After much deliberation, the Develop staff name the 25 people reshaping the games development business as we know itâ?¦Click here to read the background and methodology to this list and to also provide your comments, thoughts and suggestions.
Iwata’s hand in Nintendo’s renaissance is significant. The DS and Wii have been phenomenal hits, but the initial surprise on their unveiling was all part of his careful plan to disrupt the norms of the games industry. It was a lesson he learnt during his days as a coder for Nintendo subsidiary HAL, where he and his colleagues would deliberately aim to make that which Miyamoto would not in order to keep their games fresh. This approach works: the devices he launched as president have reached out to new audiences and spurred an industry-wide thumbs up of the casual set, encouraging developers to make more physically demanding and lower cost experiences. His next target is getting more development talent supporting Nintendo: the imminent unveiling of download service WiiWare should help bridge the gaps between the casuals and the hardcore developers.
As head of Warner Brothers Games (full title: senior vice president, development and production, Warner Bros Interactive Entertainment) Samantha Ryan may well have the best and also the hardest senior management job in game development. As part for Warner, she’s amidst the media firm’s billion-dollar assault on the games industry – but she’s also the one who has to legitimise it in the eyes of spectators. She’s already promised a smarter use of owned IP and selective growth of new IP. While some help might come from the recently-acquired TT Games/Traveller’s Takes and its LEGO licence, all eyes are on Ryan, the WB Games production team she has recently established, and Seattle-based WB-owned studio Monolith which she also oversees, to deliver. Upcoming shooter Project Origin, developed by Monolith, should be the first step.
Greer founded and is CEO of Kongregate.com, an online portal for Flash games that is driven by community features and encourages developers to upload their own creations. The site has helped give joint focus to both the user-generated games content and Flash development scenes, turning people like Paul Preece (developer of favourite Desktop Tower Defense) into stars amongst those in the know and also targeting a mass of games players. Lessons learnt in 17 years making online games for big industry names – Greer worked on Ultima 7 & 8 (Origin), NetStorm: Islands at War (Activision), was in charge of web games at Shockwave.com in 2000 and moved to Electronic Arts in 2001 as technical director of pogo – have helped build a destination on the web that really does reward developers with profits from innovative short session games that players love to play.
Back when the first person dreamt up the idea of a gaming degree, the rapid snapping up of Swift and her fellow student team mates must have been exactly what they’d envisioned. That Portal, the game she would then go on to commandeer, would be widely regarded as the freshest, funniest and overall best game of 2007 – a year unprecedented for gaming experiences – would have exceeded even their imaginations. Swift is proof that gaming academia can be relevant and an asset to the industry, and a one-fingered salute to those studios reticent to hire graduates. The way Swift managed Portal into become a smart melding of both an excellent gameplay mechanic and great writing (suppied by scribe Erik Wolpaw) and advocating a shorter playtime, make her work much admired and undoubtedly closely watched. And it’s only her first ‘proper’ game.
Creating Final Fantasy – one of the most popular franchises of all time – might be enough reason for his inclusion in this list, but it’s what he did after that interests us the most. Sakaguchi’s Mistwalker is the pinnacle of the oft-championed Hollywood model, steering the creation of multiple large-scale triple-A titles each year by maintaining the core creative team in-house and outsourcing the development to a single studio. Releasing several games a year keeps Sakaguchi at the forefront of the Japanese gaming media – something Microsoft clearly recognised when it employed Sakaguchi as the spearhead of their Japanese offensive.
There are plenty of brother-based game companies, but few of them can have experienced the remarkable rise of Avni, Faruk and Cevat Yerli. Although Crytek was founded in 1999 it debut title Far Cry wasn’t released until 2004. These were the hard, learning years. Since then the combination of highly regarded Crysis, released via EA, plus the Frankfurt relocation and growth of Crytek’s German HQ, establishment of Kiev and Budapest-based sister studios and the commercial launch of middleware CryENGINE 2 demonstrates the financial nous of ex-engineer Avni, in terms of providing a solid commercial foundation for the company’s future.
The progress of Valve’s digital distribution platform Steam in the past year has been overwhelming, with almost every major publisher using the independent developer’s service to sell games online. Holtman’s hand in this is not to be underestimed – he works with outside teams chasing Steam distribution. He also helps those looking to licence Valve’s Source engine. The former lawyer has helped turn Steam into an attractive business complement, and a continued perfect fit for any business, whether they are are a huge multinational publisher or a small independent developer. That’s hugely impressive.
With an academic background in evolutionary and adaptive systems, Torsten Reil’s sure-footed development of NaturalMotion, the company of which he was a co-founder, now CEO, and its underlying technology, marks one of the success stories of UK middleware. Its first product Endorphin was used by dozens of film special effect studios, as well as game developers, to provide realistic-looking animation. But it’s Euphoria, a runtime animation component that’s been used in GTA IV and new Star Wars and Indiana Jones games, that highlights the company’s potential. Development of its own game, Backbreaker, shows wider ambitions.
