Develop 100: #31 - #50 Profiles
Thursday, 10th April 2008 at 9:40 am
Continiuing our special focus on the big names listed in the 2008 Develop 100, we're presenting here key profiles from the top 50, from Codemasters (#31) to Bizarre Creations (#50)…
[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.]
31. Codemasters Studios - £11.73m
Best-selling game of 2007: Colin McRae: DiRT (£6.37m)
Codemasters’ successful 2007 sales sheet hardly hints at the activity going on beneath the surface. Last year’s bestsellers were familiar – Colin McRae, Brian Lara, LMA and TOCA might have figured in any number of years – but back at base Codies invested some £40 million in game development in the 12 months to June 2007. Key has been ongoing work on its proprietary EGO Engine technology; it also opened a studio in Guildford and established an internal art outsourcing team in Kuala Lumpur.
The publisher’s year was touched by tragedy in September, however, when Colin McRae died in an accident that also claimed the lives of his son and two family friends.
Looking forward to 2008, work on the internal projects Race Driver GRID, Operation Flashpoint 2: Dragon Rising and ‘Project Strike Team’ continues. The masterplan remains an IPO this year, headed by CEO Rod Cousens.
32. Namco - £11.54m
Best-selling game of 2007: Ridge Racer 7 (£3.12m)
Those who point to third-party Japanese developers’ waning importance in the West might cite Namco. Number three if ranked by 2007 sales in Japan, it’s down at 33 here – a plunge from 14th a couple of years ago.
Certainly Namco’s recent products have been incredibly familiar, with Ridge Racer, Ace Combat and Tekken having been around the block for generations. Tekken specifically has become a PlayStation launch staple, and some of Namco’s performance lately reflects the travails of PlayStation 3. But with sales still resilient in Japan, we think it’s more a case of too little modern fare and too few SKUs to exploit Western audiences.
But you’d be crazy to write off a veteran like Namco. One catalyst for change could be the fading appeal of parent Namco Bandai’s arcade operations; in February it announced the closure of a fifth of its Namcoland centres.
33. Office Create - £11.54m
Best-selling game of 2007: Cooking Mama: (£11.51m)
No offence to any Office Create employees reading, but we’re bestowing the company Top Novelty Entry in this year’s Develop 100. (Besides, it’s quite an honour in the UK. Just mention ‘Agadoo’ to any native over 30.)
That’s not to say the Nintendo DS version of Cooking Mama isn’t a clever offering, and certainly 505 Games and Majesco showed brilliant judgement in picking up the title for Europe and the US respectively. But the huge sales the cook-’em-up enjoyed were a bolt from the blue. The Wii version, Cooking Mama: Cook Off, did not achieve the same success (out of the £11.5m above, £8.6m of that was the DS SKU), and the less said about Dino Master, an extinct-at-birth take on Pokemon, the better.
The Cooking Mama franchise could spark a new era for Office Create – it’s previous games went unreleased in the West, but now it knows how to use a niche idea to capture mass market imaginations – and a sequel is already available.
34. Square Enix - £11.47m
Best-selling game of 2007: Final Fantasy XII (£7.21m)
Ten years on from Final Fantasy VII, its Western breakthrough, and the bulk of Square Enix’s UK sales are still attributable to the never-ending franchise. The game giant’s relevance in Western markets has arguably even declined, with its always-excellent RPGs appealing to a huge but nevertheless now well-defined niche of gamers. Yet in Japan Square Enix is a superpower – the number two Japanese developer in terms of 2007 sales, according to Famitsu magazine, and with more than 1,600 staff the fourth biggest by headcount.
The famously platform agnostic company (even cinema is simply another destination for its content) concentrated mainly on DS in 2007, but the finalisation of its cross-platform engine, Crystal Tools, will help it make a broader impact in 2008. The engine will power Final Fantasy XIII and Final Fantasy Versus XIII, and also Square Enix’s unnamed next-gen MMO.
35. EA Bright Light - £11.13m
Best-selling game of 2007: Harry Potter and the Order of the Phoenix (£9.49m)
Bright who? Yes, corporate rebranding has come to the former heartlands of Britsoft, with the EA studio whose DNA includes (via its 1995 acquisition of Bullfrog) Theme Park, Syndicate, Populous and Dungeon Keeper now looking to focus on a young, family-friendly demographic.
The studio has been going toddler-friendly for years, of course: you don’t sell more than £10 million worth of Harry Potter games in a year by frightening the horses. The new name puts EA’s formal corporate weight behind this direction: the studio sits within the EA Casual Entertainment paddock at the mega publisher, and under the fresh face of Harvey Elliot, who was named head of studio in June last year.
