Develop 100: Profiles of the top 10

Develop 100: Profiles of the top 10

By Develop

April 10th 2008 at 9:43AM

With our Develop 100 list already turning heads and raising eyebrows the world over, weâ??re running all the associated editorial online. Here, we kick start things with profiles of the top ten companies in the bookâ?¦

[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.]


1. Nintendo - £129.83m
Best-selling game in 2007: Dr Kawashima's Brain Training (£21.22m)

Perhaps unsurprisingly, Nintendo storms to the top of the charts after what marked a renaissance year for the company, with its Wii completing a tide-change sparked by the DS two years previously.

What’s most interesting about the titles developed by the numerous teams at Nintendo’s HQ in Kyoto, Japan, isn’t their highly-regarded quality level or innovative content – but how they actually buck sales trends.

For all of the key titles listed left which were released prior to 2007, sales revenues have gone up year on year – there are no economic long tails here. The first Brain Training made £21.22m at UK retail in 2007 – more than double the £9.61m made the year previously, for instance. New Super Mario Bros kept things ticking over also, making £14.68m in 2007, a few million more than 2006’s £12.72m.

Part of this trend will be undoubtedly bound closely to Nintendo’s savvy marketing of its hardware platforms, which have been sustained successes year-round and brought with it more and more new players buying must-own games such as the best sellers listed opposite. But it’s also part of an interesting change in Nintendo’s IP strategy, where its traditional key character-based games, the Marios and the Zeldas of the world, are no longer the sole flagships to be relied upon.

Of course, this list excludes one key Nintendo title which has been praised year-round but gets no revenue credit: pack-in game Wii Sports, which is owned by every Western Wii owner and is one of the most popular pieces of software at the moment, despite never having sold a single unit in Europe or the US (but it is sold separately in Japan).

It’s worth noting also that Nintendo has performed impressively in the Develop 100 since we started four years ago. The company has gone from a relatively pitiful (for such an esteemed company) number 28 in 2004, at a point when the GameCube was all but dead, to the top spot, dethroning stalwart ruler EA Canada on the way. In that time, its revenue growth has been against market trends also, the company often growing revenues by over 200 per cent year on year at times when the UK market’s overall growth was flat or only up by a few percent.

For the 2009 Develop 100, we’re predicting that Nintendo will once again sit at the top of the listing, given that staple games Smash Bros and Mario Kart are due and new game Wii Fit and its new Balance Board peripheral will reach out to mass-market consumers the way Brain Training has.


2. EA Canada - £68.78m
Best-selling game in 2007: FIFA 08 (£48.14m)

Nintendo’s stampede to the top has one high-profile victim: the now-bruised ego of EA Canada, which has to settle for second place after a three-year stint at the top of the Develop 100.

As predicted in last year’s book, corporate changes at Electronic Arts have seen EA Canada and EA Black Box allowed their own individuality, with the two having clear separate entries in the 2008 Develop 100. It was at EA’s request that we separated the two for this year’s book, a decision which partly explains why EA Canada only accounts for £68.78m in revenues in this year’s book (down from £115m). But its worth bearing in mind that even if Black Box’s £37.31m were included the total wouldn’t trump Nintendo’s £129m.

So second place is not to be sniffed at, especially when this entry no longer has the likes of Need For Speed to rely on.

Instead, the studio’s trademark franchise FIFA continued to do the business – its 2008 iteration in fact making almost £10m more in three months of release than its 2007 counterpart did during the same number of months a year previously. With FIFA 08 bucking critical trends and (according to Metacritic) scoring much better than erstwhile rival Pro Evolution Soccer’s 2008 instalment, the success is well deserved, and puts paid to that eternal speculation that Konami could out-do EA at its own game (for now at least).

Of course, it’s little wonder that FIFA 08 arrived as such a polished product – the EA Canada operation is a behemoth, with a perfected production ecosystem that supports its thousand-strong workforce; this is the studio which boasts a well-established mocap studio, over 20 rooms for music composing, almost as many video editing suites, and a QA department – all supporting three games teams.

Its art and production pipeline, designed for supporting these games of scale designed to sell in the millions, is impressive also. There’s been a widely-reported investment in next-gen tools and tech specifically tailored to character behaviour in sports games at EA for some time. This includes proprietary motion and facial technology UCAP.

