggregator Metacritic, he may – counter-intuitively – have had EA LA’s output in mind. Consistently turning out competent yet unspectacular software to time and budget would have satisfied the Electronic Arts of a few years ago, but today there’s seemingly a recognition the sort of brands EA LA handles – C&C, Medal of Honor and Lord of the Rings – didn’t achieve their status on the back of ‘7 out of 10’ reviews.
If C&C: Tiberium Wars (Metascore: 85) bucked the trend, the dividend is already apparent in high hopes for its first-person shooter spin-off, Tiberium, now in development at the 500-strong studio.
More hotly anticipated again are the first fruits of EA’s Stephen Spielberg collaboration – Boom Blox on Wii and the next-gen action adventure codenamed ‘LMNO’.
15. Capcom - £22.3m
Best-selling game of 2007: Lost Planet: Extreme Condition (£8.15m)
Nearly three decades old, and Capcom is still creating bestselling IPs with the enthusiasm of a start-up.
2007’s key addition to its legendary roster, Lost Planet: Extreme Condition, was successful across the world, but it was only one of 58 games the publisher released in 2007 in its native Japan, on every format going (it shipped 12 titles on PSP alone).
The secret to Capcom’s survival doesn’t just lie in its perennial invention, of course, but also exploiting the resulting franchises as remorselessly as EA Sports. Last year’s Resident Evil 4 remake for Wii is a universally applauded case in point; Bionic Commando (actually being developed in Sweden) should be 2008’s.
Capcom has well over 1,000 staff, but the same cadre of senior game designers keep doing the business – an interesting comparison to the slash-and-churn acquisition-driven business model of many of its Western peers.
16. Rebellion - £20.13m
Best-selling game of 2007: The Simpsons Game (£15.59m)
A superb placing for this key British indie, up from last year’s 77th position thanks to the strong performance of EA’s The Simpsons Movie tie-in.
Rebellion handled Wii, PS2, and PSP duties, with the Sony formats the usual destination for Rebellion’s output in recent times. However, the developer is actively shifting its focus more towards the now-established next-gen consoles, with Eidos’ Shellshock 2 for PS3 and Xbox 360 the first fruit. There’s also the potential for new games based on Rebellion’s 2000AD properties; it has regained the next gen rights for Rogue Trooper, for instance.
Rebellion aims to have around five products in development at once, with its proprietary Asura Technology a key component of its strategy. This year has also seen the studio move to house all these projects and its 280 staff under one roof at a purpose built studio in Oxford.
17. EA Redwood Shores - £19.99m
Best-selling game of 2007: MySims (£8.14m)
The developers at EA’s corporate headquarters continue their slide down the Develop 100, from fourth position back in 2005.
We’ve previously put the decline down to the publishers’ waning fortunes in the licensed games arena – EA lost Bond to Activision in 2006 – and certainly the success of MySims vindicates its public commitment to refocus on originality (especially if you’ve never played Animal Crossing…). MySims sold well on Wii and DS, and those revenues aren’t before licence fees – there are none payable, of course.
A further generous explanation: Redwood Shores has been working primarily with next-gen consoles, and the installed base was still growing in 2007. (Consider the relative weakness of The Simpsons on PS3 and Xbox 360, for illustration.) We’d expect 2008 to reverse this always-solid developers’ direction, with original IP Dead Space a key 2008 release.
18. Vicarious Visions - £17.56m
Best-selling game of 2007: Spider-Man 3 (£8.18m)
A drubbing by the reviewers wasn’t enough to squash Vicarious Visions’ Spider-Man 3, particularly its PS2 offering. Several DS titles from the erstwhile handheld specialist also performed well, underpinning a strong return to Develop 100 form for the wholly-owned Activision studio.
But it’s a DS game now in development, Guitar Hero: On Tour, which is causing most excitement. The game will ship with a plug-in ‘Guitar Grip’ controller, and Karthik Bala, Vicarious’ CEO and founder, promises more unique innovations to come in this summer’s handheld debut for the franchise.
Vicarious Visions is now entirely located in New York, after shutting down its Californian office last June. Details are scarce on other titles in development, but handheld versions of Activision’s 2008 portfolio are strong candidates. Following its parent’s merger, Blizzard’s IP might also be in the frame.
19. A2M - £17.5m
Best-selling game of 2007: High School Musical: Sing It! (£5.99m)
An Edge cover or a cult following on Kotaku is never going to trouble A2M for as long as it keeps making titles like High School Musical: Sing It!, Happy Feet or Scooby Doo: Unmasked.
But never mind the fanboys, feel the quantity. Somewhat like Eurocom in the UK, Quebec’s A2M (it stands for Artificial Mind and Movement) specialises in making the licensed games other developers avoid in their race to produce a 72nd first-person shooter, and it’s doing well from it. Just ask its swelling army of employees – now up to 450 – or Deloitte, which last year included A2M in its top 50 fastest-growing tech companies in Canada.
