Ron Carmel and Kyle Gabler
These two ex-EA indies formed 2D Boy, and are creators of the peerless World Of Goo. But we're awarding them for business savvy, since the duo have been very vocal (Carmel especially) about DRM as a pointless way to stop piracy.
Running with a 90 percent piracy rate on PC, as many other games do, Carmel employed every trick in the book to maximize profile and revenue, with cut-price bundle deals and even a "pay what you like" policy for the game, allowing players to pay 1 cent and up for a normally $20 game.
Experiments like this embody the indie spirit of business and entrepreneurship -- and actually work, too.
As the Wii and DS suite of consoles take the world by storm, Iwata and Nintendo continue to play a game of patient business and design innovation. The Wii was the last console to take a price cut, and the release of the DSi, though a small hardware upgrade, was very successful.
Of course, not all attempts to shift boundaries were quite so successful, as Wii Music proved that Nintendo doesn't simply print money with every effort. But the important lesson is that these less successful experiments don't cause Nintendo to stop trying risky things, and Iwata's development and iteration-centric leadership is a big part of the firm's continued massive business success.
Apple revolutionized album and single purchasing with its iTunes store, and for a long time, games looked longingly at the resulting shift in music digital distribution. Then along came the iPhone and the App Store, and within weeks, it was clear that another paradigm shift was born, this time in gaming.
Though it's not without its problems -- particularly regarding monetization -- the service is tremendously successful, both for Apple and for select game developers who get on board at the right time. Most excitingly, as Jobs perhaps imagined when planning the service, the miniscule barrier to entry means that the next iPhone -- and now iPad -- game rags to riches story is only just around the corner.
CEO and bona fide biz personality Moore left the Xbox business in 2007, joining EA Sports as its president not much later. EA's sports brands have long been successful for the company, but the 2009 release of EA Sports Active was not only a great success for the sports imprint, it was EA's best Wii launch ever.
With smart moves into the fitness and even MMA areas as some "evergreen" franchises like Madden wilted marginally, EA Sports' ability to adapt and innovate has certainly increased under Moore.
Melbourne-based Firemint is pointed to as one of the big winners in the iPhone and iPad development scene, and rightly so. While the studio has done work-for-hire for publishers in the past, it's really starting to break out with original IP.
Firemint's Real Racing
The company has two games that have apparently grossed over one million dollars, in two very different price brackets and categories. There's the casual, pick up and play 99 cent Flight Control (now over 2 million sales!), and the bigger budget 3D, fully optimized Real Racing, which has sold for $6 to $10. CEO Murray has successfully diversified his game sizes and revenue streams in a smart way, and it seems to be paying off.
Now that everybody and their grandmother has a Facebook account, social networks are looking like the new Gold Rush country. Quality games and ruthless user aggregation tactics will be the differentiating factor between VC money sinkholes and long-term success.
In competition with companies like fellow honoree Playfish, former Tribe.net supremo Mark Pincus is positioning Zynga as the dominant player, with efficient, well-advertised titles like FarmVille, Mafia Wars and YoVille in the company's lineup. Social network gaming shouldn't be underestimated, despite some skepticism of business model and design chops from the conventional game biz, and given reports of 9 figure yearly revenues at Zynga, it behooves everyone to pay attention.
In late 2007, Segerstråle and several other early members of the Glu Mobile family branched off to dive into the world of social gaming, launching titles like Pet Society. Initially the newest in a long line of redheaded stepchildren of the gaming industry, the space, especially in Facebook games, has grown by leaps and bounds.
Increasingly complex, artistically relevant titles are being twinned with impressive revenue numbers, thanks to application of Web 2.0-style concepts and iteration to the gaming space, and Playfish is one of the companies at the forefront -- explaining why Electronic Arts acquired the company late last year for $300 million.
Warner Bros. Interactive Entertainment
Warner Bros. has made multiple attempts to enter the game industry, but it appears that this time, it's actually working. The acquisitions have so far been smarter to outside observers (Monolith and TT Games both have their strong suits), and the licensing more canny, as the company's work with Eidos on Batman: Arkham Asylum was one of the more celebrated games of the year.
What impressed us more than that was WBIE's marketing of Scribblenauts, since it's very uncommon for a publisher to put a full marketing push behind an original DS title from a smaller developer. For this, WBIE and president Martin Tremblay deserve credit.
Paul Thelen and Jeremy Lewis
Founder Paul Thelen and CEO Jeremy Lewis of Big Fish have been growing their casual games business for seven years, based on one of the most dominant portals in the PC casual game biz, a solid foundation of in-house quality games and canny international expansion.
The last year has seen the launch of the casual MMO Faunasphere, and the inking of a partnership with Harlequin Enterprises that will allow for games based on the book publisher's romance series as well as tie-in novels to Big Fish's games. Even if the company was one of the main participants in the potentially developer-catastrophic PC casual game price war -- well, they've come out on top, haven't they?
Twisted Pixel's The Maw
Austin-based independent developer Twisted Pixel, like The Behemoth, is one of those indies that really knows how to make the business work. They make good games, certainly, but it's that ability to get the games -- like XBLA hits The Maw and 'Splosion Man -- in front of the eyes of customers that keeps them going, so they can make more good games.
Announcing your new game as an April Fool's joke sent to a host of game journalists (as Wilford and team did with 'Splosion Man) isn't a bad idea, either.