For the 2009 entry, expect more of the same, but also something new: for all the striving for realism, new IP Facebreaker promises to show EA Canada’s more playful side via a stylised/cartoony next-gen boxing game that aims to offer as many comedic jibes as it does counter-punches.


3. Ubisoft Montreal - £52.17m

Best-selling game in 2007: Assassin’s Creed (£27.91m)

Much like Assassin’s Creed hero Altair steadily scaling the walls of a medieval castle, his creator Ubisoft Montreal climbs back up the Develop 100, after a slip to number ten last year (it was number six in the 2006 edition).

It’s that game specifically which helps the mammoth studio claim third place. Although not the best-selling release in this book (that honour still goes to major franchises like FIFA, Call of Duty and Halo), Assassin’s Creed was 2007 biggest-selling new IP; excellent work for a game only available on Xbox 360 and PlayStation 3 at release.

A recently released PC port and DS spin-off of Assassin’s Creed are helping keep the franchise alive – and a sequel is a no brainer. Ubisoft Montreal specifically used the
new adventure title to help form the template of and art and production pipeline that would be rolled out across the rest of the studio, which employs almost 2,000 staff in an abandoned factory in Montreal.

Elsewhere, licensed titles continue to provide a nice sideline for Ubisoft’s massive studio. The Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles spin-off did a respectable £4.68m at UK retail – next year’s entry will be boosted by the Lost TV tie-in.

Of course, the real story behind the studio’s growth is down to its key involvement in the Quebec region’s games tax credits – a scheme originally designed so Ubisoft specifically could prosper and which has since aided the rapid growth of a diverse games industry in both Montreal and nearby Quebec City. In fact, renewed dealings with the government have meant Ubisoft plans to be much closer to 3,000 staff by 2010, with a chunk of staff using that tools pipeline to build the Ubisoft Digital Arts Studio, dedicated solely to CG film production.

Word on the originally mooted Assassin’s Creed animated short from that team is now scarce. Instead it’s possible Ubisoft is now targeting full-length feature production with CEO Yves Guillemot recently saying the company has aspirations to make a Tom Clancy-branded movie now it has purchased perpetuity rights to the author’s name for future use.

And the Clancy brand certainly has been kind to Ubisoft Montreal – Rainbow Six: Vegas was the studio’s other big seller in 2007. Sales of the recently-released sequel to Vegas, plus the long awaited (and delayed) fifth instalment of Splinter Cell, should help boost the coffers to keep the Montreal team here in the top ten for the 2009 Develop 100.


4. Konami - £41.67m

Best-selling game in 2007: Pro Evolution Soccer 2008 (£26.65m)

Although it does hold fast in its position at number three, revenues generated by Konami’s development teams are almost the same as 2006 (we had them down for £43.2m last year).

It’s a fairly unassuming place for one of Japanese games development’s longest-running companies. Perhaps unfortunately (for Develop 100 profile writers at least) its release schedule is predictable almost to the point of tedium – with bread and butter franchise Pro Evolution Soccer once again accounting for the bulk of the firm’s revenues.

2007 saw a slight slip for the franchise, though – for the first time in a while, FIFA 08 trounced it critically and technically as well as financially. And the 2008 iteration (this was the first year it followed the EA-style year-based titling) made slightly less in terms of revenues when compared to the franchise’s performance in the same time period a year previously.

Blame it on the transition to next-gen – Konami bosses certainly did have an issue with the switch to newer formats, canning a number of PS3 and Wii games in early 2007 – some reviews of Pro Evo 2008 pinpointed key performance issues, and too much reliance on former glories as a PS2 title as stumbling points for the new next-gen console version.

Consider that just a one-off momentary lapse, however. Konami is a vast business in its Japanese homeland, consisting not just of its interests as a well-known maker of video games but also a gyms and fitness technology subsidiary (which is ripe to take advantage of the Wii Balance Board, we reckon) and manufacturing interests creating diverse consumer trinkets like Star Trek figurines. At the end of 2007 the firm said it had seen double digit growth, with its digital games division being a key driver. CEO Kagemasa Kozuki recently told investors that, following an April 2007 corporate merging of key Japanese offices previously scattered across Tokyo, the firm was now fully poised to efficiently capitalise on the changed Japanese market and global tastes.

Hideo Kojima’s Metal Gear Solid 4, produced by his studio Kojima Productions, will potentially be the first game to validate the CEO’s words. Built exclusively for PS3, and in gestation for a number of years, it’s targeting a global release (unusual for Konami, which normally releases the Metal Gear titles in Europe around three months after their Japanese debut) – and should sell sufficiently well to ensure Konami claims a high place in the Develop 100 top ten next year.


