Robert A. Altman
Under CEO Robert Altman, Zenimax has been quietly buying up developers of immersive and emotionally-arresting open-world first person content over the last year, with id Software and Arkane Studios now under its wing, alongside existing development/publishing house Bethesda Softworks. With these three powerhouses, Zenimax has the potential to really push the first person genre forward.
Also interesting is the company's publishing effort in Japan, helping bring western games from many different publishers to the region. While that initiative hasn't necessarily been a massive financial success, the company has helped to increase awareness of western games on Japanese shores.
Even though it's financially secure in its position as one of the supporting pillars of the current game industry, Epic has never been comfortable resting on its own success. The studio has taken the dramatic step of offering its Unreal Development Kit free to anyone who cares to download it.
Of course, if you have commercial aspirations for a game made with the UDK, the licensing terms are a bit less altruistic, but that's really beside the point. Getting the Unreal engine technology into the hands of as many users as possible is training a new generation of developers to use Epic's tools.
Most often, if a game doesn't financially succeed immediately, the company moves on. But in the case of Grand Theft Auto: Chinatown Wars, when the title didn't meet sales expectations on the DS, it was ported to the PSP.
From there, it was ported to the iOS devices, where the game wound up the highest grossing paid app for several weeks. Rockstar Leeds and president Gordon Hall knew the game itself was solid, and was reviewing well, so kept the title alive until it could find the right home. The game wound up split across three similar-spec consoles, turning a "moderate success" into something much larger.
Steve Jobs has said several times in the past that video games were important to Apple, but in truth games were never really a reason to buy the company's computers. Until now, that is. The overwhelming popularity of the iPhone and iPad has opened up a huge market for games on Apple's iOS platform and quality games are no doubt helping drive the device's sales.
Thanks to a loosening of the iOS SDK's code restrictions and the addition of new social gaming functionality, ad serving, and better revenue reporting, Apple's handhelds are edging ever closer to being the portable format of choice for developers.
Penny Arcade has grown from a simple web comic into a cottage industry, including books, games, and an extremely successful bi-coastal expo (PAX). So how did Jerry Holkins and Mike Krahulic, two staunch creatives, manage to get so far in the world of business? The answer, at least in part, is Robert Khoo, their longtime business partner.
From the gamer goodwill spread through their expo to the overwhelmingly positive influence of the group's Child's Play charity, which has donated over $5 million in cash and toys to children's hospitals across the globe, Khoo has been there keeping everything solvent and successful -- while still allowing the creators to do what they do best, unabated.
Valve has a well-deserved reputation for creating quality games, but it has always had the slightly monastic air of a studio that is predominately Microsoft facing (no surprise considering that its founders spent many years in OS development at Microsoft before forming Valve). This has changed rather dramatically with the studio's recent release of a Mac version of Steam.
With that comes the promise of Valve games for the Mac delivered simultaneous to their PC release. After being neglected for the past several years, the PlayStation 3 is also suddenly looking very attractive to Valve, and the studio is developing a version of its upcoming Portal 2 directly for the console rather than farming the port out as it did with The Orange Box. This realignment of resources is not easy and points to a major change in Valve's outlook, as the company becomes more comfortable with its role as a lead player in the game industry.
Hilmar Veigar Pétursson
Since the early MMO gold rush, EVE Online has been one of only a handful of titles to significantly grow its subscriber numbers over the long term. After taking over EVE Online publishing duties for itself, CCP (under CEO Hilmar Veigar Pétursson) has been cultivating its fan base with regular updates to the EVE universe as well as keeping a vigilant stance against real-money traders.
CCP is also remarkably accessible to its players and keeps them well informed on its design and development process through detailed blog postings. The upcoming Dust 514 will see the company stepping into the console space to reach an audience that has the potential to be even larger than that of EVE Online.
EA gets its lumps for being very franchise-focused at times, but lately the company has been doing much more to foster original IP with its EA Partners program. More than that, though, EA has been innovating in the digital download space. In an attempt to reclaim some of the money spent on used games, the company has started including one-time use day-one downloadable content vouchers in boxed games, which used game buyers would have to purchase themselves.
Though the extent of this program's success has not been publicly proved, it has convinced other publishers, such as Ubisoft and THQ, to adopt similar programs. John Riccitiello is making interesting moves with the company, and we will likely see the ramifications in the next few years.
Born as it was out of the collapse of Flagship Studios, Runic Games has endeavored to run a stable business right from the beginning, with Max Schaefer as its captain. Staying lean, working fast, and sticking close to its core talents as a developer has resulted in Torchlight, a debut title whose success has been a resounding affirmation of the studio's efficient approach.
With Torchlight's sequel due early next year and an even more ambitious Torchlight MMO in the works, Runic Games is in the business to stay.
Kellee Santiago, Jonathan Blow, Ron Carmel, Kyle Gabler, Aaron Isaksen, Nathan Vella, Matthew Wegner
The Indie Fund was created by a group of successful indies looking to help future creators make good games without the overhead of a traditional publisher relationship. Santiago (Flower), Blow (Braid), Carmel and Gabler (World of Goo), Isaksen (Armadillo Gold Rush), Vella (Critter Crunch), and Wegner (Off-Road Raptor Safari) banded together to create a fund with flexible budgets, no milestones, reasonable revenue share, and no long-term obligations.
Though the group is still testing out their theories, we feel this is a good step toward enabling "art house" games' increasing viability.