Game Developer Magazine's Power 50By Gamasutra staff
Making games may be largely a team effort these days, but that doesn't mean we shouldn't acknowledge the individuals who make outstanding contributions to the industry as well.
Gamasutra and its sister site Game Developer magazine have put together a "Power 50" list of people in the game industry who have stood out for doing work in the last year that is new, different, or better. This list was originally printed in Game Developer magazine.
The following are not ranked -- they are listed alphabetically by last name.
As we're wrapping up 2012, we've seen one very clear game-dev trend: Everybody loves Unity.
Whether you're an experienced dev in a major studio tasked with throwing together a quick-and-dirty prototype, a small-time indie studio looking for an off-the-shelf 3D engine to build a game for multiple platforms, or just a hobbyist dev throwing together a fun project for a game jam, you'll probably be using Unity.
Unity Technologies CTO, cofounder, core development team lead Joachim Ante has been central to that success; under Ante's leadership, Unity has blossomed into a tool that is powerful, polished, and relatively easy to use.
Microsoft's XNA framework (and associated dev tool XNA Game Studio) has been something of an unsung hero for indie devs over the last console generation, and since its future is in question (XNA applications won't be included in Windows 8's Metro UI or app store), we thought it only fair to give XNA -- and Xbox director of development Boyd Multerer -- proper acknowledgement.
XNA has made it easier for small-time indies and hobby game devs to make games and put them on Xbox 360s, Windows phones, and PCs around the world. We're fans of tech that democratizes game development, and XNA was unprecedented in terms of how available and accessible it made the Xbox 360 and Windows Phone 7 platforms.
We're hoping that XNA sticks around in some form -- there are a few projects out there working to adapt XNA to other platforms, which could eventually enable XNA devs to build games for Metro, Android, iOS, Mac OS, and PlayStation Mobile -- but even if the worst happens and XNA falls by the wayside, we want to salute Multerer for his excellent work.
Two Lives Left
There is something to be said for programmers who work on making programming more accessible to a wider range of people. Two Lives Left's Simeon Nasilowski did just that with Codea, a newbie-friendly iPad app that lets you quickly build game prototypes with Lua (see the June/July 2012 issue of Game Developer for the review). With Codea, anyone with an iPad and $10 can start dipping their toes in the game-dev pool, and we think that's pretty cool.
Unreal Engine is a great piece of tech, but we can't forget to show some love to the devs out there who make it sing -- and Jarod Pranno, studio art director on Phosphor Games's mobile title Horn did just that.
With Horn, Pranno demonstrated that Epic Games/Infinity Blade dev Chair Entertainment aren't the only ones who can make a great-looking mobile game, and we're eagerly paying attention to see what Pranno and Phosphor will be doing next.
By now, it's no secret that the Unreal Engine can make mobile games look amazing -- and some of that credit goes to Epic Games's senior engine programmer Niklas Smedberg.
Between Smedberg's under-the-hood look at mobile GPUs at GDC 2012, his work on the post-process graphics effects on the Infinity Blade series, and his current work on Unreal Engine 4, it's pretty clear that if you want your mobile game to look like it came straight from a console, he's the go-to guy.
Patrick Wyatt is practically the definition of "industry veteran"; between his stint at Blizzard leading the original Battle.net, cofounding Guild Wars dev ArenaNet, and more recently working as En Masse Entertainment's COO (TERA), it's hard to find an MMO that doesn't have his fingerprints on its network code.
When looking at a new MMO, it's easy to overlook the underlying nuts and bolts that keep customers happy. Wyatt's work on the platform underlying TERA's account management, billing, and other functions he described to Game Developer as "all the other unsexy parts of games" has shored up many player-experience design flaws others simply consider a fact of MMO life -- such as beefing up account security, filtering spam from chat, building in better analytics to improve player retention rate, and so on.
More recently, Wyatt has been making efforts to share his knowledge on game server code by writing articles on his blog at codeofhonor.com and giving in-depth talks at the Game Developers Conference.
Some games so tightly bind their programming and design together that it's hard to truly determine who deserves the credit. One such is Mossmouth's brilliant Spelunky, which released this year for Xbox Live Arcade.
Spelunky's randomly generated levels are the cornerstone of the game's addictiveness -- and a marvel of designer Derek Yu's algorithmic design. They're always navigable, always fun, and ever changing. You'll never complain that they weren't created -- or at least not directly -- by human hands.