A2M doesn’t reveal much about upcoming releases. The Activision-published Spider-man: Friend or Foe on PSP and DS arrived as 2007 ended, but as for 2008, we expect more licences… and more sales.
20. Hudson Soft - £16.22m
Best-selling game of 2007: Mario Party 8 (£11.89m)
Hudson (since 2005 a subsidiary of Konami, its major shareholder) is increasingly big on handheld platforms; of 29 games it released in Japan last year, 19 were for DS. Now Japanese weekly Famitsu says the developer, already active on mobile, is targeting Apple’s iPod/iPhone platform, and notes it had an iPhone portal before Apple had even released its much-discussed SDK.
Back in the UK, the company’s 2007 hit sheet looks more familiar. Minority shareholder Nintendo continued to use Hudson for Mario Party duties, and while the reviewers weren’t always convinced, the Wii/DS demographic was perfect. Pundits may wonder if Bomberman’s becoming a damp squib, but it’s worth noting 2007’s Bomberman Story DS wasn’t released until year end in the UK, and a sequel to Land Touch has just come out.
Key projects underway at the company include would-be Wii Sports killer Sports Island.
21. London Studio - £16.1m
Best-selling game of 2007: Singstar Pop Hits (£3.27m)
With the SingStar series now into double figures, it’s no surprise to see five iterations taking over a £1million each in 2007. What was lacking were the original IPs Sony’s London Studio has traditionally nurtured.
The absence of a new The Getaway-style blockbuster is undoubtedly a factor in the studio’s steady slide down the Develop 100 rankings – from sixth place in 2005.
But this is the house studio of a format-holder, and PlayStation has been in transition. 2007’s figures don’t reflect what’s sure to be a long tail for London Studio’s SingStar PS3 debut and PlayStation Eye software. And you can’t discount the effort its 260 staff have been putting into the crucial Home.
Those blockbusters should return soon, too, with Eight Days and The Getaway for PS3 currently in development. Also in the pipeline are more camera-based games and SingStar titles.
22. Treyarch - £15.7m
Best-selling game of 2007: Call of Duty 3 (£8.86m)
With Activision’s transfer of Call of Duty responsibilities back to fellow in-house studio Infinity Ward having resulted in the critically sanctified Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare, Treyarch’s management might look at this year’s Develop 100 entry somewhat ruefully.
Having secured it twelfth position in last year’s listings, Treyarch’s 2006 take on the first-person shooter continued to do the business in 2007. In comparison, sales of its rather mediocre Spider-man 3 offerings, whilst respectable, weren’t enough to maintain its ranking.
Next year could reverse the decline if rumours that Treyarch is at work on Call of Duty 5 prove correct; with job vacancies at the Santa Monica-based currently including ‘Associate Producer - Call of Duty’, we suspect they are. Treyarch’s James Bond game is also due by Christmas, and a return to top-quality output would surely see the studio push back towards the top 10.
23. Intelligent Systems - £14.88m
Best-selling game of 2007: Wario Ware: Smooth Moves (£9.16m)
Wii owners’ ravenous appetite for the fifth instalment of the superb Wario Ware series coupled with strong sales of Super Paper Mario have together propelled Intelligent Systems back into the Develop 100. But of course this is hardly an overnight success for the 115-strong, Kyoto-based developer.
The studio – a wholly-owned internal development resource of Nintendo – has been operational since 1986. In the past 20 years it has been responsible for many classic Nintendo games, including all but the first Wario Ware titles as well as long-time Nintendo franchises such as Advance Wars, Fire Emblem and the previous incarnations of Paper Mario.
Also, almost a third (32) of its staff are female. Having just released the latest Advance Wars for DS the studio is known to be currently working on a version of Fire Emblem for Nintendo’s dual-screen machine. Further Wii titles are also presumably in development.
24. EA Salt Lake - £14.83m
Best-selling game of 2007: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 (£6.64m)
Until its acquisition by Electronic Arts at the end of 2006, the company now known as EA Salt Lake – formerly Headgate Studios – had a clear focus: to make great golf games.
The developer was responsible for all the Tiger Woods PGA Tour games from 2000 through to the present day, created golf games for Sierra before that, and founder Vance Cook previously programmed for Access Software, which two decades ago was the top dog in golf simulation.
While booming sales for the past two Tiger Woods outings suggest little has changed, it’s worth remembering that the official word at the time of purchase was EA had secured Headgate to ramp up its Wii output. 2008 should finally see evidence of that, with EA Salt Lake games based on Hasbro properties NERF N-Strike and Littlest Pet Shop due out in Autumn.
25. Sonic Team - £14.1m
Best-selling game of 2007: Sonic and the Secret Rings (£6.53m)
Sega’s Sonic Team lived up to its name again in 2007 – a roster of new and newish games based entirely on the 15-year old mascot.
If only the quality of these products matched their popularity. Sonic’s next-gen debut was panned, and reviews of Sonic and the Secret Rings on Wii were inconsistent. Only on the comparatively limited DS does Sonic live up to his past glories, and these were co-developed with longtime handheld collaborator Dimps.