5. Infinity Ward - £39.60m
Best-selling game in 2007: Call of Duty 4: Modern Warfare (£38.54m)

With one of the biggest jumps in this year’s chart, Infinity Ward scales 38 places from last year’s 43rd to a comfy place in the top ten. It’s all thanks to one game – Call of Duty 4. And it makes sense that the studio finally gets a high-placing off the back of the excellent franchise it created.

The team was founded in 2002 by 22 team members of 2015, the studio which produced Medal of Honor: Allied Assault. At the time the ambitious renegades proclaimed that they would better their work in the field of WW2 shooters with a rival effort – and clearly they have succeeded. (Although the latest iteration is in fact the first to boast a ‘Modern Warfare’ setting, taking players through locations more typical of those found in a ‘War on Terror’ news report rather than those described in a history book.)

In 2003, the studio was quickly acquired after its founding by Activision when it became clear that the first Call of Duty was a strong new IP. Since then, Infinity Ward has been responsible for many of the key iterations of the franchise, but not all. Activision stablemate Treyarch made Call of Duty 3 and console spin-off Big Red One, a production pattern which means that Infinity Ward won't be looking after the fifth Call of Duty; instead its attentions have gone straight to the sixth game, while Treyarch produces a WW2-flavoured fifth game in the franchise.

Freedom, minimal constraints and individuality (even when part of the Activision Studios empire) seems to be a key mantra for the studio. It insists on doing everything in-house, with no outsourcing, and lots of proprietary technology. And it was keen to jetisson the World War 2 setting used by its previous games in order to free up the team to create an experience with an original – and many players say ultimately more gripping – storyline that didn't have to adhere to historical detail.

Despite the critical plaudits, however, the studio remains modest. It has an relatively small number of staff (by next-gen standards), with its core team having yet to trouble the 150-mark (although the credits for the game of course name the vast number of people across the Activision business that supported the production, including its QA division). Plus, if you ask the team about the huge success of Call of Duty 4 they say it was unexpected; so just imagine what the team might manage if it targets the huge success that is no doubt expected for its next game.


6. EA Black Box
Best-selling game in 2007: Need for Speed: ProStreet (£20.71m)

As we explain in the entry for EA Canada, a change to EA’s studio philosophy – now favouring the ‘city state’-style approach to structure and organisation – EA Black Box is extrapolated from the combined entry for Electronic Arts and gets its first entry in the Develop 100 this year.

Sixth place on your first go is certainly impressive, but hardly a surprise given that this is the studio which has stewardship over the Need For Speed franchise. It is games from that series which keep Black Box high in the listing with the 2006 and 2007 iterations Carbon and ProStreet raking in over £30m between them during 2007.

Despite ProStreet getting consistent reviews year-on-year and a reasonably similar SKU spread to its predecessor (Black Box produced the GameCube and PSP versions of Carbon as well), the game didn’t make as much revenue in the last two months of 2007 as Carbon did in the last few months of 2006. That’s probably not a sign of waning of the Need For Speed franchise, though, given that last year saw the racing genre pinched with a flood of other quality releases like new Forza and Project Gotham games. (Although, five instalments into the series’ modding revamp and it’s fair to say the zeitgeist once capitalised by the franchise since its Undergound episode isn’t as hot as it once was.)

Nevertheless, Need For Speed is a flagship product for Black Box and a Canadian champion – originally invented by Vancouver-based Distinctive Developments, which EA acquired in 1991, the game has been developed in the city ever since. Given that the latest version made significant in roads on next-gen – ProStreet sales on PS3 and 360 (at £11.87m – £5.41m for the Sony platform and £6.46m for the Microsoft one) are almost double those of the PS2 version (£6.80m) – a sequel is of course in the works, possibly exclusively targeting those formats.

The same success can be seen in new skating IP Skate. Although it didn’t do Need For Speed numbers, it trounced last year’s Tony Hawks next-gen iteration in terms of both revenues (£3.22m versus Neversoft’s £1.62m for Tony Hawks Project 8 – see page 71) and review scores. Plus, EA Black Box says that there’s more to come in the new IP stakes, with other concepts set to debut and sit comfortably alongside its now-respected repertoire of NFS, Skate and the slightly more niche NBA Street.