Shaw-Han Liem and Jonathan Mak (pictured below, courtesy of Jeriaska)
PlayStation 3 indie hit Sound Shapes marries music and platform-hopping together in a manner so elegant and intuitive you might not at first realize how many iterations it took to get right. Jonathan Mak and Shaw-Han Liem (the latter often credited as I Am Robot And Proud), from Toronto-based Queasy Games, are the two responsible for making Sound Shapes work.
Games built around music largely live or die by how well their designers can integrate music into the core design. In Sound Shapes, songs are the levels, and with the level editor, we too can make and play our music. With Sound Shapes, Mak and Liem remind us that music games can be more than a series of notes that we plug into a bulky, plastic, guitar-shaped controller.
If Sound Shapes gently massaged our brains into a state of musical play, composer David Kanaga's work on Dyad simply melted said brains outright. Thanks to Dyad, we can check "David Kanaga and (Dyad creator) Shawn McGrath" off our list of fantasy indie game dream collaborations.
After years of anticipation, Fez finally wowed indie game scenesters with its throwback look and feel. We would be remiss if we didn't include Rich "disasterpeace" Vreeland's Fez soundtrack work in this year's Power 50 audio nominations. Thanks to Vreeland, Fez feels atmospheric, pensive, maybe even a little bit melancholy.
Hand-painted, cel-shaded visuals -- check. Ruthless heavy-metal soundtrack -- check. Sheldon Carter's creative direction in The Darkness II is, well, dark, and that's exactly what a game about mob bosses with supernatural powers should be. Kudos to Carter and his team for building The Darkness II's unified and seamless aesthetic vision.
The fighting game genre may be alive and well these days, but the impeccably fluid, detailed 2D animation we loved about the genre in the 1990s is practically nowhere to be seen -- except in Reverge Labs's Skullgirls, anyway.
Thanks to lead animator Mariel Cartwright, Skullgirls looks every bit the 2D fighter of our dreams, with hand-drawn characters and backgrounds that ooze personality and craftsmanship out of every frame. Step aside, Street Fighter III: Third Strike; Skullgirls has set a new standard.
Guild Wars 2 looks like art director Daniel Dociu took a bunch of beautifully detailed concept art and somehow plugged it directly into a game. That Dociu could lead ArenaNet's art team to do that much is impressive; that he managed to do that in an MMO, where visuals must often be sacrificed for performance's sake, is nothing short of spectacular.
In early 2012, Simogo's Beat Sneak Bandit rocked our worlds (and snagged Best Mobile Game in the Independent Games Festival 2012 awards) with its cartoony, syncopated charm. The credit for said charm belongs to Simogo cofounder Simon Flesser, who was the art-and-sound whiz behind BSB's whimsy. In an interview with Gamasutra, Flesser described BSB as "Cool, but in a silly cartoon show kind of way." We want more of that.
The Blast Furnace
Now that we're done ranting about the overuse (and abuse) of "retro" aesthetics, we thought we'd call out a rather exceptional case. New Activision mobile dev studio The Blast Furnace made an intriguing Pitfall! iOS game that we would describe as "new retro," if that makes sense. Under Dan Roberts' artistic direction, Pitfall! for iOS brings us into a world of cartoony-looking untextured polygons that look kind of like the original Pitfall! and Super Mario 64 had a video game baby. It's kind of how we imagine the original Pitfall! would look if we were trapped inside of it.
If you look at any recent Rockstar title, it's clear the studio has a real affinity for film. Its game cinematics often borrow editing and compositional techniques from movies and other visual media, and under creative director Robert Nelson's direction in Max Payne 3, the studio experimented with some new visual techniques from outside the traditional GTA wheelhouse.
Max Payne 3 tells the story of a haggard ex-cop with a crippling addiction to both booze and painkillers, and Rockstar's cinematics go a long way toward reinforcing the character's tormented mental state. The camera often flickers out of focus, key lines of dialogue linger onscreen to emphasize Max's guilt, and clever split-screen action scenes make poignant moments seem more frantic and distressed. These visual techniques are subtle on their own, but when combined they really elevate the game's depressing and action-fueled narrative.
Vincent Perea (left)
Design aside, the Disney-published Where's My Water? really stands out because of its visual style. Illustrator/designer Vincent Perea uses a simple, personality-packed cartoon aesthetic with a fairly minimalist approach. Perea's fluid animations and adorable character designs manage to inject the experience with a ton of charm -- which is particularly impressive considering the screen is filled with little more than dirt and concrete most of the time.