When you’ve been in control of a company for 16 years and delivered 16 years of revenue growth, you could be forgiven for being self-satisfied. Add in moves such as the $100 million Guitar Hero acquisition – something expected to generate over $360 million this year – and most execs would be smug. But Activision’s position in second place behind EA encouraged Bobby Kotick to pull off the industry’s most watched and ambitious deal, the merger between Activision and Blizzard. It’s a measure of his standing as a financially astute operator that he remains at the helm of combined $18.9 billion behemoth, despite Activision’s minority stake.
Sixteen years is a long time to continually run a games company. But perhaps what’s most impressive about Michael Morhaime’s focus on high quality games that are only ever released when they are deemed ready, is the fact Blizzard has been a fully-owned studio since 1994. Its ‘By gamers, for gamers’ approach has been fully vindicated, however. And as well as multi-million selling successes such as World of Warcraft, Diablo and Starcraft, the merger of Vivendi and Activision has redefined Blizzard as the world’s most valuable single development unit, and Morhaime himself as one of the most powerful figures in the industry.
The commercialisation of academic smarts has historically proved remarkably difficult, especially into the games industry. So, considering his background as a researcher in astrophysics at Cambridge University, Chris Doran perhaps seemed an unlikely figure to kickstart one of the most exciting UK middleware companies. But two years on, he’s developed ideas into products, raised over £2 million in funding, bought in industry veterans including ex-Sony boss Chris Derring, and is now ready to launch real-time lighting solution Enlighten at GDC. And that’s only the start. The company has plenty of other areas to investigate. Watch this space.
There’s not much Rod Cousens hasn’t seen during his 26 years of management toil. From heading Activision’s international presence in the ‘80s to the rise and fall of Acclaim, he’s experienced both the good and the bad. Still, the high octane ride of guiding the once globally-unambitious family-run Codemasters toward its forthcoming IPO has demonstrated that the old silver fox can pull off new tricks. Cousens has overseen growth into MMOG and casual markets, establishing a North American presence, plus approved a £40 million investment supporting bold internal initiatives such as new engine EGO.
It’s almost impossible to separate the two-headed management team of BioWare but if forced, Ray Muzyka takes it by a nose. As well as his development role, he deals with the finance and operations side of the business, which provides a textbook example of how to take a small start-up to global success. Of course, the focus has always been the quality of the games, but under Muzyka’s guidance, the BioWare name itself became a powerful brand too, resulting in the Pandemic and Electronic Arts deals. And, as if to underline his smarts, he’s gained an MBA and won the Celebrity Poker Tournament at DICE.
To anyone who’s played genre (and some would say era) defining games such as Doom and Quake, Carmack’s influence on gaming hardly needs introduction, having been one of the few people on the very front lines of the technological revolutions. While id’s tech leadership may have recently been challenged by Epic’s Unreal Engine 3, id are fighting back with Tech 5, driven by Carmack’s visions of future technology – an almost self fulfilling prophecy, given how he helps to shape the technology itself. But it's his love of low-specced machines that is of most interest, most recently leading to the opening of id’s new mobile studio overseen by his wife, Katherine Anna Kang.
Turning round a failing publisher doesn’t gain you many plaudits, particularly if you were president during the troubled days. But despite some rocky moments, the restructuring plan of Majesco’s Jesse Sutton means he has plenty to be proud of. Since he took over the role of CEO in summer 2006, when the company was haemorrhaging cash with losses of over $70 million, he’s steadied the ship and dealt with shareholder lawsuits and Nasdaq non-compliance. And proof can be seen in the way Majesco has ridden the wave of DS and Wii success, as well as opportunities provided by digital distribution such as Steam.
There comes a time, even in the most independently-minded developer’s life, when you think about selling out. And not always in a derogatory sense – a well-timed transfer of ownership for cash and medium term stability is smart business. So it was after 13 years of fiercely-guarded self-determination, that Bizarre Creations’ commercial director Sarah Chudley handled the company’s acquisition by Activision. A process no doubt smoothed as she’s married to MD Martyn Chudley, the deal was nevertheless remarkable as much for being a negotiation from a position of strength as it was a surprise to the rest of the industry.
There’s can be little argument that Mark Rein is one of the most opinionated players in the games industry. But don’t let his populist style confuse you with a lack of insight. Thanks to Epic’s position at the crossroads of game and technology, he’s also very well informed, and that’s what makes him powerful. For, as well as working with the console manufacturers, he knows what many publishers and developers are up to having seen behind the curtains when selling them tools. Throw in the Unreal Integrated Partners Program, which is now a major channel for middleware vendors, and there’s little outside his sphere of influence.