EA Bright Light has three franchises in the works, including a brand new DS-exclusive IP called Zubo. Sure to be a much-followed story in 2008, whatever your view of makeovers.
36. Crystal Dynamics - £10.88m
Best-selling game of 2007: Tomb Raider: Anniversary (£8.27m)
Tomb Raider: Anniversary could hardly have been expected to enjoy the frenzied reception that greeted Lara a decade previously, but, after the fairly positive verdict from reviewers, Eidos, Crystal Dynamics and co-developer Buzz Monkey Software might have been disappointed it didn’t match 2006’s franchise-saving Tomb Raider: Legend. The result was a slide for the Eidos-owned US studio, from 15th position last year. (It’s worth noting that Tomb Raider: Anniversary was also released via Xbox Live Arcade in episodic form, a channel the developer has said it’s keen to explore further.)
April saw Crystal Dynamics move to new premises in Redwood City, which it shares with its troubled parent’s relocated North American office. Officially the studio is hard at work on Tomb Raider: Underworld, but there are still fans who hope to hear of a new Legacy of Kain title some day.
37. Eurocom Entertainment - £9.74m
Best-selling game of 2007: Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End (£9.02m)
A Develop 100 stalwart among the UK’s dwindling ranks of independents, Eurocom moved up a healthy 12 places in 2007 thanks to a typical tranche of reliable movie licence games, this year led by Pirates of the Caribbean: At World’s End. Eurocom produced no fewer than six SKUs for Disney, with the PS3 and Xbox 360 outings marking the first showing of its new proprietary next-gen technology.
Employing some 270 staff, Eurocom continues to invest in its development facilities. In January 2007 it installed a motion capture facility next door to its studio building. First deployed on Pirates, the custom built rig is currently being put through its paces for the Beijing 2008 Olympics game that Eurocom has in development for Sega. The mocap investment was neatly joined in 2007 by a new sound recording facility, which Eurocom says it mainly uses for speech vocals and foley recording.
38. Neversoft - £9.48m
Best-selling game of 2007: Guitar Hero III: Legends of Rock (£5.89m)
You might imagine that like true pop svengalis, Activision decided on purchasing Red Octane in 2006 that wholly-owned Neversoft should be rewarded with a surefire new project for its long slog on Tony Hawk. The reality is weirder – the studio apparently got the gig after Neversoft President Joel Jewett told Red Octane’s founders his team fell in love with Guitar Hero during crunch on Project 8.
Besides, it could have been a poisoned chalice. Neversoft had to code Guitar Hero III from scratch, and the game’s progenitor, Harmonix, was developing Rock Band. The excellent reviews and sales of Neversoft’s production weren’t a gimme for its 140 staff.
Guitar Hero: Aerosmith is next – the first test of a potentially lucrative new departure for the franchise. With Hawk out of fashion and bands featured in Guitar Hero enjoying an upsurge in interest, we expect more such riffs to come.
39. IO Interactive - £9.43m
Best-selling game of 2007: Kane & Lynch: Dead Men (£7.70m)
Steady as she goes in 2007 for the Danish developer and jewel in Eidos’ crown.
Kane & Lynch: Dead Men received an unusually wide range of reviews (boiling down to a Metacritic score of 65 for the Xbox 360 version) but sales have been brisk: Eidos said it had shifted a million copies worldwide by mid-January 2008. With movie company Lionsgate having taken the property to Hollywood and the new franchise securely established, an IO Interactive-developed sequel is presumably guaranteed.
What is known for sure is the developer is working on a fifth Hitman, to follow-up 2006’s Blood Money. Announced in Eidos’ last annual report, the game is not due until 2009.
With the future of Eidos’s parent SCi uncertain following ceased takeover talks, redundancies, and new senior management, IO’s 200-plus staff would be forgiven for watching the financial newswires with greater-than-usual zeal.
40. Radical Entertainment - £9.3m
Best-selling game of 2007: Crash of the Titans (£3.35m)
A plunge for Radical, whose 14th outing for Crash Bandicoot amounted to a fair next-gen beachhead, rather than the spectacular game required to restore Crash’s kudos with gamers.
With sales of The Simpsons: Hit and Run finally tailing off in the face of EA’s newer take on the nuclear family, it was left to Scarface: The World is Yours to bolster the developer’s position in 2007.
We still think a Scarface sequel unlikely., although the studio has confirmed it is still working on licensed properties. Crash: Invasion of the Bandicoot Snatchers is on US retailers’ forward books, but there’s no confirmation yet on the developer. Some of Radical’s 300 staff are however working on Prototype, a GTA-style sandbox game for high-end consoles.
