Key profiles of lucrative studios
This month we've published the 2010 edition of the Develop 100.
Published in association with Deep Silver and based on data compiled by GfK Chart-Track, the Develop 100 ranks the world's games developers based on the amount of revenues their games generated at UK retail.
The Develop site is publishing major extracts from the book - here we present the details of positions 31 to 50…
Owned by: Sony Computer Entertainment
WITH PS3 TITLES Eight Days and The Getaway put ‘on hold’ in 2008 and numerous key staff having departed, SCE’s firstparty London outfit is a very different proposition in 2010 compared to 2000, when it was the games equivalent of the CGI houses and movie companies that infest Soho.
Yet it’s not the first time the focus of Sony’s London development resource has changed since it began with the PlayStation project in 1993. And with its current emphasis on mass-market social games like EyePet and SingStar Take That, London Studio is fighting on crucial fronts for Sony’s platform.
Besides, art director Nicolas Doucet told a French website in late 2009 that those more hardcore games really are suspended – as opposed to abandoned – so who knows what 2011 could see?
Owned by: Sony Computer Entertainment
ALMOST 100 PER CENT OF Guerrilla Games’ sales at UK retail in 2009 can be chalked down to just one superb title: its latest shooter, Killzone 2. Of course, it’s a long-time since the 130 staff in Guerrilla’s historic Amsterdam offices did anything else but Killzone – 2004, to be precise, when the studio developed the lacklustre Shellshock: Nam ’67 in the same year that it unleashed Killzone onto the world.
Guerrilla was acquired by Sony in 2005, and since then it has released just two further titles – Killzone 2, of course, and Killzone: Liberation for PSP. With Killzone 2 having secured excellent reviews and sales, Sony shocked nobody in March when it announced that Guerrilla was working on Killzone 3. There’s no official release date, so don’t hold your breath until 2011.
Owned by: Bethesda
IT IS OFTEN the case that the rich get richer in the Develop 100 these days, with great games frequently contributing to studio’s ranking one or even two years after its debut.
Bethesda’s performance in 2009 takes this to the extreme. None of the contributors to its 2009 performance were a fully novel release, with Fallout 3: Game of the Year Edition packaging up the classic 2008 title with its five subsequent DLC releases, and Bethesda’s third best-seller doing the same with 2006’s Elder Scrolls: Oblivion.
With the Rockville, Maryland company’s publishing arm farming out Fallout New Vegas development to Obsidian, it will be interesting to see where this studio places next year. Rumours (based on court filings) suggest an online Elder Scrolls MMO has been in development since 2006.
Owned by: Activision
WE’VE GUSHED BEFORE about Radical’s Vancouver base, with highlights of the lofty space including an in-office log cabin, cosy fireplace, fitness centre, and a kitchen straight out of central casting.
In its open world gore-fest Prototype, the studio finally gave us a game worth getting excited over, too. Radical is approaching its 20th birthday, but Prototype was its first attempt at an original title – the studio’s development slate has more usually been filled with licensed properties from across the game and TV spectrum, and the results have not always been pretty.
Prototype saw great reviews and very decent sales, but this didn’t stop some 90 Radical staff reportedly being cut loose by Activision Blizzard in early 2010. Nor has it yet led to official news of a Prototype 2.
Owned by: THQ
ILLINOIS’ VOLITION HAS performed well since being acquired by THQ in 2000, but with Red Faction: Guerrilla it delivered above expectations.
THQ’s CEO Brian Farrell revealed in a conference call last July that it had shipped a million copies in less than two months, but awarded his publishing arm just a ‘B’ grade, saying THQ might have done more to build initial demand. Farrell added that he hoped what turned out to be a trio of DLC releases would extend the game’s life.
The ongoing success of 2008’s Saint’s Row 2 is testament to such a strategy, which sees DLC as a marketing and engagement tool as much as an additional source of income. Word of a new Red Faction trickled out in February, with Volition’s 200-plus staff now working towards an E3 reveal.
Owned by: Electronic Arts
WITH SIMS AND SimCity creator and all-round genius Will Wright having finally done a runner in April 2009 from the studio he founded two decades previously, the future of Maxis has to be uncertain.
Let’s be honest – having survived for over a decade as a recognisable label after EA’s acquisition in 1997 (even if not an entirely independent studio since the mid-Noughties), Maxis was already on borrowed time. The first fruits of the post-Wright era aren’t promising; SimAnimals for Wii and DS betrays many of the recessive characteristics of the ‘bad strand’ of Sim games.
The next Sims it was not, and with that brand now operating under The Sims Studio label, this is could be Maxis’ last top 50 appearance – unless a surprise future Spore, hinted at and apparently worked on by Wright, can revive Maxis’ fortunes
FOUNDED IN 1999 by veterans of the Texas first-person shooter scene, Gearbox quickly moved from legendary addons or Valve’s HalfLlife, through high-quality ports – including the PC version of Halo for Microsoft – to creating its original and successful Brothers in Arms franchise.