"Retro" is probably the most-overused term in video games these days. Everything with visible pixels, Tempest-style vectors, or low-resolution textures can be called "retro," and we're kind of tired of it. However, there is something to be said for getting retro right, and Retro City Rampage creator Brian Provinciano knows this. It takes more than a crash course in pixel art to make a proper retro game; Provinciano's deep understanding of the NES hardware's capabilities and limitations were instrumental in making Retro City Rampage ring true to the old-school.
Next time you have a hard time finding an artist for your game, try looking around on Wikipedia. That's how Incredipede dev Colin Northway found photographer/woodblock-print artist Thomas Shahan, anyway; Northway was reading the entry for "jumping spiders," saw one of Shahan's illustrations, and tracked him down from there. While we may not be tremendous fans of spiders (jumping or otherwise), we have to admit that we can't think of a better match than insect-specialist Shahan for a game that is "about life and feet."
Tiger Style Games
With Waking Mars, Tiger Style Games founder Randy Smith led his dev team to make something atmospheric, curious, and gorgeous -- and as we're looking at all the different ways mobile game devs try to make their work visually stand apart from the pack, we think that Smith and his team are on the right track.
In an interview with Gamasutra, Smith described Waking Mars's aesthetic as "a combination of fine details and abstract implication...not realistic, exactly, but believable." We weren't sure what to expect when you described your game as "action gardening," Smith, but you and your team ended up nailing it.
Klei's Mark of the Ninja feels like a distinct breath of fresh air for the stealth game genre.
Lead designer Nels Anderson opted not to follow in the footsteps of Metal Gear or Splinter Cell and instead bring stealth to a 2D game by introducing a number of clever systems that eliminate the genre's rough edges.
In many stealth games, for instance, it can be hard to tell when enemies can detect you, but in Mark of the Ninja, all of these systems are clearly telegraphed via a number of visual cues.
Enemy sight lines are represented as beams of light, loud noises project shockwaves into the environment, and characters lose saturation as they step into the shadows, so players know when they're at risk and how their actions will affect their enemies.
By making all of the mechanics so easy to read, the game becomes less about trial and error and more about using your wits to work make the most of the tools at your disposal. It makes the stealth genre far more enjoyable, and other games should make sure to take note.
Thatgamecompany is well known for designing games to evoke specific emotions. With Journey, thatgamecompany cofounder and creative director Jenova Chen managed to avoid the frustration, disappointment, and general misanthropy we normally feel while playing games online with strangers, and replace them with camaraderie, joy, and gratitude. Props.
Yager Development (former) / Spark Unlimited (present)
Yager Development/2K Games's Spec Ops: The Line made waves this year for adding a liberal dose of Apocalypse Now-inspired narrative twist to an otherwise fairly standard cover-based shooter.
Creative director Cory Davis's initial vision documents from 2008 describe Spec Ops: The Line as an "intense third-person military shooter with a dark and mature narrative...[that] confronts you with the horrors of war, as you face choices between bad and worse in challenging moral dilemmas."
Well, with Spec Ops: The Line, Davis did just that. We were impressed by Davis's creative vision in 2008, and we're impressed by how faithful the end product was to that vision four years later. Love it or hate it, you can't deny that Spec Ops: The Line's union of narrative and game design -- and Davis's willingness to use said design to mess with players' expectations -- was a bold statement in a genre that needed one.
Everything animator Dean Dodrill knows about programming, he learned while working on Dust: An Elysian Tale for three and a half years -- which was about 39 months longer than he had anticipated it would take to finish the game more or less by himself. Along the way, he won the Dream, Build, Play competition, made it into the Summer of Arcade promotion based on his title's strength, and even finished the game ahead of schedule to meet that deadline.
Aside from voice acting, music, and a little bit of writing, almost all of Dust: An Elysian Tail came from Dodrill and Dodrill alone, and we can't help but recognize the developers who devote themselves to such projects of passion.