7. Maxis - £36.84m

Best-selling game in 2007: The Sims 2: Castaway (£8.13m)

Maxis, the studio co-founded by renowned designer Will Wright has been part of EA since its acquisition in 1997 – and a staple of the Develop 100 top ten since we started the book four years ago. When it’s the studio that created The Sims that’s hardly a surprise.

But with seventh being Maxis’ lowest ever slot in the list (it’s usually in the top five) could this be the last year the studio sits in the upper echelons? It’s hard to say – although The Sims is one of those few games that defies traditional sales patters to sells bountifully year-round across its core releases and their numerous expansions, EA Redwood Shores is the developer of The Sims 3 (due in 2009) and 2007’s Wii/DS game MySims. And The Sims: Pets was the last expansions to boast a Maxis logo on the box. Back catalogue sales should ensure that Maxis has an enviable slot somewhere in this ranking in future, however.

And of course there’s Spore to come in 2008 as well. The game, in the works for close to five years, is the only project apparently being toiled on by the Maxis team now (which was folded into the EA Redwood Shores building in 2004) – but might be a bit of a wild-card in the sales stakes. At least at first; although set to sell strongly to the PC set which have avidly followed the game since its GDC 2005 reveal, it’s not yet known how quickly, if at all, the game Wright himself dubbed ‘SimEverything’ will catch a mass audience the way The Sims did. A push across multiple formats, however, will ensure potency of the brand and concept, but perhaps not for Maxis: the DS version is handled by a team at independent ‘superdeveloper’ Foundation 9. (Maxis, or a team very close to it, is however looking after the mobile/iPhone spin off, and a Wii version has been mooted also.)

That’s not the biggest part of the Maxis story, however – instead it’s the corporate travails of Electronic Arts which have spelt out a more interesting profile of the team which created The Sims. Since returning to the company as CEO, John Riccitiello has restructured it around four core labels – EA Sports, EA Games, EA Casual and The Sims. Devoting a whole publishing wing to the franchise may initially seem like fanciful reward for a team that has always done the business, but in fact the opposite is the case; EA’s corporate rulers want the rest of its business to operate with the same independent spirit that produced The Sims and kept it buoyant. High praise indeed.


8. Bungie - £31.45m
Best-selling game in 2007: Halo 3 (£30.88m)

What a year 2007 ended up being for Bungie. In fact, you can boil the importance of 2007 to Bungie to a key period from September to October.

Firstly, the third and final part of its Halo trilogy arrived at retail in September and was the best selling game on 360 (and according to Microsoft the bestselling game of 2007, although Activision disputes that and says its Call of Duty 4 shifted more units globally).

With continued support for the game via regular downloadable content, Halo 3 has proven to be one of the most ambitious next-gen games so far in terms of community and multiplayer; the game’s customisable Forge element is driven by user-tweaked maps while the game continues to hold the top spot on the Xbox Live most-played list.

Ambition is something that Bungie is no stranger to, of course, given its pioneering Bungie.net site set the template for online game stat tracking and information collation back when Halo 2 was released. But it’s an attitude that permeates every part of the studio’s management, as October saw an almost unprecedented turn of events for the in-house team as it left the comfy confines of Microsoft Game Studios and became and independent developer once again.

Although keen to see itself as separate from the other teams working on Xbox titles for Microsoft, the studio nevertheless retains a creative deal binding it to more games for the format. More Halo-related titles and new IPs are already confirmed to be in the works.

Still, the deal was a one-of-a-kind move which others may envy, but a headline-grabbing move only Bungie could pull off – and something that was probably needed. Having already split away into its own offices away from the Microsoft ones, Bungie always set its own rules in the first place.

And that’s true of how it runs itself, as well. That every desk has wheels attached so team members can move around freely as a project changes size and shape is no development urban myth. Plus, leads at the firm say that the company is run truly democratically, with sharing a priority ­– be that of ideas, credit for work, or profits.

Halo fans may be hungry for more Master Chief, but now that the studio has cast off the Microsoft shackles watchers will be more closely looking out for the promised new IP, the first original game to come from the Seattle-based team in over five years. Whatever it is, expect it to make a big splash and sell well.


9. Sega Studios Japan - £27.70m
Best-selling game in 2007: Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games (£17.07m)

A number of Sega’s Japanese outfits – all except Sonic Team – are incorporated into one entry here, at the request of Sega itself, in order to properly represent the more unified nature of the firm’s development teams in its homeland.