All this experience culminated in Borderlands, released towards the end of 2009 to excellent reviews. An original IP that also indulges in some RPG/FPS splicing, president Randy Pitchford revealed at DICE in February that Borderlands had by then sold three million copies worldwide.
As well as Sega’s Aliens: Colonial Marines, Gearbox teases that its staff are working on three other triple-A titles, one of which 2009 court filings from Take-Two suggested is – or, at least, was – Duke Begins.
Owned by: MTV Games
HARMONIX HAS BEEN the nearest thing we’ve had to the Fab Four in their prime – from the world-conquering success of Guitar Hero and later Rock Band, to the staggering hundreds of millions doled out to the studio’s founders after Harmonix’s acquisition by MTV in 2006.
Seen through such a lens, number 38 doesn’t seem sufficiently top of the pops. Perhaps The Beatles just don’t do it for the kids, even if their high-profile Rock Band incarnation ticked reviewers’ boxes. Green Day: Rock Band will make an interesting comparison this summer.
Located in the rocket science country of Cambridge, Massachusetts, Harmonix isn’t sitting still, having just launched the UGC-powered Rock Band Network that enables users to create, upload, and profit from new songs.
2009 WAS A breakthrough year for New York state’s 1st
Playable, a children’s game and DS specialist, which was
founded in 2005 by Vicarious Visions’ former production guru Tobi Saulnier.
Nothing has resisted the march of Club Penguin for long, and Nintendo’s dual-screen format has proved predictably partial; Disney had sold 1.5 million copies of Club Penguin: Elite Penguin Forceworldwide by late February 2010, when it announced a follow-up, Herbert’s Revenge.
As well as working on that sequel, 1st Playable has been kept busy creating DLC for the original game, which can be downloaded along with newsletters and other community features straight to the DS. More Cartoon Network related games are also in development.
Founded: 1998 (Closed in 2009)
Owned by: Electronic Arts
2009 WAS A return to strength – of sorts – for the once highflying Pandemic Studios, with The Lord of the Rings: Conquest reviewing badly but selling well, and The Saboteur reviewing better but not doing half the business at retail.
Pandemic’s reward was to be shut down in late 2009 by parent Electronic Arts as part of that company’s cutting of roughly 1,500 development positions across its development operations. 200 jobs were lost with the closure of Pandemic Los Angeles, although 30 staff were reportedly relocated to EA LA to continue work on Mercs Inc.
Pandemic’s Brisbane studio was closed back in 2008. With the quality of Pandemic’s output having deteriorated following its acquisition by EA in 2007, the studio will be best remembered for early titles, particularly Full Spectrum Warrior
SOMEWHERE OUT THERE, the first writer to call Pokémon a fad is weeping into his granola. Satoshi Tajiri’s first Pokémon release for Game Boy reportedly took half a decade to finish, but the founder of Game Freak could scarcely have spent his time better – we estimate cumulative sales of the games now weigh in around the 200 million mark. T
he franchise spans comics, TV, toys – and every new Nintendo console. Pokémon Platinum reconstituted 2008’s Diamond and Pearl titles, but expect to see Game Freak back in the Develop 100 next year thanks to the recent UK release of the all-new RPG-flavoured Pokémon HeartGold and SoulSilver.
These DS games sold over three million copies in Japan in barely three months. Quite an achievement for a studio numbering just 70 employees.
Owned by: Electronic Arts
15 YEARS OLD in 2010, the developer founded by three medics still makes creating great games look more like bed rest than brain surgery, with 2009’s Dragon Age: Origins just another symptom of its winning ways.
But the team are some of the smartest cookies in the business, having relied on community building and compiling audience metrics years before most other studios. Bought by EA in 2007 (yet retaining an identity unthinkable a decade ago), Bioware is now divided across four studios – Austin in the US, Montreal and Edmonton in Canada, plus Bioware Mythic in Virginia after subsuming the latter in summer 2009.
The developer recently released Mass Effect 2, and is working on follow-ups to it and Dragon Age, plus new MMO Star Wars: The Old Republic.
Founded: 1995 (Closed in 2009)
Owned by: Microsoft
SO. FAREWELL THEN, Ensemble. You may have given us Age of Empires, but Halo Wars wasn’t really all that. The demise of this erstwhile jewel in Microsoft’s game development crown made headlines in 2008, with Redmond confirming it was closing down Ensemble after the completion of its real-time strategy swansong in 2009.
With the demise of the studio went several projects-in-progress as well as many jobs, though several new Texan studios were formed out of the ashes – notably Robot Entertainment, which won the gig to maintaining online functionality for Halo Wars and Age of Empires.
The studio’s closure has been raked over in several public spats between former key personnel, with a crunch culture and forays into unrelated genres the chief culprits.
WE’VE SCOFFED BEFORE in the Develop 100 about the quality of A2M’s games catalogue, so let’s be fair – Prince of Persia meets Max Payne-esque Wet wasn’t just a huge change in direction for the developer of Kung Fu Panda and Iron Man – with a Metacritic score of 70, it also received more than quadruple the percentage points awarded to the latter by reviewers.