Ian and David Marsh
Ian and David Marsh
"Casual airline sim" doesn't exactly sound like the most enthralling premise for a mobile game -- until you hear it's from Tiny Tower dev NimbleBit, anyway. Kudos to NimbleBit cofounders Ian and David Marsh, whose design work on iOS free-to-play hit Pocket Planes had us constantly picking up our phones for a quick hit of airline tycoondom. Making a profitable free-to-play game that doesn't feel like a naked cash grab is rare enough; that Pocket Planes is genuinely a blast is noteworthy indeed.
If we had a category for Neat Stuff, we'd probably put Benjamin Rivers on top of the list for Home, a critically acclaimed PC adventure game that plays something like a choose-your-own-adventure horror short story.
Home is unapologetic about how it wants to be played; turn the lights off, put your headphones on, and set aside an hour or two, because you can't save your game. We like that.
Why build a game when you can get your players to do it for you? RedLynx lead technical artist Sami Saarinen is responsible for building the Trials series' original 3D editor in 2008, advocating for its inclusion in Trials HD in 2009, and guiding it into its Trials Evolution incarnation.
But this isn't just a level editor, mind you; Saarinen's Trials Evolution editor actually gives players access to the game's visual programming language, so they can make and share fiendishly difficult tracks -- or even entirely new games altogether.
Harvey Smith and Rafael Colantonio
Dishonored wowed the industry at E3 and Gamescom this year with its compelling steampunk setting and remarkable focus on player agency. In an industry with lots of games focused on violence and killing, co-lead designers Harvey Smith and Rafael Colantonio's direction in Dishonored's design adds some genuine emotional weight behind the decision to kill, which is something we'd like to see more of.
Rafael Colantonio and Harvey Smith
Tetsuya Takahashi and Koh Kojima
While Final Fantasy and other classic JRPG franchises have struggled to find their voice during this console generation, Monolith Soft lead designers Tetsuya Takahashi and Koh Kojima's work on Xenoblade proves the genre has plenty of life left -- not by revisiting the genre's glory days, but by making a number of important changes that help bring the genre into the modern era.
Xenoblade gives players a sandbox-style world to explore at their leisure, and even uses a number of classic MMO systems to help expedite combat, streamline quest systems, and offer more freedom to the player. In other words, Xenoblade celebrates (and updates) the best of the JRPG genre.
Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin
Many games try -- and fail -- to elicit an emotional response from their players, but The Walking Dead is one of the few series that gets things right. Co-lead designers Sean Vanaman and Jake Rodkin have guided The Walking Dead to emphasize smart writing over complex mechanics, and in doing so, they've created one of the most affecting interactive stories we've seen in quite some time.
Like the comic book it's based on, The Walking Dead series doesn't spend all its time focusing on the horrors of the zombie apocalypse, and instead takes plenty of time to develop its characters and create a world that players can invest themselves in. While there's plenty of zombie fighting to go around, it's the game's quieter, more thoughtful moments that make its more horrifying scenes all the more poignant.
Perhaps most interestingly, the game forces players to make some extremely tough decisions that'll affect the characters they've grown to care about. Every decision comes with major consequences, and the game doesn't hesitate to twist the knife when things seem to be at their worst. Very few games manage to present choices that have an emotional impact on the player, and the fact that The Walking Dead manages to do so over and over again is a tremendous accomplishment.
Active Gaming Media
Active Gaming Media has its fingers in a lot of pies; CEO Ibai Ameztoy founded the company as a Japan-based game localization agency, but since then AGM has done work in public relations, QA, and other aspects of the industry.
This year, Ameztoy and AGM get the Power 50 nod for Playism, a digital distribution platform that they're using to bring Japanese indies to overseas markets (the English-language Playism portal launched with a localized version of indie Japanese hit La Mulana) and vice versa (localizing and publishing Dear Esther and SpaceChem in Japan). Way to spread the indie love (and make a buck doing it), Ameztoy.
Both the Gamasutra and Game Developer staff were in complete agreement about one of this year's Power 50 candidates for the business category, but we didn't know his name. We all just wanted to make sure we recognized "Whomever it was that got Adam Saltsman (Canabalt), Paul Veer (Super Crate Box), and Danny Baranowsky (Super Meat Boy, Canabalt) to make a licensed game for iOS based on The Hunger Games."
Turns out that person is film studio Lionsgate's VP of digital marketing, David Hayes. In the world of film marketing, Hayes has made a name for himself by building innovative marketing campaigns; by getting an indie dream team to make The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire, and getting that indie dream team to make more than just a Canabalt reskin, Hayes has left his mark on the game industry as well.
