[This article originally appeared as Game Developer magazine's October 2006 issue. You can subscribe to Game Developer in physical or digital form to receive the 2007 Top 20 Publishers ranking first, later this year.]
2006 brings the fourth annual Game Developer Top 20 Publishers ranking, and along with it evidence of an industry in flux as it prepares for the next generation of console hardware. Some publishers have sought to beef up their existing talents and resources to handle the oncoming storm, while others have contributed to the constant consolidation the industry has been experiencing.
Some familiar faces have joined forces with others (Bandai and Namco), and some have shaken up others’ spots on the ranking (notably Take-Two and Nintendo).
There are two newcomers to the list, and one graceful exit: Buena Vista Games and NCsoft both made respectable first showings this year, bumping off Codemasters. And while this ranking arguably marks the end of a console generation, the next will show just who has been most effective in making the transition, so there can only be more rise, fall, and shakeup as the industry matures.
[NOTE: The full Game Developer magazine feature includes more information on the methodology - since this Top 20 is the only empirically weighted countdown of video game publishers. It also includes a full table revealing the specific statistics used to work out the ranking, including average game review percentages, release SKU amounts, and anonymous milestone and producer feedback.]
Year formed: 1982
Headquarters: Redwood City, Calif.
Studios: Criterion (Guildford, U.K.); Digital Illusions CE (London, Ont., Stockholm) EA Black Box (Vancouver); EA Canada (Burnaby, British Columbia); EA China (Shanghai); EA Los Angeles (Playa Vista, Calif.); EA Mobile; EA Montreal; EA Mythic (Fairfax, Va.); EA Japan (Roppongi, Japan); EA Redwood Shores (Redwood City, Calif.); EA Singapore; EA U.K. (Chertsey, U.K.); Maxis (Emeryville, Calif.); EA Phenomic (Leipzig, Germany); EA Tiburon (Orlando)
For the fourth year in a row, EA resides at the top of our ranking. Despite a loss reported in its earnings for the fourth quarter of fiscal year 2006, a $15.6 million settlement paid to end a lawsuit over the company’s labor practices, and results below company expectations in 2005’s holiday season, the publisher managed to maintain robust revenue.
EA’s sports titles made an even more impressive performance than in previous years, and the Sims series and its expansions continue to generate high sales. Even a lower average review score than in last year’s tally hasn’t altered the company’s position in the top publisher ranking.
Perhaps to that end, the Redwood Shores, Calif.-based company has announced an intention to focus more on original intellectual properties. Along these same lines, EA ended its contract with the James Bond license early, likely due to poor sales of games from the franchise. Licensed properties continue to be a major source of income, however, with games based on The Godfather and Harry Potter and the Goblet of Fire having sold millions of copies each.
This megapublisher has continued to diversify its stable of development houses and partnerships. It has brought online its own digital distribution system for games and a system for collecting micro-transactions for in-game purchases. It carried off a major coup d’état when it acquired Jamdat Mobile, a global publisher of mobile phone games and the largest distributor of its kind in the U.S.
Other acquisitions included developer Hypnotix, responsible for Outlaw Golf and Outlaw Volleyball, who now reside at EA’s Tiburon studio, and German strategy-game developer Phenomic. In February 2006, EA announced a partnership with Neowiz, a Korean publisher of online games, and by the end of June the resulting project FIFA Online had beaten all previous records for online games in Korea. Plus, the publisher has further expanded into Asia, ramping up development with new hires in its Shanghai studio and opening a division for Asian localization in Singapore. With all the above and a five percent staff cut made in February, the company is well-positioned for the current generational transition.