MySims Racing on Wii was in the same ballpark, quality-wise, but ‘clunky’ and ‘sub-par’ Indiana Jones and the Staff of Kings brought up the rear.
A2M remains a very sizeable outfit, employing around 450 people between its offices in Montreal, Canada and a studio in Santiago, Chile. But clearly it is learning from previous mistakes. One key upcoming project is Naughty Bear – an unlikely, cuddly take on Manhunt due out this summer.
Owned by: Sega
FOR YEARS Sonic Team has disappointed fans who accuse it of indulging in flights of fancy instead of focusing on the platforming that made Sonic a household name.
Unfortunately, 2009’s Sonic and the Black Knight did little to allay their concerns. While visually impressive, the control mechanism was clumsy and frustrating and the game received a Metacritic rating of 54, with some notable reviews plumbing lower depths. UK sales of just £2 million and tells its own story – great for some, but terrible for a Sonic game. Why Nintendo can move Mario effortlessly through different milieu while Sega struggles with Sonic remains a bit of a mystery.
For episodic game Sonic 4 the publisher has hooked Sonic Team up with the well-regarded Dimps, and early leaked screenshots suggest a back-to-basics approach.
Owned by: Catalis Group/Independent
THERE WAS QUITE a contrast between Kuju Entertainment’s two big successes in 2009, but then that’s presumably the rationale behind a multi-site company.
Hailing from Kuju’s London-based Headstrong Games, House of the Dead: Overkill got reviewers’ blood pumping. Zoe Mode’s High School Musical outing didn’t exactly stir the press, but that’s not really the point; the recently released Chime on Xbox Live Arcade for the One Big Game charity is perhaps a better example of what Zoe Mode can achieve.
Closures and consolidation has left Kuju Entertainment with four studios, with downloadable game specialist doublesix and Vatra of the Czech Republic making up the quartet. Their parent has been wholly-owned by Germany’s Catalis since 2007.
Owned by: Take-Two
CAT DADDY CONTINUES to grow a portfolio of titles that few Develop readers would envy – and fewer have played.
The latest, 2009’s barely-reviewed It’s My Birthday, again sees the US studio reworking the party game formula that took Carnival Games on Wii and DS to £6 million worth of business in the UK last year. The game boasts a Metacritic score of 52, lest we forget, while the spin-off, Carnival Games: Mini Golf, scored just 38.
Who’d be a games reviewer? Based in Washington State and owned by Take-Two, the company is still apparently working on the much-delayed sequel to Carnival Games. It’s certainly not working on its four-page website, which is even less informative that last year.
Such resolute defiance of almost every trinket boasted by other highly-ranked studios is almost heroic.
‘FISH WHERE THE fish are’ the old-timers say, and in
porting EA’s FIFA 10 to PSP, PS2 and PC, Canada’s HB
Studios is arguably shooting fish in a barrel. The studio
might reply that you don’t just dial in for a gig with EA.
Founded in 2000 by CEO Jeremy Wellard (a Brit) the
studio paid its dues with EA Sports’ Cricket and Rugby titles before finally getting a sniff of Madden in 2007. Work on NBA Live and NHL soon followed, and HB Studio’s team has since grown to 130, split between the tiny town of Lunenburg, Nova Scotia, and the larger city of Halifax.
Following the release of its co-developed FIFA 10 Ultimate Team DLC in March, HB says it has shipped 24 titles across 159 SKUs and sold more than 13.5 million units.
Owned by: Ubisoft
FOR H.A.W.X, Ubisoft Romania employed US company GeoEye’s commercial satellite imagery to recreate the real world via textures of the landscape beneath players’ aircraft.
The experiment wasn’t a complete success – we’ve become so used to true 3D that it’s a shock to see pixellated textures again – but there is always something neat about what was once military technology turning up in a game.
The idea of a cutting-edge Romanian games developer may be even more novel to those who base their knowledge of Eastern European economies on Sacha Baron Cohen’s Borat, but Ubisoft’s Romanian operation isn’t actually that new; founded in the early 1990s, it’s one of the publisher’s longest-standing foreign ventures. Based in Bucharest, the studio also makes the Silent Hunter and Chessmaster games.
Owned by: Activision
TWO DECENT titles, Wolfenstein and Wolverine, put Raven back in the spotlight in 2009. The games are typical of the Activision subsidiary’s output in recent years – the first is fruit of a perennial collaboration with id Software stretching back 15 years, the second a comic book licence. This year we’ll see something different.
Raven’s longawaited Singularity is an original IP, focused around manipulating time, which looks set for a June release. Like Raven’s recent X-Men Origins title, Singularity uses Unreal Engine 3, which – given Raven’s alternative work with id’s engines – makes the developer nothing if not an equal opportunity middleware employer.
As for a flesh-and-blood employer, Raven had a tricky 2009, firing several dozen staff of an estimated 180-strong team.