Sure, PR and marketing is hard at any publisher. But when you're a niche company like Atlus, which focuses almost exclusively on the decidedly untrendy genre of Japanese RPGs, you live or die by the thinnest margins. That's what makes Aram Jabbari's job so hard.
Jabbari interfaces with the company's finicky community on games like the Persona series, making sure their voices are heard, and along with vice president Tim Pivnicy, makes sure the games are presented to the community's exacting standards.
Though the trend for Japanese niche games is supposedly downward, Atlus's most successful years have been its most recent -- and its "Atlus Faithful" fans, carefully cultivated by Jabbari's always-on-message but sincere marketing efforts, are driving that success.
[Note: Since this article appeared in Game Developer, Jabbari has parted ways with Atlus and joined Sony Computer Entertainment America as the publisher's new Public Relations Manager.]
While game-related Kickstarters were a dime a dozen in 2012, FarSight Studios caught our eye with The Pinball Arcade, a cross-platform pinball game that featured licensed digital remakes of real-world classic pinball tables.
Far Sight Studios's VP of development Bobby King, along with CEO Jay Obernolte, were the ones responsible for getting the licenses to more than 20 tables from manufacturers Bally, Williams, Stern, and Gottlieb -- which included running successful Kickstarter campaigns to get the necessary funding for licensing fees and production for the Star Trek: The Next Generation and Twilight Zone tables. We wouldn't wish that kind of red-tape wrangling on our worst enemy.
Two cloud-based streaming game companies entered 2012 with vastly different business plans; OnLive aimed its cloud game service directly at consumers, while Gaikai developed its tech and courted bigger hardware companies like Samsung and Sony. Gaikai, led by cofounder and veteran game developer David Perry, sold to Sony for $380 million, while OnLive laid off its entire staff and got bought and restructured by a VC group. Perry's work speaks for itself; it takes more than good tech to make it in this business.
If you first heard of NaturalMotion Games during Apple's iPhone 5 event, when CEO Torsten Reil demoed Clumsy Ninja, then you haven't been paying attention. NaturalMotion Games seems to get exactly how to build a free-to-play mobile game that looks good, plays well in short bursts, and -- if CSR Racing's $12 million take during its first month on the iOS App Store is any indication -- get players to pay with well-designed monetization strategies. Watch out, world: Reil is one to watch for 2013.
Double Fine Productions
By now, everyone knows the story of the $3.3 million Double Fine Adventure Kickstarter, so we'll keep this one short. These days, game-related Kickstarter campaigns are flooding our in-boxes and news feeds, and we blame all of that on Double Fine Adventure (tentative title) producer Greg Rice, who was that Kickstarter's mastermind. Next time you disrupt the traditional developer-publisher business model, give us a minute or two to prepare our spam filters first, okay?
As Behaviour Interactive's creative director on Temple Run: Brave, Frederic St-Amour was responsible for taking the magic behind Temple Run and adapting it to a license that demanded more than endless running. The Hunger Games: Girl on Fire showed us that you can make a good licensed mobile game with the right license and the right team; St-Amour and the team at Behaviour showed us that this kind of pairing should be the rule, not the exception.
From the outside, designing free-to-play games looks kind of like juggling flaming swords. Your game needs to be profitable, but not exploitative; engaging, but not demanding. We don't know if Hero Academy lead designer Marcin Szymanski can actually juggle flaming swords, but considering how well Hero Academy attracted casual and core audiences and got them to open up their wallets without sending off pay-to-win vibes, we think he could probably do it if he really, really wanted to.
It wasn't that long ago that conventional wisdom dictated breaking into the top five Facebook developers was impossible, thanks to the unassailable value of cross-marketing to an existing audience. Tell that to King.com CEO Riccardo Zacconi, who, on the back of the success of Bubble Witch Saga -- a title with 3.7 million daily active users in October 2012 -- now runs the number-two game developer on the social networking site.
Yes, King.com's premier game is, at its core, a rehash of Taito's 1990s arcade hit Bust-a-Move, but according to Playdom's Steve Meretzky, it's an expert application of social mechanics that made it a success, and that's King.com's secret (and explains why Taito didn't get there first).
The company releases over a dozen games a year to its casual portal, and only the top performers are selected for Facebook. A carefully designed "social envelope," in King.com parlance, is wrapped around a game, and then it's ready for social network deployment.