No doubt expectations are high for the new game: eight of the studio’s back catalogue titles have sold over a million units globally each.
41. Next Level Games - £9.24m
Best-selling game of 2007: Mario Strikers Charged Football (£8.11m)
Founded in 2002 and now with 100 staff in Vancouver plus a Beijing offshoot employing 13, Next Level Games looks every inch the modern Canadian third-party developer.
There’s even the rack of employer
awards – in the past 12 months it’s been named Best Company to Work for in British Columbia and cited as one of Canada’s top 100 employers.
More importantly, it makes good games. Last year saw a slight detour in the form of Activision’s reasonably well-received Spider-man: Friend or Foe, but it’s Next Level’s deft handling of the golden boots of Nintendo’s mascot that’s won its place in the premiere league. Working with the notoriously secretive Nintendo doesn’t make life easy for Develop 100 profile writers, of course. We’re told another Nintendo game is in development, though, and that the company is also working on an unnamed movie tie-in.
42. 2K Boston / 2K Australia - £9.17m
Best-selling game of 2007: Bioshock (£9.07m)
A new entry for the former Boston/Canberra-based Irrational Games, which was acquired by Take 2 in 2006 and rebranded in 2007. And all on the back of one game, BioShock, the spiritual successor to the its legendary System Shock.
Reviews for BioShock were spectacular across the board. The Xbox 360 version ranks as the 13th best game ever on aggregator GameRankings – and second by user rating.
BioShock has picked up numerous awards, too, especially for its artistic direction and story-telling. Given the universal acclaim, one might even ask if it underperformed at retail, relative to its plaudits.
Take Two is giving BioShock another go, having announced a sequel to be developed by 2K Marin, its new Californian studio with former BioShock staff. There’s no official word on what 2K Boston/2K Australia will do next, although interpreting the job ads suggests another Unreal Engine-powered first-person IP is a good bet.
43. EA Tiburon - £9.12m
Best-selling game of 2007: Tiger Woods PGA Tour 08 (£5.64m)
With hands as safe as a number one draft pick for wide receiver when it comes to sports, EA Tiburon (originally an indie of the same name) has delivered EA’s annual banker, Madden NFL, since 1994, plus a college football version since 1998. Acquired by EA that same year, Tiburon is also notable for the various NASCAR racing games it’s created, with NASCAR 09 due in June.
The US sports focus limits Tiburon’s overseas profile, but after the regrettable detour of Superman Returns, sticking to the knitting might seem advised. EA presumably reached the same conclusion, transferring Tiger Woods from its nouveau Wii specialist EA Salt Lake to the studio for the lead 08 SKUs, with promising results.
Florida-based Tiburon employs several hundred in a campus-style setting. Expect them to be crafting more updates to Woods, Madden and NASCAR for years to come.
44. Evolution Studios - £9.12m
Best-selling game of 2007: MotorStorm (£9.02m)
The recent history of Evolution Studios reads like that of British games development in microcosm. Several years of hard work on its PS3 racing game MotorStorm paid off when the near-launch title received very positive reviews; it has subsequently sold three million copies worldwide.
Cue the acquisition of Evolution (and its subsidiary BigBig Studios) by Sony Computer Entertainment Europe in September, the departure of Evolution founders Martin Kenwright and Ian Hetherington, and the rise of former MD Mick Hocking to become SCEE’s Group Studio Director, running Evolution, BigBig, and SCEE’s Studio Liverpool, which have a combined headcount of 250.
Evolution numbers 110 staff, busily working on a MotorStorm sequel and DLC for the original. The company has expanded to take in a third building, and has created a second development team with its own audio suite.
45. Epic Games - £8.89m
Best-selling game of 2007: Gears of War (£7.88m)
With 2006’s Gears of War still selling and its Unreal Engine powering seemingly every other new game, the always upbeat Epic is really on a roll.
You even start to wonder if the recent quip by VP Mark Rein that bidding for his company should begin at $2billion (‘$1billion? We’re not that cheap!’) was more than just a bit of quick wit.
With Gears of War sales of over five million worldwide as of March this year, Gears of War 2 was a no-brainer: Epic is aiming for a November release. An Xbox 360 version
of Unreal Tournament 3 will also bolster 2008’s takings. What’s more, in August 2007 Epic bought a majority stake in People Can Fly, the 50-strong developer of the PC version of Gears of War. The Polish company has been working for some time on an unnamed multi-platform game using Unreal Engine 3.