With a CV spanning Imagine Software to MD positions at Psygnosis and Sony and executive roles at Evolution Studios and sister studio Bigbig (and not forgetting middleware company Digimask), Ian Hetherington is one of UK gaming’s longest-serving eminence grise. He now probably spends more time on fast cars than gaming, especially since assisting with the sale of Evolution and Bigbig Studios to Sony in autumn 2007, but he remains involved at ambitious Scottish developer Realtime World. And having raised $31 million of funding in late 2006, it’s preparing for the release of anticipated GTA-meets-MMOG All Points Bulletin sometime this year.
Unless you’re into PDA and smartphone games you probably won’t have heard of Howard Tomlinson, although if you’ve ever spoken to the jovial and bearded CEO you don’t forget him in a hurry. Having set up developer Astraware in 2000 to make games for Palm PDAs, he’s steadily grown the company into the big fish in a small pond, adding support for new devices as well as signing licensing and OEM deals. Involved in development, including versions of Bejeweled (including the iPod one), and publishing and reselling across 100 countries, it’s a measure of his success that Astraware has just been bought by US concern Handmark.
The description ‘the nicest man in the industry’ could be considered a backhanded putdown, but, temperament aside, as Jonathan Smith’s track record proves, he’s also one of the smartest. From early involvement on Codemasters’ Operation: Flashpoint to his key work putting together the LEGO Star Wars deal, he’s managed to combine commercial success with high quality games. What’s often forgotten when considering the impact of LEGO Star Wars is his input into features like co-operative gaming, and the titles’ English humour. With LEGO Batman and Indiana Jones in the works, it’s no wonder Warners Bros. paid top dollar for TT Games.
While Ubisoft’s continued expansion and success of its product slate can be attributed to a variety of people across the firm, including CEO Yves Guillemot, it is Burgess-Quémard who driving the success of the firm’s development teams as worldwide president of studios. She joined Ubisoft in 1987, opening its first USA office and then moved to head the UK business unit. This and a stint as the publisher’s International Sales Director has given her a global view that’s clearly being utilised. In the past two years she has overseen Ubisoft’s tactical territorial growth, tapping into key areas such as the UK, Eastern Europe, China, Japan and North Africa via new studios and acquisitions.
An MIT graduate, Rigopoulos and fellow classmate Eran Egozy teamed up in 1995 to mix business with their pleasure (music) and technical skills. The studio’s early cult hits Frequency and Amplitude were really just the sound of the orchestra warming up. His studio’s next salvo, Guitar Hero was then the opening act, creating for eventual owner Activision (which acquired GH publisher Red Octane) a $1bn franchise. Selling out to MTV at the breakthrough act point was a shrewd move. Milking the new management’s music industry contacts and forging a distribution deal with EA has demonstrated a huge stroke of smart independent studio business thinking and an enviable DLC model.
John Riccitiello isn’t just the man that helped turn EA into the colossus of industry that it is today, he’s also the man who is embarking on modernising it. On returning to the post of CEO last year he initiated a still-in-progress restructure, which splits the company into labels based on the games they make and hopefully shortens the distance between developers and audience. Rivals are keenly watching as the firm tones up its organisation, with one or two offices closed and new IP sped into production at others. EA DICE’s Play4Free Battlefield Heroes is the latest example of tackling a new business model. EA could well be a different beast – more agile, creating more relevant games – once Riccitiello is done tweaking it.
Another of the big media firms making a serious play for the games pie, Disney has a warchest of some $350m ready to splast on games in the coming years – and Hopper is the man spending it via a repeatedly stated strategy to balance a portfolio of new IPs and games based on Disney brands. Hopper and his staff are no doubt seeking the games version of Pirates of the Caribbean, a title that can perhaps beget a variety of or cross-media activity around it, and it will be when they find it (or create it) that the rest of the industry will sit up and pay attention. Key acquisitions – UK-based Black Rock (formerly Climax Racing) and Warren Spector’s Junction Point – prove the talent is on his side.
Former LucasArts veteran Connors co-founded Telltale in 2004 – and the timing was almost perfect. Newly emerging online distribution services, such as Turner’s Gametap, were just finding their feet, but needed exclusive content. Enter Telltale’s desire to create episodic adventures in the ilk of those its exec team cut their teeth on at Lucas. After testing the model with a PC adventure title based on comic book Bone, it was Connors and co. rescuing the Sam and Max IP from their former employers which proved the masterstroke. With the series now on its second season, Telltale is still the only studio to have realised the often talked about but hardly achieved episodic model.
So, that's our 25. But have we missed anyone? Let us know your thoughts by posting a comment here or emailing Michael.French@intentmedia.co.uk