The company has also moved into mobile versions of its titles, with clever integration between Facebook and iOS -- meaning that players' progress carries over between versions. This led to a very successful launch of Bubble Witch Saga on that platform without a meaningful marketing effort. This is leading, in turn, to an expansion of King.com as a company -- a big business win for an organization that saw an opening for traditional casual games on Facebook, realized it could provide them, carefully executed its plan, and took the platform by storm.
What makes Anna Anthropy special is that not just that she's living a brave creative life by sharing her unique perspective with the world through games; she's encouraging everyone else to take the necessary steps to do it, too.
Recognizing the homogeneity of the game development scene, Anthropy champions the emergence of new perspectives.
It's her talks on inclusiveness, her own games -- such as Dys4ia, which quickly and cleverly takes the player on a journey through the difficulties Anthropy has encountered obtaining gender transition treatment and being recognized as a woman -- or her 2012 book, Rise of the Videogame Zinesters, which encourages both "freaks" and "normals" to make the games that the mainstream isn't making, that make her an invaluable voice in the expanding community of game developers.
Dr. Elizabeth Broun
Smithsonian American Art Museum
This year, the Smithsonian American Art Museum featured an exhibition called The Art of Video Games from March 16 to September 30, with still images and video footage from 80 games across 20 systems, developer interviews, historic consoles, and five playable games to represent their respective artistic eras: Pac-Man, Super Mario Brothers, The Secret of Monkey Island, Myst, and Flower.
Dr. Elizabeth Broun
While the exhibit was curated by Chris Melissinos (with input from an advisory board and public polls), we wanted to acknowledge the Smithsonian American Art Museum's director, Dr. Elizabeth Broun, for giving the exhibit the go-ahead. We know video games are an artistic medium, and we know you know this too, but it does us no small amount of good to see that fact recognized by a major American art institution.
Prince of Persia creator Jordan Mechner has made industry news headlines a few times in 2012 (he's got a Karateka remake that just released, and the iOS remake for The Last Express also just came out), but we wanted to acknowledge him for something a bit more mundane -- going through his old stuff in his attic and posting the contents on his blog.
Before you rush off for some premature spring cleaning, let us explain: Mechner and his crack team of digital preservationists managed to find a box with floppy disks containing the original 1988 Apple II source code for Prince of Persia, salvage it, and post it on Github for everyone to see.
The medium of video games is still young, and the tech-obsessed part of our industry makes it easy to forget the old in our ceaseless pursuit of the new. But take a second to imagine how many of you reading this article have fond memories of Prince of Persia, and you'll understand why we wanted to give Mechner a Power 50 spot for evangelism. Developers: We want you to preserve your stuff, no matter how old and busted you think it is, because we don't want anyone to forget about your hard work.
Yes, you read that right: "Peter Molydeux," the novelty Twitter account that describes itself as "just a twisted parody based on the legendary British Game Designer," is one of Game Developer's Power 50.
@PeterMolydeux has been around for a while now, tweeting whimsical, emotionally evocative ideas for games in under 140 characters. Examples range from "If I made a zombie game, it would feature just one dangerous zombie, your child. You must sneak out avoiding society, trying to find help," to "Platformer where if you fall in a pit you're trapped forever unless you can emotionally manipulate nearby enemies to pull you back up." Of course, these tweets are inspired by the real Peter Molyneux's bombastic descriptions of the work he does (or wants to do).
At first, we simply laughed at our industry in-joke. But then a strange, wonderful thing happened: People across the world, devs and players alike, realized that, well, some of these ideas sound pretty good, and we'd rather spend a weekend trying to make and play those games instead of the ones we spent Monday through Friday making and playing. Yes, the parody Twitter account accidentally inspired a worldwide grassroots game jam called "What would Molydeux?" -- and Molyneux himself even showed up to the London chapter!
Wherever you are, @PeterMolydeux: Thanks for the laughs -- and the inspiration.
Last year, Street Fighter steward Yoshinori Ono made the Power 50 for his design work bringing the franchise back. This year, he's making the list again -- but for evangelism, not design.
In a remarkably candid interview with Eurogamer, Ono explained that he had endured a medical emergency brought on by work-induced stress -- a medical emergency involving an ambulance and a blood acidity level "on par with someone who had just finished a marathon." During that interview, he called Capcom out for overworking himself and other employees, scheduling an unreasonably intense promotional tour, and forbidding its employees from organizing a union.