46. Backbone Entertainment - £8.85m
Best-selling game of 2007: Sega Mega Drive Collection (£3.49m)
It may have a famously prickly mascot, but Sega has been good to Backbone – games created for the publisher dominate the latter’s top-seller listing for 2007.
Not recorded, however, are Backbone’s efforts over the past 12 months on Xbox Live Arcade. The company claims to have made more games for Microsoft’s sub-platform than any other developer. It won six out of the ten categories in the inaugural Xbox Live Arcade awards given by Microsoft at the Game Developers Conference, including Best Overall Arcade Game for Bomberman Live (published by Hudson Entertainment).
A key constituent of Foundation 9’s portfolio of game developers, Backbone employs some 130 staff across studios in California and Vancouver. Current projects include two games for Eidos: Monster Lab on Wii and DS, and a return to its first creation in the shape of a Wii version of Death Jr.: Root of Evil.
47. Blizzard Entertainment - £8.64m
Best-selling game of 2007: World of Warcraft: The Burning Crusade (£5.88m)
No chart is perfect, but while we’re confident that, say, Xbox Live Arcade sales wouldn’t affect the Develop 100 much, a methodology based on retail sales undoubtedly underestimates Blizzard’s potency.
Sure, shops enjoyed flogging The Burning Crusade; Blizzard says the expansion pack, which sold 2.4m copies in Europe and the US on launch day, is the fastest-selling PC game ever.
But with monthly subscription charges running from £7.69 to £8.99 in Britain, Blizzard’s first cut is the cheapest. In January, WoW broke through 10 million subscribers worldwide, and while the definition of a subscriber varies from territory to territory, it’s clear the MMO is a money-maker.
A second expansion, Wrath of the Lich King, is due in 2008. StarCraft II is eagerly awaited, particularly in Korea, and a new MMO reputedly underway. Blizzard employs around 2,700 people, mostly in support.
48. Realtime Worlds - £8.1m
Best-selling game of 2007: Crackdown (£8.1m)
2007 was the year Realtime Worlds finally answered what feels like a decade of hype.
Its genre-rattling Xbox 360 debut, Crackdown, won the studio a clutch of BAFTA and Develop Awards from many more nominations, and shifted 1.5 million copies across the world. As a result, expectations have only grown for its ongoing work-in-progress, the much discussed and mutated APB. Now positioned as a team-based multiplayer online game, long-time watchers of CEO David Jones are expecting something innovative, even revolutionary; the Lemmings and GTA creator has already confirmed players will be able to assemble bespoke soundtracks using Last.fm.
But Britsoft creativity writ large requires serious resources. Having secured $31m in VC investment in December 2006, and a further $50m in March 2007, Realtime moved its 200 staff to 30,000 square feet of custom-fitted Dundee development space in early ‘07. It has 40 more staff in Korea, and six in the US.
49. HB Studios - £7.91m
Best-selling game of 2007: Rugby 08 (£3.20m)
With PS2 and PC versions of basketball and hockey on its roster, Nova Scotia’s HB Studios is undoubtedly a bigger fish across the pond. However the more Brit-friendly (and surprisingly not-so-niche saleswise) Rugby 08 together with UEFA Champions League 2006/2007 was enough to see the studio enter our top 50.
Going forward, HB has just finished UEFA Euro 2008, which we’ll patriotically pass over in favour of the equally freshly minted Big Beach Sports on Wii for THQ. PS2, PSP and Wii versions of NBA Live 09 and PC and PS2 versions of NHL 09 are in development for EA Sports (along with an unannounced Wii title), and there’s also a DS/Wii non-sports game in production for Konami.
Given all this activity, it’s no surprise January saw HB open its second studio, located in Halifax, Nova Scotia, taking its total headcount to 120.
50. Bizarre Creations - £7.43m
Best-selling game of 2007: Project Gotham Racing 4 (£5.82m)
Disregard its 2003 Disney project Treasure Planet and Bizarre Creations’ listing proceeds with the order of a Schumacher-era Grand Prix. But while the establishment of Project Gotham Racing as a blockbuster brand brought Bizarre its fame, the Liverpudlian studio has quite a history of unexpected Treasure Planet-esque diversions. (It gave us Geometry Wars, remember.)
And just as well. 2007 saw Activision acquire Bizarre Creations, and PGR4 is the last Gotham game the studio will develop for brand owner Microsoft. Activision Blizzard, the studio’s new parent, will have any number of properties Bizarre’s 160-plus staff might enjoy – it suggested two projects would commence at acquisition time – with a James Bond game topping the rumour stakes. Activision’s first Bizarre title isn’t expected until 2009, but 2008’s takings will include the just-released shooter The Club, developed for Sega.
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.
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