But then, it’s been a difficult period for developer (which actually consists of several outfits, including a US division), having lost its legendary founder Yuji Naka in 2006 when he left with several staff to found PROPE.
Recent Sonic Team titles include Sonic Riders: Zero Gravity and the return of NiGHTS on Wii. And more Sonic is due – the team is no doubt aware that the pressure is on to produce something that reviews as well as it sells.
26. Rockstar Leeds - £13.75m
Best-selling game of 2007: Grand Theft Auto: Vice City Stories (£7.29m)
If PSP is the format the industry forgot, then this third Top 50 entry in a row for Rockstar Leeds should serve notice.
With its GTA games Rockstar Leeds delivered two of the few titles to really stretch Sony’s handheld, and it’s been rewarded with great sales. Yet both Vice City Stories and Liberty City Stories hit stores prior to 2007 (as did Midnight Club 3: Dub Edition). Such a shelf-life in games seems almost criminal.
A couple of PS2 and Wii SKUs hardly disguise the company’s love of big games writ small, so we anticipate more productions for PSP to come. While there’s no official news, the word from inside is that the 70-strong studio is developing its ‘best game ever’. Certainly the dwindling PSP hardcore will be watching this space 24/7; in the meantime new game-hungry PSP owners should ensure Rockstar Leeds retains its residency.
27. Insomniac Games - £13.5m
Best-selling game of 2007: Resistance: Fall of Man (£10.59m)
Providing the champagne for the launch of PS3, Insomniac’s Resistance took its fight into 2007. Ratchet and Clank provided strength in depth – completing a second next-gen game so swiftly after the launch title is no mean achievement.
Of course, this upstart turned PlayStation hitmaker has been raising eyebrows for as long as Sony has been making games consoles. Yet its headcount remains just 165 – with modest plans to push toward 180 by May.
Insomniac has been named one of the SHRM trade association’s top 10 Best Small Companies to Work for in America for three years in a row, thanks to flexible hours, and perks that even include yoga sessions. Other initiatives like the developer-driven podcast The Full Moon Show and a tie-in with ABC television were recently joined by the Nocturnal code sharing project announced at GDC and a viral music video promoting life at the studio.
28. Microsoft Game Studios - £13.47m
Best-selling game of 2007: Forza Motorsport 2 (£12.58m)
Microsoft’s Redmond games development unit has shot 61 places up the Develop 100 with the fabulous Forza Motorsport 2, the Xbox 360 sequel to the series’ equally excellent Xbox debut.
The internal team behind both products is the low-profile Turn 10 Studios. Xbox 360 fans and driving game developers working on rival platforms may be pleased to hear it has no plans to follow the path taken by fellow internal Bungie, which was detached from the software behemoth last October. (Studio manager Alan Hartman says amongst other things he doesn’t want to start worrying about ‘balancing the books’ by going it alone.)
With Microsoft’s games development strategy apparently in flux, we’ll wait and see. It would certainly seem reasonable to guess Forza 3 is on the slate, probably for 2009. In the meantime, Turn 10 regularly releases downloadable content for Forza 2.
29. Sports Interactive - £13.28m
Best-selling game of 2007: Football Manager 2008 (£8.46m)
Football Manager 2008, Sports Interactive’s fourth iteration of the reborn brand (its 15th football management game if you count its stewardship of Championship Manager) sold over 90,000 copies in its first seven days of release, and topped the UK PC charts for 13 weeks. Importantly there were no signs of critical standard slipping, either, with review marks typically well into the 90 per cent bracket.
The company is hardly taking it easy, though. For 2008, its Web 2.0-cum-footie management mashup Football Manager Live should rejuvenate its audience, having already reunited the studio’s founding Collyer brothers for the first time in years. Elsewhere, the company’s ever inventive approach to self-promotion saw it launch a Football Manager podcast, chaired by irrepressible studio head Miles Jacobson.
While it’s slipped from last year’s 18th, armchair pundits wouldn’t bet against SI moving back up the league in 2009.
30. Game Freak - £12.88m
Best-selling game of 2007: Pokemon Diamond (£7.25m)
Pokemon’s DS debut didn’t just refresh the catch-’em-ups legs, it showed how it will evolve for years to come thanks to WiFi battling and trading. Who says you can’t teach an old Pikachu new tricks?
With 12-year old Pokemon the second best-selling game franchise of all time (after Mario), we wonder whether Game Freak’s 50-odd staff arrive at their Tokyo offices by limousine? According to Japan’s weekly Famitsu, company policy is for everyone to contribute game ideas, not just designers or producers, which is one way of keeping down the desk count. Home console duties go to Genius Sonority, the Ranger games and WiiWare outings are also farmed out, and the upcoming Pokémon Mystery Dungeon for DS is a familiar subterranean spin-off from developer Chunsoft.
We presume Game Freak will deliver more Pokemon title for DS soon enough. It also busies itself consulting for other companies.