Game developers know they're in a tough business, with many grueling schedules and unforgiving crunch periods. But while it's one thing to acknowledge the business as a whole is tough, it's another thing entirely to speak on the record about how bad your employer is for your health. Shoutouts to Ono for saying what needed to be said.
While the Game Developer and Gamasutra staff were hashing out the Power 50, one of us scribbled the following note next to Gearbox Software cofounder and CEO Randy Pitchford's name: "Evangelism -- talking all the time." Really, that kind of sums it up.
Pitchford and Gearbox are positioned at the center of the American game industry; they've worked across over a dozen platforms, with several publishers, on everything from Half-Life and Halo to Tony Hawk's Pro Skater and Samba de Amigo. They've even shown that they can grow and nurture their own IPs (see Borderlands) in addition to working with others. We think that Pitchford's experience, combined with his willingness to speak frankly about our industry, is an invaluable asset for the industry as a whole. Randy, thanks for talking all the time.
Deep Plaid Games
When Zynga bought Draw Something developer OMGPOP and offered all of its employees jobs, designer/programmer Shay Pierce made news headlines simply for saying, "No, thank you." Pierce's reason was simple: He had developed his own game in his spare time called Connectrode, and he couldn't get Zynga's legal counsel to agree to an addendum in their employment contract that would ensure Connectrode remained Pierce's property.
Given the choice between potentially giving up his baby or giving up a job, he chose to quietly walk away from the deal and instead revive Deep Plaid Games, his own one-man development studio. Connectrode may not be a big seller, Pierce, but darn it, we're glad you fought to keep it.
In 2009, burnt out on crunch, Epona Schweer turned down a producer's job at L.A. Noire developer Team Bondi to teach aspiring game developers in Sydney. By the time the course ended in 2010, she realized there was nowhere for her charges to work, thanks to the near-total collapse of the Australian development scene.
Her solution? Beef up the local indie game scene by throwing meet-ups and holding talks, collecting the power of individuals who had worked in isolation, and helping to form a thriving local scene. The lesson here is that building community requires work and ingenuity, but people fundamentally want to connect -- if you can enable them.
Game Developer / Necrosoft Games
It might seem a little self-serving to include our own editor-in-chief in our yearly Power 50 -- but since Brandon Sheffield has left GD Mag to focus on starting up his own game development studio (except for the occasional column and Gamasutra editorial, anyway), we figured he deserved an evangelism nod as well.
Over the last eight years (100 issues, actually!), Sheffield has worked hard to make sure Game Developer could offer devs a way to share their successes and failures with their colleagues so that others can learn. Internally, he has served as a sort of underdog's advocate for both the GD Mag and Gamasutra staff.
When all our attention was on the U.S. and Japanese game industries, Sheffield was paying attention to the nascent Korean game industry; when we're following triple-A, Sheffield was following the indies; when we're following the major indies, Sheffield was spending his evenings sorting through obscure Xbox Live Indie Games.
Sheffield's advocacy extends to the people in the industry as well; he is unafraid to use the editorial pages on GD Mag and Gamasutra to point out the industry's deficiencies, blind spots, and controversial issues when he feels that something needs to be done. Thanks, Brandon -- let us know when your games come out!
This year, we're including a special Power 50 candidate: Valve Software. We could have easily padded out this list with Valve nominees across the categories, but we didn't think that would be fair (and due to Valve's notoriously decentralized internal organization, we weren't sure we'd be able to find individual devs willing to take credit for specific achievements!).
Instead, we decided to give Valve Software itself a nod for evangelism. Every industry needs to have a company that reminds us we can (and should) do better; we can treat our customers better, we can treat our employees and colleagues better, we can make better products, and we can even make a bit of money doing all of those.
For us, that company is Valve. To consumers, Valve is nothing but player-friendly, known for excellent support -- and seasonal Steam sales that somehow make us excited to empty our wallets. To developers, Valve seems like the place to go if you want to focus on building cool things with talented people.
And to everyone else in the industry, Valve is taking measured steps to push the envelope, whether it's by turning a five-year-old core title (Team Fortress 2) into a runaway free-to-play success, starting an internal hardware development lab to prototype some virtual-reality goggles, or hiring an economist just because it sounded kind of useful to have one on staff. In an industry that seems more mercenary now than ever before, it's nice to know Valve is still there doing the Valve thing.
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