Of course, incorporation or not, the company was guaranteed a high place in the Develop 100 thanks to the success of its Sports & Design R&D team’s Mario & Sonic at the Olympic Games, which makes up over two thirds of the total revenues made by the teams which sit under the Sega Studios Japan banner.

A project originally conceived by those at Sega Europe brokering the deal over rights to the Olympics licence, the game made mascot history, pitting 16-bit rivals Mario and Sonic against each other in one game.

Mario & Sonic was ultimately a key release for the Wii in Europe, where Sonic especially has real brand durability – and the game will presumably help Sega Studios Japan claim another high-ranking place next year, given that the title will no doubt keep selling right up to the 2008 Beijing Olympics, and that a DS version is now available as well. (Sega is also preparing to publish another Olympics game as well, UK studio Eurocom’s more traditional sporting game for next-gen consoles.)

But it wasn’t just the Mario & Sonic team that made the money for Sega – its Hitmaker and AM2 teams continue to do respectable business with their tennis and fighting instalments in the Virtua franchise. Overall, generating close to £6m from two famed franchises on next-gen is a respectable achievement, especially given that that success has been repeated around the world.

Unfortunately, the same can’t be said some of Sega Studios Japan’s other native successes which haven’t translated that well to the West. GTA-style Japanese mafia game Yakuza, developed by Super Monkey Ball creator Toshihiro Nagoshi is a firm favourite in Japan, and is now on its third iteration, but sells considerably less elsewhere.

Either way, these teams are the bright stars of the Sega Studios Japan organisation. Instead, pity those with less successful games – they may be the victims of recently announced layoffs confirmed by parent Sega Sammy, which said was terminating 400 employment contracts as losses hit $242m.


10. Traveller’s Tales - £27.06m
Best-selling game in 2007: Transformers: The Game (£10.61m)

Another studio that has regularly sat in the Develop 100 top ten, Traveller’s Takes a slide down from five last year but just about clings on to a place at the top.

Although propelled by back catalogue sales of Lego Star Wars titles and the poorly reviewed, but nevertheless commercially successful, Transformers movie tie-in, the studio is lucky – Ubisoft France (number 11) comes in with revenues of just a few million pounds less.

Transformers, the official game of the Michael Bay blockbuster, was put together in close collaboration with the movie’s special effects team, with art assets shared between the two. But given the game had a critical drubbing (despite whatever technical finesse) Lego remains the jewel­ ­– or, rather, the red brick ­­– in the TT crown. Which must be good news for those publishers the upcoming Indiana Jones and Batman brick-based spin-offs are being made for. Both are due later in 2008 and will no doubt sell well enough to keep Traveller’s Tales high in this listing for another year.

However in 2007 Traveller’s Tales dalliances with Hollywood licences went a step further, with the TT Games group (formed from a merger between Lego rights-holder Giant Interactive and Traveller’s Tales in 2005) acquired by Warner Bros Interactive.

Now a comfortable part of that movie studio’s increasingly ambitious games operation, TT execs assure us that they retain some independence (indeed, it’s currently finishing up another Narnia title for Disney Interactive). The purchase, said to be valued well past the £100m mark, is a great move for Warner Bros., which now owns one of the most respected studios in the UK and one of the few globally to have a consistent track record in making games based on licensed titles.

Traveller’s Tales itself was happy to splash the cash in 2007, continuing to invest in its future. In January 2007 it bought independent developer Embryonic. Focused on Nintendo’s formats, the team has been fully integrated into the Traveller’s Tales studio and renamed to Fusion.

Five months later, TT acquired motion capture outfit Centroid, which studio head Jon Burton says not only supports new projects but could help the studio move towards making animated films when coupled with its new Hollywood connections. And most recently, the company moved into a new custom-built studio. Now that’s empire building in the classic sense, with Traveller’s Tales putting things together brick by brick.

ABOUT THE DEVELOP 100

The Develop 100 ranks the world’s game developers according to the revenues their products generated through UK retail. The figures come directly from ChartTrack data. Retailers contributing to ChartTrack’s data represent 90 to 95 per cent of all UK retail sales for games and the figures have been weighted up so as to accurately represent the market as a whole. Figures are based on sales of all games available on the market at all price points and on all formats (PS2, PS3, PSone, PSP, Xbox, Xbox 360, GameCube, GBA, Nintendo DS, Wii, PC and Mac) during the year 31/12/2006 to 29/12/2007.